If you were to look up the definition of “music” on Wikipedia, the first line reads as follows: “Music is an art form, and cultural activity, who’s medium is sound.”
The concept of music is built upon the idea of a combination of aurally pleasing tones to be perceived by the listener. One could gain this kind of aural stimulation from many different sources, ranging from listening to a recording from a favourite artist, or by simply listening to the birds sing on a summer’s day. There is art to be found in both of the aforementioned examples as each have a creator: the artist recorded their sounds as the birds project theirs.
And as the birds express themselves through song, so too does the artist. Although unlike the birds, the artist sometimes doesn’t know what it is that they are being compelled to express – a frustrating side effect of the complex nature of human emotion.
A series of stimulating sounds may be harmonious, or they may be dissonant. Choosing either loose avenue of sound could have the listener confront a whole range of emotions, including hundreds of nuanced “sub-emotions”. This is where things get interesting, as our perception of reality itself is based purely on the information received by our senses, and what kind of emotional response that that information invokes within us.
The world of sound alone is, in itself, a vast universe. It can be an unstoppable, natural and primal force, originating from the planet itself, or it can be an expression of a range of emotions that spoken word is not yet equipped with the vocabulary to accurately identify.
It can be illustration of form, rendered through a kind of new language that transcends the human tongue. Given that these creations seemingly resonate with many others upon listening, that other people seem to grasp at least fragments of this strange new language, then it is not beyond the scope of comprehension to hypothesize that experimental noise and music is in fact, a valuable tool to be exercised upon while trudging the path of human evolution.
After all, the concept of aural expression most likely began with primitive man clashing rocks and sticks as means of basic emotional expression.
When looking at experimental noise music in particular, one can imagine the whole spectrum of emotional journeying and interpersonal drama. Look at John Cage’s infamous 1960 “Water Walk” performance on American popular talk show, “I’ve Got A Secret”. Cage’s well-rehearsed, well-timed and thoroughly thought out performance creates an inner-visual space. You can identify the use of water and bathtubs and immediately think of your own bathroom, a personal and mundane room that you frequent on a daily basis, yet Cage invokes laughter from his audience during the performance – a perhaps deliberate attempt at combining the mundane with the comedic, but he creates space and brings out a broadly nuanced corner of human emotion. Some laugh because they find it hilarious, some laugh because they find it to be ridiculous. Either way, the people are united through a shared sense of amusement – a language they can all speak.
Now look at Beatriz Ferreyra’s “Demeures Aquatiques” from 1967. The sound is far more abstract, less time-oriented and perhaps more difficult to relate to, lacking a grounded sense of mundanity. It is more immediately introspective in it’s approach. Ferreya journeys through a range of textures and distant emotive tones. The sense of space here is certainly a lot more personal. The emotions invoked become a lot more splintered and dispersed in comparison to the emotions invoked during John Cage’s “Water Walk” performance. “Demeures Aquatiques”, meaning “Waterish Dwelling” keeps a similar root concept to “Water Walk” yet the dimensions couldn’t be further apart. Ferreyra’s approach is more in line with a phase of an alchemical process: you are within the unfamiliar deep of the water, rather than perceiving it from an outside sense of familiarity.
Much contemporary popular music was, at a time, an experimental voyage headed by an uncredited, likely to be considered eccentric, composer of many incarnations. Over time, resulting works of these voyages were retold in ways that became more palatable to the average human receiver, or perhaps the collective consciousness of human ears became better equipped to process the results of early excursions.
Listening to experimental music may not be the conceptual pill one may want to swallow while on the path to further evolve their consciousness, but the exploration and experimentation of such a creative endeavour is surely bound to open the mind of the individual self. The need to explore the unknown is something that drives the experimental artists of time as it is does the pioneering scientists of time. One could look at Nicolas Tesla and imagine with ease that he was a man who saw great music in his own creations, as he explored different interpretations of the same frequencies of the universe.
Performance has long been associated with music, from traditional dance to more abstract performance art. This accompanying performance aspect can act as an aid to projecting an Avant Garde means of communication, almost like visual subtitles that are used to further convey information. Examples can range from the aesthetically pleasing to the shocking and extreme.
Within the realms of experimental music, the accompanying performance is just as cutting edge and outlandish as the sound. We can look at Wayne Frost, AKA Frosty Freeze, a who inspired a generation to breakdancing, as a member of the pioneering Rock Steady Crew. At the time, the Hip Hop beats and scratches that provided the soundtrack were just as fringe and experimental as the performance itself. The Rock Steady Crew formed in 1977 (the year punk broke, depending on who you talk to) and had brought their style to the mainstream by the mid 80s. Their influence on Hip Hop culture is undeniable and their effects are still felt today. Across the planet, the every day civilian can now clearly envision an example of breakdancing, while at the time of the inception of The Rock Steady Crew, their style of performance had never before been seen by the world.
In stark contrast to this style of performance, when we look at the experimental noise music of Japan in the 1980s, it is impossible not to mention Hanatarash. Fronted by the extreme-natured Yamantaka Eye, the man who would later go on to front the band Boredoms – a band that would also experience a taste of mainstream success with their tours alongside Nirvana and Sonic Youth as well as appearing on the prestigious Lollapalooza tour in America.
Though it was a Tokyo gig back in 1985 that would see Yamantaka Eye pushing the boundaries of performance into the extreme as part of a Hanatarash gig, when he drove a bulldozer through the back wall of the venue and onto the stage as the band played. This event, while causing ¥600,000 in damages, would secure Hanatarash’s reputation as punk’s most dangerous band. On several occasions, including this one, audience members were required to sign a waiver due to the possibility of becoming injured at the show. Hanatarash were eventually banned from performing live in Japan as Yamantaka Eye was prevented from throwing a lit Molotov cocktail onto the stage.
While some saw this as mindless chaos and destruction, others perceived it as a display of artistry. This juxtaposition is a reoccurring theme within the realms of experimental art. Some recognise the language, others won’t understand until the message is distilled down to a clearer and more palatable form. This is by no means a reflection of the intelligence of music lovers at large, but an observation of how pioneering artists see and acknowledge the need in each other to forge forward a new form of explorative, emotional expression, particularly when looking at the more extreme side of things.
The artists and movements discussed here only represent a miniscule portion of an incredibly vast universe of experimental expression of self. There are countless sub-genres of sound and performance embedded within this universe and most of the time, they are attempting to communicate something that spoken word does not yet have the language to convey.
So next time you hear a piece of sound or witness a performance that could be considered to be confusing, extreme or bizarre, try and connect with the emotions it invokes within you. Or maybe just go and listen to something new and weird right now… Are you receiving the signal? Or do you feel inspired to create a signal of your own? Either way, there is always a sense of wonder hidden within the weird, and this is something that should always be nurtured. As we are limited by spoken language, we can utilize the emotional journeying of experimental music and it’s series of stimulating sounds.