The Bastard Noise Interview
The Bastard Noise really needs no introduction. They were not formed, but more a case of metamorphosis. Gradually evolving from Man Is The Bastard into Man Is The Bastard Noise and currently residing as The Bastard Noise. Who knows where it may yet evolve? What further curveballs await the listeners?
As a long time Skull Servant, there were a lot of things I wanted to know, and it required restraint to keep it to a manageable length.
Empty your cup, so it may be filled…
The Bastard Noise has been around since the nineties. Have you noticed a transition within the noise scene since your inception? Or noticed any trends?
WOOD: The main transition in my eyes has been the greater acceptance of non-conventional sound within the underground world of expression… There are a lot more “ordinary” artists and about the same amount of incredible ones. If there has been any trend, it has been to make the most fucked up racket possible and designate oneself as a “legitimate” artist. It more than likely assists the units that take sound seriously.
With there being various line-up changes along the way, does The Bastard Noise enforce any kind of demarcation between members old and new?
WOOD: Unless there is a “conflict of interest”, all members past and present are family. Wiese gave five years of his time and quality services to The Bastard Noise however he is not part of our family any longer. Barnes is a part of the family. His mind gave us the AFC/ROAR “caveman electronics” concept to run with. New member Rauf has added a real “shine” vocally to our newest material as well. She possesses “the mindset”. The correct response I guess then is a “draw” between “yes” and “no”.
NELSON: The difference in the line-up, like any other project whose life-span is more than a few years, is more of a question of logistics than anything else. The rare cases of head-in-ass exceptions are hardly worth a mention.
Do you feel that The Bastard Noise is comparable with the output of its peers?
WOOD: Absolutely—we care first about sound and I feel The Bastard Noise discography reflects that sentiment well. Since we are now truly “composing” our material on a more “structural level”, I feel The Bastard Noise will only deliver a more potent sound direction than it ever has before.
These days it is relatively simple to start a noise project, with the plethora of sound files that can be found on the Internet and manipulated very easily on a computer. What do you feel sets The Bastard Noise from the others?
RAUF: The use of hand-made electronics in The Bastard Noise gives the project an organic warmth that is lacking in many digital noise projects. We are the “vinyl” of “noise” so-to-speak. The variety of vocal styles used is also unique and stands out from others in this genre.
WOOD: The AFC/ROAR “caveman electronics” (that Barnes built many years ago) and the Trogotronic electronics that Nelson builds today. I think the element of time being together (Nelson and I) is also a glorious amenity that gives a priceless strength to our labour in this unit. Chemistry and patience are everything to us.
NELSON: While our unique instrumentation goes a long way to giving The Bastard Noise an identifiable sound, undoubtedly the most important factor is composition and performance by members doing so together for the better part of two decades. Making music with computers is ultimately no different than making music with Violins; Any jerk-off who plays a Stradivarius is still a “jerk-off”, while a great player can make a pawn shop fiddle sound out of this world.
How about the Bastard legacy? There are some very influential bands that have all branched from the roots of The Bastard Noise family tree, how do you feel about being part of extreme music history? Are there any favourites?
WOOD: It is with grace that I express my gratefulness for being a part of something so special. I am happy that all around us have been truly behind the music and sound. Barnes/Nelson especially get my thanks for teaching so much about “what isn’t typically heard”—The schooling I received cannot be purchased anywhere. I also learned a lot from Rob De Chaine (of Brilliant Noise Studios) who had an immaculate ear and whose soul was in it every time we recorded—he was so crucial to Man Is The Bastard and The Bastard Noise in our initial years of existence. As far as believers go, Sam McPheeters (of Vermiform Records) really helped The Bastard Noise cover a lot of ground with the releases he issued for us. I think all the units that have branched off from The Skull, have something unique to offer.
Wood, can you tell us a little bit about your other projects?
My “other” units are: Antennacle, Ion Channel and Amber Asylum (as the bassist).
Antennacle is a “mail collaboration” based sound unit that also includes Rick Gribenas on electronics and Nathan Martin (formerly of Creation Is Crucifixion) on electronics. It has a more “subtle” and haunting quality. It examines a lot of very different strategies that are sound-based.
Ion Channel is a musical project I have with Rauf our new member. I think it’s more appropriate if she offers the description and agenda of the outfit—I can tell you it is highly rewarding and very musical.
