The use of turntables as noise/improv instruments has long fascinated me, mostly in the sense that I wasn’t sure how it was done.
My interest got piqued by four CDs released in the span of about one year by Martin Tétreault and Otomo Yoshihide, both “playing” turntables. The discs — Grrr, Tok, Ahhh, and Hmmm — document a European tour in 2003, with each CD meant to reflect a particular mood (the titles are hints).
I enjoyed those albums and spent a lot of time wondering how they created all those sounds, and what it really meant to “play” a turntable. Some sounds resembled a characteristic record scratch or the scraping of a finger against the needle. But what were they doing the rest of the time?
Only now did it occur to me to go look.
In my defense, YouTube’s avant-garde catalog was more sparse a decade ago. But in 2017, a quick search for Tétreault answers my questions right away. My French isn’t good enough to follow along with this interview, but the visuals say it all: He uses discs that are wrapped with different textures, giving him different sounds to play with.
He also uses a sound board (as shown in the photo up top), which gives him a few more options.
Well. Now I know.
By the way, Yoshihide and Tétreault had an established musical partnership before those 2003 concerts were recorded. Here’s a sample of their work from 1999.
From the “need to get out more” file: Two of the local musicans whom I’ve known the longest have been part of an interesting electronics trio for quite some time, and I never noticed.
Tender Buttons performs electronic/computer noise (plus keyboard, frequently) with an aesthetic that seems to emphasize smooth flow. At even-handed volume, they’ll amass sounds, some comforting, some abrasive, and it seems so placid until you realize it’s gained enough momentum to border on harsh. And then they’ll shift back down to a smaller mode.
An all-star army of musicians will be handing off the mic, figuratively to produce 24 hours of sounds, tones, clatter, harmony, improvisation, and whatever else may happen. Performances alternate between two studios at KZSU, so that as one act performs, the next one can set up, keeping the music seamless save for introductions by DJ Miss Information — who in past years has MC’ed the entire 24 hours.
I was able to help only for the very beginning and tail end of KZSU’s Day of Noise this year, but it was still a lot of fun.
As usual, a small group of hero DJs made the Day of Noise possible, including Abra (who emceed all 24 hours) and Smurph, who I believe was on hand for most of the sound engineering.
I even manned a sound board this time. The group was Big City Orchestra, a quartet that used styrofoam as its main sound source. They bowed it, poked sticks into it (tuning them beforehand, because they started their set with a droney piece) and ran the sound through all kinds of effects. By the end, it was a wall of noise. It was pretty cool.
Pictures follow. I caught a few minutes of Karl Evangelista and Tom Djll’s band, Revenant, but didn’t get a chance to say hi; their set ended as I was helping set up the audio for BCO.
Thanks to the efforts of Abra (@abraRadio), KZSU will again present the Day of Noise: 24 hours of drone, electronics, ambient, improvisation, and … well, NOISE!
It’ll be on Saturday, February 8, just about all day. That’s 12:01 a.m. or thereabouts, until just about midnight the next night. Find out more and see the full schedule on Facebook.
You can listen worldwide at KZSU’s Web Feed, or in the Bay Area, you can tune us in on good old radio at 90.1 FM. Listening in the car with the windows rolled down, to spread the noisy goodness, is a particular pleasure (and totally comfortable in what passes for February ’round these parts).
KZSU is doing its 24-plus-hour Day of Noise again, starting just a couple of hours before Sunday, April 14.
You can see the whole schedule, and descriptions of the artists, at that link above.
It’s an impressive undertaking managed by some very motivated students who are into drone, electronics, laptop improv, and … well, noise! I love that they’ve filled the entire day with music, including some afternoon hours that will apparently be broadcast at Stanford’s White Plaza.
Do tune in, starting midnight tonight — 90.1FM if you’re within range in the Bay Area, or kzsulive.stanford.edu/ if you’re not. As my kids said last year: “It’s just noise!“
Ron Anderson, Robert L. Pepper, David Tamura, Philippe Petit — Closed Encounters of the 4 Minds (Public Eyesore, 2012)
Here’s a frenetic mix of noise and rock and improv, a constant tumbling of sounds, with lots of grating (in a good way) electronics providing a basslike backdrop.
It’s musical dodgeball, a bombardment that starts early in the first track: incoming sci-fi volleys and the fast tremor of Ron Anderson’s guitar. David Tamura’s sax blazes and squeaks with high lung power.
It’s the sax and the guitars spike the energy levels (you might be familiar with Anderson’s frenetic tendencies from The Molecules or PAK) and provide a semblance of rhythm. But don’t picture metal or ferocious speed-punk. In fact, there’s a cross between wildness and musicality in here. Crazy sax or guitar scribblings in one moment, a near-pleasant melodicism (backed by the same crazed, pulsing attitude) in the next.
Even a relatively calmer track like number 5 (they’re all untitled), with its zoned-out buzzing like a synthetic sitar, has the disquiet of David Tamura’s cranky sax and some ominous guitar electronics.
The album is often like a conversation where everybody wants to be heard at once, and in many contexts, that wouldn’t be a good thing. But you have to consider the intent. This music aims to be dynamic and aggressive — they fill the page with scribbles — and I love the bustling chaos it creates. It works.
That said, some points are a bit much. I’m torn as to whether I enjoy Track 4. It’s got an alarm-blare sound that just goes and goes and goes. Some days, I can take it as part of the scenery. Other days, I’m ready to reach through the speakers and rip out somebody’s laptop battery to end the pain. The loops of saxophones and of a keyboard-like sound (as on The Who’s “Eminence Front” — it might be the electric psalterion (harp) played by Petit) can feel either nicely juxtaposed or relentlessly annoying, depending on my mood.
But on most tracks, I enjoy the musical assault, and I like the structures they’ve built with the music. The 10-minute finale (track 8) progresses through phases that could each be described as a descent into madness. One segment has the feeling of shooting down a tunnel, with a pulsing fuzz in the bass spectrum representing the walls speeding past, until it disintegrates into a crunchy, staticky sound bed for the other instruments. It finally gives way to a rhythmic guitar chop that sets up the noisy ending.
The first moments of the album:
Track 5. Zoned-out buzzing that’s still not peaceable: