Nor Noise Lecture

The following is a lecture I held at the Bergen Støyfest at Utmark/Landmark 10. OCtober 2009, in connection with the screening of my interview film about Noise music, Nor Noise. The lecture was held in English out of consideration for the many international guests at the festival.



Before 2001 no one exept a handfull of people in the Norwegian underground music scene talked about Noise music; these being artists themselves known almost exclusively to an international audience.

In 2001 Francisco Lopez came to Trondheim and blindfolded everyone and let them sit alone in the darkness, and David Cotner ran around in the streets outside the small gallery that was the venue for his concert, the feed back noise so loud that it prompted angry neighbours to call the police.

In 2001 I stood sweating in the prisoners yard in the closed city prison in Kongsberg every evening for a new performance by Otomo Yoshihide at the jazz festival and together with a friend drove 8 hours and 800 miles to listen to Masami Akita play with Jazzkammer at the jazzfestival in Molde, then have a pizza and drive the 800 miles back the same evening.

In 2001 I interviewed Tore Bøe, who in the smoking breaks of the interview I did with him talked and talked and talked endlessly while I thought to my self, «This is what I should have filmed.»

In 2001 WIRE magazine hailed the Australian compilation LE JAZZ NON as one of the years best releases and Norwegian artist suddenly experienced an interest from national media that was taken by supprise that Norwegian artists they had never heard about were hot names abroad.

In 2001 – before 9/11 became a term – someone in an interview asked Thurston Moore, Where is it happening? And Thurston Moore answered, Trondheim.

In Trondheim, where the meetings between noise heads, electronica artists, jazz musicians and rock’n’rollers created something that had never happened in Norway before and that got international attention before national media realised what was going on.

In Trondheim there were Klubb Kanin, where experimental artists were given the possibility to play with established musicians and were given their 15 minutes on stage to to whatever the hell they wanted – and they did.

In Trondheim, where just as many people came to see the concerts as came when La Monte Young, John Cale, Tony Conrad and Terry Reiley held their now legendary concerts around in lofts in New York City at the end of the 1960s and changed contemporary music.

In 2001 I was there – in the middle of it all – with a video camera, wanting to document it all with the intent of making a short film about the experimental music scene in Trondheim not knowing that it would end up 2 hours long and taking 3 years to finish.

2001 was the year when «everyone» started to talk about it and it all changed for Noise in Norway.


Like everyone else I don’t like noise. I don’t like unwanted noises to disturb me, to keep me awake, or to corrupt or otherwise disrupt my mood.

In other words I don’t like cheesy pop music or bland rock, I don’t like electronica with a flat beat or independent music promoted by MTV.

But I do like Noise. I like hard, hardcore, aggressive and brutal sounds engulfing me into a state of pure singelmindedness.

Not that there isn’t enough bland and flat and boring Noise music out there. But I live now in a small post-industrial city without a live noise scene, where records have to be ordered, and I revel whenever I get to hear a concert – even a boring concert for me now has a freshness to it that makes it somehow exciting.

So in many ways I am back now to where I was at the middle of the 90s – long before the idea to make Nor Noise came about – back to a state of naive enjoyment. The kind of naive joy that prompted me to ask all those simple questions. Like “What is Noise?”

In 2001 I set out to document the very vibrant scene for experimental music in Trondheim and 3 years later ended up with Nor Noise trying to get an answer to that question – ending up with a series of interviews about a form of music that is not music but not mere noises either – hence the title: NOR NOISE.

I asked 12 very different artistes the simple question – What Is Noise? – and got 12 very different answers.

To me that is still the best answer yet to this question.

Because after all these years I still believe Noise to be more a matter of attitude and reseptive listening than about types of sounds or form and structure or the instruments or the equipment used.

Because I believe that if I were to ask the same question to any 12 artists here to day, I would get the same 12 very different answers.

Because Noise is about who you are and where you come from, what you have done and where you want to go.

Because Noise is all about context.

Because creating music is about making choises.

But even though the artists work diffrently, have different backgrounds and to a listening ear perhaps have little in common musically or to the untrained ear sound just alike, they all belong – in one sense – to the same tradition.

