Test Dept Interview January 2019 – Speaking with Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington

Today I speak with Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington, of the innovative and highly-engaging UK-based musical act, Test Dept – a group which gives new meaning to the expression, “brutal honesty”. 

This is because Test Dept has ever been raining blows upon inanimate objects, albeit in a percussive and poly-rhythmic fashion.

To the uninitiated, these sounds may seem disorganized and shrill, and perhaps even…maddening. 

If you’ve seen the musical “Stomp”, imagine that briefly, if you will.  Then, replace those happy-go-lucky performers with staunch political activists, and then invite Ogre, Al Jourgensen, and all of Einstürzende Neubauten to the party.  This might give your “normal” individual, who may not get out much, some approximation of the sonic scenario here, although, that description is oversimplifying things quite a lot.

In any case, the skittish and faint of heart may be unlikely to enter a venue with Test Dept on the marquee, particularly if they are aware of the group.  The sound of a rabid gray wolf baying outside their front door may prove to be more soothing aurally to such an individual.

However abstract and disjointed Test Dept’s on-stage presence may seem to people who have always tended to bathe in the jaw-slackening sounds of pop music, there is, and has always been, a game plan and purpose behind everything Test Dept does.  And there are also those that know this, and appreciate their activities.

https://testdept.org.uk/

For the record, Test Dept is known globally for their impassioned live shows, and for their use of industrial “found” material (ie. scrap metal), refashioned into more purposeful instruments, with which they make their unique music. 

They have been interpreting the world around them and converting it into vigorous sound since 1981, when they emerged in New Cross, London.  Their mission to make music with a built-in purpose continues to this day.

With over a dozen members come and gone over the past almost-30 years, and many collaborators to speak of, Test Dept has been quite prolific, developing a formidable body of work.  This is work that may certainly be deemed influential to anyone who knows how to recognize when influence has been passed along the winding corridors of modern culture, as modern culture has a distinct tendency towards wilful forgetfulness.

If you’ve seen some of Test Dept’s video output, you will know they are, in addition to being very rhythmic, visually stimulating and cinematic.

 Here is a clip called Program for Progress to demonstrate what I mean.

Recently, the core members of Test Dept has re-formed in order to take the stage once again, motivated by the curious goings-on in global culture.  It is they who I had a chance to put some questions to.  Luckily, they responded.

So, to delay no further, here is my interview with Test Dept, where we discuss a variety of topics.  We start, as logic would dictate, at the very beginning.


For those who don’t know the band or its history, Test Dept, by your own admission, emerged from a decaying culture in South London in the early 1980’s. So much so that you literally grabbed hold of pieces of that crumbling world and started making music with them. Do you remember the first time you did this, and the circumstances around it?

GC: We had been living in Amsterdam when the idea for Test Dept emerged. We relocated to the docklands of South London where we were surrounded by the inevitable consequence of Thatcher’s destruction of the heavy industry and manufacturing economic base in favour of a service economy.  

PJ: Corrugated sheeting, empty beer barrels, gas cylinders, car springs, they were everywhere around us. Deptford Creekside was our playground, we wandered around the old decaying factories, rummaged on the banks of the Thames and scavenged in the scrapyards that proliferated the area.

Stowage, Deptford / mylondondiary.co.uk

Was your music, in the beginning, more a reaction to the music at the time, or the politics? For example, were you bothered at all by the disco duck?

PJ: It began more as a noise thing, a reaction to where we had been after punk, we had a sense of unfinished business. The post punk period, with the wide spectrum of new experimental music that poured out was all very liberating. The politics were already there but developed rapidly with the hate figure of Thatcher to oppose, The Falklands War, followed by the ‘English Civil War’ that was the ‘Miners Strike’ and the wars kept coming. Must say, Disco duck never really caught on in Deptford but must confess it is quite irritatingly catchy.


Do you feel your music is “atonal” or “noise”? For instance, do you think of it as such, or do you think of it as perhaps “nice” or “relaxing” but maybe just an “acquired taste”? Or are you more of the mindset that “yes, it’s an awful racket, but we love it!”?

