A District of Noise
If there was ever any doubt that D.C.'s experimental underground was alive and kicking, it's been erased this week. Not only are we in the middle of the eighth annual Sonic Circuits Festival (ongoing through Sunday at the Velvet Lounge and the National Museum of Women in the Arts), but area artists also just unveiled District of Noise, a brand-new compilation of local music deviants released in conjunction with the week-long event. Sunday served as both the festival's opening night and the record's release party, hosting performances by many of the acts featured on the compilation's 17 tracks. The show itself was a revolving door of musicians and on-the-spot collaborations, championing the vibrancy of the DMV experimental scene while exhibiting its incestuous network.
Compiled by festival curator and Zeromoon label-head Jeff Surak, District of Noise reveals a clique of artists steeped in audiophile philosophies and improvisation, emphasizing sheer sound and ambiance rather than traditional song structure or accessibility. It's the first compilation birthed from the Sonic Circuits run, assembled from some of the area's more active artists, though not completely all-encompassing of the numerous projects around. According to Surak, District of Noise "acts as a vehicle to promote local artists, in hopes that people will support them the rest of the year when they play out."
The record eases in with BLK w/BEAR's deft loop deconstruction, piling processed cello and bass atop prepared vinyl records. Such incorporation of rhythm or familiarity—however faint or obtuse—outlines the most successful approach to making difficult music more palatable for the average listener, serving as a launchpad for the surrounding overload. Both Blue Sausage Infant and Cash Slave Clique (MP3 below) invoke the technique as well; BSI drowns heavy metal riffage with synthesizer oscillations while CSC pummels a drum machine beat with seizure-inducing electronics. An enticing introduction, indeed.
Echolalia's "Falling Out" ushers in the industrial cloud that hangs throughout the middle third of the record, mixing menacing drones with minimal flourishes. Individually, the tracks maintain their own subtle flair, but on the surface, the frigid, electronic haze and mechanistic growls melt together without much protest. Seamless or samey, it's your call. But a close listen will reveal rewarding compositions, most notably Mind Over Matter Music Over Mind's eerie gurgles, Janel & Anthony's cello/guitar manipulations (mp3 below), and Northern Machine's obliterated organ.
Tone Ghosting injects a ripple into the album's flow with "Amaxana:Visitation," a frenzy of clipped vocals relentlessly mutated atop flickers of drum machine and static. The meticulous sonic fetishism that the compilation emphasizes is perhaps most beautifully represented by Cory O'Brien and his Myo moniker: His contribution builds through hushed crackle that colors the background hum, escalating in pitch as the track progresses. Surak's own electroacoustic outlet Violet concludes the record with a disorienting piece of digital skitter; a shortwave malfunction glowering in the doldrums.
District of Noise provides a welcome snapshot of Washington's most bizarre, marrying the work of industrial/experimental pioneers like Maurizio Bianchi and Stockhausen with the new-school noise antics of NYC stable No Fun Productions. It may not have quite the subterranean notoriety of the latter's annual No Fun Fest, but Sonic Circuits still provides an impressive array of art and innovation, putting a uniquely D.C. spin on the concept of experimental music.
Four full nights of music remain in the Festival, with several artists featured on the compilation still scheduled to play, including Mind Over Matter Music Over Mind, Myo, Janel & Anthony, Northern Machine, and RDK. You can find a full schedule up at the Sonic Circuits site.