Thursday, January 17, 2008

Noise/Music: A History: Paul Hegarty (Continuum Books, 2007) This new book is important, if for no other reason than it is unique and long overdue. To my knowledge, no other writer has published at this length on this essential, 50 plus year old anti-musical “genre.” Considering how influential much of what Hegarty discusses has been upon the mainstream of popular music this failure borders on criminal. And considering the weight resting upon Hegarty’s scholarly shoulders, he bears well the responsibility. Unfortunately, the fact this book is so desperately needed is likewise what dooms it to at least partial failure.

Noise/Music: A History reads like the graduate thesis I dreamed of writing but in my day would not have dared to propose. Hegarty obviously loves having a reason to include the Germs and Throbbing Gristle on the same pages as Adorno, Baudrillard, Deleuze and other fashionable names of 20th century theory. Not that it is a stretch to include these difficult ideas in conjunction with this difficult music. The match was meant to be. The problem with this book is a matter of exclusion not inclusion. It would be easy to name dozens perhaps a hundred bands and/or musicians whose music should have been discussed in a book such as this one. Yet these bands are not to be found. Obviously such a book would run to thousands of pages, and obviously there should be a bunch of books on this stuff by the year 2008.

Hegarty does manage to mention if only in passing most of the important bands associated with “noise,” and considering that the one group given an entire chapter is Merzbow, no one can accuse the author of being soft on noise. I could complain (and I suppose I am) that Hegarty gives an equal amount of attention to a live track by the rock band Cream that he gives to Einsturzende Neubauten, perhaps the most important “noise” band in history. Likewise he mentions the Velvet Underground only in passing, and they were the rock band that embodied “noise” as a genre years before any other “popular” band dreamed such notions. Hegarty seems to compare“Sister Ray” to the hapless, in his words “pointless,” “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. Such a comparison would be a good one, if it did not appear to be derision. Nevertheless, Hegarty gives needed attention and space to both the Swans and White House, two bands that are not easy to love. His sources include such essential reading as Derek Bailey and Jacques Attali. Noise/Music: A History is thrilling much more often than it goes wrong. Anyone who cares about “free improvisation” or “no wave” or “concrete music” or “extreme electronics” or any of the other silly genre terms that are thrown at this loud and delicious music will certainly want to read this book.