Noise versus Noise

Sunday 14 May 2023

I thought something had gone wrong. I’ve been taking a little noise holiday, away from the likes of Jürg Frey for a bit, and figured it was time to get around to the first compilation issued by Party Perfect!!!, another one of these composer collectives who take their irreverence seriously (see website for details). PP-01 begins with an untitled work by Michelle Lou: I know her stuff, right? Finely observed electroacoustic phenomena, that sort of thing. Instead my ears got blitzed with a barrage of harsh electronic noise that made me initially think I had a corrupt file or put on the wrong track. Turns out that Lou’s untitled is a four-part digital electronic suite of ruthlessly clipped and distorted audio that gleefully assaults the senses for forty-seven minutes. Parts of it sound like when you try loading a non-audio file into a media player to see what happens, and I’d like to think some sections are precisely that. When you get past the initial shock, you start to notice the details carved into this brutalist sound scuplture which, together with performative flourishes of bravado, sustain the piece beyond the deadening effect of relentless sonic bludgeoning (cited as an inspiration in the accompanying booklet). After Lou’s piece, there’s another two hours worth of electronic compositions by Stefan Maier, Michael Flora and Other Plastics, each just as abrasive and confrontational. The booklet includes recipes, too; they’re vegetarian, but one is for a barbecue sauce so…

Trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø has produced a pair of works on Dystopian Dancing that attempt to push solo performance techniques beyond the defined constraints of the instrument. The first was recorded in 2019 and exploits the close amplification of his trombone with air and microphone artifacts to produce unstable constructions that haphazardly flip between pitch and noise. Oversaturation and use of plastic mouthpieces and mutes add to the quasi-electronic atmosphere but in the second half it reverts to an improviser’s comfort zone of exploring extended low-end snorks to play for time. The second piece was made about a year later and projects material from the first into an electroacoustic collage that stays lively for longer, particularly when normal brass sounds re-emerge towards the end, commenting on the chaos with a queasy mock fanfare.

Noise of a completely different kind comes from Jacques Puech’s cabrette. A cabrette is a small French bagpipes, for when regular bagpipes aren’t irritating enough. Gravir / Canon pairs compositions for the instrument by Guilhem Lacroux and Yann Gourdon respectively. In the former Puech overdubs himself with constantly ascending scales at different rates over a steady, clacking rhythm that resembles a kind of folkloric take on James Tenney’s For Ann (Rising), but with the cool psychoacoustic effects replaced by a manic exhilaration that’s both uproarious and a little scary, especially as it just keeps on going. In Gourdon’s Canon Puech is joined by four other cabreteers to play overlapping patterns in a staggered formation as suggested by the title. The gestures are more relaxed here but even so it shares with Gravir the same dogged, obsessive pursuit of a compositional idea until the excessiveness becomes the point. That, with the massed nasal timbre of the pipes creates a bracing, febrile work that you can get a high out of if you’re in the right mood while simultaneously driving your housemates up the wall.