Sunday, January 25, 2009

You Say Noise Like It’s a Bad Thing

“If you throw a garbage can down a stoop, and it sounds good, it’s music.”
Some original BS from jaybee.

And not the plastic ones, either - those old aluminum ones. And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t invent the term Heavy Metal.

It was a long time ago, so I forget exactly how the conversation got to this point, but there I was discussing music (even then!) with a friend. He was an older gentleman – you know, in his forties - and a playwright. Believe it or not, he disagreed with me.

I guess someone who worked hard to craft every line of a play would think a similar effort would have to be involved in the creation of music. After all, how could something so random - so blatantly non-musical as a garbage can - even potentially have the same emotional impact via music as the most finely wrought prose? But I say you gotta focus on the result, not the process, and ignore the utter unfairness of it all.

And it’s just a theory after all. I don’t actually have any garbage-cans-thrown-down-the-stoop records (although I don’t doubt they exist) but I do have quite a few that come close. Check out the “drums” on Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives”. The story goes that they used a garbage can. Perfect!

Now playing: Elvis Costello - Watching the Detectives
via FoxyTunes

There used to be no greater insult you could hurl at a musician than to say that what they played was “noise”. This created an issue for those of us who liked any music created since 1963, and some would say 1956.

The logic went something like this:
1. Music is nice.
2. Noise is not nice.
3. Ergo, calling music noise is not a compliment.

This put many of us on the defensive. Our logic went something like this:
1. I like pop music.
2. Noise is bad.
3. Hence, the music I like is not noise.

I can see why we would feel this way, but it ignored certain things, like the tons of experimental music that came out even before this time. For the sake of argument, I’ll stick to pop music.

“You Really Got Me” by the Kinks was powered by a guitar connected to a damaged amplifier. When Dave Davies played the song with said damaged amp, he liked how it sounded. The song became a hit. Apparently lots of people liked it. ----------------Now playing: The Kinks - You really Got Me
via FoxyTunes

Then there’s the feedback that starts “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles. The Who. The Grateful Dead. The Velvet Underground. Jimi Freaking Hendrix (who, when I’d compare him to Eric Clapton back then, I’d criticize him for playing…guess what? Noise! )

Now playing: The Beatles - Intro: I Feel Fine
via FoxyTunes

Now, you may think that the argument above still applies, that somehow, once the music becomes enjoyable, it ceases to be noise. But I say that sometimes music is noise, and/or vice versa.

My argument goes like this:
1. I like it.
2. It’s got noise.
3. Hmmm…..noise! Good!


Now playing: My Bloody Valentine - I Only Said

Now playing: My Bloody Valentine - Blown a Wish
via FoxyTunes

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