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in noise we trust…

January 8, 2008

bowing the body of cello creating hissing sound… scrunching all 4 strings together with left hand while bouncing the back of the bow up and down on the fingerboard… pulling a string with left fingers while playing fast tremolo close to the bridge creating high squeaky sound that gives you goosebumps on your back…

what am i doing…? why am i playing with all this horrible noise that would shock my mother and make her regret that she sent me music schools all my life… cello is not meant to be played that way… what happened to all that long beautiful tones that supposedly remind you of human voice… how about some bach, seriously…

am i just being juvenile and indulging myself…? am i trying to prove something to someone…? am i getting out my repressed teenage aggression that i never got to let it out by playing in a punk band…?
playing music is not supposed to be a psycho therapy, you know… well, up to a certain point maybe but… ok, let’s stay away from that subject…

so why on earth am i making all that horrible noise…?

the first time i played “noise” was about 10 years ago while living in boston… i think it began while i was practicing some written music alone in a small practice room in college… after a while i got bored with it and went off playing something spontaneously (then i had no idea that it was called improvising)… when i accidentally played with more force that usual it created this distorted noise like sul ponticello but something even beyond, more than that spooky romantic quality of regular sul ponticello… the pitches were not really there but just the impression was… it was more aggressive and harsh and not beautiful by any means but somehow expressive… not to express certain emotions or mood but rather the connection between me and the instrument… it felt organic and free… i liked it… i liked it quite a lot…

that was probably the first time i felt that complete mental and physical connection between me and my cello after playing it for more than 15 years… and during all those ears i was mostly feeling like i was simply not good enough… believe it or not, i still have nightmares about going to cello lessons from my middle school with a teacher who seemed impossible to please… and it was always under someone else’s approval that mattered the most in order for me to feel i played something well or right… but this time, i was able to say i liked it and didn’t even matter if it was right or wrong… there was no reason to even ask myself that question other than just letting it happen and immersing myself in the experience itself…

after that enlightening moment i went on looking for more… from then every little phenomena involved in creating any unusual sound ot noise became so exciting… i had never known that cello could be played that way… i was paying attention to all the variations and accidents my instrument was producing… and when i found certain sound that fascinated me, i went digging deeper into it until i felt like it was turned into a musical language of my own…

a couple of years later i moved to new york where it seemed like everyone was playing with some kind of noise… and it was exciting yet somewhat disillusioning at the same time… this is not to say that i thought all the sounds i was making on cello were absolutely unique by any means… now i definitely know that most of the sounds i had “found” have been used by many other cellists or composers ahead of me but my ignorance back then worked as a perfect backdrop for my noise searching…

however something happened from the very first gig in new york… i realized that my playing had gone to the next level just by interacting with other musicians who obviously spent time and energy gathering up their own vocabulary outside the “normal” musical language… and their musical language triggered my own personal response rather than just copying them… it was so exhilarating… i was hooked… from then on each gig was to push more boundaries, to get that special place… to go further away from where i started… the urge was interestingly desperate…

then a couple of years later, i found myself and burned out…

each gig started to feel like some sort of sport game… i was playing harder and faster and more extreme… yet sometimes i would find myself playing noise for the sake of playing noise… and i wasn’t in control of what i was playing…
it was becoming rather physically draining and mentally numbing…

it was time for me to slow down and ask myself the question… what are all this noise for…?

i wanted to make music with all the noise which can stand on its own as a piece of music beyond it’s novelty value…

the only way for me to figure out how to do that was to utilize my formal musical training and all the musicality i had… for a while i regarded my formal education as a cage and tried to stay away from it as much as possible… but it was obvious that there was no way of completely erasing it so why not use it in conjunction with what i had gathered outside school… after all it’s all music, right…?

