The Man at the Airport
Cedrik Fermont wrote a book, together with Dimitri della Faille, about noise in south-east Asia: Not your World Music. The content of the book is based on their many travels in the region and their encounters.
It presents a general history of noise music, and opens up to the noise scene in south-east Asia through a very long interview with its artists. The authors try to pay as much respect as possible towards each and everyone involved. As an introduction to the noise scene in south- east Asia the book is indispensable. You don’t need to go all the way with their approach; you don’t even have to share their views, but the vital point of the book, and therefore of the viewpoint brought forward by the authors, is that they are always open to an exchange of ideas.
Up to one point.
We have stated elsewhere in this book that noise music has originated in Europe and North America. How do you feel about it?
Goh Lee Kwang (Malaysia) : Really?
Nathalie Johnston (Myanmar) : Are you sure about that?
Yes, we are pretty sure about it.
Together with Adrian Shephard I interviewed Cedrik for Radio On in Berlin. I confronted him with this quote, and teasingly accused him of paternalist and colonialist behaviour. He leaned back laughing and exclaimed that he had studied the subject thoroughly. Of course also his research had brought him to Luigi Russolo’s manifesto.
When Russolo walked around in his imaginary city, dreaming of a tape recorder, he heard a great variety of sounds. In Italy sounds are ‘suoni.’ If you put a number of sounds together, in such way that they create an amorphous piece of sound, one speaks of ‘rumori.’ Rumori became noise, and the music that Russolo made with his intonarumori became noise music. Intonare means harmonise or play with.
It might have been in the late 1970s in the bedsit of a young post-punk graduate with books by Gramsci, Bataille and Artaud all over the place, that noise music as a genre was born. In Thatcherian England, Reaganesque US and nuclear bomb threatened Europe everything that could feed subversion was used in the process. Anti-establishment was a program. The music was industrial or noise.
Those pioneers are older man now. Cedrik Fermont is of a younger generation. But also he can be considered old. Still, noise as a genre persists. And, as he describes in his book, it also implies a kind of attitude. The question is, what kind of attitude. Is it still subversive, or is it to be understood as a form of non-militant cultural criticism?
Trump, his army of trolls, European populist leaders and their parrots speak of ‘the elite.’ It is their aim to destroy ‘the elite.’ Does this mean that, belonging to a noise scene, or to a DIY community that shows itself critical of the establishment, and thus of ‘the elite,’ that all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by the alt-right mob?
You know what. I’d rather not. Moreover, I’d rather like to think a little bit. Considering that I can move freely, speak freely and express my art freely, sometimes even with money from institutions, I think this elite of ours is not doing so bad at all. You may or may not like the EU, but one of the most important messages it has brought across, is the message of constant dialogue and thus of peace. The leaders may be technocrats. They operate with facts and try to find solutions to problems that are bigger than the sum of each one of us grouped together in Texas waving at the clouds. Whatever the outcome of the ongoing process may be, these leaders don’t use outrage and anger as a unifying and catalysing tool.
I was in Kraków to perform at the annual audio-art festival. It is one of those pleasurable occasions that you actually receive a fee. The festival was well promoted. All over town one could encounter posters and flyers. They all looked the same, of course. The wordings were in black and white and at the top side of the poster was the comic strip representation of one of the artists, who would perform at the festival. I didn’t recognize it first, because it looked like someone somewhere in the galaxies looking down on something that could be earth. The surface he was looking at was full of little things that could be cities, and baubles of various colours that could represent our universal dream of everlasting christmas.
Even after the performance by the artist, I didn’t make the connection. It was only when we sat together with friends in a large bar full of smoking people, that my girlfriend told a story. We have to imagine that already for days the town was full of posters, for which the image was used of this particular artist and his table that was full of colorful lightbulbs. I had seen it, she had seen it, everyone had seen it, because it was almost impossible to not see it.
Then the day came that the artist arrived at the airport. He soon found out that there was noone to pick him up. He waited and waited, but noone showed up. I listened straight-faced. “Can you imagine” she said, “The whole town is full of his picture and they forget to pick him up.” She wiped the tears out of her eyes, and started laughing again.
In 1937 John Cage wrote: I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. His clearly echoed Pratella’s words It must add to the great central themes of the musical poem the domain of the machine and the victorious realm of electricity.
Pratella was the musician. He became director of the conservatoire in Ravenna. He got into folkloristic culture from the Romagna region and founded a choir. As a fascist you just had to love those traditions. In fact, he could have cycled to Forli, birthplace of Mussolini. It could have been a joyfull ride, if he was accompanied by his choir. See and hear them go along the river, in the early lights of a Summer’s day. The Taataaaa taa’s of war were still very far away.
I feel that Luigi Russolo is a little bit like the man at the airport. At the end there was noone to pick him up. Luigi disappeared to Spain to encounter occult filosofies and returned to Milan before the civil war started. He took up painting again after a couple of years, figurative now. He died in 1947.