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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Refined Noise

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.


Listeners to this podcast know that I have a fondness for electronic music consisting of noise, ambient and electrical, musical, and non-musical. I’ve had several episodes exploring recordings around noise. In August of 2020, I did a podcast called Noises from the Past, which was a short history of noise music with vintage recordings of examples form the past that blended music with noise. In May 2021 and March 2020 my episodes called New Arrivals to the Archive featured several recent discoveries of contemporary recordings of electronic music with noise. I have also featured elements of noise in several other episodes, along with industrial and radio broadcast sounds, telephone sound, and computer noise. Noise is a subject of which I never seem to tire.


As much as I appreciate industrial music with loads of noise—walls of noise--I also have a fondness for the adept application of noise elements—non-musical sounds—to an overall fabric of music that contains noise without being totally unhinged. And to these kinds of examples I dedicate this episode.


All of the details of the tracks are found on my podcast website.


We will hear a limited release recording of Claus Bohmler, a visual artist from Hamburg, mostly known for his art and video work. In 1996 he created a mosaic of recordings from cassette recordings including all kinds of common, interesting sounds. In 1977, musician David Cunningham had a recording that captured his process of working with an ensemble in which mistakes that were made were cues for the other players to continue in that vein. The two works included here, one for guitar and the other for water sounds, are solo works in which he replicated that process used with the ensemble. From 2013, we have some work by Luke Fowler which uses piano and synthesizer. One of my favorites, Merzbow collaborated with the female artist Genesis Poorridge in 1999 on a recording rich with musical noise and audio processing. Then, from 1960, I have an unusual, and rare recording from Emory Cook of Cook Recordings. Cook was known for making high fidelity location recordings and musical records from the mid-1950s to the 1960s. He patented a special vinyl pressing technique called Microfusion to produce high quality vinyl records. When he wasn’t releasing sound effects such as Mexican Firecrackers or location recordings of calypso music, steel bands or a Creole Christmas, Cook managed to slip a few strange experiments into his catalog. This record, number 40850, comes from a series of five albums he produced around 1960 that combined musical tracks from his other albums with a track of pure white noise. The music would play on the left, the white sound would play at the same time on the right. I have several of these discs plus a demo album that Cook produced. The tag line for the “White Sound Series” was “analgesic sound for control of tensions.” The cover stated boldly that the album was “The new analgesic white sound to help in control of Tension, Headaches, Insomnia, Appetite, Smoking. A natural relaxant.” Then, from Mincemeat or Tenspeed, an electronc musician from Rhode Island, we have a track from a test recording made in 2010. And we will finish up with an album side of very refined noise music from Suzy Poling, sometimes known as Pod Blotz.


In the background during the opening of the podcast is by Mika Vainio, called “Lydspor (Part I),” Mika was an electronic musician, composer, and producer from Helsinki.  This was a record produced and curated by Paul Smith in 2018 with Moog Technical Support and Engineering by Finlay Shakespeare. It was part of a limited series of Moog albums produced at the University of Surrey in the UK when they were home to a set of Moog Modular synthesizers and components, lent on an arrangement with Moog Music USA that Paul Smith made happen.


Episode 114

Refined Noise

 Playlist

1.    Claus Böhmler, “Klangundkrach, Part 1” from Klangundkrach (1996) (2014 Slowscan). Recorded in Hamburg 1996. Edition of 270 copies. Böhmler was a German visual artist, video maker, and sometimes music artist. His website contains a great sampling of his visual work, texts, and writing about his work. There are not many clues as to how he made this recording except for a cover photo of several Walkman style cassette players with output cables attached. (12:46)


2.    David Cunningham, “Guitar Systemised” and “Water Systemised” from Grey Scale (1977 Piano). For tape recorder and guitar sounds or water sounds. These two works mimic a process used in some of his other compositions where, “The players play a repeating phrase. As soon as one player makes a mistake that mistake is made the basis of his repetition unless it is modified by a further mistake. Thus each player proceeds at his own rate to change the sound in an uncontrollable manner.” Except for in the case of these two works,  the water piece and the guitar piece, the process is “analogous” to those works but “the process is automatic here, an inherent quality in the machinery used.” (03:10) and (04:06)


3.    Luke Fowler, “GOLD Side” from Fowl Tapes II (2013 Dekorder). Keyboards, Richard Youngs; Piano and synthesizer, Luke Fowler. Source material performed by Luke Fowler between 2009 and 2011. (17:43)


4.    Merzbow / Genesis P-Orridge, “Source Are Rare” from A Perfect Pain (1999 Cold Spring). Noise Electronics, BIAS Electric Drum Unit, TR606, Filters, Ring modulation, Masami Akita (Merzbow); vocals, producer, Genesis P-Orridge. Genesis P-Orridge: master DAT edited at The Armadillo Studio, Northampton, England, May 1998. Masami Akita: recorded & mixed at Bed Room, August 1998. (23:06)


5.    Emory Cook, “Untitled track 1” from Microfusion White Sound: Popular Combo (circa 1960 Cook). Emory Cook was known for making high fidelity location recordings and musical records from the mid-1950s to the1960s. He patented a special vinyl pressing technique called Microfusion to produce high quality records. When he wasn’t releasing sound effects such as Mexican Firecrackers or location recordings of calypso music, steel bands or a Creole Christmas, Cook managed to slip a few strange experiments into his catalog. This record, number 40850, comes from a series of five albums he produced around 1960 that combined musical tracks from his other albums with a track of pure white noise. The music would play on the left, the white sound would play at the same time on the right. I have several of these discs plus a demo album that Cook produced. The tag line for the “White Sound Series” was “analgesic sound for control of tensions.” The cover stated boldly that the album was “The new analgesic white sound to help in control of Tension, Headaches, Insomnia, Appetite, Smoking. A natural relaxant.” You be the judge as you listen to a track of a popular “cocktail combo” (called a “popular combo” on the record label, combined with white sound. “Not to be played at more than ordinary room volume level.” (03:15)


6.    Narwhalz Of Sound / Mincemeat Or Tenspeed, “Untitled” (3 tracks, side 2) from Doonesbury Dropout, Frasier Freedom / A Rave New World (2010 Isle of Man). This is a test pressing of what I think is this album. Side 2 is by Mincemeat Or Tenspeed, an electronic musician from Rhode Island (currently). (14:15)


7.    Pod Blotz, “Giving,” “Future Romance From The Past,” “Crests And Reflections,” and “Black Glass Monolith” from Glass Tears (2013 Clan Destine Records). Music project of experimental artist and musician Suzy Poling. (18:05)


Opening background music: Mika Vainio, “Lydspor (Part I)” from Lydspor One & Two (2018 Moog Recordings Library). Producer, curator, Paul Smith; Moog Technical Support, Recording Engineering, Finlay Shakespeare. Part of a limited series of Moog albums produced at Surrey University when they were home to a set of Moog Modular synthesizers and components, on arrangement with Moog Music USA. Mika Vainio was born in Helsinki, Finland and died in 2017 in France at aged 53. He was an electronic musician, composer, and producer. (19:26)

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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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