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Clip: A Festival of Loud Sounds for Reasonable Musicians

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  • Carl Z.
    A Festival of Loud Sounds for Reasonable Musicians By JESSE FOX MAYSHARK Published: March 17,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2006
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      A Festival of Loud Sounds for Reasonable Musicians

      Published: March 17, 2006

      In 1981, the downtown New York art scene, full of gleefully dissonant
      music, prompted the rock critic Lester Bangs to write a short article
      for The Village Voice with the title, "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible

      Since then the din has only increased. Beginning tonight, it can be
      heard over the three days of the third annual No Fun Fest at the Hook
      in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Founded by the electronic improviser Carlos
      Giffoni, the festival will bring together nearly 50 performers who
      collectively span more than three decades of experimental music. (The
      full schedule is available at nofunfest.com.)

      And what might have surprised Bangs, who died in 1982 at 33, is that
      Mr. Giffoni expects to pack the club in on all three nights.

      "I know people that are into this music from all over the world," said
      Mr. Giffoni, 28, who was born in Venezuela and has an M.F.A. in design
      and technology from Parsons School of Design. "The first year of the
      festival, we had 400 people a night. Last year, we had 500 people a

      Whatever name the music goes by — avant-garde, noise or just, as Mr.
      Giffoni prefers, extreme — it is more easily defined by what it
      eschews than what it encompasses: conventional ideas of melody,
      harmony and rhythm mostly fall by the wayside.

      "It's more of an approach to sound than it is a genre," he said. "It's
      more of an ability to step out of the preconceived tonal structures of
      music and create your own rules."

      Mr. Giffoni said he was inspired by a 2002 avant-garde festival in
      Minneapolis. The name No Fun was suggested by his friend Thurston
      Moore of Sonic Youth. "What Carlos really sort of envisioned was a
      festival that presented the current scene," Mr. Moore said in a phone
      interview. "For people who are into that scene, it's the most exciting
      festival going."

      Performers this year include downtown veterans — like Mr. Moore and
      the percussionist Ikue Mori — along with the influential Japanese
      artist Masahiko Ohno (performing as Solmania) and the young Michigan
      band Wolf Eyes, the current stars of the scene (if the scene can be
      said to have stars). The group's signing to the Sub Pop label in 2004
      was a breakthrough for its brand of howling electronics.

      The British critic Mark Sinker, who a few years ago wrote an expansion
      on Bangs's piece called "The Rise and Sprawl of Horrible Noise,"
      traces current noise music to a cluster of genres that came together
      in the 1970's and 80's: punk, hard rock (exemplified by the shrieks of
      Pere Ubu as much as by the sludge of Black Sabbath), funk, free jazz,
      early electronic experimentalism, the clanking industrial music that
      grew out of Conceptual art and the challenging modernism of composers
      like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis.

      "In the decade that followed (i.e. the 80's)," Mr. Sinker added in an
      e-mail exchange, "hip-hop, metal and techno all fostered a
      self-conscious 'noise wing.' "

      Mr. Giffoni attributed the growing fan base to several things,
      including the Internet, which has made it easier for people to find
      and hear obscure artists, and the maturation of the music. Its
      influence has entered the pop mainstream in forms as varied as the
      chart-topping grind of Nine Inch Nails and the sonic collages that
      undergirded Public Enemy's dense hip-hop.

      The music's confrontational tendencies have led some critics to
      stereotype it as the province of angsty young males. But the No Fun
      Fest lineup suggests otherwise. Tonight in particular will feature
      several female performers, including Can't (a project of the Boston
      musician Jessica Rylan) and Ms. Mori playing with the harpist Zeena

      Tonight's headliner is Smegma, a Portland, Ore., band that formed in
      the mid-1970's. Jackie Stewart, 49, who has been in Smegma since 1983,
      said she had found experimental music welcoming. "There's a lot of
      people involved, all kinds, plenty of girls," she said in a phone
      interview. "I've got girlfriends in the Bay Area and L.A. who play."

      Mr. Giffoni said the festival had drawn sizable female crowds in its
      first two years.

      That it draws crowds at all is what gratifies Jim Sauter, one of the
      founders of the blaring experimental jazz trio Borbetomagus, which
      formed the late 70's. The band played the festival last year and is
      returning to headline Sunday night.

      "We were lucky in the 80's if there were three or four people at a
      show," Mr. Sauter said in a phone interview. "It's almost like, Thank
      God I lived long enough to see this."

      Bangs didn't. But he understood the attraction of the music. "The
      point of all this, of course," he wrote in his essay, "is that hideous
      racket is liberating."
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