Interview with Jason Avery which originally appeared in the Sacremento Underground Music Examiner (July 12, 2010)
Noise and The Human Responsible For The Madness
In an attempt to understand the mind of a noise artist or “power electronics artist” I contacted Philip Julian the creator of the project known as Cheap Machines. Cheapmachines and Noise music can be very violent in the most extreme way so I often assumed the artist creating the music might follow suit. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, most “Power electronics” or “Noise” artists are merely reminding us about the horrible mistakes our species has made in the past so we will not repeat them.
Cheapmachines seems to be more experimental and not intentionally violent whereas similar artists such as Merzbow seems to be mostly harsh and a difficult listen. I like the fact that Cheapmachines is so varied with the sound compositions and atmospheres created. Some of the tracks sound like transmissions from the deepest parts of outer space and feel very meditative. The spaced out meditative tracks are very different from your typical synthy new age meditation music and I think it’s largely due to the fact that most of the droning sounds are very organic in nature.
The music of Cheapmachines can also be very digital and noisy making each track a different adventure into an audio landscape not ventured by the average listener. I really appreciate Philip Julian for taking the time to appease my curiosity about the mind behind this odd and unorthodox music. The following is a brief correspondence with Cheapmachines in which Philip outlines some of what interests him about noise music and the reasons or non-reasons for creating this type of music.
What tools do you use to make this music?
Anything which comes to hand and that sounds interesting in it’s raw state. I’m not a musician, so anything that makes a sound is fair game. Predominantly, the tools I use are a mix of analogue electronics (mainly guitar pedals, contact microphones and modular synthesisers) and computers for manipulation and editing/mastering. I have also used “standard” musical instruments such as the organ and tuned metal percussion (gong, temple bowls) but these tend to crop up more in my drone related recordings.
When did you first get the idea to start making this type of noise music?
It’s difficult to pin it down to a specific start point. I usually say around 1997 but that’s really when I started to bother coming up with track titles and became more organised with the recordings. I’ve always been interested in the recording process and have had tape machines and things laying around the house since the mid/late 80’s. The interest in noise started through collecting second hand records as a teenager and becoming aware of noisy/experimental recordings from the 60’s. The more you explore, the more “permissions” you come across; what has gone before and what is possible in music. It doesn’t take long for you to discover that you can do absolutely anything you want to with sound.
What compels you to make noise?
Nothing compels me to do it at all. I can happily go for long periods of time without recording anything, then I’ll hear something or start tinkering with some sound or other and a recording starts to develop. The only real “compulsion” is to experiment, and it just happens that the sounds I like to experiment with tend to be noisy, unmusical ones. Just a question of taste. No different to why one person decides to play a saxophone and someone else takes up the piano.
Is this a rebellion against music? especially pop music?
Not at all, good music of any genre will stand the test of time whether it be pop, heavy metal, classical, jazz or experimental music for example. If noise is anti anything at all (and when it’s done well), it’s anti blandness or homogeneity. Most people who hear a noise or experimental record for the first time say “…can you do that? Is that music?” but there’s often a curiosity to hear more.
How many people actually attend these shows and is there really an audience?
Audience sizes vary a great deal, but there’s no doubt that there is an audience for noise. I’ve played virtually empty rooms and other times we’ve been at venue capacity and had to turn people away. Most performers could doubtlessly tell the same story. There are a number of yearly festivals all over the world for this music and all are very well attended and held in large venues.
I want to kill myself while listening to a track then feel a somewhat endorphin like sense of well being afterward. Is this a typical response most humans get from being bombarded by this sound?
The point you make about the endorphin rush is valid. There’s no beat, catchy chorus or tune you can whistle, so noise works on a much more visceral level. It provides “thrill” entertainment like a horror film or roller coaster, or a similar sensation to being on board or nearby when an aeroplane takes off. Certainly the best performances and recordings provide a sense of being overwhelmed by the physicality of the sound. You feel it rather than hear it. Wanting to kill yourself when listening to noise is not a typical response however. Talk to a doctor.
Are you on any medications?
Nope. No drugs… only alcohol, and not as much of that as a few years back. Playing and recording while drunk is pretty much a waste of time. The results are usually shambolic and not very interesting (even though it probably sounded amazing at the time…)
What kind of people are typically drawn to this kind of music? One might think the typical fan would be somewhat psychotic.
Varied and well balanced on the whole. I’ve only met one or two people who seemed to be genuinely disturbed or who really objected strongly to the sound in a live situation for example. I’ve had the odd person trying to close laptop lids and sound guys pulling plugs and cutting sound but nothing very dramatic. Minor interferences compared to some. Actual fans of the genre come across as fairly broadminded, intelligent people by and large.
Do you create the visuals for live shows?
No, I don’t use visuals. I usually find that the stock thing of playing in front of an unrelated film pretty tedious. If anything, I’m interested in the lack of visuals. It’s quite nice to play in complete darkness or where the audience isn’t expecting you to be. It’s also interesting having every light in the place on full; this seems to make the audience incredibly uncomfortable and exposed for some reason.