EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re pleased to introduce Steen Comer, a writer, video artist, art coder, and all-purpose memetic engineer. He is currently in the Bay Area, geographically speaking, although he frequently makes trips to parallel universes for research purposes. Steen is easily found by looking just about anywhere for “mediapathic”.
Depending on your personal experience, the idea of “noise music” could be considered a contradiction in terms. Within what we winkingly refer to as “The Western Musical Tradition”, “noise” is considered something to be avoided, something that detracts from the experience of the music as the artist intended. But readers of Coilhouse know that this is an idea as outdated as the notion that “the artist” is a monolithic Wagner working in a vacuum. We no longer listen to music in opera houses with perfectly tuned acoustics, we listen in crappy white earbuds that we have cranked up to try to cover the traffic noise.
And, in fact, we never did have the perfectly tuned theatre; that was always a Platonic ideal of acoustic experience; it never really existed. Artists like Cage and Stockhausen knew this, of course, and intentionally and explicitly dealt with it. Industrial music, of course, took this idea and ran with it, as a part of its program of total deconstruction of control systems. Many reading this will have at least attempted to listen to music by Einstürzende Neubauten, often considered the godfathers of industrial noise. If that song happened to be “Let’s do it a Dada” off of Alles Wieder Offen, you heard Blixa extend a friendly nod to “Signore Russolo”.
Luigi Russolo’s Intonarumori.
That would be Luigi Russolo, who wrote a Futurist manifesto that suggested using elements of the urban landscape in music, including “Screeching, Creaking, Rustling, Buzzing, Crackling, Scraping….” This was in 1913. The thread is long and tangled, and continues to this day.
Beyond the world of music, though, there’s a growing awareness of error as form. The Glitch Art movement is most obvious example of this, where artists are using procedural techniques to add intentional errors to images and video. Generally the results look kind of 8 bit and pixelated, because, well, most digital art is made of pixels…
Someone working on The Hunger Games really knew what they were doing! As Wired blogger Geeta Dayal points out, hidden in the middle of the film, there’s a rare, beautiful, raw experimental track titled “Sediment”.
The track was recorded by electronic music pioneer and computer scientist Laurie Spiegel in 1972. Appearing during the film’s cornucopia scene, “Sediment” is a 9-minute soundscape created using an ElectroComp 200 analog synthesizer, two tape decks, graphing paper and a ruler. It’s the perfect music for the tense, terrifying moment when the competition truly begins.
“The only way to mix was to play something live, where one deck was playing audio while the other deck was recording the other machine,” Spiegel told Wired in a phone interview. “You piled the tape hiss and noise for every generation you added.” Spiegel recorded the piece in a five-room apartment running on a 15-amp fuse, leading to technical difficulties when her appliances interfered with the recording. “When the refrigerator went on, half the oscillators dropped by a quarter tone…. I had to turn the refrigerator off, or it would ruin the take.”
Laurie Spiegel surrounded by her equipment in the 1970s. Photo by Stan Bratman
That might as well be the title of Decoder, a German film that came out in 1984. Unreleased in the United States and forgotten until the Internet recovered it in recent years, Decoder is a fascinating relic of the early industrial ethos.
Written by Klaus Maeck, directed by Jürgen Muschalek, and based on The Electronic Revolution by William S. Burroughs, the film focuses on a lone audiophile who discovers that multinational corporations are controlling populations through muzak. By playing the mind-controlling, sedative non-music in elevators, fast food joints, lobbies and stores all over the country, corporations such as the evil H-Burger are able to produce a docile population of consumers. To combat this, our protagonist turns to industrial noise, and inspires a legion of “cassette terrorists” to covertly swap muzak tapes for sounds that are much more subliminally sinister, inciting riots all over Germany.
The film’s score was a collaboration between F.M. Einheit (Einsturzende Neubauten) and Dave Ball (Soft Cell), with contributions from Genesis P. Orridge and Alexander Hacke. In addition to scoring, F.M. Einheit, a.k.a Mufti, also plays the film’s protagonist. Other characters include cult film actor, scholar and artist Bill Rice, playing a sad-faced security official on a mission to foil the cassette terrorists’ plot, and inadvertent heroin-chic style icon/musician Christiane Felscherinow, playing an amateur herpetologist/go-go dancer who looks eerily similar to Rooney Mara’s Liz Salander. Cameo appearances include Genesis P. Orridge and William S. Burroughs. The film is sprinkled with many other references to items you might find in a 1980s-era RE/Search publication, such as the appearance of a Brion Gysin Dreamachine inside a secret nightclub belonging to an industrial cult, as well as a giant Survival Research Laboratories logo on the wall of the protagonist’s studio.
One of the film’s most stunning features is the color palette. “Lensed by Johanna Heer,” writes Samantha Anne Scott, ”the film’s blunted, monochromatic color schemes — primarily red, green, and CRT blue — demarcate character, mood, and motivation … while doused with art house affectation, Decoder delineates a relatively cohesive narrative of corporatism, control, and the power of noise.” The full film is posted above.
“In ictu oculi” is a somewhat loaded Latin phrase that translates roughly as “in the blink [or twinkling] of an eye”. It’s also the title of a famously (and beautifully) grotesque Baroque painting created in Spain in the 1670s by artist Juan de Valdés Leal. Said painting depicts a skeletal Death, coffin tucked under its arm and clutching a scythe, hunched gleefully over a smorgasbord of earthly spoils.
