Harsh static or harsh noise music

Yesterday I linked to a video of a live concert performance by a classic rock-and-roll instrumental group The Shadows. Today, I want to discuss a really recent phenomenon.

I am of the age that grew up with rock-and-roll. When it took the world by storm, many of our elders scorned it, saying that it was not ‘real’ music of the kind sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, which were melodious and tuneful. “What is that noise?” was their cry. Of course the difference between music and noise was clear even then. We knew it and so did our elders and but alleging that this new form of music was indistinguishable from noise was convenient as a put-down.

But I recently came across what is known as ‘harsh static’ or ‘harsh noise’ music that deliberately seeks to blur the line between music and noise by creating music that seems almost indistinguishable from the sounds we associate with static noise. It is apparently a sub-genre of something known as ‘noise wall’.

I learned about it from our university’s student newspaper The Observer that reported that a programmer at our student-run campus radio station, who apparently liked to play such music, quit in a huff because the station’s general manager had asked him to stop doing so because of complaints she had received from listeners who were wondering why they were getting so much static when they tuned in.

So what does this music sound like? Listen to performer Merzbow and his piece Woodpecker No. 1.


  1. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Well, thank you for that.

    I had to google it to make sure your observer article wasn’t parody. Apparently, it’s not.

    (fwiw, the phrase “quit in a huff” is pretty ableist.)

  2. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I am certain many people with various cardiopulmanry issues or other issues including obesity would love to leave in a huff. Reading “quit in a huff” could quite possibly trigger them.

    Just yet another microaggression we force them to endure.


  3. Al Dente says

    wtfwhateverd00d @4

    Huh? I say again, huh? Your explanation was completely unexplanatory. Please explain in English how “left in a huff” is ableist.

  4. Al Dente says

    Woodpecker No. 1 does have some melodic overtones and it does appear to have a vague relationship to music. It’s an acquired taste which I don’t feel the urge to acquire.

  5. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I will probably define it incorrectly, but I will try to give you some examples.

    You can see others, better than I describe the situation here:

    Rebecca Watson’s post:

    Or in this graphic: http://i.imgur.com/n0DcCx0.jpg (SFW but contains the f word)

    Or in this post: thoughtcatalog dot com/parker-marie-molloy/2013/10/15-crazy-examples-of-insanely-ableist-language/ (url mangled to avoid spam filter)

  6. lpetrich says

    This music reminds me of a classification I once did:

    1. Girlie disco: Madonna and the like

    2. Glumness disco: The Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, and the like

    3. Gross-out disco: Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and the like

    Woodpecker #1 seems like extreme gross-out disco.

  7. Holms says

    Huh? I say again, huh? Your explanation was completely unexplanatory. Please explain in English how “left in a huff” is ableist.

    It’s part of a newish tactic emplyed by the anti-FTB crowd that still posts here, whereby random harmless words of phrases are called ableist / sexist / whatever with no basis whatsoever. It’s what they consider to be a parody, but it only demonstrates their lack of knowledge / willingness to understand the actual issues.

  8. noastronomer says


    The word ‘huff’ does not appear any where in the article, or comments, at your link. Nor does it occur in the graphic.

    I give you a D- score for your troll effort.


  9. wtfwhateverd00d says

    You should learn how to interpolate. Also learn the difference between a small joke and a troll.

    Oh well, to be reminded that FTBcommenters have little sense of humor or ability to laugh at themselves, #GoFigure

  10. nyarlathotep says

    I love harsh noise. I’ve listened to it and some related genres (such as Drone Metal) for years) and Merzbow is one of my favorite musicians within the genre. It’s difficult for me to explain why I love harsh noise. For me it wasn’t an acquired taste because I loved it from the first time I heard Wolf Eyes and Merzbow. The raw power and emotion of the genre is something that I find attractive. Also, as previously mentioned, there are some melodic elements in the music. A knee-jerk love for dadaism and things transgressive is the easiest explanation, but it somehow feels incomplete.

  11. says

    There have been people who pushed limits of structure (Ornette Coleman’s free jazz, John Zorn, Negativland, through music), of instrumentation (Stevie Wonder and synthesizers, Industrial bands, Raymond Scott) and sound (Link Wray and Pete Townshend using feedback, the Japanese Noise scene), but all had one foot in traditional forms to let the listener remain on familiar ground. Some listeners followed, most didn’t.

