Noise as a genre, a style and culture of music, as opposed to an insult or superlative applied to anything a bit loud or superficially chaotic (from Rock to Electro) has been around for decades, though its boundaries are far from set. Its practitioners' beliefs are varied to the point of contradiction, ranging from forefronting constant transgression (see the delightful Sutcliffe Jügend, the support act for the last Merzbow performance I saw) to academic data experimentation (JLIAT's 1 Terabyte noise piece packaged on 233 DVDs) or reimagining mysticism and archaic ideologies (Industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle's use of Tibetan trumpets made from human thighbones in their more recent work). Similarly the aesthetic of the culture can swing from dry, minimal intellectualism to wretched BDSM gothic; cover art can be an embossed matte square with a crisp serif font or a pornographic photocopy soaked in urine and glue.
Merzbow has also been around for decades, collaborated with rock bands, DJs and jazz musicians, released epic tape box sets and progressed through a series of stylistic shifts that have moved from surrealist inspired industrial collage to a harsh digital sound that honours his veganism and advocation of animal rights, sampling his bantam roosters, protesting against whaling and animal captivity. This is the first time he has played Taiwan, brought here by Kandala records, Taiwan's primary native noise and experimental collective, and White Fungus, a magazine and event organiser originating in New Zealand but now entrenched in Taiwan's art scene. Tonight is a sort of showcase for some of the most prominent Taiwanese noise artists as much as it is a visitation from a legend of the scene.
This first section of the night begins with Dino, an emaciated slacker-monk figure controlling a no input mixer fed through a bare selection of effects. This technique involves playing the internal feedback of a mixer directed back on itself in an audio ouroboros that sounds like one is playing the speakers themselves. Sweeping bass tones and high sine waves rupture into ice-cracking snaps that directly jab the illogically fearful part of your brain, the panic section that is concerned about the system or your ears getting irreparably damaged. The interplay between the minimalism and danger, the drones and breaks, works to destroy your sense of time so that though the performance apparently only lasted 10-15 minutes I would never have realised it. This noise is the purest of the night, in the sense that it is the least mediated, sonically and compositionally. It's Noise as in sound and frequency.
Betty Apple, the second act, is a more open experimentation, a visual performance as well as sonic. A young and glamorous woman draped in a boa of jumping egg vibrators and controlling a mass of hardware and laptop midi as well as miced-up balloon, her performance begins as this maximal chaos of bass and loops, peppered with the sound of her toys buzzing and squeaking. The composition then becomes a struggle to control these elements and one by one eliminate them from the mix until we are left with this stillness and dreamy pad clarity. Her work is the most playful of the night, but also the most loaded with narrative and references to earlier performances of hers with themes of feminism and protest.
Wolfenstein, precursor to Doom, Nazi-killing simulation and early gamer reference, is the name taken by the next act, one of the members of Kandala, a solitary everyman sitting behind an unmarked laptop and overseeing a lengthy High-Definition computer music composition. It begins with a sound like a Transformer shattering and builds with layers of crystalline treble until reaching a hallucinatory thickness, numbing the mind until one glimpses horns blaring and ghost melodies in the formless mass. It is punctuated with a repeating phrase spoken in a phased, android voice (the meaning of which sadly I couldn't understand) and ended on this same cold note, a fetishized future noise for a post-human mentality.
Fujui Wang, limbering up before rocking out on an analogue setup of pedals and loops, plays the most "human" noise of the night. Every gesture is emphasised both with a physical movement and a dramatic modulation in the sound; the wah pedal is swung down and the screeching tones follow. This libidinal force connects the performance most closely to "Rock"; it involves the body and the audience where the screengazing of other performers isolates the brain through the ears,and leaves the rest to wither out in the cold.
And after this parade, the second act begins after a short intermission and the curtains are opened on Merzbow. His performance encompasses both a laptop and hardware, most notably an instrument hung around his neck resembling at once a stringed gong, a junk banjo and a huge bronze medallion. When strummed it crunches and distorts like a bare wire put through the system, or like anything: noise instruments seldom have a resonance that can differentiate them. But it draws you in, a hollow flat vessel that focus the audience on an empty centre, to allow a drawn out constant and abstracted crescendo to envelope consciousness and erode the ego. It's the punctum of a protracted mind-wipe that is probably the most profound effect music can have on a person. It's a masochistic experience where the benefit is felt after, in the swooping hisses of passing cars on the street, the quantized micro-clang of a crumpled aluminium can, droning air-conditioning units with chittering fixtures (and, not forgetting, every sound artists beloved Taiwanese cicada buzzing in the bushes). A prolonged noise experience can be a resetting of the mind and the way sound is recognized and processed. The way this occurs is a detail.
Betty Apple 鄭宜蘋
Fujui Wang 王福瑞