Blankenship: Not recommended for fans of music
Blankenship: Not recommended for fans of music

CD Review

The next time some weekend sociologist corners you at the bar and starts to jaw earnestly about how great rock & roll is because parents don't like it, strike him square on his honky pate with the new California noise box set (Troniks, V/A, 5 pounds, good for hurting others!), grip him by his tonsure and cry: "Parents?! Fuck you! I've got music nobody likes!" Yes, noise is on the march, and Hollywood's Troniks, one of the premier noise labels in the United States, so loves us that it has given us its only begotten 10-LP box set, a collection of new material by 20 of California's best contemporary noise and experimental acts.

Now, get out your abacus. If there are 10 vinyl discs and 20 groups, and each vinyl disc has two sides, so that the total number of sides in the set can be accurately counted as 20, what is the ratio of groups to sides? (Hint: the ratio of discs to groups is 1:2.) If you answered 1:1, you're correct! The 10 records come in a 12-inch-by-12-inch square black box with the word CALIFORNIA printed on it in gray—and the box and the music in it are the only things aside from the opening credits of Rockford Files that have ever filled this reporter's heart with something like pride in his home state. I know it doesn't seem like it most of the time, but you are lucky to live in California during this particular historical period, not only because North Korea may nuke us tomorrow and thereby solve my money problems, but also because California noise is better even than Sonoma wine.

Noise, you say? What is that, and why would I want to spend money on it and listen to it when it sounds like it will hurt me and others and make others want to hurt me and other others? Well, if you are the sort of person who enjoys dancing, date rape, football and Cadet Corps—in short, a member of the society of Earthlings—noise may not be for you! There is some truth in D. Cotner's affectionate characterization of noise musicians and their audience [There's a difference?—Ed.] as "basement-dwelling sockfuckers;" I would hazard a guess that a majority of noise types do not taste often the sweet honey of sexual congress, though I am perhaps just extrapolating from my own experience [Or lack thereof, loser!—Ed.]. But noise is a slippery thing. There are many competing narratives of what noise is, what it's for, and where it comes from, and this is as it should be. Much modernist noise, from the Futurist noise of the early 20th century to the 1970s experiments of Throbbing Gristle and Boyd Rice—though Dada bruitism is an interesting exception—tried to make noise the mule for one or another ideological agenda. But these efforts, while very fine on their own terms, failed to saddle the chestnut mare that is sacred mother noise with their various philosophies. I'm not sure I buy Lester Bangs' defense of sonic terrorism in his famous 1981 piece "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise," either: "[T]he shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be heard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation." An excellent observation, but it might be easier to make a case that noise is not affirmative but negative.

Of course, metaphysical quibbles like this go right out the window as soon as the needle touches Control's side of the box set, and that's the point; they're called Control, after all, and they live up to their name. I should say he's called Control, since, according to the label on his side, "CONTROL IS THOMAS GARRISON" and he comes from Santa Cruz. Control works by a method of accretion: "The Strong Enslave" begins with a deep, sickening loop not unlike an air-raid siren, and it's bad news from there on. Awful industrial sounds like steam under high-pressure and a high insect chirp built over the dopplered drone, and the only place humanity seems to be present on this track is in the sound of burning flesh ruining your speakers and your pants. You will wish the set came with an air-sickness bag.

The Cherry Point's contribution resists the intellect in much the same way. Phil Blankenship, also the owner of Troniks and curator of this set, collaborates with Corydon "Obstacle Corpse" Ronnau on a live track from Camp Blood, Blankenship's hidden East Hollywood compound. One guitar covered in contact mics and another strung with heavy springs make unrelenting noise without pauses or dynamic changes for what feels like a month, and the more you listen in, the less it sounds like anything you've ever heard before. It's hard to relate any of what's coming out of the speakers to a pitch—you know, "notes" and like that—and there are no phrases that repeat so that "Live at Camp Blood" seems to be always changing, yet always exactly the same. Troniks' disclaimer for the Yellow Swans & Cherry Point's collaborative CD Live at Camp Blood applies here, too: "NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF MUSIC!"

It's not all blood, guts and nausea, though. You could probably play the lovely Amps for Christ side for your mother without being taken out of the will. Amps for Christ is Henry Barnes, formerly of Man Is The Bastard, often with Tara Tavi and others, and they create a damaged folk sound with traditional instruments and Barnes' homemade electronics. On "2 Inches per Hour," the last song on the AFC side, heavy rainfall and traffic nearly bury what sounds like a sax and a fiddle playing a sad, gentle melody. Joe Colley's side, "Obstacles," will strike you as whimsical or infuriating or both: the first track ends in a locked groove, meaning you have to pick up the needle and move it to the second track, which is cut backwards, so that as the record plays, the needle moves out from the center back into the same locked groove, meaning you have to pick up the needle . . .

The box set is full of treasures like these, and at $75 postpaid or about $50 if you can find it at the record store, it's a steal. It is not for people who think recorded sound is good mostly for unwinding at Margarita Mondays after eight hours selling real estate, but for the adventurous or the emotionally damaged, it's the record of the decade.

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