There's another reference to the Jesus and Mary Chain in "We Looked Like Giants" by Death Cab for Cutie ("Do you remember the JAMC?"). They (the JAMC) were my favorite band for a while in high school. I used to listen to "You Trip Me Up" and "Never Understand" getting ready for school in the mornings (12" singles--do they still exist?). The band was famous for causing riots by playing for only 15 minutes when people had paid money and maybe traveled miles to see them live. Comparisons were made with the Sex Pistols. Apparently they are still iconic or considered representative of some age or mindset (I almost wrote "vibe").
Their look is very 1980s (especially the hair), combining 1960s elements (I waited every year for the always-predicted psychedelic revival that never came) with goth-y black. And the sound is presumably inspired by the Velvet Underground: '60s innocent niceness plus feedback and lots of noise. Everyone in those days copied the Velvets in one way or another, because they were about the only band from before 1977 that you could admit to liking. (That probably sounds like an exaggeration, but as I experienced it punk happened almost literally overnight and changed completely what was socially acceptable in clothes and music. I was only about ten, and not exactly hip, but even I noticed it.) It's the noise that I'm interested in right now.
Dave Maier has an essay on noise music here. He's talking about this kind of thing:
Unlike the Jesus and Mary Chain, I can't really see this being used in a romantic Hollywood movie. Philip Larkin judged music by this criterion: "As it enters the ear, does it come in like broken glass or does it come in like honey?" (All What Jazz, p. 28) The JAMC deliberately went for both (as, I think, do The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, although they blend the two, while the JAMC gave you one in one ear and the other in the other). Noise music, as far as I can tell, wants to be like broken glass. I vaguely approve of this, but I can't honestly say I like it. There's a grumpy Larkin in me that rejects it, and a skeptical Wittgenstein, the Wittgenstein who wonders what Europeans who claim to appreciate African art could say about it except "How charming!" Would they, for instance, be able to offer critical suggestions while such a work were being made, telling the creator to add more here or take some off there? If not then it all seems a bit shallow. And I feel that way (I emphasize 'feel' as opposed to, say, 'judge after much careful thought') about noise music.
I'll try to let a series of quotes from Maier explain what the point of noise music is meant to be. He begins with a paraphrase of an argument by Nick Smith:
According to Adorno, language, art, and philosophy are all manifestations of underlying sociocultural phenomena. Everything Adorno deplores – the economic inequality and social oppression which he sees as the inevitable result of capitalist economies based on the principle of abstract exchange-value – can thus be diagnosed in the analogous ills afflicting the corresponding spheres of culture, including philosophy itself. The engine of capitalist culture is instrumental rationality, which abstracts from individual things and persons for the purposes of economic and social efficiency
Adorno sees art's [...] independence from conceptual understanding as a possible way to resist the cultural hegemony
Unfortunately, as Adorno recognizes, this role for art is futile from the beginning. First, there is an irresolvable tension in using art as a tool to combat instrumental rationality. Similarly, even to the extent that it succeeds, art is in constant danger of succumbing to its own success, which commodifies it and subjects it to the same concept of exchange-value that it was its cultural task to overcome.
All that art, even the best art, can do is to mourn the loss of meaning to those who are capable of mourning with it (that's us), and to dramatize the current desperate situation in the vain hope of shocking the rest of us out of our complacency and complicity with the system.If this is right, then the mourning seems to have some possible value, but the attempt to shock seems like more instrumentality. Maier goes on:
If there is to be effective resistance to the pop-cultural juggernaut, it must be sought in a different place. Smith locates the contemporary battlefront at the interface of music and noise.
Like Adorno – on Smith's interpretation, anyway – Smith seems to assume that only in total subversion of traditional aesthetic standards can the virtuous resistance to commercial culture take its (here regrettably final) stand, and that every other kind of music (except perhaps those few dogged academic serialists?) is fatally complicit with ruling-class ideology and thus aesthetically worthless (and vice versa).One thing I don't get here is how virtuous resistance to commercial culture (and nothing else) can be one's reason for putting on some music. Why bother? The JAMC approach makes sense to me: you listen for the nice tune, the horrible noise makes it culturally palatable. But why would anyone choose to listen to just the noise (except to annoy their parents, impress their peers, etc.)? But wait.
Smith’s picture is much more pessimistic than Adorno’s, essentially conceding defeat by the forces of consumerism. However, his conception of the aesthetic significance of noise is neither sufficient as it stands nor shared by all noise artists.
Spanish sound artist Francisco López [says]: “I think this [listening to a waterfall or radio static, "sounds that initially appear as a solid mass but slowly reveal themselves to be made up of myriad micro-particles"] is actually completely different from the traditional conception of listening to music, in which you want to listen to melody or rhythm or whatever. What I want to do is something that is more blurred, something that does not have a definite structure. But it has some inner richness that you can appreciate, if you listen carefully. If you do this, you’ll discover many things there. This is a question of going really deep into the listening experience.’
After we become accustomed to the necessity of listening in more than one way at once, this experience itself becomes a single, expanded way of listening. Such expansion results in greatly expanded possibilities for the pointed disruption of interpretations-in-progress. Our concepts need not be overwhelmed by an object for dislocation to occur, but simply eluded, if this can be made to happen in an appropriately subtle way – and thus by sounds potentially quite unlike those made by that unfortunate cat with his tail in the blender.There are a few issues here. One is the problem of instrumental thinking again, but I think this is not fatal. If artists aim at creating disruptive or dislocating works, or if consumers of such work consume in a conscious attempt to achieve disruption or dislocation, then the kind of instrumental thinking that is meant to be avoided has not been. But if people make or listen to this stuff just because they like it and the reason why they like it is its liberating or dislocating effect, then that seems OK. The remaining questions that occur to me (apart from whether the Adorno/Smith thesis is right in the first place) are whether that is why people like this stuff (and they aren't just being fooled or fooling themselves) and then the practical problem of how one gets to like it in the first place. I would much rather listen to rainfall than noise music inspired by the experience of listening to rainfall. This could get boring, of course, but a walk is usually more pleasant if you (i.e. I) turn off the iPod and listen to the birds instead. But there's no reason why you couldn't do that and then go home and listen to noise music, if that's your cup of tea.