Monday, 6 December 2010

Sam McKinlay's 'The Politics of HNW'

For those of you who do not know, 'The Politics of HNW' is an article authored by the HN/HNW mastermind Sam McKinlay (The Rita, etc.) and published in the first issue of the noise magazine As Loud As Possible. The title of the article is somewhat misleading as there is little to nothing about the politics or philosophy of HNW considered within. Instead the article focuses on an examination of the artistic aesthetics of the sub-genre with particular emphasis placed on its evolution from harsh noise and interpretations of the its contemporary form. This is achieved via a brief history lesson by McKinlay himself and through some brief but insightful interviews with leading North American HN/HNW composers. At the heart of these is a rather complicated and layered question (not unlike McKinlay's compositions) which each of the interviewees do well to unpack with fruitful answers.

The question posed by McKinlay is this,
'When you work with a static tone, or an unmoving or even swelling/moving textural line of noise, how do you contemplate the spaces and dynamics that lay within the bits and pieces that are concentrated to achieve the so-called white noise? Along with your work with the different movements and breaks in your tracks what, to you, is the driving quality and endearment of the static or crunch that you strive for and appreciate?'

I couldn't resist the temptation to attempt to answer this question myself.

For A View From Nihil I usually focus on the interactions of the heavier, broader and more air-filled low-frequency waves with the lighter, more narrow and less air-filled mid-to-high-frequency waves. I enjoy observing their competition for supremacy and for dominance of the overall sound/object. Often I like to start with one and introduce another gradually and listen how this process plays out. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of making and listening to HNW is how a strange order emerges from this process. Quite often when a track begins it sounds chaotic or disorderly but after a minute or so the mind begins to perceive a pattern and, depending on the quality of the composition, continues to perceive more patterns as the track progresses. When in the role of composer I find it immensely satisfying to observe a previously non-existent order/pattern come into being within the boundaries of the sound-world which I have set. Like observing the formation of a universe in microcosm. A similar process can be observed in tonal drone/ambient music but for me this process is much more interesting and rewarding when observed in a harsh/static based sound because the sound is more dramatic and more abstract and therefore seems more exciting and mysterious. For one thing, often as a listener, and sometimes as a composer, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a new pattern in the composition is the product of an intervention by the composer, a natural development due to wave interactions or merely a product of the listener's brain in its ceaseless attempt to make sense of the chaos of the world around it. This ambiguity appears more apparent and more profound in HN/HNW than in drone/ambient, perhaps due to differences in the brain's ability to digest different forms of sound. Whatever the reason, I personally find this level of ambiguity between composer, composition and listener infinitely fascinating and I believe it invests the sound with transcendental qualities that other forms of music cannot achieve.

In closing I'd like to suggest some parallels between what I have said here and the answers given by McKinlay's interviewees in his article. They too express an awareness of and appreciation for both the permeable line between composer and composition, and the innate sense of order that will form naturally in a composition when given a decent set of parameters in which to develop by the composer.
'A lot of the reason why most of Skin Crime material is recorded live is that it gives the sounds a lot more freedom to take on a life of their own... Most of the time we don't plan anything out ... things just come together on their own'
- Patrick O'Neil (Skin Crime).

Although O'Neil mainly has the process of recording live in mind here, his contemplation of the relationship between sound, sound-creator and listener is very close to what I have said. The observations of Pat Yankee (Paranoid Time) and Eric Stonefelt (Hum of the Druid), however, are immensely close to my own contemplation of the patterns and order which form within the HNW composition.
'I find that the spaces and dynamics lurking about the crunch pile will often take care of themselves without a lot of pre-planning on my part. I put trust in, and lay responsibility upon, the Process'
- Pat Yankee (Paranoid Time).
'Effective crunch and cracking is suggestive of some sort of organic movement or acoustic presence. Even if the source is entirely electronic ... I'd hope to hear some natural space, or at least some form of soundscape'
- Eric Stonefelt (Hum of the Druid).

As Loud As Possible.