PJ: I think you pass through a number of states and emotions in the performing and listening modes. Sometimes you had to go through the pain barrier to reach a crescendo or release and that was true of the audience too. Not everybody got that but those who did were very passionate about it. To us it wasn’t an infernal racket; it was co-ordinated and constructed into a giant machine in which we were all components, that sense of utilitarian unity gave us a vision of building something immense and beyond individualist egos.


Once you make an album using pieces of discarded metal and whatnot, does that metal hold any sentimental place in your heart, or do you simply shove it back into the sea or the scrapyard from whence it came? In other words, do you consider yourselves pioneers of worldwide recycling, or are you simply riding the waves of detritus and scrap as it crests, and then surfing away in the opposite direction once the wave crashes down?

PJ: Well we have had some fabulous pieces over the years but through our own transient lives, lack of a continuous space to work in, etc. Many fabulous pieces were lost such as our giant ten-foot trumpet and the sputniks (antique 1950s brewery barrels made of a very distinctive alloy); but some were just too big to keep, like the ten ton tank that nearly brought the Albany Empire ceiling crashing down. Some took a beating and were just destroyed in action. 

demolished Cars and scrap metal ready to be shipped – amsterdam


Bands like Coil, or maybe someone like Alec Empire, seem to have taken a sound you created and distilled it into more palatable tones with some of their albums. Have you ever thought of doing something more contemplative and “new age-y” in the same way as something like Time Machines (Coil) or Low On Ice (Alex Empire)? Hell, even Throbbing Gristle made that “funk” album, right? Perhaps have a sexy female voice singing “skulls crack” could open you up to…ah, forget it.

PJ: I think we have always been diverse in working with a variety of styles including some ambient tracks, think Plastic (Beating the Retreat), Comrade Enver Hoxha (Unacceptable Face of Freedom) and female vocalists, Nadka (Terra Firma),  Gododdin the album with Brith Gof and Totality the album with Katie- Jane Garside.


You have long been associated with the “art” world, whether it be performance, sculpture, concept art, and various counterculture and subversive movements within the “art” world, some dating back decades if not centuries. How comfortable are you being associated with the art world in general?

PJ: The ‘art world’ is far too general a term, we do not sell commodified work to an art market and whilst appreciating work aesthetically, we find that this art world, as an arbiter of taste, is distasteful and totally removed from our lives. However it is true to say we have many artistic influences going back to the movements of Dada, Futurism, Constructivism in the early part of the last century; and on to the multi media of Fluxus, the political stance of the Situationists and other radical art movements in the latter part of the last century. These movements and the art produced was indeed revolutionary and critical of the society it evolved into, using art as a vehicle to expand horizons, or to create visions of a new world of possibilities.

Fluxus street theatre

Obviously, Test Dept has no problem making “regular” people uncomfortable with your music, both in recordings and live performance. Surely, even as new people get exposed to your music, they are still as uncomfortable now as they were when you first arrived on the scene. There will always be suburbanites and people racing down Wall Street who, at most, would cast you a disdainful and utterly fed up / confused glare. Assuming you have always enjoyed people’s squirming discomfort at what you bring to the table, do you still enjoy it today?

GC: There are certainly some artists who’s main focus seems to be on making people uncomfortable in a sonic sense, but this is not our aim. We make music that we feel reflects and comments on the world around us, which at the moment is pretty uncomfortable. Our sonic palette is partly gathered from our surroundings and not based on standard ideas of ‘musicality’ (although harmony and melody can have their place at times). There is certainly beauty, and even musicality, in noise. Sound is just vibrating air and all objects that vibrate to make a sound when hit or plucked or bowed (or simply turned on in the case of mechanical objects) are potential instruments; its just about how one perceives or places them. What is comfortable for some is uncomfortable for others – before the C20th atonal music was considered uncomfortable (if not incomprehensible), now it is accepted as a mainstream musical form. It’s all down to perception and taste.



What are your thoughts on bands that people consider to be flag bearers of industrial music who came along after you like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails? Has your influence on them been acknowledged by them, or anyone else, and what do you think of what they’re doing in relation to what you’re doing?

