Jan 26, 2014

I Hate Music, or, How I Learned to Reset My Head

Guy Playing Accordion with S.T.F.U. stamp

With a singer-songwriter as a father, one would assume that I grew up in a home with music always in the air. This was not the case. When I was young, my father actively avoided listening to music and his temperament was such that when he did something, everyone in the home did it. We didn't listen to albums. In the car, the radio was always off.

When you're a kid, you just go with the flow because everything's normal, right?

"Sometimes when we go outside, people go apeshit and take pictures of us. We get on stage and all of those people are now somewhere behind the blinding lights while the music happens. Then we go home, there are no screaming people, and there is no music."

It made sense to me, I guess.

It was only upon entering middle school that I realized what was happening in other homes. People were listening to music, like, on purpose. And, it was apparently a BIG DEAL. So I acted like I knew what everyone was talking about until I could go home to find out what radio stations were playing this stuff and why everybody cared.

So, okay, I listened to bullshit music for a long time. I didn't know I had options. Then the Internet happened and, wow, did I have options. I quickly developed a librarian frame of mind about music. I needed to know it all: who did what, when did they do it and were they the first one to do it, etc. [You can check out the music compilation I made this Christmas, if you want to see where my taste in music ended up lying.]

The result of this sponge approach is actually fairly common: all songs began to sound the same. Then I joined my father's band and had to listen to 5,000 opening acts fuck up the same 30 songs every night. Half the smiling faces who talked to me wanted to palm off a demo. Everyone knew a D chord.

This wasn't helping.

I remembered how we never listened to music at home when I was young.

It made sense to me, a lot.

You can't go anywhere without hearing music. It's terrible for a person who has reached their saturation point with diatonically structured sound. You can't go buy bottled water without hearing some bullshit song through a bad speaker system.

So, why am I not locked up in a straightjacket by now?

Because I'm not the only one!

Probably since about thirty seconds after the first monkey started banging two sticks together, every era has had its own version of the guy who doesn't care about your band's demo, AKA, me. Some of those guys decided to do their own things with sound.

Igor Stravinsky was a boss. Every other piece in this article owes Stravinsky a debt. This segment of The Rite of Spring, a ballet, may sound like any other bit of classical music, now. It didn't when it came out. Nobody had heard anything like this in 1913. The stories of its debut performance are legendary. When the musicians began playing, the piece was met with laughter, like it was a joke. In the next half an hour, forty people had to be ejected from the theater for reactions covering nearly the entire spectrum of human emotion. That's a powerful sound.

We're skipping a lot of stuff to get here, to 1958, but this ain't a class and you aren't my boss and I can do whatever I want. Iannis Xenakis, I don't know how to pronounce his name, at all. I also don't know if he was dropped on his head or what but he liked making really strange noises. This piece, Concret PH, was made by recording the sound of burning charcoal and performing all manner of odd splicing work on the tape. I like listening to this while I read in the bathtub. When you expose your senses to chaos, the chaos overrides your mental noise. What's left is you, The Real You, alone, at the eye of the storm. Also check out Metastasis, if you're into this.

I think Lester Bangs called The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady the greatest album ever? Maybe he didn't. He was high, so who cares? There won't be any other "Jazz" in this article but this isn't really Jazz. Charles Mingus wrote this piece in 1963 to accompany a ballet. Sound familiar? I doubt I'm the first person to compare The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady to The Rite of Spring - the parallel is too obvious. Play this for your Jazz nerd friend and they'll probably look at you like you've begun farting out your eyeballs. This sounds like a horn section, drunk off their ass, stumbling down an unlit alley at midnight.

There were a couple of months in my life when I had to put this on in order to fall asleep at night. Steve Reich "composed" Come Out, in 1966, from a recording of a boy, falsely accused of committing a murder during the Harlem Riot of 1964, describing how he "had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them." The last part of the phrase begins playing on repeat, then Reich shifts the channels out of sync and what happens is pretty incredible. If you can't handle listening to the whole thing, at least skip to the end to see how unrecognizable a human voice can become.

Frank Zappa's old band The Mothers of Invention, with their aptly-titled 1969 piece, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." What's notable here is that the musicians making this racket are virtuosos, meaning they can play the most ridiculously complex musical passages. These are players who can make something seemingly impossible look as easy as walking to the mailbox. When you're at that level, an element of "Yeah, so what?" eventually seeps in, making this piece more of a shrug than a middle finger.

You don't have to worry about hearing the same old I-IV-V chord progressions if the song never changes chords! Enter the drone. I can't really explain what kind of trip Silver Apples were on when they made "Oscillations" in 1968 because I don't know. This is so far ahead of its time you could easily convince me that these two guys figured out time travel.

The audio of this is really bad. I mean, on this video, yeah, but even the actual bootleg I have [*cough*], which sounds AMAZING, is recorded from a mic placed inside the back of Lou Reed's guitar amp. You can hear the rest of the band, enough to know what's going on, but this is the price you pay for being a Velvet Underground fan. You spend hours listening to bootlegs, because that's the real VU, listening for maybe that one performance of one song that is better than all the other performances. This is that performance of "Sister Ray" - 25 minutes of "this is your brain on drugs." No other rock band was mixing garage rock, drone, and noise like this in 1969, except, maybe, The Stooges but I've never found any recordings. If you've only listened to the studio albums, you're doing this wrong.

Set aside twenty minutes and listen to "Yoo Doo Right," the last song on Can's first album - the only one they made with Malcolm Mooney before, you know, he went insane. This plodding slab of sound seems to be about how much better Malcolm's life is going now that some nameless female entity has become a part of it. Apparently, that shit went South. This is, so far, the closest thing to an actual "song" in this article but, yes, the bass pretty much only does those two things the whole time and, no, that isn't your telephone ringing.

A lot of people seem to think everyone who likes Trout Mask Replica is faking it. Marc Maron still doesn't get it, last I heard. Imagine what people thought in 1969? Anyway, what usually helps is understanding that this is a song, meaning it sounded exactly like this every time the band played it. Listen again. Listen again. Also, note when Captain Beefheart starts quoting Steve Reich's Come Out. Cool, huh?

It's called "Beginning of a Web" in my iTunes, so I don't know the actual title... but it's the beginning of 1971's Delusion of the Fury by Harry Partch, a guy so anti-establishment that he had to build his own instruments because the instruments all the rest of us use are only good for playing music with 12 stupid little notes repeating themselves all over the place. Harry wanted to write music with 43 notes. There's a pretty good documentary on Harry on UBU. He's kind of annoying but psychotic alcoholics usually are.

Slayer is like an annoying mosquito compared to early Swans. Brutal and unrelenting, this is "Half Life" from 1984's Cop. Talking about this music seems pointless. How could you ever describe this with words?

I would give anything to have been able to see this band on accident. You know, maybe head downtown in 1997 to some show my friends are gonna be at and see what's going down. Laddio Bolocko takes the stage and lays into this groove on "Goat Lips." You're thinking, "Ok. I've heard this before but this is being executed very, very well." Then, "Just... what? That hurts? Ok, yeah, that hurts but don't stop..."

You had a feeling someone was eventually going to make Noise into a genre, yeah? Yeah. They did. And, just like every other genre in existence, 90% of it is garbage. Adult Life by Carlos Giffoni, though, is quite impressive. This was 2008 but I'm gonna stop posting the dates these came out because it just makes sense for this music to have come into existence by now, in this world inundated with "music." This is not the song I wanted to post but if you can find "This Is How You Pull the Trigger," do find it.

This one, I love. "Beauty Hunter" from Burning Star Core's Challenger. I do sometimes wonder how it is that a bunch of sounds like this can have an actual emotional effect on a person. Perhaps the title lends poignancy to the experience but I doubt that's all it is. I guess we should just be grateful though, huh?

Remember when I called Slayer a bunch of wimps a little bit ago? I stand by that statement. Playing crunchy, squealing music about going to Hell and whatever else from The Bible is for dorks. This song sounds like it came from Hell. Actually, it sounds like a guy having sex with a drum machine in Hell. The song is "End Resolve" by Pyramids, from their self-titled debut. The whole album is great. You should buy it. Go buy it.

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


P.S. Please, if you enjoy the music in this post, go and buy the albums and support the artists.


  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Do you fuck with Wolf Eyes?

    1. I have in the past fucked with Wolf Eyes, yes.

  2. Anonymous6:15 PM

    I liked this post quite a bit. I'm of the opinion that Wolf Eyes & Ahnnu are at the top of the game in terms of creating unique non-traditional music, I don't know what the fuck to call it and I don't like just calling it noise.

  3. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Philip Jeck and Lightning Bolt are very special as well. I dunno if Lightning Bolt counts, they can be pretty songy.

    Iannis Xenakis, Steve Reich, Harry Partch, & Burning Star Core were much enjoyed and all new to me, thanks!

  4. Thanks for the post!

    So you are saying that you hate most popular music, at least that is what you mean right? I mean the music that is played in public over and over again is usually the music that is on the pop radio today, which does suck in my opinion.