With her video/photo-documented installation by the same name, modern-day Spanish multimedia artist Greta Alfaro –seemingly familiar with the layered meanings of the Latin shorthand and well-aware of the ensuing painting– has found an elegant, rather startling way to revisit many of the same themes Leal did. Alfaro was hidden from view mere meters away as she shot this footage of vultures descending on a feast she had prepared for them.
Alfaro has crafted several video/photo-documented installations in recent years, all of them fastidiously produced, to stark and haunting effect. She states:
“I work about the hidden and the unexpected. We live our lives governed by rules created in order to control chaos and vulnerability, but I am interested in the facts we try to hide or repress, in the differences between the private and the public, in the visibility of our everyday life hypocrisy.”
Editor’s Note: This gem of a submission from writer/proto-ambient scholar/fervent NIN-lover Matt Keefer was discovered several tiers deep during a recent trawl of the Coilhouse slush account. It’s an offbeat and spirited piece, simultaneously comparing and cross-referencing the musical and philosophical kinship inherent between Erik Satie and Trent Reznor, and issuing several preemptive strikes against any and all Would-Be Jaded Hipster Remonstrators. (Also, somehow, on a profound level, it feels like the perfect blog follow-up to that horrifying “Keyboard Cat In Hell” clip Ross just posted). Thank you, Matt. Keep on angstin’ on, comrades.
Trent Reznor is the rightful successor to the great Erik Satie. Don’t let yourself ignore this plain and obvious fact because you are embarrassed of your youth. And no, Trent isn’t disqualified from this lofty inheritance by his perpetual unhappiness. Satie had it just as bad.
In the Spring of 1893, the ever-eccentric Monsieur Erik began a torrid affair with the artist and model Suzanne Valadon. An odd duck in her own right, Madame Valadon kept a goat at her studio to gobble up any of her work that she was unhappy with. After only a single night with Valadon, Erik proposed; the marriage never happened (or if it did, the records of such were later eaten by said goat), but Valadon did move to the room next to Satie’s at the Rue Cortot in Paris. Satie became increasingly obsessed with Valadon, often referring to her as his nanny-goat and filling notebooks with worshipful scrawlings about “her whole being, lovely eyes, gentle hands, and tiny feet.” Indeed, Satie composed his Danses Gothiques as a calmative to restore his composure in the face of the amorous frenzies that Valadon inspired in him. In turn, Valadon painted a portrait of Satie and gifted it to him:
Portrait of Erik Satie by Suzanne Valadon. Who can resist the Pince-Nez? WHO?
Sadly, six months later, the affair ended. One chilly winter evening Valadon vanished, leaving Satie with only his portrait and a broken heart to remember her by. Satie snapped, scrawling in the latter pages of his journals that nothing remained for him “but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness.” This is the only intimate relationship that Satie ever had. He would later move to a room in Arcueil and in the 27 years before he drank himself to death, there is no record of anyone visiting his room.
“A well-known figure from the entertainment industry begins the series interviewing the person of their choice. The following week the interviewee becomes interviewer and chats to their chosen guest. And so on and so on. In January 2005, the comedian Stewart Lee interviewed Alan Moore (transcript available at Comic Book Resources). The next week it was Alan Moore’s turn to become the interviewer. His chosen subject was some one who had obviously been a huge influence on his life for over thirty years… Brian Eno.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fascinating and insightful conversation.
Listen to the broadcast recording here.
Dial-up modem sound slowed 700% by Darkfalky, using PaulStretch. Eerie, sinister, incredibly beautiful.
via Ariana Osborne
In the 11-minute clip above, a group of over 30 animators and sound artists teamed up to create short pieces between 12 and 20 seconds with the aim to ”explore the relationship between geometry and audio in unique ways.”
The result is a series of warped, surreal sound visualizations. Twitching biomechanical amoebae, self-assembling fractal cubes, watery UFOs, motile blinking rubbery art-gallery showpieces,
If one were to combine the magic of pre-cinematic optical illusions, the childlike wonder associated with vintage pop-up books and the aesthetic sense of both Russian fairy tales and eerie German Expressionist films, one might hit upon the luminous production that is husband and wife team Davy and Kristin’s McGuire’s The Ice Book.
Blending elements of film, animation, theater, puppetry, installation art and “good old-fashioned illusions”, The Ice Book is described by its creators as a “… miniature theatre show made of paper and light… An exquisite experience of fragile paper cutouts and video projections that sweep you right into the heart of a fantasy world. It is an intimate and immersive experience of animation, book art and performance.”
“We created the show during a four month artist residency at the Kuenstlerdorf Schoeppingen in Germany. All we had was a 5D Mark ii, an old Macbook with After Effects, some builders lights and a green cloth that we improvised as a makeshift green-screen. Before we started we had no idea how to make pop-up books let alone how we could combine them with projections. With a lot of care, love and arguing the idea eventually came to life.
The idea for the Icebook was to create a miniature maquette for this dream – a demonstration model to show to producers and other funders in the hope that they would give us some money to make the full scale show. (And we still hope that this will come true one day!) The Icebook has since however, grown its own legs and turned into a miniature show all by itself. An intimate performance for small audiences.
We love the old pre-cinematic optical illusions, such as zoetropes and magic lanterns, and the magical way in which they can mesmerise audiences through basic mechanics. Rather than simply projecting images onto a screen, we wanted to create an object with a life of its own – a tangible and magical “thing” for an audience to experience.”
Check below the cut for various haunting vignettes clipped from the production, as well as a beautifully illuminating “before and after” montage which briefly highlights the steps taken to achieve the icy, ethereal effects viewed in the final production. For more behind the scenes peeks, as well as touring information, see the following links: