Whenever one hears screeching, their first instinct is to turn down the sound. Last Saturday night, the musicians felt like doing just the opposite — make it as loud as possible. Over the weekend, Fanclub Collective presented two free-noise groups, Wasteland Jazz Ensemble and the Bill Nace and Paul Flaherty Duo, as a part of a series of concerts that the club is organizing to showcase the different approaches to improvised music. Even though the performance was hosted in the cramped, fluorescent-lighted offices of the Toboggan Lodge, this allowed the musicians to fully submerge the audience in myriad of complex, diverse and unworldly sounds.
For those who are not acquainted with free-noise, it is a mix between noise music and avant-garde jazz. In layman’s terms, it’s the use and modification of sounds, conventional and not, to create songs, usually without an audible structure or consistent rhythm. While this definition might make free-noise hardly even seem like music, it really is. Free-noise is truly an exploration into the vast world of audio and exposes the audience to many unique combinations of sounds that would most likely not be heard otherwise. It is an under-appreciated art form that encapsulates the listener in a cocoon of innovation and chaos.
First up was the Midwest-based group, Wasteland Jazz Ensemble. The group was actually a combination of two bands: Wasteland Jazz Unit, composed of saxophonist Jon Lorenz and clarinetist John Rich, and drummer Ben Billington of Tiger Hatchery. The Cincinnati-based Wasteland Jazz Unit comes from a very vibrant and liberal music scene. The duo actually helped revitalize their local experimental music venue, Art Damage Lodge, which frequently hosts music and art shows and broadcasts a similarly-themed radio station. Earlier this year, the two released Shivering Reflections, which has been met with much praise. While the group played in Ithaca last year to much acclaim, it was Billington that, as several concertgoers noted, made the group sound more cohesive. As the group started playing, a wave of screeching and clattering spilled across the room. Lorenz and Rich, with their backs to the audience, flailed around incessantly, still with their instruments held forcefully. The two utilized several wah wah pedals to further modify their instruments and create distinctive sounds. Billington performed in a similar fashion as he spastically played many complex fills and unique rhythms. He relied on his many cymbals to break up the various riffs. Billington actually employed several self-made percussive instruments, such as a metal Frisbee and heat sink, to further fill out the group’s sound. Several times, the groups came together for certain melodies, but largely the members seemingly improvised their own heavy lines. The group produced endless waves of sound that continued to intrigue the listeners. Even Flaherty accompanied the group a few times, as he offset the music with several yells from the back of the room. Though the group only played one song, the 20 minute epic had a wide range of textures and timbres, which sufficiently satisfied the audience.
Following was the Bill Nace and Paul Flaherty Duo. Throughout the past six years, the two have collaborated frequently and produced a wide array of music. Most notably, the two worked with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in 2008 to create a self-titled EP of three songs, which was well received by critics. Both musicians are known throughout the music community as exceptional and innovative, as they have been leading forces in the New England free-noise community. As the two moseyed their way on stage, they pulled out many interesting artifacts. From tuning forks to beat-up saxophones, Nace and Flaherty were clearly veterans. The two opened with an intricate set of exotic and mysterious melodies and sounds. Nace set down an initial ambient drone, through his many pedals. Nace’s style of playing is especially notable, as he sits down with the guitar across his lap and hits it with various metal bars and bowls to create remarkable noises. Over Nace, Flaherty played interesting lines that ranged from flowing and mellow to rough and precise. As Flaherty noted afterwards, his approach to music is “free.” He plays based on intuition and through communication with Nace throughout the set. Between Nace’s constant head banging and Flaherty’s own movements, this interaction was hardly visible. However, the group was incredibly cohesive as they progressed through two 20 minute songs as one unit. The two frequently utilized silence to contrast the more full-bodied parts of the song. Even though it was hard to determine when exactly the group ended, Nace and Flaherty truly created an fascinating musical experience.
While free-noise is obviously not one of the more popular styles of music, the two groups featured gave an exemplary performance of this style of music. However, the genre cannot be pigeon holed. As several members of the groups noted their influences, they continued to cite other descriptions ranging from Japanese Noise to the cement mixer in the parking lot. Free-noise can really be anything as it is truly an investigation of the unexplored corners of music.