Experimental Noise

By the

March 1, 2001

Experimental music is a questionable style. In theory it would be where one would find bands doing new things, as opposed to producing pre-formatted records. In reality, the experimental bin in your record shop is probably just filled with bad music. Much like modern art, experimental noise is often criticized as a realm for musicians who may or may not have vision,but certainly don’t have any skill.

Ironically enough, many records describable only as “experimental” have indeed involved an incredible degree of skill. English producer Richard James (also known as Aphex Twin) became frustrated quite early in his career with the restraints imposed by his equipment. He promptly began writing his own synthesis software and designed and built a studio’s worth of analog noisemakers which he then used for both production and touring. Few can claim to have built their instruments and then made a living playing them; even fewer can make that claim when the instruments in question are a mass of circuitry.

Since Twin’s heyday, the technical aspect of experimental music has only been pushed further. The award for most astounding skills in making experimental noise goes hands-down to relative newcomer Kid 606. With Aphex Twin’s records, the music may be intricate, but the listener can at least imagine how he produced the track. Kid 606’s records, most notably last year’s Down With the Scene, sound like they were made on another planet; he somehow unleashes a chaotic passion from industrial levels of distortion and crackling. Red-line, white noise hip-hop and screaming feedback funk chords are de-rigeur. When the twenty-car pile-up that is the Kid’s style builds to an orchestrated peak, it seems as if the single laptop used to make the music has come alive and killed its master.

While not necessarily directly inspired by these records, but anxious to make some noise of their own, an assortment of would-be campus musicians convened in Bulldog Alley several months ago for a jam-session styled approach. Keyboards, electric drums, turntables and the occasional beat poetry recitation were all treated to copious amounts of guitar distortion. Parts of the evening were captured on tape, and subsequent listens have confirmed that good music generally does require some degree of technical skill, which was certainly lacking that evening. That skill, however, need only be evidenced by how much you enjoy the finished product.

Thankfully, another group of musicians has decided to carry this idea much further, developing a fully live style of experimental/industrial-tinged hip-hop. This blessing comes in the form of D?lek. The group released a five-track EP in 1998 which went well received in the alternative press; now they are back with a 12” on Matador. They are on tour opening for DJ Spooky and will be at the Black Cat on Saturday.

The wonderful thing about good records in an experimental vein is the degree to which they stick with the listener; sheer uniqueness might keep the songs in the forefront of your memory for years. Until another record pushes the envelope further, the record stands on its own, completely self contained. Subsequent albums might highlight the sound; more often they ruin it. Check out D?lek before it’s too late. Experimental hip-hop; it’s what rock used to be.

Dalek & DJ Spooky at the Black Cat Saturday

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