All That Racket

All That Racket

This is an article from our October 2013 Issue. Grab a copy of our new March issue today!

Noise is everywhere.  Jackhammers pulsating at 300 beats per minute, the hum from a refrigerator, the spontaneity of a car back firing, the crackle of a cigarette; this is the inspiration of Noise music.

Rochester is a very noisy town, the burned out smoke stacks and long forgotten industries contribute to this as they do too many cities around the country and the world.  Dayton, Detroit, Cleveland, London.  These post boomtowns foster beautiful desolations and lovely chaos that is (or can be) Noise.

Music from noise isn’t a new concept.  From the futurist movement of the late 1920’s, Luigi Russolo believed that with the rise of the industrial revolution men gained a new ability to appreciate complex sounds.  He created orchestras of noise.  Clanks and rattles, crashes and so on, and he believed that this would be the music of the future.  This concept was not lost; reaching sound artists through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, musicians experimented continuously, finding a cadence in sound.

Consider the piece, “Four-Thirty Three” by John Cage, a silent work dealing with only the sounds of the audience’s anticipation, the understanding that music can come from anything is among all artists. However, this concept has not become the music of the future, but developed into much more, intricacies and sub genres, and codifications that have since reached mainstream. However, what is popular is not noise.

But Noise itself, as music is concerned is bigger than ever. And Rochester’s got it strong.

Multiple Scenes

For our small town, we have a lot of options in Noise. Aside from the ambient, free jazz found in coffee shops everywhere and electronic dance that incorporates found sound and vocal clips to music, there are several other distinct styles of Noise in the city.

One of those styles come from Carbon Records, a noise record label going onto their quarter century anniversary that deals with trance like-visual experiences and Power Eletronica, with another being H8 Track Stereo, led by Sean Beard of Waves Crashing Piano Chords, an in-your-face all out ear drum assault designed to make you uncomfortable.

Let’s start with Waves Crashing Piano Chords, the solo project by Sean Beard.  Off stage he is a mild mannered Juggalo, on stage, however, he is an executioner, using his words and fists as bullets in his machine gun performance, lining those up against the wall who seem unsure, unsound, and confused, and emptying his proverbial clip on them.

“I find someone in the audience that looks scared or confused and I make him feel worse,” Beard said.

Beard, performing with just a microphone, feedback and face paint, has whipped his microphone stand at promoters, publicly masturbates, punches crowd members consistently, and gets kicked out of venues regularly.  To him, to get cut off is a success. He supports the movement of musical nihilism, expressing sentiments against not only music, but Noise music. The point is to get his audience out of their comfort zone, to be scared, to feel alone and disassociated. Songs like “I Hope I Fucking Get AIDS” directly challenges social norms, gaining him local popularity and thus pushing boundaries further.

This isn’t the rationale of all noise artists.

“If you want to piss people off set up in the middle of Wegmans.”  Nooge said in a group interview with the Insomniac.  (Sean beard has actually done a variation of this, setting up his equipment in a Wilson Farms causing the police to be called almost instantaneously)  Nooge and others, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, Tumul and Pentu play with the idea of trance.  He joked about this problem.

“I’m different, I generally don’t [find people to piss off] I don’t look for the people that are uncomfortable, but quite often uncomfortable people seem to find me… they show up and are somehow possessed to watch me and somehow interact with me.  They are somehow upset and or mentally disturbed by my performance.  It’s never been something I’ve sought out but it does happen quite frequently.”

These artists are much more involved with themselves than with the audience.  Cammeron Faresh of Tumul compares his set to meditation.  The repetitiveness and trance like music is more for him than anything else.  In fact, even if Tumul wanted to, they couldn’t interact with the audience.  Performing in full costume consisting of light up goggles and stuffed stocking over their heads, their ability to see the audience is obscured. They play with sound in the moment, improvisation being the key to their formula.

In a basement show at the Rust House Art Collective, the two man band of Tumul played a twenty minute set of sound only to finish with a dance fight, one that they later admitted to be impromptu.

“I need to find Joe for his mic.”  Cam said.

Joe didn’t know whom he was dancing with until he felt Cams massive Afro underneath the stockings. For them, the performance is based off visual aesthetics and crowd reaction, rather than disassociating themselves from fans.

“If the sound is pissing them off and they get pissed with us, people would go, “that’s fucking annoying,” but visually, we’re fucking goofy.” Joe said. “It’s kind of like a carnival. It’s visually entertaining, and they’re not really paying attention to the sound. And that’s fine too.”

In both of these examples a connection or perhaps lack there of, is created between artist and audience a like. Creating music on the spot, the experience is one-of-a-kind and exclusive to the moment, never being repeated exactly the same way again.

It’s this that attracts people to the genre.

