Noisy Music

Mike compiles a killer playlist of tracks for LBB online that straddle the boundaries of music and sound design.

I was recently asked to compile a noisy music playlist for the lovely people at LBB Online. The theme was “music which incorporates un-musical sounds”. There were a couple of tracks I wanted to include that were only available on YouTube, so the article is reproduced here with the list in full.

There’s a magical point that sits in-between everyday sounds and musical notes, where you can convey meaning and musicality at the same time. When Tom Waits plays percussion on a human skeleton or Robert Armani re-creates a wonky ambulance siren with a synthesizer, you blend two disciplines: descriptive realness and musical emotion. Bjork’s latest album Utopia has an almost constant bed of magical flora and fauna burbling away in the background, which takes the listener deeper into her world.

Enjoy the noises!


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Cover Image: Daphne Oram and her machines at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Luigi Russolo ‘Awakening of a City’ (1914)

This guy is the godfather of what he coined ‘noise-music’. Decades before Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin were even born, Luigi was building big mechanical machines that generated such scary grinding sounds, his audiences would riot.

Ron Grainer, Delia Derbyshire ‘Doctor Who (Original Theme)’ (1963)

No riots this time but plenty of letters of complaint. Delia Derbyshire arranged Ron Grainers’ sci-fi classic using a test tone oscillator for the main melody, reversed white noise bursts for the percussion and string plucks, individually cut out and sellotaped back together to form a tape loop bass line.

Kraftwerk ‘Metal on Metal’ (1977)

Train-like-rhythms, played on Kraftwerk’s custom-built drum pads, from their groundbreaking album Trans Europe Express.

Penguin Café Orchestra ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’ (1981)

A beautiful, gentle melody created using a British Telephone engaged tone and a rubber band.

Art of Noise ‘Close to the Edit’ (1984)

Taking their name from Luigi Russolo’s manifesto, Art of Noise channelled their classical and engineering backgrounds through new studio equipment, which allowed them to “sample” car engines, dustbin lids and table tennis matches and re-purpose them as musical instruments.

Koji Kondo ‘Super Mario Bros Theme’ (1985)

Nintendo sound designer Koji Kondo was limited to 4 x monophonic voices when composing for the NES games console, including drums! Listen carefully: there’s only ever four sounds (three notes and one noise/drum hit) playing at once.

Robert Armani ‘Ambulance’ (1991)

Chicago house music veteran Robert Armani bangs out an ambulance siren for three and a half minutes.

Tom Waits ‘The Earth Died Screaming’ (1992)

I don’t know if the percussion in this is actually a human skeleton but it certainly sounds like it and Tom Waits would be the guy to do it.

Acid Junkies ‘Sector 9’ (1992)

Acid-house as a genre is based on the pretext that the notes rarely get to where they should. If you’re not hitting the actual notes then it’s more of a squelchy drone than tune, as this Dutch classic demonstrates. Hypnotic and dark.

Cornelius ‘Mic Check’ (1997)

A variety of Japanese microphone tests form a rhythm and gradually find their groove.

16BIT ‘Chainsaw Calligraphy’ (2009)

There are plenty of dance tracks that feature a signature ‘real sound’ but this is particularly good example. The real chainsaw starts the rhythm and the synthesised chainsaw then takes over.

Amon Tobin ‘Surge’ (2011)

One of the standout tracks from his ISAM album, Amon Tobin is a master of grinding down sounds into tiny fragments and reforming them as new textures.

Stephen Price ‘Above Earth’ (2013)

Gravity on the big screen with an Atmos mix is an otherworldly experience, but the constant visual roller coasters of debris storm vs. tranquil space, would have no shape without Stephen Price’s noise ramps.

Hauschka ‘Insects’ (2015)

A prepared piano has everyday objects placed directly onto its strings. Bits of foil, clamps and other objects add unexpected rattles, dampen notes and add randomness to Hauschka’s compositions.

Matthew Herbert ‘Is Sleeping’ (2016)

Matthew Herbert is a veteran of found sounds but he really outdoes himself with this one hour long recording of someone just er… sleeping. Strangely listenable when left on in the background, apart from the text message at 14:12, it gradually morphs into a mist-like drone.

Björk, Arca ‘Utopia’ (2017)

The title track from Björk’s latest collaboration with Arca, is set in some kind of day-glo-future-VFX-forest complete with chirping-synth-birds, rustling-percussion-trees and howling-cyber-dogs.

Igor Stravinsky ‘The Rite of Spring’ (1913)

Often cited as the most important piece of music of the 20th Century, this ballet score, about a sacrificial girl who dances herself to death, caused a riot at its Paris premiere. I’ve put this last because it’s only an excerpt and not easy listening. Fast, dissonant and scary, the orchestra doesn’t so much play their instruments, as attack them.

…..and here are the extra tracks —>

Implog ‘Holland Tunnel Dive’ (1980)

Part food-blender, part space-rocket, I have no idea what the crazy turbine sound at 1:30 is but it gives me goose bumps every time.

Akufen ‘Deck The House’ (2002)

Canadian electronic musician Akufen, clearly spent an AWFUL long time recording and tuning snippets of found sound from his FM radio. He then spent even longer putting them back together in the order below…. It’s got quite a long DJ intro but wait for the beat to drop at 1:20 it well worth the wait.