At Voice of the Valley this year, I heard a pretty good joke (slightly modified here): What did the noise musician’s ex say that really hurt his feelings? Answer: “You’re not a musician.” The typical folk critique of noise is, of course, that it’s noise — it’s not music because the artist isn’t using typical instrumentation, structure, or most importantly skills to make it (incidentally, this criticism is a common reactionary sentiment about hip-hop; MCs are “just talking,” etc.). We’ve all heard these ideas before, and whether the people who hold them do so because they have narrow tastes or because they feel threatened by difficult music isn’t my concern here. What’s more interesting to me is that these critiques imply an inability on the part of the listener to tell the difference between pure chaos and authorial manipulation. Noisemakers might take that as a compliment, because it insinuates either that their work resembles the sublimity of nature or that they have shaped the actual noise and randomness enough to make it resemble something “pure.” Shock Records founder Stefan Jaworzyn’s The Annihilating Light features a high degree of (pseudo-)randomness. Despite his claim in our recent interview with him that he’s “never considered [himself] a ‘musician,’” The Annihilating Light’s strength consists not only in Jaworzyn’s skillful manipulation of these phenomena, but also in his ability to know when to step back and allow the fluctuations of chaos to take the forefront.
Sometimes while creating music on a machine, one generates a sound that is a true accident, whether due to the peculiarities of the particular instrument or the violation of the composer’s expectations in trying to create an intentional sound. Side A’s “Oasis of Filth” features a raw live mix of a digital synth. In the interview, Jaworzyn claimed that he decided to press record because his synth sounded “fucked up.” That moment of discovery reveals itself through the track with a kind of purity, the mix untainted by studio logic. However, despite the fact that this moment seemed to dawn on him unawares, “Oasis of Filth” feels planned, insofar as Jaworzyn tempers the chaos of the patch with dynamics, distorted microphony, and parameter control. Some of these shifts in dynamics are quite drastic, even cutting out the strange sound altogether. It’s the unvarnished moment, though, that gives the track the most power — the machine’s strange oscillations, seemingly arising out of spontaneous generation, peers through Jaworzyn’s assertions of silence, like an animal refusing to be caged.
Side B’s “Cast Out” much more clearly displays studio magic, at least in that Jaworzyn has recorded it in multiple layers. Strangely, the “lead” synth here sounds even more chaotic than the one on “Oasis of Filth.” This effect is due to a pseudorandom noise generator being sampled by a “sample and hold” option and a modulation of the pitch, a process that overtakes the sound due to its alien yet familiar quality. This is the same technique that sound designers for early science fiction would use to simulate computer sounds. It’s not immediately recognizable as pure white noise (another feature on most synthesizers), and yet it is just as chaotic and as unpredictable (at least, by listeners). Jaworzyn folds this sound into the mix while also manipulating its more subtle features, simultaneously making the track listenable through its 15-minute length and revealing its masquerade. Its purity as chaos is thus only feigned, and yet Jaworzyn’s input allows us to more easily experience that chaos by placing it on a bed of arrhythmic pads and easing the rawest edge into the ears. His intervention, though seemingly subtle, gives this chaos room to breathe.
Despite Jaworzyn’s differing methods of control, both tracks feature chaos as their core. It’s this sort of chaos that anti-experimental audiences want to deny musical status, believing that it is the true master, since as here it comprises the core of many works. But the master here is Jaworzyn, who has selected (or perhaps found) and shaped this chaos as a material, in the same way that unhewn stone, product of many millennia of geologic cycles, needs sculpting to make sense (and yet its features and “imperfections” always shine through). The ridiculousness of the anti-noise sentiment is obvious, but what’s important here is that noise as such actually does feature prominently in experimental music. For The Annihilating Light, Jaworzyn uses it to give chaos a voice, constraining it so that listeners might hear its call. That “fucked up” sound actually approaches the alien genetics of natural mathematics, hiding in sounds we hear at every moment. These strange textures flux as existence does; why should we fear them?