PJ: Trent Reznor has made positive statements recognizing our influence (in fact he has said that NiN are not industrial but rather have industrial influences) but it is not something that really concerns us. In media terms we were pushed to the periphery having not had the majority of our back catalogue available for many years. That was why it was important to publish the ‘Total State Machine’ book to show our history and all the diverse projects that took us into many unchartered waters way beyond the industrial.

I think the majority of these American ‘industrial’ bands are more akin to traditional rock bands that have incorporated electronic and noise elements into their sound, which is fine. However I think we come from a different place, a very European heritage of found sound, electronic experimentation,  the classical avant-garde and noise aesthetic with a heavy load of tribal drums thrown in for good measure.


What can you say about Some Bizarre Records, in terms of how the label operated and some of your label mates. In relation to the last question, bands like Einstürzende Neubauten seem to be a more an apt comparison to Test Dept vs. a band like NIN, but is that how you see it, or do yourself as having nothing to do with any of these groups?

PJ: Some Bizarre were responsible for bringing many of the best experimental and alternative acts under one roof and were almost untouchable for a long period. All these acts were very different but shared a sense of creative adventure that is rare. We were always fiercely independent while recognizing that which we had in common with bands like Neubauten, Laibach and others, which was largely our sense of being European in the midst of the cold war.



As the world seems to get only more zany and steeped in various real and imagined conspiracies, how do you see your place in it today?

GC: We try to comment on what we see around us in the real world. Conspiracies used to be political or industrial cover-ups of power-plays or incidents involving subterfuge, mistakes or outrages; these days they are often whole world-views, propagated and expounded upon by a multitude of voices requiring little or no concrete evidence. Anything can be extracted and extrapolated to fit any theory if only limited and specific data is highlighted as proof. 

PJ: We have entered a new era of what has been termed ‘Surveillance Capitalism’, where every action, every click is monitored, captured and sold. Information is on the money. Avoiding Facebook or other capture vehicles only slightly minimizes the risk. Be under no illusions the Trojan horse is already within all of our firewalls. You have been Googled.


Test Dept – Selected Discography


History – The Strength of Metal in Motion (1982)

View on Test Dept website


Ecstacy Under Duress (1983)

View on Test Dept website


The Unacceptable Face of Freedom (1986)

View on Test Dept website


Terra Firma (1988)

View on Test Dept website


Bang On It (1993)

View on Test Dept website


Tactics For Evolution (1997)

View on Test Dept website

10 No Wave Bands You Should Be Aware Of

no new york

No wave is a genre of music and art that came about in 1977 in the Upper East Side of New York City.

Taking some inspiration from jazz and post-punk, it has otherwise turned its back on most conventional genres of music to instead produce its own distinct sound of dissonance, disharmony and nihilism.  

We’ve written about it before, in a previous article called “No Wave Movement“.

However, in this article, and in no particular order, we’ll discuss the 10 most prominent and influential bands and artists of no wave that have contributed to the movement.

James Chance and the Contortions
James Chance

James Chance is a saxophonist, keyboardist and singer from Wisconsin, and a key figure in the no wave movement.

Chance was educated first at Michigan State University, and then at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. While attending school, he joined a cover band called Death, performing covers of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges.

After this band dissolved, however, he moved to New York City and began taking part in the no wave scene, as well as experimenting with free-form jazz.

He created the no wave band James Chance and the Contortions in 1977. Their first ever recording was on Brian Eno’s compilation album “No New York”, released in 1978.

Their debut album “Buy” was released in 1979. It was said by the music website All About Jazz that “through the anger and aggression Chance made a solid record that had a sound nothing before or since.”

They released another album, “Off White”, in 1980, under the name James White and the Blacks. Below you can listen to the full album “Buy”. 

What is unique about James Chance is that, unlike some other artists of the no wave movement, he expects and demands a certain instrumental skill-level in himself and his band members, elevating his band in certain respects.

Their music is erratic, spontaneous, and jazz-like but distinctly different from jazz. However, it is easy to see that James Chance was largely inspired by jazz, as any saxophonist often is.

