Why Noise? More Talk Less Action #1- Westspace Gallery by Jason Heller


Why Noise? was the first program from More Talk, Less Action, an ambitious series of discussions about the further end of the musical spectrum curated by Melbourne based artists/labelists Clinton Green and Greg Wadley.

Despite the cold and drizzle Melbourne’ underground literati was out in force, surprising everyone including the organisers who were left scrounging for extra seating for the continuously arriving audience. Green is moderating the discussion tonight and the panelists are musicologist/composer Linda Kouvaras, noisist/labelist Mark Groves and abstract artist/anti-musicist John Nixon. The event begins with a short set by Groves performing in a more constrained way than the more “harsh noise’ sets I have seen of his previously. Everyone politely sits, stands or crouches and listens to the details of Groves’ piece, which at times is reminiscent of a drum kit falling down a flight of stairs.

Discussion centres on the question of “what is noise?” and what it means musically and societally. Kouvaras speaks about the Futurists, the history of dissonance in classical compositions and about noise being an unwanted element to traditional composition, while Groves speaks about noise as a genre, of Earache records and the lineage of Japanese noise artists being the starting point for where the genre of noise sits for many today. Nixon expands the definition to include anti-music, whereas noise is a byproduct of not knowing how to play an instrument and playing it nonetheless. Each informed and generous perspective is welcome to this discussion, but the panel is unable to reach a consensus.


Now, it is difficult for me to write of a discussion without inserting my opinion on the topic, and at this point I am concerned that this may turn from a review to an opinion piece, but let’s keep going and see where we end up, OK? Great. To me, noise is a genre, probably a sub-genre of experimental music, which may come under the umbrella term of sound art, or avant-garde music, or something else; free jazz/psychedelic rock/straw? This demonstrates how tricky and difficult it is to pin down this undefinable thing called Noise, but panelists and audience do give it a good shot. Ultimately I feel that trying to establish a definition for something like Noise is a bit counterproductive. It is many things to many people, and to me, for example, Groves’ set at this event was more akin to Music Concreté than noise music, but to others I’m sure that’s different. An audience member suggested that One Direction is Noise music to the people gathered tonight, but again I’d disagree. It may be an unwanted sound, but is it Noise? No.

Speaking of conventions, there seemed to be no discussion of “wrong’, as mentioned in the event’s byline: the aesthetics of noise and “wrong’ sound. Again, one person’ One Direction is another’ Beethoven, and my beloved “wrong music’ definitely isn’ Noise. It is the Beatle Barkers, or Ethel Merman’ disco album – wrong music, that was intended to be right, but it ends up wrong.

Perhaps tonight’s topic was a little too ambitious. The discussion was interesting, the speakers eloquent and informed, and the moderation was precise. Perhaps there could have been more space for audience input into the discussion, maybe we needed another hour or two to get to the heart of the matter. It seemed that once the audience was invited to speak towards the end, the topic began to immediately morph into interesting territory – improvisation v composition, Fascism and power amongst others. Many further topics were sitting on the tip of my tongue just waiting to get out but time was against us.


To finish, John Nixon gathered up his amorphous group The Donkey’ Tail to lead us out with a different form of Noise. Nixon’ embracement of incompetent musical skills lays opposite his highly controlled composer’s role, tightly directing the movement of the piece. Again, this wasn’ noise to me. It sounded like Free Jazz. But maybe I have a weird sense of what Jazz sounds like.

The success of the night was obvious. There is a definite need to create the space for discussion about cutting-edge music, the practice and the theory. The fact that everyone seemed to want to say more is evidence of the craving for events of this like to exist. As the first in a series that will see us through until summer hits, I look forward to seeing where these discussions take us. As an alternative to going to a gig, I support the format, but maybe that is just due to my grey hairs.

– Jason Heller


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