    Being experimental is one thing, but most who do make sure their output is discernible as music. The sound in that clip (because I can’t call it music) is unlistenable because it has no structure, no recognizable form or point of reference. Finally, Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” has influenced somebody, and the world is worse off for it.

    On top of that, aren’t or weren’t there laws or policies against radio stations playing songs containing static? IIRC, the argument was that people might think the transmission wasn’t working.

  12. lorn says

    If you played that at Guantanamo Bay you would be guilty of human right abuses, possibly torture, depending on frequency and amplitude. But having left the YouTube link you get me to hit it, and listen through it just to know what you are talking about I have actualized my own abuse.

    Ummmm … thanks?

    Perhaps I can do something nice for you some day …

  13. kevinkirkpatrick says

    True story – I had a roommate in college who went to a frat party with me. We weren’t there for 5 minutes before he starts acting like a complete asshole. I mean, he just started walking around making mean-spirited, cutting jokes about how stupid the whole fraternity system was, how silly the traditions were, and how ridiculous people looked when they took that stuff seriously. From every reading I could get from him, he seemed to think he was being both clever and actually funny. He couldn’t seem to see (or was pretending not to see) that he was acting like a jerk and amusing absolutely nobody. Even leaving that aside, he wasn’t even making smart or sound points – most of what he was saying was clearly whatever ignorant anti-fraternity shit he could think of to try to get a rise out of the party hosts. Suffice it to say, we were soon asked to leave (guilt by association sucks). As we walked back to the dorm, I was like “What the !@#$? was that??” And he acted equally astonished – “I know! I knew frat guys were jerks, but I thought they’d at least be cool enough to laugh at themselves a bit.”

    I never hung out much with that roommate after that, and was glad when I had a chance to switch later that semester. Right or wrong on any particular issue – the guy was always an asshole.

    Not sure what brought that story to mind, maybe someone here can interpolate…

  14. says

    I’m kinda high right now, but I get the feeling wtflamemisogynist may have gotten worked up in Jason’s post (relevant thread) and after trolling that thread has jumped straight over to Prof Singham’s blog (whom I notice he favours, perhaps because of the Professor’s great writing skills =)) and continued with the idiocy.

  15. wtfwhateverd00d says

    If you think I’ve written anything that was misogynistic, you should present that, and present the whole thing and in context.

    Then just to prove it’s a pattern, find three things you think I’ve written that you believe are misogynistic.

    Because I know you’re a skeptic and appreciate evidence.

  16. says

    WFT, wasn’t there a thread some time ago to discuss the merits of purging trolls like wtfwhateverd00d? Perfect example here, not getting his troll on elsewhere so tries to drag a totally unrelated thread over to the focus of his obsession.

    Personally I like dissonant music, the noise stuff has an allure to it…. Although the most “extreme” or hardcore “noise” I own is early Einstürzende Neubauten, who are positively melodic compared to the example in the OP and their latest stuff is a lot less noise based!

  17. Dunc says

    huff (noun): a usually peevish and transitory spell of anger or resentment

    English, how the fuck does it work?

  18. Alex says

    Ok, this settles it. Technical death metal is apparently the new easy listening, and I’m getting old.

  19. wannabe says

    When I was a kid in the 60s, I raced downstairs because some awful noise on the stereo. I thought the machine was broken! But in fact my dad was playing a record by Karlheinz Stockhausen. (I think it might have been this.)

    My dad was a fan of Olivier Messiaen’s music and I see by Stockhausen’s wiki article that he was one of Messiaen’s students so perhaps that explains my dad’s curiosity. He didn’t get any more Stockhausen records but over time I became quite fond of the one that I had originally heard as a broken stereo.

  20. Jockaira says

    Not as polished as “Silver Apples of the Moon” or as lively as “Key to Songs: Return”

    Still…worth listening to at least once…twice…two much!

  21. Mano Singham says

    Merzbow’s piece has a kind of structure that you can tease out. I would not choose it but I played it while writing and it did not bother me. I can see how it could be appealing for some people in a certain frame of mind.

  22. Alex says


    You have very avant-garde parents 🙂
    As far as “classical” music is concerned, I was barely exposed to anything newer than ~ 1900

  23. badgersdaughter says

    I have a young friend, a jazz musician, who turned me on to Merzbow. I disliked it, but not before giving it a good long hearing. Still, I do not feel the visceral disgust at it that I do at other things he sometimes links (I don’t know how to describe them except “deliberately, artistically, grotesque”) so I think my dislike is rooted in my own musical training. I find that I actually enjoy parts of it if I think of it visually (that is, trying to leverage, in reverse, my weakly synesthetic tendency to hear music when I look at abstract art).