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks
teenage jesus and the jerks

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks formed in New York City and helped to create the no wave movement.

It started when poet and musician Lydia Lunch met James Chance in the popular New York music club CBGB (standing for Country, Blue Grass and Blues). They began living together as roommates.

At this time, Lunch was experimenting with her poetry and acoustic guitar. Being inspired by the New York City rock band known as Mars (who is number 9 on this list of no wave artists), Lunch decided she wanted to start a band. She first recruited Reck as a drummer and bass player. Other band members included James Chance and Bradley Field.

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were also featured on Brian Eno’s album No New York in 1978.

Although the group was not together long, disbanding at the end of 1979, they still released several recorded albums and singles, and had great influence on the no wave music of the time.

All the songs they recorded were later compiled onto the 1995 album “Everything”. Their music has an intense, slightly angry sound, with repetitive guitar rhythms and unique twists and turns of the music that keep you on edge the whole time you’re listening.

Lunch’s singing is droning and loud throughout the music. 

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were mentioned in the book “Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984” by Simon Reynolds. He wrote that the band “defined radicalism not as a return to roots but as deracination.”

In other words, ripping up the roots and starting fresh. He also said that, rather than rebelling against rock music by turning instead to electronic music, they used the traditional rock instruments (guitar, drums, bass) just in a very different way. Lunch in particular was very disdainful of punk rock and wanted to break away from the genre.

Glenn Branca and the Theoretical Girls
Glenn Branca

Next on our list is Glenn Branca. Branca was an influential member of the no wave genre, arriving at the scene in New York City in 1976. It was here that he met Jeffery Lohn, who was at the time a member of another band.

The two of them decided to start their own band called the Theoretical Girls. Lohn’s girlfriend joined as the bassist and another of Lohn’s band members became drummer for a time.

The band’s first performance took place at the Franklin Furnace, an establishment that serves to promote avant-garde art. Branca also did a performance with guitarist Rhys Chatham (who we’ll discuss next), a very important experience that would later influence Branca’s style of composition.

The Theoretical Girls played a good number of live shows throughout New York City (and three shows in Paris) and released one single which gained a bit of attention in the UK. This single was “U.S. Millie/You Got Me”.

Although the band was never signed by a record company, their style of mixing classical composition with punk rock did not go unnoticed, and they are considered a cornerstone of no wave music.

Branca also did some solo work, releasing the album “Lesson No. 1” in 1980 under his own name. This album showcases repetitive guitar techniques that Branca learned from Chatham and his fellow band member, Lohn.

The track “Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar” was inspired by Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.

Below you will find the two songs – compare one to the other and you will see Joy Division’s influence on Branca.

Rhys Chatham
Rhys Chatham

We mentioned Rhys Chatham before, as he worked with Glenn Branca, but now we will look at his work in a little more depth.

Chatham is a multi-instrumentalist but is best known for his “guitar-orchestra” work.

In 1978, he performed his single “Guitar Trio” around New York City, with musicians including Glenn Branca and Nina Canal.

“Die Donnergötter” was another single of Chatham’s, released in 1982.

Chatham was inspired by an early Ramones concert as well as many other no wave bands. His music had a punk-rock aesthetic, but he put a lot of thought and quality into his compositions.

Y Pants
Y Pants

Y Pants were an all-female no wave band that formed in 1979. They were a trio, consisting of Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol, and Gail Vachon. The Y Pants had a unique sound from their acoustic toy instruments.

They had a toy piano, a ukulele, and a Mickey Mouse drum set. They also played with electric bass and electric keyboard. Their poetic lyrics often focussed on feminism which gained them popularity in the scene.

They also sang about relationships and the perils of everyday life, such as laundry and materialism.

In 1980 they made their first four-song EP, recorded by Glenn Branca and released with the record label 99 Records.

Two years later, their LP “Beat It Down” was released by Glenn Branca’s own independent record label, Neutral Records, which also released the first few albums of the band Sonic Youth.

8-Eyed Spy

8 eyed spy
8-Eyed Spy was a no wave band made up of the aforementioned Lydia Lunch (from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), Jim Sclavunos (who also played with Lunch in Teenage Jesus), as well as Michael Paumgardhen, Pat Irwin, and George Scott III.