most importantly, i realized, was to trust in every single noise and sound.. no matter how far away it sounded from musical language to others, i had to trust that these are the materials i chose to use… and to treat them just as serious as i would with any other traditional musical language… every single noise needed that intention and care…

i became more selective with the noise… it has to make musical sense to me and be versatile that can develop into many different ways and shapes… and my job is to place it within the right musical context… and then it becomes my own noise although it might sound like any other people can play… just like how marcel duchamp did with his readymade objects…

this is not to say i succeed each time i play by any means… in a way it made harder for me to be satisfied with my playing even more… however when the noise i choose truly becomes a musical language that works in a context, that ecstasy is something i can hardly live without…

obviously it’s been only possible because there are so many great musicians with the same conviction who came before me and many of them still re-inventing their languages… if they hadn’t done it earlier, there wouldn’t have been any room for someone like me to start making my own noise… and have an audience who are willing to strip away from any pre-conceived notion of what music should sound like… and even touched by this abstract music filled with noise… hopefully this curiosity and tradition will go on…

so, please tell me, do you trust in noise…?

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7 Comments
  1. Fascinating post. Does trust involve a certain amount of risk? For it seems that there is a great amount of risk when trusting in noise as one can’t seek recourse in traditional musical spaces which are already justified and somewhat valued by being situated in years of tradition. That noises “can develop into many different ways and shapes” takes one out of any comfort zone, as there are no guides on where to go. Is to trust in noise then to let noise lead you, to give yourself to it and to thereby risk yourself in the potential failure or success of this giving?

  2. That was beautifully put.

  3. yes, absolutely… like so many things in life, you have to take some risk if you want to find out what’s there beyond your comfort zone… and it’s totally ok if someone doesn’t have that desire… i know people who can stay content… see, i’m not someone who could stay satisfied too long… after i get used to my comfort zone, i need to expand it further, not by extreme but little by little… and knowing what i can handle definitely helps me doing that without losing control completely, even though that could be liberating in some ways… and yes, i do let noise lead me but without losing the understanding of it… i will get into a single noise as deep as i can while focusing on a bigger picture which is music making… also i think my noise can be interpreted as many other things that people do it with total conviction…thank god, everyone’s different…

  4. to trust is really to risk pretty much. it is quite a gamble. but look at the bright side — you will find out if you love it or hate it, it won’t kill you. so… why not?

  5. As long as you can enjoy the things you are doing. I think it is also important to take sometimes a distance in what you are doing and to try to understand what is happening. This point of overviewing will gives input to develop other ways of making creations. It can happens that this create a situation where you have the impression to be in a ideological crisis. It is a part of a personel evolution.Once you have managed it it will gives a lot of new opportunities to develop sounds whitch you wouldn’t have used or combined before. I have the impression that it is with a lot of things in live. It is no risk. It is just a question of you wanne do it yes or no. The only thing whitch can be a risk is that the other people who are also involved with it can’t deal with it.If they don’t then try to find out why that they can’t appreciate it. Once you know why then evaluate if you can do things so that they can appreciate it. This can be in changing the way of playing , it can also be to educate the listener , to find other people who can appreciate it etc…. The most important question is do you feel yourself good in what you are doing.If so then go on in what you are doing but when it isn’t then try to find out why and what is the base of the ‘problem’.With the reasons of why and what try to find out if you can change things so that it will became again something that can gives you a good feeling. Keep in mind that people are always in a stade of evolution.The most important thing is that what you are doing is what you wanne do and all the rest is less important. If it is “noise” or “music” it doesn’t matter. When is “noise” music and when is music “noise”? It is a subjective personnel way of viewing that is always changing.By the way I saw you playing in 2006 in The Stone and was really impressed in what you where doing!I can appreciate it when people are totaly involved in what they are doing.Great!!! I would like to see you soon again.NicoFrom Sound and Emotionssoundsandemotions@fmbrussel.be

  6. Long live noise!!I like it when you play like that.

  7. Such a great post explaining the intentions of the musical avantgarde. Thanks!

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