The Art of Noise

There's not much room for innovation in music anymore. Rock's been relegated to pop; punk is so not punk that it's almost punk all over again; and "alternative" has become a generic catch-all for Top 40 genre hybrids. The real music alternative is noise.

For the past 20 years, an American noise scene has festered beneath the structured soundscapes of popular culture, evolving from D.I.Y. mail-order catalogues, indie labels, Internet sites and underground festivals. Its purveyors seek to create new sounds, often through the use of modified instruments and crude, homemade electronics. Records could be played with rusty nails for needles. Guitars could be strung backward. Samples of fire engine sirens could provide percussion. To the unaccustomed ear, the result often sounds like an atonal assault, but noise artists have different definitions.

"I'd say it's the controlled composition of experimental electronic sound," says Ben Brucato, who performs "dark electronic destruction" as Clew of Theseus. "It's a diverse genre. Nobody uses the same instruments."

"It's more than just noise," says Clint Listing, one half of the "industrial neo-folk noise" duo As All Die. "There's a mix of keyboard, analog synthesizer, and dark ambient sounds."

Clew of Theseus and As All Die are two of 11 acts slated to perform at the Phoenix Noise Fest on Saturday, April 16, at Perihelion Arts. The festival is the first of its kind in the Valley, and the roster boasts some of the biggest shakers in the noise scene, including Bastard Noise (sonic offspring of Man Is the Bastard) and RRRecords founder Emil Beaulieau, who's often credited with bringing Japanese noise to America. "He's supported the noise industrial scene for almost 20 years," says Listing. "The man is just insane. When you see him, you'll be totally blown away."

The visual aspect of a noise performance often bridges the chaotic with the conceptual, as performers indulge in the aesthetics of fire, S&M, military themes, and medical gear. One guest at the Phoenix Noise Fest -- Goat -- is known for his three-minute live acts. "He gives very short, explosive performances that generally result in the destruction of self and equipment," says Brucato, who is also the festival promoter. "He's already warned people not to stand too close to the stage."

Destruction is a salient slice of the scene. Sounds don't stay new if they can be reproduced, and there's no revolution in redundancy. Maybe that's why Tampa artist Manmilk, also on the festival bill, destroys his "instruments" as he plays them.

By its very nature, noise is confrontational and aggressive, and one would think the acid-drenched aural amalgams of festival acts like Stimbox and Nyarlathotep would incite mosh pits, but Brucato says that's not always the case. "It's more of a cerebral thing," he says.

Besides, there won't be room for body slamming at the venue. Brucato says he picked Perihelion Arts because of the type of crowd the small gallery's edgy art events usually draw, and also because he knew they could fill the venue. "We expect to sell out with minimal effort," says Brucato. "We'd rather turn a few people away than have a bunch of empty space."