Amber Asylum need no introduction. I have had the pleasure of being the most recent bassist for Amber Asylum and have some wonderful experiences playing and recording with Kris Force and company. She is brilliant as a vocalist and overall musician. I love working with her. Amber Asylum is a wonderful soul-warming venture for sure.
Rauf, can you tell us a little bit about your other projects?
I play guitar and vocals for Saros, an eclectic metal band from the San Francisco bay area.
Like Wood, I am also a member of Amber Asylum in which I play guitar and keyboards.
Ion Channel is a (so far!) studio only project in which Wood and I go off in our own universe… the material is simultaneously experimental and musical, droney yet very dark folk and 80s death-rock influenced. We have a debut full length coming out this year on vinyl.
Nelson, can you tell us a little bit about your other projects?
Geronimo with Anthony Francoso and Moises Ruiz is an interrupted continuation of the Sleestak project from the 90’s, which is decidedly more “traditional” in terms of instrumentation than The Bastard Noise. Unicorn, like The Bastard Noise, is primarily electronic/electro-acoustic in instrumentation but stands apart in terms of compositional aesthetic.
How did the recording of Rogue Astronaut go? What can we expect from this recording?
WOOD: The recording from my standpoint was a “survivalist journey” to some degree. We recorded in primitive conditions on a good machine (the same Tascam 16 Track 1″ machine that tracked Man Is The Bastard’s “Thoughtless…” 12″ LP) that changed our process to more of a real-time execution mindset of the earlier analog recording era—a great thing but tough to go through. As this response is being written, we are finishing the mix and nearly at the “production phase” of the release. As far as what can be expected, it is too complex to try and describe but this will be our finest moment to date. Why? Because this release was “composed” and continues to challenge “Mancruel’s” self-righteousness on an unforgiving level of awareness. “Rogue Astronaut” for the three of us is to be a priceless moment in time upon its release.
NELSON: Collectively we are extremely excited about the release. It was constructed in a manner entirely distinct from every release the project has ever shown the light of day. The approach was one of painstaking distillation more than a year before the tape machine was even set to record. Vocals are built into the music rather than the music being built around the vocals, and while the “classic” deliveries are unchanged from the original Man Is The Bastard material, other instances mark a completely different direction (such as Wood and Rauf’s work on the first cut or guest vocalists Bobby Bray & Justin Pearson’s confounding assessment of the extra-terrestrial colonial tyranny of humans). With live-performance tracking of rehearsed compositions and subsequent nothing-spared production of those tracks, Rogue Astronaut will prove to be either one of the most loved or most hated releases from the “Marque of the Skull” yet. Our personal assessment is positive of course but one never knows how a change-up will be received as our work has so often been summarily rejected in the past simply because it was so different than what was available or expected within a narrowly perceived genre.
RAUF: This is my first full length as a member of The Bastard Noise, so needless to say, it was a huge learning experience for me. Wood and Nelson are huge pros at arranging the material and I was completely blown away by their level of dedication at sculpting forms out of the raw sounds. The basic tracking was extremely challenging, especially for vocals since they were initially recorded to tape. Matt Anderson and Michael Rozon were delightful folks to work with; Rozon is a true wizard that worked his magic. I think listeners will be surprised with what they hear, as overall, I feel it is a departure that will stand out from the myriad of previous releases.
Are you able to tell us a little about the equipment? Also how the idea of tube oscillators came to fruition? Are you able to explain in layman’s terms how they work?
NELSON: Methinks the paramount question, in terms of the technical as well as the technique, seeks to answer what it is that makes the most interesting electronic music and more importantly ALL music in general. Recognizing the fact that we, to some extent, “grow our own” gear to our own specifications, this more precisely focused inquiry deserves explanation.
FIRST the “tubes” as audio generators: What Barnes’ Amps for Christ tube equipment brought to bear upon the “Power Violence” scene in the early 90’s is, to this day, unequalled in complexity or devastation. Nonetheless making music with vacuum tubes is neither new nor unique; High-voltage vacuum tubes have been used to make music since the 1920’s.
SECOND our gear and why we use it: We use “high-voltage” tube analog, “low-voltage” solid state analog, electro-acoustic, passive switch-gear controls, active controls and a few “conventional” instruments that can be adapted to the over-all sound/vision of the project.
