Noise Music - Prehistory - Popular Music

Popular Music

The entry of recorded noise into popular rock music can be traced to "Tomorrow Never Knows", the final track of The Beatles' 1966 studio album Revolver. Credited as a Lennon–McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon. The track included looped tape effects. For the track Paul McCartney supplied a bag of ¼-inch audio tape loops he had made at home after listening to Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower. McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops. After experimentation on their own, the various Beatles supplied a total of "30 or so" tape loops to George Martin, who selected 16 for use on the song. Each loop was about six seconds long. The tape loops were played on BTR3 tape machines located in various studios of the Abbey Road building and controlled by EMI technicians in studio two at Abbey Road. Each machine was monitored by one technician, who had to keep a pencil within each loop to maintain tension. The four Beatles controlled the faders of the mixing console while Martin varied the stereo panning and Geoff Emerick watched the meters. Eight of the tapes were used at one time, changed halfway through the song. The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration (0:07). According to Martin, the finished mix of the tape loops cannot be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.

Salient to this use of noise is Pet Sounds, the eleventh studio album by the American rock band The Beach Boys, released in 1966 on Capitol Records. In it Brian Wilson wove together elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, coupled with sound effects and unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Coca-Cola cans and barking dogs, along with the more usual keyboards and guitars.

Most notable in this vein is Revolution 9, a track produced in 1968 by The Beatles for The White Album. It made sole use of sound collage, credited to Lennon–McCartney, but created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. As Lennon described it, Revolution 9 was made with the cut-up technique, cutting classical music tapes into about thirty loops (some played backwards). These loops were fed onto one master track. The composition style is similar to the avant-garde Fluxus style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry.

Lennon followed up this experiment with even more explicit noise music recordings, the first being Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an avant-garde recording by John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1968 consisting of repeating tape loops as Lennon plays different instruments such as piano, organ, and drums with sound effects (including reverb, delay and distortion), changes tapes and plays other recordings, and converses with Ono, who vocalises ad-lib in response to the sounds. They followed this recording with another noise recording in 1969 entitled Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions. Beatles member George Harrison also released a noise/musique concrète recording in 1969, titled Electronic Sound. Previously, Freak Out!, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention (released June 27, 1966 on Verve Records) had also made use of avant-garde sound collages - as did their later 1970 Weasels Ripped My Flesh title track - particularly the 1966 track The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet. This track is said to resemble Carnival of Light, an unreleased experimental piece by The Beatles, recorded on 5 January 1967 after the vocal overdubbing sessions for the song Penny Lane. Carnival of Light was created for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an art event held at the Roundhouse Theatre on 28 January and 4 February 1967. Carnival of Light has not yet appeared on any official Beatles release.

In 1975, Ned Lagin released an album of electronic noise music full of spacey rumblings and atmospherics filled with burps and bleeps entitled Seastones on Round Records. The album was recorded in stereo quadraphonic sound and featured guest performances by members of the Grateful Dead, including Jerry Garcia playing treated guitar and Phil Lesh playing electronic Alembic bass. David Crosby, Grace Slick and other members of the Jefferson Airplane also appear on the album.

Read more about this topic:  Noise Music, Prehistory

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