Noisemakers: Phoenix's Avant-Underground Refines the Art of the Earache
To those not plugged into the deeper chasms of the musical underground, the idea of a noise musician seems oxymoronic and bizarre — an easily understandable stance, given that noise is largely considered an undesirable sonic experience.
When most people think of noise, they think of annoyance, panic, and fear. It's a jolt to the senses that usually accompanies alarm. But over the course of decades, a sizable subsection of the extreme music underground has developed and refined an art form consisting of many noise frequencies, a platform of subversion and subtlety capable of transmitting a range of emotion and aesthetic.
Crafting noise in Phoenix is not the work of mindless individuals banging on pots and pans. It's the tireless efforts of highly cerebral people attempting to push boundaries as far as they can be taken. When done well, noise music requires meticulous focus on composition along a spectrum of conceptual creativity. It's the art of harnessing the power of these panicked tones and using them as a palette. With the current state of popular music resembling a fever dream of cyborgs wielding Auto-Tuners, it appears that the alienating madness that noise music emanates has never been more potent.
Going as far back as avant-garde composers such as John Cage and the auditory tinkering of various conceptual artists such as the Dada collective, the progression toward modern noise music has moved in a somewhat untraceable progression. In fact, influential '60s acts such as the Velvet Underground and even the Beatles (more specifically, John Lennon) experimented with noise-oriented constructs. The closest descendants to today's most extreme forms of noise music aligned closely to bands in '80s foreign industrial scene, including Einstürzende Neubauten, Current 93, and Throbbing Gristle. From there, more transgressive acts like Whitehouse, Merzbow, and NON began to appear.
Today, noise music continues to be a murky genre and is subject to constant revisionism and debate among enthusiasts.
Phoenix, a sun-parched enclave for puritans and NRA members, may seem an unlikely place for noise musicians to ply their craft, but there long has been a small group of artists and free-thinkers not so quietly producing painstaking compositions of discordant mania and buried beauty.
Several years ago, a flash-in-the-pan noise-focused music store named Cabal was being run out of a closet-like room in downtown's Firehouse gallery. Ben Brucato, who performed under the name Clew of Theseus, operated it, and Cabal served as a gathering point for harsh-audio enthusiasts and artists for a brief time.
Since then, there hasn't been much of a strictly organized community of artists impassioned by this art form. As in all facets of the genre, organization and self-promotion take a backseat to commitment to creation and performance.
Live shows have a tendency to be infrequent, and the musicians remain mostly hands off in regard to the more conventional pockets of the music scene. Noise remains a labor of love for most noise artists. The harshness of the music certainly wouldn't take on the same meaning if that weren't the case.
The following is a list of current local heavy hitters among the thicket of many:
James Fella: Undoubtedly a longstanding pillar of excellence, as far as Arizona noise and extreme music go, James Fella set the bar with a mountain of live performances (in acts with a variety of names) and prolific releases. Putting aside earlier bands, James is best known as principal songwriter for locally infamous art rock band Soft Shoulder (still active in some form).
Fella widened his gaze into the chasm of avant-garde audio while obsessively releasing others' music as proprietor of Gilgongo Records, a label producing records for noise titans like John Wiese, among many others.
Bet money that Fella won't be slowing down anytime soon, having already produced four releases since the new year. One of them is a massive lathe-cut double-LP box set that includes two 90-minute cassettes, a full-color zine, and a poster. It's a project he labored over for more than two years. Let that, if anything, speak to the level of Fella's commitment.
Glochids: Though perhaps not able to be categorized as noise in the truest sense of the word, Glochids certainly is a creative vehicle of unique quality. The brainchild of James Roemer, a taciturn giant of a man, Glochids' live performances mirror his centered personality and his focus on experimentation.
Roemer's recordings rely heavily on field-recorded source material and contact-mic appropriation. At his live performances, he implements everything from vintage punch-card computation devices to marimbas. The result is always a unique layered collage of sound as grating as it is meditative.
Glochids has one full-length album (available on vinyl and cassette on Weird Ear Records) as well as several hard-to-find cassette releases. You also can catch Roemer (a.k.a. DJ Jimmy Glimmer) spinning records at Tempe's Palo Verde Lounge on one of his "DJ at PV" nights during any given week.
Genital Stigmata/Geiger Retort: A testament to the most unforgiving fringe of the noise genre (commonly known as "power electronics" or "harsh noise"), Matt Loberg has forced some truly horrendous sounds into existence. Since the young age of 16, Loberg has been creating and performing new machinations of inflamed pedal- and sample-driven mayhem under the name Geiger Retort, and he since has morphed his sound into a more vicious and conceptualized focus as Genital Stigmata.
Taking cues from such noise fixtures as Prurient and Whitehouse, this is the soundtrack to the type of insanity that lands one in a straitjacket. It looks to be a good year for Loberg, with a mess of releases in the works, including one on floppy disc.
Dealing: Dealing is the auditory extension of TK Nicholson, a writer, publisher, website curator, and longstanding presence in the Phoenix music scene. Though abrasive, Dealing exists below full-powered harsh noise. His is a sonic mental gridlock littered with samples from obscure B-movies and plodding, static, warlike drumbeats.
Last year was a productive one for Dealing, which released two tapes, one of them a split with Tropical Body, an incarnation of Little Rock, Arkansas' reclusive William Cody Watson, as well as a seven-inch EP on the aforementioned Gilgongo. Keep an ear to the ground for more releases from Dealing in the future, and check out the Polyphase Records booth at Double Nickels Collective in Tempe for quality records stocked by Nicholson.
Shun the Atavist: Shun the Atavist is the brainchild of Joe Maynard. Wielding a dense output of tracks via digital download, the audio technician covers all basis of experimental audio, ranging from harsh noise to ambient drone. His source material includes circuit-bent children's toys and various computer programs that seem practically indecipherable to the uninitiated.
Though Shun the Atavist has never performed live or produced physical releases (at least in recent years), there is some truly compelling composition by Maynard. Keep up with his continued output at shunthe atavist.wordpress.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.
More Music News
- The 50 Most Memorable People of Global Dance Festival Arizona 2015
Fri., Dec. 4, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 4, 8:00pm
Sat., Dec. 5, 8:00pm
Sun., Dec. 6, 3:00pm
- See Old Town Through the Eyes of a DJ
- We're Thankful for These Five New Songs From Phoenix Bands