Noise annoys

Compilation of "experimental music" skirts the line between art and nausea

Music does not, of course, mean the same thing to all people. To some, it implies the sweet sounds of acoustic guitars and confessional lyrics or the strains of violins or the foreign rhythms of Africa or the Middle East; to others, the term conjures the blaring catharsis of amplified instruments raging past 10 on the volume meter or a heart poured through a horn or the down-home sounds of despair and drinkin'.

To a select few, "music" does not even possess a meaning; to these folks, it's an abstract devoid of anything so conventional as notes or form or even instruments as such. To these experimental artists who exist on the fringes of the music community, taking their cues from the likes of John Cage or Glenn Branca or Pere Ubu's New Picnic Time, music has evolved (or, perhaps, devolved) into nothing but sheer noise--random electronic patterns repeated till they take on their own rhythms, voices distorted into static-y shadows, squeaks and squalls piled upon each other till they eke out some hypnotic or gut-wrenching semblance of melody.

Such are the sounds found on Of This Men Shall Know Nothing, a 75-minute do-it-yourself cassette featuring 14 artists from Texas (most are from Dallas or Denton), including: The Factory Press, Shiva the Destroyer, Sad Housewives with Acoustic Guitars, 13, DRJ, Fallen Vlods, Lectura, and Mazinga Phaser. The tape, which comes with a booklet secured by two bolts, is the second release on Sean A. Donovan's ernst Recordings label, which, according to its accompanying notes, "exists as a forum for experimental expression...[and] remains open to all forms of divergent musical ideologies and philosophies, and in so doing wants to ensure the quality of musical thought into the 21st century." Which means, basically, Donovan ain't picky about what he releases.

This is probably the only time in your life you could listen to someone else's record (or tape, in this case) and be correct when you utter in disbelief, "I could do this." As one listens to Of This, the artists or song titles become less important (and, frankly, incidental) as it all starts to merge into one trashcan-and-keyboard symphony; if the musicians aren't exactly stretching the limits of the technology itself, they at least make Sonic Youth and John Zorn seem like George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.

Some of what's contained here is quite brilliant--fascinating like an autopsy, as riveting as a car wreck, the true definition of industrial. Donovan's own contribution, "Power of a line," is a mesmerizing--if ultimately numbing--work created merely by recording the squeaks and slams of a door opening and closing. Listen long enough and the door's hinges become like a squalling saxophone; the booms, like thundering bass drums.

Problem is, it's hard to listen to anything long enough on here: most of the selections are intriguing in short bursts but hard to take for protracted periods, and when taken all at once they can have a particularly nauseating affect on the senses. Which may ultimately be the point.

Of This Men Shall Know Nothing is available at VVV Records, Pagan Rhythms, Last Beat, and other area record stores, or directly from ernst Recordings at P.O. Box 752667, Dallas, 75275-2667, for $6.

KNON-entity
Almost six months after the departure of KNON-FM's (90.1) general manager Bobbie Elliott--the man who fired several of the community radio station's best-known jocks and dumped much of its programming--the station still does not have a program director or general manager. And it's likely the Agape board of directors, the group that operates the station and oversees its daily operations, will not hire a new program director. Rather, they will give those duties to the general manager--when, and if, they ever hire one. Until then, the jocks must go to the board with any concerns, and the board has been loath to rehire any of the old jocks or restructure its current R&B-and-jazz-flavored programming during the late morning-early afternoon and nighttime shifts, which Elliott instituted during his brief stint at KNON.

So don't get excited over the reinstatement of Cowhide Cole's "Rockabilly Revue" on Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Rather than a sign that the station is starting to bring back familiar voices, "Rockabilly Revue" is merely replacing another rock show, Melanie's "Sound Asylum," because the host has assumed other duties at the station.

Pearl blankin' Jam
During the January 8 broadcast of Pearl Jam's self-proclaimed "Self-Pollution Radio"--which featured a dazed, almost goofy Eddie Vedder playing DJ and host to a number of artists, including the Fastbacks, Mike Watt, Nirvana's Krist Novoselic (who read an tribute to Jim Nabors' homosexuality), Mudhoney, and Soundgarden--Vedder and his compadres uttered the words "fuck" and "shit" more than 40 times, two of the seven deadly words according to the Federal Communications Commission. Because the program was available to every radio station in the country, three FM stations in Dallas picked up the program (KTXQ-102, KDGE-94.5, and KEGL-97.1), and all but one--the Edge--ran the program unedited.

Q102 ran the four-plus-hour show in its unexpurgated entirety--as did most stations around the country--because, as music director Redbeard explains, "you either go with it and let the chips fall where they may, or you shy away from it and hope you don't miss something cool." Andy Lockridge, the station's program director, says the only complaints the station received were from people who couldn't get Vedder on the Seattle phone number he provided during the broadcast.