Compared to Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8-Eyed Spy was regarded as more overtly musical.

You’ll hear Lunch’s familiar, jarring voice in their songs, as well as some crazy instrumentation and jazz influences. 

The band released one self-titled album, as well as a live album called “Live”. They also covered some songs, including “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.

Sadly, the band broke up after the death of George Scott in 1980.

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Lizzy Mercier Descloux
In New York she created a performance art duo called Rosa Yemen with guitarist D.J. Barnes and the two of them released a self-titled mini-album in 1978.

It was released by her partner Esteban’s own record label, Ze Records. Later, Descloux released her solo LP, “Press Color”, also through Ze Records.  Her style of no wave was minimalistic.

Being a self-taught guitarist, she didn’t rely on heavy or overly-complicated guitar work, but instead on single-string notes that delivered a clear sound and got the message across.  Here is “Hard-boiled Babe” from “Press Color”.

Her second album, “Mambo Nassau” was inspired by African music as well as funk.

This album was what won her a contract with the French record company CBS Records. Returning to France, she released a popular single called “Mais où sont passées les gazelles?” (“But where have the gazelles gone?”) as well as her third album “Zulu Rock”, both in 1984. “Zulu Rock” was recorded in South Africa and was an eclectic and unique mix of African folk music and 80s French pop. It was well-received by critics.

Judy Nylon
Judy Nylon

All the musicians we’ve looked at so far had been residents of New York City at one time or another, because that is where the bulk of the no wave scene took place.

Judy Nylon, however, while she was an American musician, moved to London in 1970. All the same, she was an important artist who was appreciated by other no wave bands.

In fact, in 1974, Brian Eno released an album called “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)”. This album featured a song named “Back in Judy’s Jungle” – Judy Nylon is who he is referring to.

In the 1970s she was part of a punk rock band called Snatch, along with a woman named Patti Palladin. She then began some solo work as well as some collaborations with other artists.

In 1982, she and a fellow musician Adrian Sherwood released the LP “Pal Judy”, which was praised on the website NME as being “a classic rainy-day bit of sound and song to drift away to”.

MarsMars

Mars was a no wave band from New York City consisting of China Burg (a.k.a. Lucy Hamilton) on guitar and vocals, Nancy Arlen on drums, Mark Cunningham on bass, and Sumner Crane as vocalist.

The band’s sound was ambient, with non-standard drumming techniques and surrealist lyrics. Surprisingly, all of the musicians in this band were self-taught.

Mars was most active between the years of 1977 and 1978. They played many live shows, all in Manhattan.

The band had a unique sound, a little chaotic and all over the place at times, but in a way that was interesting and compelling. They released their debut album in 1978, “3-E (11,000 Volts)”. About a year later they released a live EP, although the band had broken up in 1978.

DNA

Last but not least, we have the band DNA, formed in 1978 by guitarist Arto Lindsay and keyboardist Robin Crutchfield, and consisting of a handful of other talented musicians.

The band actually got their name “DNA” from the title of a song by Mars.

DNA

Soon after the formation of the band, Crutchfield left to join another group and was replaced by Tim Wright. This switch brought a drastic chance to the band’s music.

It became more abstract, concise and simple. DNA made frequent live performances in the lower Manhattan area between the years of 1979 to 1982, playing mostly at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and Tier 3.

They developed a cult following especially after the release of their debut album “A Taste of DNA” in 1980.

Their last three concerts sold-out because of their loyal fan base. The band broke up in 1982.

No New York

no new york front cover

“No New York”, as mentioned earlier in the article, was a compilation album curated by Brian Eno. It played an important role because it was the first album to bring no wave to an audience outside of lower New York City.

The album featured four bands; all four bands have been mentioned in this article. They were James Chance and the Contortions (known as just “The Contortions” on this album), Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA.

no new york back cover

Honourable Mention: Sonic Youth

While I first thought of the band Sonic Youth as more of a conventional rock/post-punk band, it is undeniable that they rose up out of the no wave scene in the early 1980s and even had an acquaintance with Glenn Branca.

