That Noise in The City – Discovering Disquiet

Maker’s Asylum is a nondescript place in Malviya Nagar where you can go about doing all kinds of hands-on , workshop stuff, from electrical to 3D printing and what not. But we were here for something else, something even more unheard of (so to speak) than the workshop itself. We were here for a live show of a different calibre. After taking our time in finding the location of the place we got in and climbed up the stairs that took us to a room where the performance was taking place. A dark room with a man standing, holding some wires and connecting them on terminals making static sounds. This was Disquiet- Experiments in Noise and Sound 4. Noise or Harsh Noise is a genre in music but sounds not  much like it. To an unacquainted ear it would sound like well.. just noise. Being too snobby about music we had some idea about what to expect but were surely taken aback. The long drawn tracks or experiments wash you up and drown you in noise. There are barely any conventional beats and those that are, are also produced by wave resonance. After a while of being in a room you sort of get lost in the sounds and stop wondering what it sounds like but just listen. It isn’t a dance party, it isn’t a social event. It is a listening event and that’s all you can do.

But that’s just inexperience talk. We went around to dig into how Disquiet, Delhi’s only and rare noise programme began and Hemant Sreekumar, who started Disquiet in December 2013 and is also one of the key performers at noise events. Here’s what he had to say.

1.What is noise or harsh noise. Is it a music genre or experiments in sound?

In history Harsh Noise is as old as the time since the first life crawled out of the oceans into land and evolved ears which pick up the vibrations from air. It’s been there since the first homo sapiens felt fear from thunder, lightning, rain, the violent seas and rabid streams. Nature in its primordial form created Harsh Noise. Of course with the industrial age man made Harsh Noise. What we now do as human artists compose/perform is to evoke this primacy, breakdowns, glitches etc. Harsh noise is a sub genre of Noise Music definitely – It involves experimentation, it involves very formulaic stuff also.


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2.There are people who consider computer generated music to be a farce, would such people be interested in something like this?

I agree with them totally. Computer generated music is farce as compared to human generated music. No processor or sound card can capture the beauty a hand strumming a guitar or plucking a string or the range of a human throat. Often what a lot of computer based music tries to do is mimic analog compositions and sounds which I feel is a waste of time and energy. Computers should only be used to make noise music or other synthetic forms of sounds not possible with traditional instruments.

I believe because of this farce-ness Noise Music is very natively computer music.  The computer is one particular tool to for this – just like there are various other tools to achieve the same. It should be noted also that a lot of noise music does not require a computer mediated interface. At the end of the day composers should use any tool that is accessible to them and allows them to express freely.

3. What made you get into noise? How would you define your sound and how do you produce it?

I have always been enchanted by non-musical sounds ever since I was a child. From the crackle of the zero signal on TV, kitchen pressure cookers + mixie, sounds of bad transmission, crushed magnetic tapes, rhythmic mechanical sounds, generator hums, the white noise you hear by cupping your ears,  bird calls, insect sounds, mosquitoes etc. Especially mosquitoes – i often sense them to be like angels playing violin flying around you ear. I have always been an acutely keen listener and have been bored with melodic content since some time now.
I compose using the Open Source Pure Data environment – It allows a lot of compositional freedom without having an overbearing interface. It has a very supportive community of developers, hackers, artists around it which is very productive.

4. What is disquiet? Why did you feel the need to start it?

Disquiet functions as a platform which allows local composers to try self indulgent acoustics. Disquiet was started out of boredom of not having any other options in Delhi and the excitement of exploring alternative performance places. It has now grown into a gathering of the acoustically curious. It’s a very local Delhi scene with some artists passing by the city thrown in sometimes. Of course thematically it has always been veered towards big sound and harsh noise till now – but that is not a prerequisite.

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5. What are the more popular artists one can catch at a noise show in India?

No one is popular. Everyone is trying new stuff — no one really has much of clue of what they are doing – it’s really exciting. Da Saz + Shivnakaun + Jamblu are three folks I personally look forward to.

6. Is the basis of noise production for most artists the same? As in how other genres have certain basic instruments.

Predominantly it has been hacked musical instruments, tape machines, various types of synthesisers, various types of effects pedals, computer + data, contact microphones, field recordings, found objects, throat, self-made electronics etc.

7. With EDM come and gone, IDM becoming mainstream, do you think noise too will hit the radio one day?

Noise has always been the content of radio since Radios discovery. Noise will be on radio even if there are no more media channels or antennas transmitting curated content. If the radio is turned on and the volume is turned up – Noise is there waiting for your attention. Same with TV.

EDM / IDM is all hedonistic marketing nonsense aimed at projecting DJ’s and dance music composers as ‘stars’ – people have been dancing and partying since the hunter gatherer societies. All this mainstream vs underground talk is just shallow hype as well which served the Music corporations’ business models in the last century. With the advent of digital music distribution all this mainstream/underground bullshit will lose currency. True artists have always appreciated all sorts of music and feel a sense of brotherhood irrespective of genres. I hope all formats of music curation dies a rapid death.

8. Is noise as underground and unheard of abroad as it is in India?

Yes it is. Though the underground is vastly larger and older in some cities across Britain, Japan, North America and Germany given their history in industrial music.

9. Some things are done out of passion yet is there any money to be made for a noise artist? 

I am sure you can make sustainable levels of income if you are consistent but there is no guarantee just like in any other field of art. Chances of a noise artist making money is perhaps the same as a Kuchipudi Dancer or a Carnatic Violinist.

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10. The disquiet events are held at remote art centers and workshops in a large dark room, uninviting for many, is this done on purpose so as to not attract the mall goers?

Absolutely. Malls are too bright and very happy atmospheres with everyone basking in the warmth of brand porn. Live performance venues often double up as eating/drinking venues – so it does not really fit there as well – we all like to eat peacefully and make conversation over drinks. Noise art is best appreciated in places that don’t have anything else happening since there is nothing entertaining per se about it – it’s very meditative and introspective – so I felt it best to utilise isolated – semi-industrial spaces as opposed to any entertainment/cultural venue. Even if no one enjoyed it I wanted to make sure no one forgot it.

11. How does having a day job work out while you’re into something so abstract? Do you play your stuff for your colleagues in office? How do they take it?

It works very nicely for me to do a totally unrelated occupation. I don’t bring the art/abstraction into routine work and vice versa. I have never played for colleagues in office just like I would never play this for my parents. Don’t reckon any of my colleagues care at all about all this – which is great, we talk about a lot of other stuff.

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