The higher-ups at the "alternative" Edge, however, chose to air the program on a seven-second delay, inserting a dead-air pause in place of the expletive. "I'd rather not get an FCC fine just because I would not like to deal with the government," says Alan Smith, the station's assistant program director and morning-show host. "And two, we just don't think that young people today need to hear that kind of shit."

So far, the FCC has not contacted any of the stations that broadcast the program and has not indicated it will, which is interesting in that Howard Stern has been fined $2 million over the years for making references to anal bleeding and saying "penis," but never violating any direct FCC statute. Don Buchwald, Stern's agent, says he was unaware of Pearl Jam's broadcast and that the disparity in enforcement "speaks for itself [because] Howard has never, in his career, said one of those words on the radio."

Unedited or not, Pearl Jam's broadcast was an amazing experience--a sloppy and exhilarating pastiche of Eddie's favorites (from Daniel Johnston's "Walking the Dog" to Sonic Youth's "Teenage Riot" to Crunt to Gas Huffer) to spoken-word pieces (including Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna's answering-machine message to Mike Watt accusing a "big rock star" friend of his of raping a friend of hers) to live performances from bands never heard on commercial rock radio.

Though it bordered perilously close to jerk-off self-promotion (PJ guitarist Stone Gossard played some awful bands on his new Loose Groove label), it was worth it to hear Hanna disavow herself from the "little white rock-boy fuckin' hall of shame [filled with] big white-baby-with-an-ego problem thing."

"I mean, get over it, it's so boring," she shrugged, suggesting a lot of these fellows get jobs as lifeguards. Then, she asked Mike Watt for her Annie sound track back. Yeah! Stick it to the man!

Seminal or seminary?
In the "Reverend Horton Heat" message group located on America Online, stuck between postings about Jim Heath's drinking habit (all the headings read "Re:gin") is one most intriguing message. From "REELGEORGE@aol.com"--that is, George Gimarc, author of Punk Diary and one-time host of KZEW-FM's "Rock and Roll Alternative"--comes this missive dated January 10:

"Between 1986 and '89, I took Horton into the studio and cut about 35 smokin' original rockabilly tracks. Very few of the songs have ever re-appeared anywhere else. Why is it that Sub Pop or Interscope won't even take my phone calls? These ought to be released! I think it would make a tasty pre-1990 album. Call it 'Horton Heat--The Seminary Years.'"

Gimarc says, via telephone, both labels have turned down the proposed album, which is composed of tracks Gimarc recorded for his radio show, "without even listening to it," and that he plans to shop it around--with, he adds, Jim Heath's blessings.

According to a source at Sub Pop--which released Horton's first two records (Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em and The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of...) and owns some rights to last year's Interscope debut Liquor in the Front--the label did indeed reject the record because it felt the songs belonged to Jim Heath and not Gimarc. Sub Pop, says the source, considered the desire to release the record a "cash-out move on Gimarc's part."

Scott Weiss, Horton's manager, says he has spoken with Gimarc about the project and that the band doesn't feel it would be appropriate to release a pre-Smoke 'Em collection now--if, indeed, ever. He explains that the quality of Gimarc's recordings is not "world-class," and that there's not enough interest in Horton yet to merit an "early-years retrospective."

"Right now is not the time to be doing stuff like this," Weiss says. "The work is not thoroughly representative of Horton now, obviously, and Jim's still supporting their major label debut. He's 60 to 90 days away from focusing on writing for the next Interscope record, and his energy is on supporting this record and writing the next record. The timing is not right for the early work to surface with any kind of stamp of approval...It may surface as an indie release, and I'm not even sure Jim would authorize that. I know he wouldn't authorize it now."

Eeeeee!-Mail
If one surfs the 'Net, then one rollerblades America Online, which (along with Prodigy and CompuServe) is the mall of cyberspace. With that in mind, Street Beat is making public our E-Mail address with the hope that bands and readers will post their press releases, concerns, and hate mail through cyberspace--thus avoiding any possible pipe bombs that might slip through the Postmaster's hands. So post to DalObservo@AOL.COM WITH SUGGESTIONS OR STORY IDEAS OR WHATNOT, THUS SAVING YOU THE POSSIBLE CHANCE OF INTERRUPTING ME WHILST ON DEADLINE, WRITING ABOUT THE TOADIES OR BEDHEAD. IF LETTERS ARE FOR PUBLICATION, PLEASE MARK "TO EDITOR" IN THE HEADER.

Scene, heard
On January 20, Ethyl Merman will perform at an alleged birthday party for the band at Bar of Soap in Exposition Park. Turner Scott van Blarcum, frontman extraordinaire, warns patrons to "wear protective rubber gear" and that there will be an Ethyl Merman look-alike contest. Madness ensues around 10 p.m.

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