But a tradition not historically based.

Because I no longer adhere to the point of view I had when I made Nor Noise that there is a historical line going from Russolo and the Futurists, thru Varese and Cage, thru the avant-garde movement of the 30s and 40s, thru the modernist movement in the 50s, on thru the experimental electronics of the 60s with a Pierre Henry asnd a Stockhausen or the New York School of minimalismen, on to the Industrial post-punk and the rise of Japanse Noise at the end of the 70s.

As one musick historian have pointed out: You cannot talk about the History of music; you have to talk about the histories.

I talk about a tradition of attitude.

Because the attitude somhow remains the same thru the times. The do it yourself attitude. The anarchistic disrespect for established norms and forms. The make it new attitude. The democratic notion that you don’t have to be a trained musician to create music if you have the means to create it and the ideas and visions.

Quite the contrary – a lack of musical education often seems to further the vision of Noise as a vital and visionary expression.

Being stuck in one sound world or to a form or structure is for me a dead end musically. Wether it be the 4-part sonata form or the 2 verses and a refrain – I’m more interested in texture than structure, more interested in pulse than in a steady beat.

Musical form is grossly overrated as an estechical criteria. The same goes for the need to put everything into genres, to name it in order to understand it.

Noise is all and nothing. It is the total expression of Merzbow. But it is also the silence of John Cage.

Pulse is a dynamic and organic force. Texture moves me. It is something I as a listner can touch, whereas structure – unless in the hands of a brilliant visionary – in most cases is of only pure academic interest.

For me noise is about VIBRATIONS and IMPROVISATION – both too large subjects to be dealt with in depth here. But still.

The mere fact that at a Noise concert you are forced to listen with you whole body. You can wear earplugs but you cannot plug out the vibrations in your chest.

Noise is vibrations. Vibrations are energy. Energy creates.

I strongly dissaprove with those critics – even those positive to Noise – that Noise is destructive and breaking up Musical forms or whatever. That Noise is the oposite of Music – a musical anti-thesis.

After listening my way thru a lot of the music of the 20th Century I no longer can relate to the term «music» as having only one meaning or regarding only one line of development.

Music has changed after the meeting with noise.

Now that I’m back to being naive again I permit myself to ask a new, simple question – What happened to Music?

To me it has all become sounds. Much of it very boring sounds to booth.

Whereas I feel Noise to be productive and constructive – and highly personal, on every level.

Which of course is one result of improvisation. Because personality in music – Choise – is a consequence of the freedom of expression.

The freedom to use the sound material in any form you like – to create the sensation, the feeling, the expression you desire. The arrogance of disregarding everyone elses preconceivet notion about “what” and “how” and “because…”

Nor Noise was shot during 2001 – after the end of the tape era, when laptops for a moment pushed the effect pedals of stage.

Now in many ways we seem to be back at end of the 90s – pedals and electro-acoustic equipment side by side with laptops. Back to the hands-on process.

So in a sense little has changed since the film’s release. And yet everything has changed.

I still have to explain to my friends my fascination for Noise.

I still have to defend my fascination for a kind of musical expression or rather – to quote Brian Eno: «The idea of music as a highly physical, sensual entity – music free of narrative and literary structures, free to be pure sonic experience.»

But these same friends love the brutal soundwork and the energy on the latest A Place To Bury Strangers album. They listen to pop music with elements that only a few years ago could only be found on harsh electronica releases.

So in one sense people to day have accepted Noise as a part of the musical language in a quite different way than they had at the beginning of the decade.

But still only if the packaging is pleasant. The majority still don’t want to listen. The majority still don’t like Noise. And it is my belief that they never will. For them it’s only noises.

I like noise. Very much because of the energy in ut. The physicality of sounds – the almost ritualistic excursion of sensual overload.

Very much because of the personality behind it.

The development of individualistic expressions.

Many talk about noise being democratic. A chance for everyone to express yourself musically.

For me noise is a way of making music humane again.

Because when you boil it down to the basics – to music’s fundamentals – music is choises and the choises are made by persons and personality is and always will be a question of ATTITUDE.


© Tom Løberg Hovinbøle 2009