  24. Brandon says

    I think I’m not sufficiently old, at 28, to be shouting about today’s generation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the composer of this was older than me. Nonetheless, that’s simply not “music” in any meaningful sense. I cannot imagine someone enjoying it without just being a general contrarian.

  25. jamessweet says

    I really appreciate Mano’s take on it in comment #27. If you actually listen to it, it’s pretty clear that there is some stuff going on rhythmically, so I don’t know how someone can say it’s “not music in any meaningful sense”. You might not like it, but…

    And as far as wtfwhateverd00d… What was this about the monomania again? Does it still count if the person in question periodically shifts to a different monomania to be obsessed about?

    Give it a fucking rest, “d00d”.

  26. smrnda says

    Some acid jazz like Sun Ra used lots of noise ‘would I for all that were?’ is the kind of thing that’s unwise to listen to on headphones unless you want a headache.

    The band which was the first to be dubbed ‘noiserock’ and also ‘industrial’ was Big Black back in the early 80s, which was the band of Steve Albini. Of course, compared to where noise music has done they almost seem melodic and tuneful.

  27. DsylexicHippo says

    How can you distinguish one “composition” from another? And if that’s not possible how could you ever copyright it? And if you couldn’t then how would RIAA sue you for piracy?

    On the other hand, if you are able to distinguish one from another then you don’t belong here and should be deported. I mean from planet Earth.

  28. Rob Grigjanis says

    My gravatar is the cover of an album I bought in 1973. My response on first listening was similar to my response to the Merzbow, and I put it away. Thank goodness I didn’t toss it out. Played it again a year later, and it became, and remains, one of my favourite albums. So I’m very reluctant to judge anything on first listen.

  29. wtfwhateverd00d says

    oolon, et. al., considering I comment here most everyday while you rarely do, except that you came by this thread to egg on talk of banning, well, I know who the troll is here oolon. That would be you.

  30. wtfwhateverd00d says

    It is pretty darn amusing to see all the SJW demanding that “quit in a huff” is NOT ableist. Wonder how that would go down in many of the threads still being talked about on ftb today, or over at skepchick or a+.

    As I said @12, you folks need to learn the difference between a small joke and some evil troll that we now see oolon the block bot author demanding banning over, even though oolon rarely even participates at this blog!

    Oolon, posterboy for #FTBbullies.

  31. Doug Little says

    It’s still better than mainstream country. I kinda got lost in it trying to tease out something rhythmic, I might have to peruse the genre a little further as I believe it has promise.

  32. Al Dente says

    wtfwhateverd00d @36

    Just as a suggestion, when you make “jokes” try to include some humor in them. That’s generally a tipoff that you’re making a “joke” instead of just trolling.

  33. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Would matter little, your response @4, your non response to @7 indicates you don’t have the capacity to understand the joke or what it refers to.

    If a random, reasonable, Internet user can be trolled by the simple statement “‘quit in a huff is ableist” well, at that point it’s time to turn off the Internet.

    Only hope for you is for writers to use smileys :/

  34. steve oberski says


    August 16, 2013 at 4:59 am

    Because cunt, it was 1982, and the US was coming out of Vietnam and Watergate and the storytellers told a story of a man of peace and integrity that America could look towards in order to reshape itself and revalidate itself as a country of peace, honor, and integrity?

    But what you are saying bitch, is not knew. Since 1982, all of this has become widely known.

    So what’s your fucking point except demonstrating your head is up your ass?

  35. Excluded Layman says

    What came to mind when I read the title of this post was Gorguts (Obscura and Colored Sands), Ulcerate (The Destroyers of All), and the like, but I didn’t know how literal it was (or could be).

    Now that I’m thinking about it, there are other genres that try should-be-unlistenable things and develop quite a following. Within electronic dance music particularly, electro house seems to embrace a similar style of distortion (ex. early Daft Punk, MSTRKRFT, Justice). And of course, I can’t forget to mention dubstep.

  36. wereatheist says

    The name merzbow is obviously an allusion to the work of the german artist Kurt Schwitters. So this is ‘merzmusic’ 🙂 I think it’s OK. If only too long. The same amount of variation within 3+ minutes would’ve been better. More melody, but little variation, over longer time, get this: ‘Western Mantra’ by Cabaret Voltaire.

