Art of Noise
Why do boys love noise? Some kind of mutant chromosome? Or just a male jonesing for the antisocial? Nothing annoys others like noise. My money would be on boy noise worship as a latent extension of masculine aggression: As economist-cum-music-theoretician Jacques Attali says, "Noise is violence. To make noise is to interrupt a transmission, to disconnect, to kill." Not to deny the vital legacy of female thrashers: Check Yoko Ono, Diamanda Galas or, um, Vixen for proof that women indeed wail. But there's something undeniably manly about the stupefyingly loud musical genre known as "noise," with its pantheon of tinnitus-afflicted men and legendary noise kings like Japanese artist Merzbow.
Adding to this long and twisted lineage is British artist Russell Haswell's debut CD, Live Salvage 1997-2000 (Mego)--the most exciting slab of ear-damage since...well, I'd remember if listening to it didn't cause brain damage, too. A collection of live recordings care of a PowerBook stuffed with noise-generating software, Live Salvage charts some exhilarating excursions into the outer limits of sound. Yeah, you'll need earplugs, particularly if you follow the back cover's instructions: "to be played at maximum volume."
But work up the courage to listen, and you'll be rewarded with an immaculately controlled aural onslaught that draws equally from the classic tape-hiss-saturated work of Controlled Bleeding and from the post-techno experimentation of the Mego label. In fact, Live Salvage sounds positively mature: It may be Haswell's solo debut, but he has had a long career as a self-described "multidisciplinary artist," previously assisting the notorious duo Jake and Dinos Chapman and curating the ultra-hip New York museum P.S.1.
Live Salvage bears the indelible stamp of the art world, from its sleek black-on-black design to the back-cover photo, snapped by fashion giant Wolfgang Tillmans. In a recent e-mail interview, Haswell notes: "I consider [the album] to be a catalogue, not a regular record of music...I don't consider myself a musician. I don't make songs. Noise is a material which is possible to sculpt and has physical properties if played back at the correct volume."
Despite such disavowals, Live Salvage overflows with moments of quiet, restrained (dare I say) musical virtuosity--like the accumulation of high frequencies on Song 5 or the fluttery static of Song 8. (No song titles here: This is art.) Haswell is a restless improviser, and each piece is saturated with a jittery tension. Although Haswell uses a computer during live performance, he shrugs off the "laptop-music" tag: "For me, the PowerBook is just a tool. The computer is the best way to create what I want in terms of audio."
Haswell knows when to rest on a good thing. The CD's opening salvos stretch into a sustained symphony of treble à la Merzbow, a long-time collaborator of Haswell's. A skittery death-metal feel pervades Live Salvage, eventually erupting into a drum solo breakdown in Song 8. Haswell's interest in nu-metal is no mere flirtation: He hangs out with metal bands, contributed a bonus track to a Cathedral CD, and displays a probably unhealthy knowledge of the genre: "In the mid-Eighties I was constantly watching gigs from Carcass, Napalm Death, Confessor, Entombed, Nocturnus, and I've enjoyed Nazerine, Cathedral, Gism, Corrupted, Societic Death Slaughter."
Of course, nothing so far explains Haswell's particular attraction to volume, though it seems somehow telling, and startling, to learn that he spent three weeks in a coma last year after falling two stories from a SoHo loft. Perhaps it's a case of life imitating art: The physical damage Haswell suffered matches the aural assault he inflicts during live performances. Since the accident, Haswell refers nonchalantly to his hospitalization as a "time-out" and seems undeterred from performing. This is lucky for listeners, since Live Salvage offers a compelling incitement to come on and truly feel the noise.
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