My boyfriend knew never to discuss with me the possibility that “noise” music could take any talent to create; he knew I’d say there was no kind of artistic value in a bunch of sounds that I could easily reproduce. He knew that I equated noise to contemporary art that consists of a blank canvas or an empty room or a single red dot painted with a shaky hand. And he knew very well that I was absolutely determined to stay ignorant.
So I understood his shock when I notified him that I would be going to Ithaca Underground’s Naked Noise #7 on Saturday night.
What changed my mind was basement duty. It was late last Monday night, and I exhaustedly slumped down the basement stairs with my broom, only to find Beau Mahadev ’18 playing around on their new synthesizer. I began sweeping without even giving Beau’s sounds a second thought. My mind hadn’t shifted into the frame of music listening; it hadn’t applied the listening lens that my experiences have created. I wasn’t searching for a pleasant beat, wasn’t evaluating lyrics, wasn’t passively listening to a background noise. My brain firmly decided that I was not listening to music, but that I was sweeping. Caught off guard, vulnerable and stripped of its usual pre-conditioned music-listening garb, my brain got tricked by the sounds that Beau was making into feeling far, far away from the broom. I don’t know how Beau did it, but I was not sweeping anymore; the wooden dowel was not moving through my hands, piles of dirt and glitter were not being collected and I certainly wasn’t in that crumbly basement of drinking games and laundry days which I know and love.
I find myself continually shocked at the power of the social conditioning to which our brains have been subjected. I never liked noise music before this because I had never been capable of listening to it without my preconceived notions of what is good and what is bad. I had thought I was “open-minded,” but I was unable to grasp the concept that there was a specific space which society had created in the messy background of my brain in which all music-listening thoughts took place, where all the rules of good and bad were to be strictly followed. The sounds that Beau created entered my brain without going straight to the music-listening thought-space; they floated in places that they had never been before and were not meant to be, confusing my habituated, structure-ridden mind more than it could handle.
After the show on Saturday, some of my friends argued that Naked Noise wasn’t “adequately transporting,” that they were unable to get lost in the venue and that the magic of the noise didn’t work. The fact that they were looking for the venue to be the catalyst for their experience was almost ironic to me, considering that the point of noise (as I now see it) is that it should be listened to and looked at without any forethought of not only the venue, but the experience as a whole. It is rare to be as caught off guard as I was in the basement the other day, rare to find something that enters your cortex before the subconscious window falls in place, before the societal laws that have been nailed in since birth are allowed to bring order to our messy perception.
Although I was expecting it the second time around, and although I had maybe even started to construct an “experimental noise-listening space” in my brain, Naked Noise managed to give me another experience different from anything in my life thus far. I was able to absorb the noise even though my defenses weren’t lowered and even though I wasn’t caught off guard. I think that’s the point. I think that experimental music is meant to constantly stretch the limits of what is and is not expected, so that no laws can fit it into a standard box that our simply-governed minds can understand. Naked Noise did exactly that. The setup was perfect and the musicians must have been telepathically communicating, as the sound culminated into a swarm of experience in the center of the room, with individual, distinguishable roads on the edges.
Now, I can’t believe I didn’t think that noise requires talent; the aura that the musicians created on Saturday night was nothing I could ever reproduce. Thank you to all of the musicians at Naked Noise for making me question the very basis of my own simple mind.
Lindsay Vinarcsik is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.