Suffering for Art II – Signal and Noise

Disclaimer: This is going to be a rant to if your arty-heart can’t bear it, judge me with abundance.

Well it is night 3 – for me – night 2 of Signal and Noise and it is the night of performances – sound experimental and laptop mostly. One thing some have in common – ungodly loud, and emphatically mediocre. Suffering for art again. I better go to art heaven after all I’ve ever tolerated. As a small illustration – the one performance (worst I’ve seen in a while) went from this loud to that loud (pictures no1 and no2). I don’t know what miffed me more about it – the lack of sonic complexity, the poor source material, the lack of transparency of what was going on computationally behind that jungle of wires, or the complete lack of any eye contact or connection with the audience on the part of the “performer”. NEXT!

The last picture in the row represents a piece which wasn’t “sound” per se, more I guess performance art. I mean, you gotta love walking in (as I did, halfway – snuck in whenever my volunteer shift allowed) to a room with a fake labyrinth on the floor watching a human being-like figure pick up layers and layers of clothes and put them on piling over top of each other. The sound accompaniment however – canned I suppose – was refreshingly pleasant, even though a tad loud and not really very dynamic. Sorta stayed where it was the entire time. But good.

One other performance was good too, and too bad I don’t have a picture or dB reading from it. It was comparably loud, but I’d argue at least warranted, or rather – it made up for the loudness with engaging material and a decent compositional arc. What??? A compositional arc – in a process piece??? You know what people, I am sick of process sound crap. Just because you demonstrate some sort of process live does not entitle you to have no beginning and no end! It’s like jamming. It’s only fun with your friends and with beer. If you are going to present anything to an audience, you OWE us something more. Also – I happen to hold the unpopular opinion that a sound piece doesn’t need to be loud in order to be effective. Why don’t you blow me away with your creativity and imagination, not with decibels!?

Which brings me to the last but not least important reason for this rant. The second to last picture. The last piece of Saturday night’s program. 30 minutes of two guys playing the same ONE chord on two electric guitars, sound cranked up super loud on distorting amps. Now there’s something you don’t hear every day. It’s hard to explain what happened for me. I was physically angry to be trapped in this place with my senses affronted by noise pollution. It was like sound violence. What made me more angry was what I can only term “the culture of experimental arts” where somehow it is not ok to say “That was a piece of crap” because, by deuces, there must be something you’re missing if you didn’t get it! The notion that every piece of experimental art is “good” and/or “meaningful” and if one doesn’t like it it just means they didn’t get it, is maddening to me. This is what happened – as soon as the NOISE piece started, the room cleared. I saw people holding their ears. Yet NO ONE would say it. Everyone pretended they just felt like stepping out for air, or to the front lounge for drinks at exactly that time. When I suggested to anyone that it was too loud I was met with awkward, almost pitying glances.

Some years ago I had a student in my sound class at SFU who was into punk music, and admitted to me that she had lost quite a bit of her hearing at that point because of going to several concerts a week. When I jumped in with advice, she smiled and said “I’m sure by the time I lose my hearing completely they would have come up with something in medicine, to cure it.”


1 thought on “Suffering for Art II – Signal and Noise

  • You’re totally right, spot on. Last year when I went to an electroacoustic concert, it was too loud. I told others that it was too loud. I left. I always carry ear plugs with me, just in case I have to stay and work in a place like that.
    I know I’ve played many loud gigs in my day (and I have the tinnitus as a reward), but there is no excuse for exposing an audience to excessive acoustic energy. What most of the ├╝berloud noise makers are missing is that our ears’ have less acuity when it’s too loud.
    Let’s keep listening, while we can.

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