Finding Peace in Noise

12 November 2018 Comments Off on Finding Peace in Noise


The role of silence in music is recognized by nearly every kind of musician. This idea can also be interpreted as saying that “the notes should breathe.” But it happens that a good number of modern musicians – especially in the modern rock and metal scene – ignore this advice. Such musicians fill their sheets with one note after another, competing with each other to show how fast they can play their respective instruments, and turning the art of making music into something that’s not so different from solving multiple integrals by diving too much into music theory. Unfortunately, they seem to ignore the fact that much of the effect of music lies in the timbre of the sound, rather than how precisely they can play a certain number of notes at high speed. This is why it doesn’t feel the same when one listens to the “Comfortably Numb” solo played by John Petrucci, rather than by David Gilmour. This is not to imply that one guitarist is “better” than the other, as music is not by nature a competition. It is, instead, a higher function of human cognition, which happens to communicate emotions in a highly reproducible and sincere manner. Sure, it’s undeniable that technical skill is an important factor in making music; but it should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Otherwise, playing an instrument becomes nothing different from playing some kind of sport. From this perspective, I would like to shift the definition of noise from “an unpleasant sound” to “an unpleasant crowd or traffic of consecutive notes.” The former definition would be abandoned, as sounds that are conventionally considered “unpleasant” can be turned into a delight in the hands of a master.

At this point, it would be relevant to mention one of my favorite bands of all time, My Bloody Valentine. Best known for their 1991 classic “Loveless” from Creation Records, My Bloody Valentine is now recognized as one of the most game-changing bands in the alternative rock and post-punk subcultures. From their earliest collections of singles such as “Strawberry Wine” or “You Made Me Realize” to their masterpiece “Loveless,” My Bloody Valentine used conventional pop music song structures and simple music theory. However, they were able to push these boundaries to the limit and ultimately pioneer the “shoegazing” genre. Their signature guitar sound involved extensive use of the basic effects distortion and reverb, accompanied by an unconventional tremolo arm technique: pushing and pulling the arm while strumming. Kevin Shields, the band’s guitarist and also its leader, was able to use this sound and his signature technique to create a sense of social detachment, of drifting and falling. With pounding drums, down-to-earth distorted bass guitar and distant, soft vocals, laying down more and more layers of untamed sound, the band ironically managed to pull beauty out of an unpleasant sound, much in the way a sculptor coaxes a beautiful sculpture out of shapeless, cold stone. Don’t underestimate the level of noise put out by My Bloody Valentine; it will definitely melt your ears and numb your brain after several introductory listenings. However, over time their albums grow on you, and you become addicted to this ocean of distorted notes, which pounds at you but also heals your wounds.

I don’t like to talk about music without recommending an album or one or more pieces of music. Here, I’m choosing a different way than usual to introduce My Bloody Valentine. Most people become acquainted with this band by listening to “Loveless” at the recommendation of a critic or their friends, but my experience has shown that this is a rather tough album to get into. Since the album is sonically a hard, though warm blast of organized chaos, it’s a devastating tornado for inexperienced ears. An easier way to capture the very essence of the principal theme that permeates My Bloody Valentine’s music – the need for returned love that each and every one of us has at some point in our lives – is to start with either “You Made Me Realize” or “Strawberry Wine.” Alongside these extended plays, I especially recommend the songs “(Please) Lose Yourself in Me,” “Don’t Ask Why” and “Off Your Face.” The music is hard to appreciate the first time, but eventually it grows on you and you desperately look for more of it. It is perhaps not foolish to liken them to the Impressionist movement in the visual arts, in that they express beauty with blurred lines and the harmonious diffusion of a great variety of colors.

This idea of adding multiple levels of sound to form an atmosphere around the piece of music (the term “wall of noise” can be defined as such) and focusing on timbre, rather than on simple music theory and the busy traffic of consecutive notes, was later adopted by bands such as Slowdive, Lush and Boards of Canada (their piece “Seven Forty Seven” clearly shows the influence of My Bloody Valentine) and led to the birth of many great pieces of music. Also, many other artists were exploring the idea (such as The Jesus and Mary Chain with their album “Psychocandy,” and Cocteau Twins) at around the same time.

To conclude: I advise my fellow music lovers to give a second chance to music that may seem simple or too “poppy” at first glance. The larger portion of the iceberg of music may be submerged in an ocean of noise. As I always try to imply, good music reveals itself only to those with open minds.