“It’s the presence of the moment,” Josiah Krouse, c9*o-curator of the Rust House explained.  “The first time I saw Tumul it was frying my brain. It had this presence that you couldn’t describe to anybody; you couldn’t really talk to them about it afterwards. When I think about noise, the artist is no longer a musician, no longer a performance artists, they’re almost like a magician of sorts,  an conductor of a time spiral that is 15 or 30 minutes long, that doesn’t happen again, cant be described and is a thought feeling in all the observers heads.’

But noise doesn’t have to be dissonant. The idea is the moment. Jerrald Cuttler of Miami would play YES albums on stage at noise shows.  Playing for noise lovers at a noise venue, the audience would go crazy. He would be accosted, and often in fights with other noise artists for some reason, their perception being he was making fun of noise, or being lazy. In fact, it is quite the contrary. His noise challenges the idea of noise itself as noise challenges the ideologies of music.

Outside of the venue, Cuttler’s album is just a YES record, but in a venue for noise lovers, its complete calamity.


To the untrained ear, noise music sounds chaotic and calamitous.  However there is a great deal of technique that goes into noise.  The -brutal feedback is created by an intricate combination of pedals, synthesizers, microphones, and pa systems.  When noise artists listen to their peers they often can tell what they are using, like a guitarist can tell the tone of a certain guitar, cab, or head.

Noise artists, in comparison to other musicians, don’t have a set instrument.  The soundscape they create is from the entirety of the tools that they have in front of them, combining distortions with delay, to wahwah and reverb is considered one sound rather that four.  They can perform with whatever is in front of them, from a drum machine, to bed sheets, plastic bags, or a broken guitar.

“I was a pedal whore for awhile, I always wanted to find new pedal, at a certain point I stopped doing that and focused on a partnering of 5 pedals and how they play with each other,” Cammeron explained.

“And that whole collection of things became an instrument.  So then it’s really trying to dig deep to see what they can do, and work out certain sounds I can and orchestrate from that.”

For noise artists, these combinations delve into sounds within sounds.  Finding the perfect crackle in the center of deep feed back and distortion, they search for possibilities, pushing their equipment further and further away from their intended uses.  To find a new sound within these boundaries is like creating a new scale.

Use in Pop Culture

Noise isn’t only found on city streets and in the basement.  Since its coronation, noise has found its way into popular music where musicians almost always get credit for their “innovations.”

Think Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar intermissions, The Beatles Revolver album and countless others utilize noise, usually using the chaos as an interlude between rehearsed versus and chorus.

Bands such as Radiohead derive much of their sound from artists like Oval.  Noise is a huge influence on popular music, directly and indirectly.  However, these bands are often attributed with innovation, when in fact they are simply manipulating ideas and sounds innovated by noise music and implementing them into their format, into their songs or the segway in between them.

Noise can also be derived from popular music, such as artist Jason Latt deriving an entire twenty minute set off of a two second rush riff, manipulated and processed into something completely different.

He choreographs this, and can recreate it, exactly as rush could recreate their original riff live.  The genres are intertwined, feeding off of each other, providing mutual inspiration while at the same time almost rebelling against each other. Though the fans of individual genres are fascinated by the ideas conveyed by the sampling, their tastes are sometimes completely exclusive. Noise is an acquired taste; most thirty-something’s blasting “Fake Plastic Trees” at a moderate volume in their minivan will never be fascinated by “all of the racket”. However it is up to them to like what they like, they might not find it stimulating, but some people are in love with chaos.

Larry from Foot and Mouth disease explains it well.

“What can be depressing to some, or annoying to some, can be soothing to others.  What is ugly may be appear to be beautiful to others and it depends a lot on your exposure, there are people that have listened to noise, exclusively for decades.  Three are people that are so obsessed with it.  They hear it in a completely different way, and essentially for them the experience is more hearing beautiful melody.”

A scene unseen

What many Rochesterians don’t realize is that the noise artists we have here, are, for the most part, globally recognized.

Beard consistently sells out of his albums, and not locally.  He has a following from Norway to Indonesia.  He recently mailed 10 copies of “Tunes from The Toilet II” to punks overseas.  He had to ship them individually, due to the communist state that the country is in.

“They could all be arrested for having my album, it’s pretty crazy,” Beard said.

It’s not a stretch to say that Rochester music, that is almost completely disregarded here as annoying white noise, is literally becoming the backbone of underground dissidents in Indonesia.

How can this be, that we have globally recognized artists that live like ghosts in Rochester?

It all has to do with space.

At the time the AV Space was closed, a DIY venue located by the Public Market, there were over 200 pending shows and a growing noise scene from it.

“A space is like a Petri dish… once you start a space, it’s like anything else, things can grow from it,” Cammeron said.

Today Rochester Noise shows are hosted at numerous basement venues and miscellaneous rented spaces such as the VSW.  Though without a central hub, the scene still thrives on itself, and finds itself growing regularly with the introduction of new artists, fans and performers.

“Noise is not the punch line; the experience is the punch line.”