  37. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    Anyone saying “this isn’t for me”? Totally understandable. I’m gonna have to give it a few more listens before I decide if it’s for me.

    Anyone saying “it isn’t music” – please provide your definition of music. I don’t know much about music theory, but there is clearly rhythm, among other structures. Frankly, if you don’t think this is music you don’t know what music is.

    Anyone interested in testing their ideas of what music is, or can be? Well Sun Ra was already mentioned, but for my money there’s nothing more gorgeously mad than Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. As Matt Groening opined:

    “I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. Then I listened to it a couple more times, because I couldn’t believe Frank Zappa could do this to me – and because a double album cost a lot of money. About the third time, I realised they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard”.

  38. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I posted a comment to respond to Steve here that understandably went into moderation, and I am naturally disappointed to find that Professor Singham did not take it out of moderation but deleted it.

    The comment was polite, non threatening, did not spam, but did use coarse words to dispute Steve’s characterization.

    You can find the comment here:


  39. Mano Singham says

    @wtfwhateverd00d #44,

    I am a pretty patient person who believes in moderating with a very light touch but I have to say that you are sorely trying my patience.

    Your post was a long tirade that had absolutely nothing to do with the original topic of music but was you venting your usual monomania against what you perceive to be feminism, this time using an extremely feeble excuse of a joke to start the process of derailing and then whining that no one here has a sense of humor when they rightly called you on it. You have done similar things repeatedly in other posts and derailed other threads and I am simply fed up. The fact that the language was over the top in its gratuitousness simply compounded the offense, but was not the primary cause of my action.

    This is the only time I will explain this to you so pay close attention: If you do not stick to the topic but try to attempt to derail threads again by this or other means, I will delete your comments without further explanation.

  40. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Professor Singham,

    As you read through this, understand that the remark I made that flipped everyone out in this thread was this “(fwiw, the phrase “quit in a huff” is pretty ableist.)”, a very small joke.

    But then, as in one of your earlier posts, I was attacked by a FTB commenter, this time oolon, who wanted me banned. This was then piled on by others.

    You say nothing about that abuse.

    Apparently, Oolon who rarely comments here, when he comes in to say I should be purged, you Professor Singham, do not consider that to be derailing.

    But when I respond to defend myself, that’s when you have figured out who is doing the derailing.

    We both know that I have (almost) always been scrupulously polite and respectful to you and your commenters, never spammed, and I think quite clearly posted on topic, relevant and valuable posts through my time here.

    What I have learned is that often people, especially social justice warriors, will do whatever they hell they want, and then blame their piss poor behavior on others.

    Ban me? Purge me?

    Do whatever the hell you want to do.

    Don’t blame your piss poor judgment on me.

  41. Mano Singham says

    @wtfwhateverd00d #47,

    I long ago stopped caring about your opinion of me or anything else. I usually just ignore you. If you don’t like my judgment, that is your problem. As I have said before, if you dislike this blog so much, you are free to leave. But don’t expect me to respond to your comments in the future.

  42. northstar says

    Well, I wouldn’t buy the album (am I already dating myself?) but to my surprise, I listened to the whole thing. It had an interesting post-apocalyptic vibe I kind of liked — it would have been fun to hear snatches of music or voices in the static. It reminded me of when I would tune and listen intently to shortwave radio, picking up stations from across the globe and listening in, even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

    I was trying to explain to my (teen) kids why I liked things like your selection, dubstep and industrial, much more than they do. They don’t get it at all. I put it this way: having actually worked in industrial settings, at first one is surrounded by a cacophony of bangings, pishing of hydraulics and pneumatics, tapping, riveting, whirring and so on. After a while, you find your brain has started to sort the rhythmic patterns within all those sounds; you subconsciously start anticipating them and eventually enter a sort of engaging mental state where the machine noise has now become an industrial Bach fugue which you are participating. Dancing is not unknown. 🙂

    So I’ll leave you with this video of some spectacular dancers interpreting dubstep, incorporating a lot of industrial sound and movement. No longer deus ex machina, now the age of homo ex machina, I guess. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ge4mDZCZNY

  43. northstar says

    I stand corrected: my 15 y.o. informs me one of her favorite bands, Windsor Airlift, has a 5 minute track of static, their last release. So it’s a thing.

  44. John Phillips, FCD says

    northstar #51, basically, that’s just a smple DIY form of sensory deprivation. It can get interesting.

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