When I told people on the East Coast that I was moving to Ann Arbor this summer, the most common response was “Isn’t that where Wolf Eyes is from?” I guess it is.

Zack Denfeld

I have only heard a few albums, and never seen them live, but noise was certainly all the rage wherever I traveled this summer, and for many, the band Wolf Eyes is the poster children of the scene.

Living in New England in August, I ran into a burgeoning circuit-bending community. Artists and engineering students modify mass-produced electronic toys and keyboards to make fucked up artwork that splutters, boips and gurgles.

Instead of making homemade synths or even writing patches on the now ubiquitous MAX/MSP software, these kids were getting their hands dirty recycling and cannibalizing disposable electronics. That’s part of the noise scene. Making something out of the waste of our consumer society. All those cyberpunk novels with cannibalized technology seem to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In our always-on electronic environment the garbage is really starting to pile up. Sampling culture started the renewal process, but in a way, noise really mulches all the shit we’re faced with everyday. Noise folks are worms; little punk rock bottom-feeders, adding some much-needed fertilizer to the ground from which popular culture is spawned. After a decade of cool hunters and culturejacks over harvesting the forest of pop culture, the noise movement is trying a little renewal.

Noise is never repeatable, it is always new.

In information theory, there is a scale that goes from redundancy to information to noise. With FOX News redundancy being spread across the land via Clear Channel-owned stations and a general lack of any reliable information in our media or pop culture, is it any surprise the kids are turning to noise to balance things out a little?

Noise flies in the face of the infinite reproducibility without quality loss that digital technology has given us. Noise, in video, in audio, in performance, is often physical, making your ears and body hurt, your eyes bleed, reminding you of being a human.

Noise music and culture can not really be appropriated. Now that the cycle of mainstream appropriation of organic underground culture is down to only a few days, there are very few forms of spontaneous revolt that are possible. Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse can sell the kids the noose to hang themselves by, and cell phone commercials can play songs about the Ramones singing about Nazis, but it’s gonna be pretty hard for anyone to sell noise music to the masses. This cultural movement is a defense mechanism against the total annihilation of free spaces in the underground.

Noise is also central to DJ culture. DJs and VJs have aliases because they want their edges to be a little fuzzy. They want to live a little mythically, musical super-hero-dom. You can Google and get a picture of my world, never mind what the other data collectors got on me. I have started adding a little noise to my trail. I’m a squid squirting my digink for protection. I have started posting to places I would never otherwise venture online. If you Google me now, you are going to be a little confused.

The best hope for your kids in the 21st century is to name them John Smith. They might be able to find a little solace in all the interfering signals. Unless you want them to be a member of the reality-TV talk-show-circuit-society-of-the-spectacle-set, in which case you should intentionally misspell their name. Maybe something like Karoline, Mikal or Miisi.

If publication is a self-invasion of privacy, the digital revolution makes us all susceptible. A little noise is just what we need to cover our trail and keep thing safe, until we figure this whole privacy-freedom-reality thing out.

So I say: Detune your guitar, gut your casio and re-wire that thang, make videofeedback shows at your party, and be sure to create some fake web postings. Join the noise revolution and fade into the safety of white noise.


Denfeld can be reached at zcd@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *