Listening to L.A. noise artist John Wiese describe his approach to composition during an artist’s talk at Remington Studio and Gallery last week, one is reminded of German media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s argument that, during the industrial age, communication was undermined by the mechanization of its graphical components – that is, the authority of language as oral communication was superseded by the standardization of its visual appearance in typewritten text.
What has that to do with noise music? Wiese not only professes disdain for improvised noise performances that follow an all too predictable dynamic (the stereotypical dramatic arc whereby an inciting event increases tension until it reaches a crescendo before fading away) but he also admits that an abiding interest in typography has been a prevailing influence on his audio compositions.
The systemic correlations between written language and Wiese’s noise compositions are as numerous as they are fascinating. Typography provides both a literal and figurative demonstration: through its emphases on spacing, proportion, variation and contrast, we see a distinctive method of text arrangement mirrored in the sound structures of Wiese’s audio work, substituting time for space. Wiese’s noise breaks the monotony of standardizing technologies through sound as well as notation. He says that when musicians perform improvised work they often either default to play according to the aforementioned dramatic arc or else they sync their playing to one another; in both cases this poses compositional problems for the noise artist as the resulting material shifts into a recognizably imposed musical framework. As written language was usurped first by the typewriter and later the computer, written language became less a personal expression through handwriting and more a function of the machines used to visually reproduce language. The application of typographic aesthetics to Wiese’s sound compositions breaks the established grammar of music to present noise as a distinct language with its own unique aural and visual representations, thereby undermining the technologies that have led to our current, rigidly defined approach to language composition.
We won’t be speaking Wiesian any time soon, but it’s reassuring to know that, out of the imposed systems of order so prevalent in modern society, nature’s chaotic influence continues to evolve organic functions that can turn those systems inside-out, and look sharp while doing it.
Supporting sets by Hick, Rusalka, Mass Marriage, and Fracture provided an abbreviated overview of contemporary noise art to complement Wiese’s contributions. Fracture’s brutal employ of contact mics delivered noise in its most untamed, distorted form, while Rusalka and Mass Marriage both performed all too brief electronic noise pieces that demonstrated various time-based means of audio processing and manipulation. Sax-noise duo Hick closed the night with a set of traditional, instrument-based improvised noise that highlighted the supremacy of air/breath as one of the most ancient and ubiquitous technologies for sound/noise generation.
Presented by Vancouver’s Media Arts Committee, which has quietly existed to support artists for nearly20 years, this was a rare opportunity to interact with one of the most recognized contemporary noise artists and several local artists working in the same discipline. By all accounts the evening was well attended and one hopes this reflects a healthy burgeoning of interest for experimental arts in the city.