I am often asked, upon committing the grave mistake of speaking about music in a social setting, just what the appeal in noise music is. This question can be posed by anyone, be it by knowledgeable and studied musicians or by people with absolutely no relation to the field. For a long time I proceeded to take advantage of this opportunity to spill forth a banal load of bull*** about free artistry, about sound sculpturing, about the amount of raw unfiltered emotion that such sonic blasphemy could invoke. As was to be expected I always fell short of explaining why I loved it and why it moved me so much, I always felt like I was cheating myself, and most importantly cheating the music by trying to explain it, and thus I always ended up shutting my trap halfway through my explanation, disappointed, defeated and begging for another drink.
After a while I gave up and simply responded with evasiveness, “I don’t know, it’s just cool” or by simply drinking in silence, hardly containing myself, while everyone else discussed all the marvelous new bands they loved. This upset me, as a reluctant child of a post-Enlightenment world I like to rationalize myself and my surroundings and I couldn’t just “leave it at that;” I had to put my finger precisely on what it was about noise music that got to me. I got so upset in fact that at one point I actually got myself thinking that noise music was pointless, pretentious drivel, and attempted to detach myself from it entirely. And yet after three days I couldn’t take it anymore and I put this record on, reveling in the majestic hour of relentless feedback that ensues after the needle drops.
And then it hit me. The intangibility, the formlessness, the chaotic violence, precisely the things that make noise music most incomprehensible and seemingly stupid are the secret to its appeal. This is not to say that noise is cool because it’s shocking or different, it isn’t a “cool to be fooled” sort of deal. No, what I’m trying to say here is that noise music, in its defiance of every single possible convention of form and structure, of what makes music pleasant, desirable or good by any technical or any collective subjective “standards” is actually making a pretty ***ing important statement about the collective disease of an over-rationalized society.
Why would Lou Reed record an album consisting literally of nothing but tampered feedback, and is if that wasn’t enough make it a ***ing hour long? God knows, maybe he was bored, maybe he was high, maybe he just wanted to *** with everyone, hell, he may have taken it quite seriously. The case in point is not why he did it but what came out of it. At first sight that might seem like the ultimate paragon of post-modern art; substance-less, cynical in excess, unnecessarily challenging, seemingly dumb and pointless and all toppled-off with a complete disregard for any sort of structure or technique. And it all sounds so ***ing angry as well.
Perhaps “Metal Machine Music” is post-modern, something of its kind most certainly can’t be imagined in any other historical context. Yet history is cyclic, and “Metal Machine Music’s” excessively post-modern vibes can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it rejects the most important paradigm of the modern world: reason. Reason is man’s attempt to come to grips with the universe by imposing upon it the rules and criteria that rule his mind and logic. Three-thousand years after Socrates and four-hundred after Descartes, “Metal Machine Music” is aware that such an attempt is futile, that the universe is too vast and violent, too chaotic and inexplicable for it to ever fit within the little boxes we devise for it in our minds. This here hour of grating, obnoxious, terrifying feedback sees the world as one huge Noumenon, and it throws itself right into the arms of such an overwhelming reality.
In the sense of its devotion to the inexplicable and irrational, “Metal Machine Music” could be said to hold closer ideological parallels to medieval religious music than to any other style. History is cyclical, and perhaps it’s next stage, whatever the hell we decide to call it, must involve a re-assessment of our relationship to the irrational; there may be no Gods but that doesn’t mean that everything under (and beyond) the Sun is ours to categorize and understand, let alone even perceive. Under such a hermeneutic guise man can no longer go around making music simply to himself, his mighty order and his beautiful feelings, as he has done pretty consistently since Bach.
One could thus see “Metal Machine Music” as an alternative, as a cure. Music free from structural boundaries, from banal worship of the anthropomorphic, music made once again mystical and sublime, an antidote to the modern world, to “Molloy’s” sickening stone-sucking disease, an answer to Nietzsche’s valiant call to arms. Ladies and gentlemen I give you art unchained, holy and boundless. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.”
The review was... wow. I can't say I'm convinced, and I doubt I'll ever give this a listen. I wouldn't listen to something like this for its significance, for being the epitome of not caring about rules and pushing boundaries. I would never call this "music"; it's something else, and that something else may as well be bloody fucking awful, but I really don't care enough to figure out what. Your review sheds a bit of light on it, I suppose. I know Lou Reed completely rejects this album, and if he was taking himself seriously at any point while making this, I'm sure he's just conforming with the masses because it's almost impossible to take this thing seriously.
I always say, "there's no such thing as bad music, only opinions." - I realize the irony of saying that here in a website that
specializes in criticizing music, but it is the truth. What doesnt work for some, may work for others.
I'm a fan of Lou Reed's work (primarily The Velvet Underground), but I honestly dont get this at album at all. And I've
heard my share of noise music, but I just dont get it. Maybe it's too "artistic" and "obscure" for my taste. The "sound" of
this album is really more of a statement. An attempt at questioning the conventions of popular music, and to see how far
musicians can push their work and exploring new possibilities- that's why it's art.
This is a good review, though. Well executed. I'll POS.
I'm glad you dug the review RunOfTheMill, even if it doesn't drive you to listen to this. I understand not everyone sees it the way I see it and most people, perhaps wisely, don't let ideas influence their enjoyment of music but they certainly influence mine, so there it is. I must admit though that the number system in this case is a necessary evil, my five does not mean I equate it to other albums I have given a five to, it simply means that I believe its a perfect work, its not a quantitative assessment of quality.
Agreed, I like your perspective on this. 99.9% of people would find this utterly unenjoyable, probably because it's not made to be enjoyed, but to make a statement. PaperbackWriter summarizes my feelings pretty well with his comment.
Actually Xeno, I think Lou Reed said himself that he was pissed off at the emerging popularity of heavy metal group's such as Black Sabbath, since he saw their music as only loud and obnoxious noise. So he carelessly made this album with the intention in mind to parody loud guitar music, since the whole thing is looping guitar feedback. I think he also said he was anything but sober while he made this thing, and I wouldn't doubt it. But yeah, if that story is true and he hated heavy metal THAT much back then, it's ironic that his latest work was an album with Metallica.
Well Lou toured behind for it in 2010, so maybe he's changed his mind. He does say in the liner notes that the album is heavy metal's "natural culmination," so there might be something to that story, but again, the whole Metallica ordeal would just seem weird. He's quite a character and I don't think anyone's ever gonna get the straight story on why he made it.