NoiseFest is a test of wills. Can you handle three days of punishing noise? Without alcohol? And only smoking between sets, outside?
Stabilized only by coffee and aural pain, the hygiene-optional crowd of Midwest noiseheads descend on the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center tonight for three days of dementia-inducing noise from power electronics to unamplified typewriters and sheets of metal. Mark Sarich, who runs the Lemp, will be performing with unamplified cello as Epicycle.
"It runs the gamut," Sarich says. "Harsh microphone noise, beautiful electronic drone music, electro-acoustic stuff not unlike Animal Collective--anything that involves the use of electronic manipulation, and even things that don't, are included in the festival." He adds that there are more harsh noise and power electronics outfits in 2010's iteration than ever before.
There are 54 performers at this year's event, with a couple of expected repeats from previous noise fests: Locals Brain Transplant, St. Louis's own knob-twiddling prodigy Ghost Ice, Solar Shadows (who hail from the collegiate swamp of Carbondale, Illinois) and Portland's Instinct Control.
"If people just see Instinct Control and don't see any of the rest of the festival, they're going to be blown away," Sarich says. "This guy takes an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, removes the case, uses himself as the electric conduit and creates noise. The voltage is low, but you have to know what you're doing.
"Now he's doing this thing where he has like dried grey tempera paint that he puts his hand in, and he places his hand on the forehead of an audience member and then places their hand on an appropriate place on the recorder. He's running the circuit through himself. It sounds a little weird, but I have to tell you this is the most dramatic, amazing performance you've ever seen."
Another highlight form last year, according to Sarich, was Ohio's Matthew Reis, who used to play as Teeth Collection, but will be performing this year as Developer.
"This guy last year played an unamplified sheet of metal," he says. "He had the entire room on their knees, just watching this guy in the middle of the floor with this sheet of metal creating noise. It was just staggering. I felt so sorry for the guy who went on after him."
Those practiced in the ways of NoiseFest will be loitering at Apop Records during the day and migrating to the Lemp and back again, both for refreshment of the sort they don't allow at Lemp (alcohol), and good ol' Midwest music camaraderie.
"The reason why I'm still doing this, it's the most wonderful inviting environment," Sarich says. "A lot of people that come to NoiseFest don't know what to expect, I can honestly say people are amazingly supportive. Not only a group of musicians, but an audience who are just looking at experimentation. More today than when we started this thing, it's a really unique and important thing to be able to create that environment. I don't think anyone including me ever thought we'd be doing NoiseFest for seven years."
NoiseFest kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. Saturday's show will also start at 7, but on Sunday at 11 a.m. there's a roundtable discussion on aesthetics, the artist in the twentieth century and how it relates to noise. The discussion is open to the public, and the matinée performances begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, with the final performers taking the stage at 8 p.m. Sunday night.