Based in New York City, the band was formed by Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo. They are well known for their genre of noise rock, playing with an unconventional and eccentric guitar tuning as well as altering their guitar’s timbres to create different sounds.

The band played at Noise Fest in 1981 and were signed to Glenn Branca’s record label Neutral Records in 1982, soon releasing their debut album “Sonic Youth EP”, which although was not very popular, did earn some positive reviews.

Here is one of the tracks off that album, “I Dreamed I Dream”. 

Conclusion

The no wave scene was very intricate and had a lot of contributors to make it as unique as it was. Certainly there are even more artists who had an influence on the genre but these are, in my opinion, the top ten that every no wave fan should be aware of.

A Disjointed, Open-ended Essay on the Significance of Noise

by: A. Martellacci

I have of late, become obsessed with noise.  Semantically, aurally, visually; noise.  All my sketches, paintings, sculptures and textiles are littered with disordered overdrawing and unsettling half dreamed images from deep within the static.  The last song I composed received a review of, “Why?”, from one of my most honest and unpretentious friends.  It was a .6 second loop of a loose bass string; split, layered, cut and re-layerd until it sounded convincingly like two chainsaws fucking in a small bathtub (I’ll spare your ears), for seven and a half minutes.  The arguments with friends about what constitutes art have become more and more difficult as my credibility as a creator of anything that could remotely be called “art” dwindles in their eyes.  Even I am beginning to wonder.  Noise.  What is it?  Why is it?  Why me?

The google widget defines noise:

Now, can we live with that?  Does that make sense?  According to my music critic buddy I suppose it does.  Apparently noise also suggests deliberate sounds made with an emotional quality.  Given some other honest friend reviews included laughing out loud, extreme relaxation, fear and even arousal, I’d say there was an emotional quality.  I certainly intended to convey extremes of emotion in the piece.  As for the technical definition of noise, I’d assert my composition readily complies.  It is comprised entirely from anomalous sounds generated by arranging otherwise discernible signals in “random” or usually meaningless ways.  I call this, music.  Though I forgive you if you don’t.  And since we’re using it as an example, I guess I better let you hear it after all.  Consider the quickly hacked together stock footage a bonus.

Visually, there are ways to experience noise as well.  Just ask any photographer during the photo editing phase.  Certain types of image noise are the bane of those who cannot afford their dream equipment (which is almost everyone).  I recommend letting this guy explain the types of image noise to you if you like maths. If you find yourself interested, Professor Guillermo Sapiro teaches a course on Coursera, by Duke University, called, Image and Video Processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a Stop at the Hospital. It’s a great image processing course, but enrolment cutoff is April 30.  Hurry.

It is fascinating how much can be said on the subject of grappling with noise.  Simply searching, “audio noise”, returns myriad ways to get rid of it; all of varying technical difficulty.

Anyway, where was I?  Ah.  Noise.  Yes. Sometimes it’s difficult to concentrate.  Last week a new friend accused me of having a noisy brain.  He is correct.  My fascination with noise (not to play too much the psychoanalyst) probably comes from being the sole, nearly feral, rural child of busy parents.  With acres and acres, and hours and hours I developed an affinity for listening and looking so hard eventually the object of my attention would lose context, then meaning.  Images and sounds without context are often the reality of lonely children.

It’s exactly like when one says a word over and over.  First there’s the word.  Potato.  It is connected to the image of a lumpy brownish thing.  Next.  Po-ta-to.  The discovery of the delightful texture of the word.  Po-TA-to.  PO-ta-to.  Po-ta-TO. Poe.  Tae.  Toe.  Potato, potato, potato.  As your delighted brain masticates away, the context is digested.  Once context disappears, the word becomes temporarily meaningless; aka, noise.  At that point, a creative mind can do whatever it likes with those syllables.

