Start your review of Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation Write a review Shelves: i-own For my friends on here who only know my book side, I have a deep dark secret: I love noise. The compulsion started young. I remember telling my dad, somewhere around age 10, that I only wanted to listen to the loudest, heaviest, craziest music ever for the rest of my life. Understandably, this declaration was met with bemused silence. And when I say noise, I For my friends on here who only know my book side, I have a deep dark secret: I love noise. And when I say noise, I also mean Noise.
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Is it even music at all? No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. These all-Noise concerts usually happen about once a month in Tokyo, in different venues.
The livehouse, 20,v, is set up like any small hole-in-the-wall rock club, a poorly maintained, boxy room in the basement—actually, two floors down in the subbasement—of an anonymous building on the main shopping street in Koenji. I stand about halfway toward the front of the room, slightly to the side of the stage, in line with one of the huge towers of speakers. MSBR is on stage now, and he is very interesting to watch. His body movements are much more conservative than those of the energetic eighteen-year-old Long Islander Viodre, whose thrashing set preceded MSBR, but his hands are always moving: constantly adjusting pots and faders, starting and stopping sounds, changing them, pushing against pedals, and switching them off and on with the base of his hand.
He cuts in and out of an analog delay, shuttling through a spacey blur as he shifts out of one timbre and into another, never letting any texture linger for more than five or ten seconds. Everyone is rapt, falling into the steady flow of sound. No one talks; no one could talk if they wanted to Indeed, everything about this audience shows that they already know what they are doing here, as they stand scattered about the floor of the club, now watching the next band, Nord, blasting through the speakers, two huge thickets of incense burning on stage as blue light illuminates the performers from behind.
The low-end vibrations are inside my chest, forcing my lungs to compress as I exhale slightly, involuntarily, along with the blasts of sound. Nord is so heavy, pounding deep drum sounds, droning moans with electric clatter over it all, and as the atmosphere intensifies, growing louder, the lights begin to come up—white, glaring spots in my eyes as their set crashes to an end.
Finally, the famous harsh Noise duo Incapacitants takes the stage. Two or three others have done the same, but most press closer to the center as Mikawa and Kosakai crash their sounds against us.
One Noise musician I recognize is right up in front, directly in front of a speaker, bouncing his head and shoulders back and forth, and occasionally thrusting his arms out in front of his body toward the musicians, vibrating tautly in place. Mikawa is crushing a contact mic under a bent square of steel, tilting it back and forth to shift the oscillating loops of feedback emerging from his system.
Kosakai shakes the mic in his hand in front of his Marshall amp, his entire body rattling and jerking as if he is holding onto part of some powerful being that is trying to escape his grip, as a quaking stream of high-pitched noise spins out of the speakers.
Mikawa leans over in front of a smaller Roland amp, each of their heads down on either side of the stage, faces to their tables now, leaning on them, shaking them—or are they being shaken? Kosakai crashes to the floor in a jumble of electronic parts as his table collapses—the lights come up harsh and bright, shining right at us.
Suddenly the sound is cut, the lights switch off a second later, and we are left in a strange void of darkness and silence, soon broken by sporadic applause and shouts of approval, as the performers shut off their amps and abruptly stumble off stage, exhausted, tripping over the morass of wires on the floor.
Noise is about liveness and deadness, both in performance and in the technologically mediated sound of recordings. Listeners most often encounter Noise through individual experiences with recordings, and even the liveness of Noise concerts is geared toward isolated receptions of sound.
The feedback loop between liveness and deadness, then, is about the co-constitutive relationship between performance and media in the lives of listeners. But this loop runs parallel to another kind of feedback—between making sound and feeling its effects.
Liveness is about the connections between performance and embodiment, which transform passing moments into repeatable encounters of listening. Deadness, in turn, helps remote listeners recognize their affective experiences with recordings as a new aesthetics of sound and listening in the reception of Noise. I describe liveness in the places of Noise performance, in the embodied practices of Japanese Noisicians—particularly the legendary Incapacitants—and in the affective experiences of individual listeners.
Liveness is further embedded in Noise through the production and circulation of media. Noise recordings were foundational in the growth of performance networks, especially in North America. Noise is embedded in techniques of production that aestheticize its overwhelming sound into recorded qualities of loudness and harshness. The density of the experiential relationship between recordings and live performance in Noise follows from the displacement of musical communities and scenes in circulation.
Where is the real place of Noise? What do the sensations of liveness and deadness mean to different Noisicians and listeners? What kinds of emotions are produced in the sensational liveness of Noise? How are recordings woven into translocal receptions, especially for those far from any accessible live scene? How does recorded media help listeners connect their isolated listening to social performance?
Ethnographers often privilege live performance in narratives of musical culture. For many researchers, live music is where authentic musical experiences happen, and performances represent sites of dialogue and interactivity that stand in stark contrast to the displacements of recorded media.
Live music evokes an immediate—and apparently unmediated—experience that is musically authentic, culturally distinct, and sometimes politically resistant. The experiential binaries of this scenario do not offer much to redeem the participatory experience of mediated listening or justify the centrality of recordings in everyday musical life.
At best, recordings become disembodied placeholders for authentic culture. At worst, they are a virtual dead end that dislocates people from the living realities of music. But social experiences of live music can be profoundly individuated and often depend on embodied knowledge acquired through personal experiences with recordings. Recordings and performances constantly overlap in perceptual space but spin out into different contexts. In his influential book Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Society , Philip Auslander showed that contemporary live performance depends on the integration of technological media to create its cultural presence.
