Post 1980 canon #8: Noise. Merzbow and Lasse Marhaug

The conservatives just won the Norwegian elections, so what's better soundtrack for this mardi bleu than Noise? I have chosen Merzbow and Lasse Marhaug as examples.

Of all the technology driven new music forms of the 1990s, noise is one of the most difficult to frame.  Socio-historical context, musical form and technology shares many similarities with ambient, but where ambient is floating an subtle, noise is in your face, load and brutal. Noise is sort of the black metal of electronica, but played in an art gallery. Noise embodies the ideas from the now 100 year old futurist manifesto L'arte dei Rumori in its most extreme form.

Even if this is a kind of anti-aesthetic anti-hero music, the genre has its pioneers and stars. The biggest star and one of the founders of the genre is Merzbow from Japan. In noise music the "work" is more in the performance than in the composition. This is partly the reason for the enormous output from some of the noise musicians. Merzbow alone is credited on some 350 records (!). But then few stand out as more important or "better" than others. This video sums up many of the charateristics of noise: elitism, extremity, DIY, lo-fi and dedication to the art.

Noise is closely related to the art scene, and thus much of noise music has gotten a status very close to that of contemporary music. We have seen several examples of musicians crossing between the genres/spheres. In Norway Maja Ratkje, one of the noise pioneers, are now safely planted in the music establishment, and is also working as a more traditional composer. Lasse Marhaug, one of the huge names internationally, is today music director of Henie-Onstad art centre in Oslo.

The following video shows Marhaug in action, and can serve as example of a typical noise concert. Performers are often one single guy (few women here, with some notable exceptions) with a laptop or some home made electronics on a table, and an insane sound level. The music is often improvised, or following some loosely conceived plan.

In order to really experience this music you need to be present in person and feel the physicality of the sound. It's quite an experience.


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