One can do the same sort of thing with a hill of ants or the sound of cars on a far away country road.  The noise in my mind comes from a lifetime hobby of trying to dissolve the meaning of everyday things; to render them harmless or significant as per my fancy.  It is therapeutic, in a way.  It allows me to take myself from any context and observe; strip away preconceptions.  As a child I used this power to anesthetize loneliness.  As an adult, I use it to empathize with others and reduce anxiety.  The therapeutic use of noise has not gone unnoticed by better minds either. 

In an August 2010 issue of, eContact, a publication of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), sound artist and musician, Brenda Hutchison, tells the touching story of developing an interface to help her friend and fellow artist communicate after severe memory issues caused by metastasized breast cancer.  Ann Chamberlain’s memory was only three seconds long when she and Brenda (and Jean-Michel Couturier) began to collaborate on this compelling project.  A Wacom drawing tablet became Ann’s portal back into her beloved art world.  It’s a moving piece and some of the works to come from it are truly wonderful.  You can read the article here.  Ann’s previous work on memory is also profound and will require an entire post; may she rest in peace.

It figures the trail of this piece is tough to trace, but I swear I have a point.  The significance of noise is undeniable.  We have visceral reactions to it.  Agitation, anger, arousal, calm, giddiness.  We eradicate it in images and music like the hostile destroyer of order it may be.  We seek it in underground clubs and the depths of subreddits.  We re-insert it carefully into photographs.  Sometimes it can even heal us.  It is more than just a conversion error or a ghost of a sound in a recording.  It’s bigger than watching trails of ants form and reform, or losing time in a tree making the wind sing with the banging of hay wagons on stony roads.  Meaning is the background radiation noise creates for us.  The noise always exists.  We have to fight it to conceive our reality.

Noise is an ever shifting pool of ideas and innovation.  To me, inside noise exists all art; every muse.  It’s the ceaseless whizzing of the smallest particles of thought.  Even theoretical physicists are intimidated by fast moving, hazily defined points.  Sometimes I think if I just keep scribbling, something good will come out.  Sometimes I look at the scribbles and see something good already has.  In a world preoccupied with meaning; or worse, the deeply meaningful ironic rebellion against meaning, could it be useful to engage in a kind of… Zen nihilism? Generative oblivion?  Brain scribbling?  I don’t know what to call it.  The embracing of noise.  It seems like some real, ‘one hand clapping’, kind of shit.

Bonus:

No Wave Movement – Dead or Was It Ever Alive?

no wave performance

No Wave Music – What is it?

Vivienne Dick and Trixie at the Mudd Club

History of No Wave – Back to the Start

In 1978, a series of punk rock-influenced pop music performances took place in various New York art spaces, prompting Brian Eno to produce and publish a compilation entitled No New York.

Feature Pick

No New York

Buy On Amazon

This album, which brings together pieces from James Chance and the Contortions, DNA, Mars, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, marks the birth of the no wave as movement.

Here’s Teenage Jesus, playing a vague soundtrack to mental illness.

Coming To Grips

Many groups linked to the movement have sailed between funk, jazz, rock, punk rock, and avant-garde, under the general influence of minimalism.

No Wave Artists

While the movement was losing momentum and fading away in 1983, many artists in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s mentioned no-wave in their direct or indirect sources of inspiration. These “children” of no wave involve and implicate Sonic Youth, Swans, The Birthday Party (with Nick Cave), God Is My Co-Pilot, Lucrate Milk, Dog faced Hermans or, more recently, Erase Errata, Helmet, Big Black, Live Skull, These Are Powers, Deerhoof, and Liars.

Despite a certain confidentiality, the movement attracts many followers in Europe, especially among some journalists and music critics, including those of the Melody Maker in London. In France, rock critic Yves Adrien praises the no wave bands and is one of the few to support them in his articles that appeared in Rock & Folk. The Franco-American label Celluloid Records also serves as a vector between the United States and Europe.

In 2008, three books dealing with the no wave were released:

New York Noise by Soul Jazz Records…

Feature Pick

New York Noise: Art And Music From The

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No Wave by Marc Masters…

Feature Pick

No Wave

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No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980 by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley.

Feature Pick

No Wave: Post-Punk Underground New York 1976-1980

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To send us off, here’s Lydia Lunch speaking more recently about the cultural significance of No Wave.