Meanwhile, liveness is inscribed in studio production techniques that sonically represent the copresent space of musical communities in recordings Meintjes ; Porcello Media, then, are not just the remote end product reflecting the original context of musical production.
Recordings make sense of music for listeners, and constitute different socialities of performance and musical community. It is important to recognize that liveness is not a natural by-product of live performance.
As Jane Feuer argues in her work on live television, liveness cultivates a feeling of immediacy and interaction with televisual events. Liveness helps viewers actualize the extreme fragmentation of space inherent in broadcasting and allows them to share the experience of a media event even as it happens somewhere else.
In this, liveness is both a technique of media production and a social habitus that naturalizes technological mediation through embodied practices of reception Couldry The notion of the scene was especially useful in complicating earlier notions of musical sub-cultures that imagined alternative social identities through art, fashion, and language Hebdige Will Straw used the term to describe the social construction of local communities in decentralizing practices of circulation.
In his useful formulation, a scene is not a physical site or network but a fluid and flexible mode of performance that helps listeners navigate the industrial contexts of music production. Yet music scenes sometimes boil down the essence of a local community to a singular authentic site, where unmediated social relations are musically enacted. This is not to deny the symbolic power of the scene.
The very idea is deeply motivating for fans who imagine, listen for, seek out, read about, talk about, and poetically conjure an original space of liveness, which appears to somehow transcend its own mediated networks.
But in Noise, deadness makes the scene live. Its listeners perform musical worlds through recordings: they repeat their sonic experiences, or put them on pause; they turn sociality up or down, or shut it off; they trigger individual memories and imagine impossible continuities between disparate places and times.
But they also bring a sonic imaginary into cultural circulations, which extends beyond their own private audition. They conjure places across the globe, possibilities buried in the past, and feelings beyond social representation.
Listeners slowly connect their own private sensory knowledge to the broader discourses of Noise, and more—they feel these sounds and emplace them in their own lives in ways that create new worlds of experience. And, as I will show, they can use these experiences of recordings to enliven the place of performance, by feeding their isolated listening into the scene.
In many ways, livehouses set the tone of music scenes in Japanese cities. The spatial fit between a livehouse and an audience is very important to the affect of liveness, because the feel of any performance is affected by the size of the venue. Noise is almost always performed in a relatively small livehouse, and occasionally but rarely in outdoor concerts or multipurpose art spaces.
Because organizers take a personal risk in paying the venue for tickets in advance, attendance is important and carefully managed. Most livehouses of this size are not dedicated to a single kind of music but accommodate many different fringe music audiences. This sense of place is crucial for creating local social identifications for global genres like hip-hop, which are often constructed through recordings produced elsewhere. The focused attention of listening in an enclosed space helps construct the boundaries of a local audience as well as a separation from the general public.
In Japanese cities, small livehouses sometimes occupy basements or higher floors of office buildings with little overflow into the outside world, rather than in street-level zones set aside for entertainment.
Foreign performers are often impressed and sometimes confused by the close attention Japanese audiences give to performers. Many have commented on the intensity of livehouse spaces, despite the fact that audiences were not necessarily any larger than at home.
The liveness of these moments promises the continuity of sociality beyond the walls of the livehouse, feeding back into the everyday lives of the listeners. Liveness is created simply by being in these special spaces, where people return over and over again to embody the scene.
Livehouses conjure and narrate musical worlds through this experience of repetition, which depends on the longevity of local performance spaces.
Local clubs are crucial in many histories of popular music, and are sometimes viewed as the actual source of new musical styles. Although there have been few clubs dedicated exclusively to Noise, there are some especially significant spots. For example, since the late s, the live-house Bears has been an important site for Noise, hard-core, experimental music, and extreme rock and has almost singlehandedly enabled the survival of underground music in Osaka.
Other clubs in Osaka, many of them larger and better equipped, have come and gone over the years. But livehouses do not often generate this distinctive sociality by being distinctive in themselves.
The music scene that travels best is produced in anonymous spaces, where liveness can be reassembled and remembered in many different environments. Many livehouses deliberately cultivate a neutral, temporary state of occupancy. Unadorned black-painted rooms situate the audience between two blocks of speakers; the PA reamplifies the onstage equipment in a sonic field that emulates a gigantic home stereo system. A tamariba creates a point of occupancy between place and event and between public and private sociality.
This is the liminal liveness of a waiting room, the feeling of standing in the crowd at a food stall or newspaper stand, or a gathering of acquaintances on a street corner. The sensibility of liveness can be developed only through the repetitions of personal experience. Liveness leads people from the heightened musical space of the livehouse to isolated moments of quotidian listening and back again.
In thinking about the virtuosity of live Noise performance, I unwillingly drag one particular memory to the surface: the moment I attempted to scream together with the Hijokaidan vocalist Hiroshige Junko in an open session at the No Music Festival in London, Ontario. Someone had suggested that we improvise briefly as a pair; Junko agreed, but I had forgotten my instruments and gear. I foolishly decided that I would just grab a microphone, seized with the idea that it would be great just to scream along with the famous Noise screamer.
But I was struck dumb a few milliseconds later, when Junko opened her mouth and emitted an amazingly earsplitting sound. Instantly overcome, I tried my best to make some kind of noise: after all, I thought, how hard can it be to just scream? But I could hardly hear myself at all. My weak, undifferentiated sounds underscored the intensity of her volume; the pure harshness of her timbral focus; the mix of constancy and deliberation with the shocking sense of being overwhelmed and out of control.
Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation