It’s not discussed too often, but musical composition is wedded to mathematics. The way certain frequencies and tones sound good together is an artistic extension of physical laws that govern our universe. We currently live in an era of human technology where a computer program can make a piano composition so genuine that humans can’t distinguish its creation from a fellow human’s. Slowly, every part of our society that we used to accredit to mysticism and luck can now be explained by modern mathematical algorithms. Perhaps not in our lifetimes, but soon enough maybe even the human brain will be seen as nothing more than a series of biological wires and programming.
As we digitize our world, we’re slowly losing contact with our primal ancestors. Urbanization, combined with digitalization, is breeding a generation of humans who will most likely go their entire lives without having their truly animalistic survival instincts kick in. In most ways, this is a really good development. More people than ever have access to education, food and other resources. We’re developing a planet that can handle a highly intricate network of over 7 billion people.
However, there is something to be said for “taking it back to the days of trying to lose control,” as Death Grips frontman MC Ride puts it in the song “Takyon.” We fulfill our physical needs for exercise with running and weights, but what about our urge to hunt? Two days without a stable global source of food and humans would suddenly be much more acquainted with the side of their nature that modern society has tirelessly suppressed. There are points during my day as I’m walking through campus that I think, “what if I just wild out right now?” It’s usually only a brief thought that floats for a second before evaporating as I think about more important matters, like my computer science homework.
There needs to be some sort of outlet for thoughts like these. In the music world, that comes in the form of several genres that reveal people to be the savage animals they won’t admit to being. Punk, noise and metal are all examples of genres that shouldn’t be listened to in the comfort of a living room armchair. The proper way to experience such music is in a crowd of like-minded individuals, throwing their bodies to and fro in a pit of sweat and anger. The act of moshing has taken a PR hit in the last decade, with concert crowds making predetermined mosh circles in which everyone inside the circle has their own two-foot radius comfort zone to flail their arms (I’m looking at you, Warped Tour).
If you get the chance, peep in on the mosh pits from early Minor Threat shows. Punks are spilling over each other to the point that the crowd takes on the qualities of an ocean wave crashing against the stage shore. The punks thrash about, going out of their way to push and body slam others. Stage dives are done less for the hope of crowd surfing, and more to throw flailing bodies on top of people who are ready to toss them to the ground. The whole scene is absolutely vicious, and is a prime example of what it means to leave worries about modern society and infrastructure at the door while simultaneously gaining the courage to let our suppressed inhibitions out in full force. The venue for that show couldn’t have been larger than the average living room, and yet there was enough energy present to blow the top off Madison Square Garden.
The majority of works over the course of Western composition have been dedicated to displaying the beauty and tranquility of nature. Pieces by Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi make listeners want to stroll about a floral courtyard, taking in the beauty of God and nature. In the last century we’ve seen a renaissance of avant-garde electrical compositions that reach our primal cores through an alternative route to that of thrash-focused genres like punk. Composers like Pierre Schaeffer and Michel Chion can strike pure horror in people through their dissonant and blaring songs. While no moshing will be done under the influence of Musique Concrete, it pokes and prods at our fears of death and decay. The screeches of synths sound like otherworldly animal calls. It’s hard to feel comfortable while listening to such compositions because it feels like you’re being hunted. Pop music and modern rock bands make a point of inviting the listener with lush chords and melodies. Noise artists intend to unsettle with their music, and that’s exactly the type of wake up call that our souls so desperately need.
It’s the same reason why a good horror story passes on the jump scares and instead makes a more subtle move to creep up your spine. The parts of human existence that many like to sweep under the rug become rotten and ugly over time due to neglect, so much so that they become almost unrecognizable and horrifying to those that don’t take time to be aware of such qualities. Musical noise is a tool to look into the part of the soul that nobody wants to see. No algorithm is going to be able to replicate the droning sludge guitars off of stoner metal albums such as Dopethrone and Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version. Computers and infrastructure as a whole are built to find the most efficient path to a goal. Musical noise is the sloppy, almost nonsensical detour to an end. There’s imperfection and ugliness in the very foundation of noise genres. But having a chance to experience that ugliness that is key to our humanity is something that should never be taken for granted.
Are you ready to get wild like Jake? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.