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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Art of Noise

Burlington is apt to drown in good times before its musical bread and butter becomes defined by self-taught experimentalism, or "noise" — a term lazily thrown around far too often. But experimental sounds do exist here, just in lower fidelity and in the scum-dripping shadows of the downtown underground.

For example, bands such as Lawrence Welks & Our Bear to Cross, a black sheep that'd be sooner seen in some clandestine basement than showing up on any Burlington bar main stage — a fact perhaps characteristic of keyboards and vocals choked violently by distortion. One could imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of some good-time-seeking Main Street bar-goers upon discovering this group. And to be clear, I've seen those faces.

Burlington's experimental sound is an abstraction on the land when compared to most garage rockers and jazz musicians. But it's no step-child. Honking clarinets and battered saxophones alongside droning electronics and guitars evoke the wintry sounds that reflect the measure of Burlington's weather-bound ferocity. It sounds like a real part of Burlington; the artistic reflection of Vermont's largest city in all its emotional toil.

I can understand if people want a bit of escapism in another guitar solo, I really can. But it's not noise. Noise is subjective. My definition comprises sounds that are caught, cut and composed with an eye that gazes far deeper into the texture of sound rather than the construction of a song. Conversely, to me most pop — overproduced to the point of a 30-second jingle and meant to earn someone 99 cents — is  "noise." 

To me, the le duo is the current genuine voice of whatever scene Burlington experimental music has created. The ever-evolving free-improv group could be seen as more of a collective. Started in 2006 by former Nest Material drummer and percussionist JB Ledoux, it has since comprised a fluid cast of folks from the area. The group's forte is an elementary sense of musical freedom focused into a shifting complexity of textures and sounds, fused and scattered by JB's percussion. 

Theleduo_1_frontcover200 A flagship of Burlington-based experimental music label Aether Everywhere, the le duo released their debut extended play in 2008 with a collection of five recordings from the summers of '07 and '08. his inner psychic energy finds a unique voice buried deep within the free jazz realm — the collective in true form. The album has a refreshingly wild variance of exploration. However, the entire work strings itself above a constant state of tension, especially in the first track, "no enemy" where the emotional energy seems placed upon an abstract melody of feedback and white-noised electronics. It's less noticeable than the distant jazz squalls. But it seems closer at hand to supply unmistakable atmosphere. The bombardment of "parade's end" and "it was the nightingale" form together around the control of JB's assault to a singular animal of rage and chaos. 

The le duo's most recent official release, Snwstrm (2009), takes a more cohesive and subtle voice. The group even seems to drop bombastic free jazz elements all together, finding a more acoustic variance of ambient sounds. Theleduo Even when the drums are cooking they have a singular feel. The solidified direction of the album's two tracks weave different emotional tones throughout the whole piece as its slight, yet dramatic shifts carry the experience along at a meditative pace. It's a soundtrack to someone on the verge of dreams, running through the confusion of vertigo. There's a driven thesis in the music that finally seems to come to realization at the end of each track, especially 'Pt. 1' where the groove crescendos. The title of the album is certainly appropriate in the howls and depths of the electronic flurries, especially heavy on 'Pt. 2.'

JB has recently made a set the group played at The Monkey House in May '09 available for download. It features a single track entitled "Hells Boils" that completely flips the script as far as the le duo goes, combining their older primal shouts with nothing short of a psychedelic freak out — turning the squalls and tape loops into a vehicle for mass destruction at the hands of JB and guitarist Adrian Benoit. The track creates a dive into masochistic hell for the listener to experience. But it happens to be a great ride. The constant change in sound invokes the Coltrane philosophy of constant reinvention. And in Burlington, the le duo will always be at the reins of constant exploration. 



Fantastic article--it's about time Seven Days gives some attention to Burlington's avant-garde music scene, which is easily one of the strongest and most diverse genres of music being recorded and performed here.

Beyond the dozen or so local artists recording for Aether Everywhere (ranging from The Le Duo's free improv to the ethereal loop-based siren songs of Nuda Veritas to the doom drone nightmares of Solah), Burlington is also home to NNA Tapes (a cassette microlabel courting some top performers in the nationwide nu-new age and drone movements), Grimeology Records (a leading distributor of harsh noise and other harsh tones), and Autumn Records, the label started by Burlington's leading-force for experimental music, Greg Davis.

While a lot of this music does occur "underground" with self-released tapes & CD-Rs and basement shows, there is still a lot of experimental shows happening at local establishments like Radio Bean, the Monkey House, JP's Pub and other clubs that are highly supportive of avant-garde music. I urge Seven Days to follow in the direction this article takes by increasing their support and coverage of Burlington's thriving experimental music scene as well!


"It's a soundtrack to someone on the verge of dreams, running through the confusion of vertigo."

Absolutely fantastic writing Will. Thanks for the informed opinion.


Great post and a very helpful comment to boot.

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