The sublime “beauty” of the analog audio artifacts that we seek out (with both high-voltage tubes and low voltage transistor circuits) is that they are not a reflection of something heard in nature but actually are nature at work within the circuitry. The very same rules that apply to analog phenomena—so complex that even today’s supercomputers struggle miserably to describe—are those followed by the weather, by various states of matter, by the design and function of life itself. The formally learned, who use the language of math to most aptly describe electronic theory, encounter difficulties when articulating the audio “good stuff” as the best sounds begin where math goes dreadfully longhand.
I read an all too short obituary about Bebe Baron recently. She was, of course, a true pioneer of electronic music as well as soundtrack design. One of her most well known co-written works, the soundtrack to the 1956 Hollywood film Forbidden Planet, was made entirely with analog vacuum tube electronics and tape editing. That landmark soundtrack makes the vast majority of today’s “electronic music”, including noise and power electronics, pale in comparison and foreshadowed compositional themes that would become standard practice of film scoring (regardless of instrumentation) decades in the future. Apparently at the time she was working on Forbidden Planet she believed that each circuit, and corresponding sound it made, was a real “life-form” existing within the bounds of the glowing tubes, wires and passive components.
This belief, I realized, is quite close to the way that I personally understand electronic sound generation and aptly illustrates why technical language fails to accurately describe the organic phenomena manifest within the analog circuitry. For this reason the nomenclature we use in practice and performance is nothing but the most accessible terms available. When we relate how the equipment is working we use words that would be right at home on a nature documentary describing what an animal “looks” like, what it thrives on, what habitat it can be found in and how it moves. If this sounds silly or far-fetched, imagine depicting a candle’s flame to someone who has never seen one before with language alone and you will soon appreciate the challenge to the spoken word.
The simultaneous complexity and unity of these living analog “singularities” generate the most compelling, and uniquely electronic sounds. These are audio phenomena that could ONLY be constructed by electronic circuitry rather than audio produced by circuits that PURPORT to be of acoustic means of production (such as a synth’ attempting to sound like a violin or piano). This concept of “uniquely electronic” sound, (the real “nuts and bolts” reason we implement much of the purpose-built gear used in The Bastard Noise project), is outlined at some length within the Trogotronic.com site’s “info” section.
How do you feel about companies marketing machines specifically for noise? The skill lies in its application of course but these machines could be open to abuse and diluting the scene with uninspired noise.
NELSON: We build and sell machines for making music. I’m not very good with business but it stands to reason that it’s a mistake to limit your market and a good move to expand your market. We build gear that sounds good to us. As for the quality of music made with any given device, refer to assertion above referencing “Stradivarius” so tritely.
What about the vast catalogue, is it hard to keep a track of, what is coming out when and where? Are there any other releases planned?
WOOD: Yes it is a big task at times to remember which end is up but lately with the direction The Bastard Noise has taken (in being more of a “composed unit”) things have been slightly easier to manage.
The next releases (in no particular order) are:
Christian Renou/The Bastard Noise “Brainstorming II” Collaboration CD (Housepig Records)
Golem Gross/The Bastard Noise “Universe Of Dishonor” Collaboration CD (Housepig Records)
Malachi/The Bastard Noise Split Full Length CD (Hear More Records/Housepig Records/200mg)
The Bastard Noise: Our Earth’s Blood, Part IV, Five CD Set (Cathartic Process)
The Endless Blockade/The Bastard Noise Collaboration Full Length LP/CD (LP Ideal Records/Fatalist Records & CD 20 Buck Spin)
Torso/The Bastard Noise Collaboration CD (No Label Yet Confirmed)
The Bastard Noise: Rogue Astronaut CD (Gravity Records)
Do you ever feel shackled by the style? Will you ever resort to more use of traditional song style/structure?
WOOD: Sometimes when it comes to a “contrived” live-bill that amounts to nothing more than a “white” or “pink” noise test full of generic artists. We are always up for the challenge to create something that takes the three of us “somewhere”—Yes, with the incorporation of soprano voices into Bastard Noise’s strategy, the door is very much open to even more possibilities in our progression.
NELSON: People who are “shackled” by thinking themselves diehard fans of some narrow genre will be the ones who dismiss anything new and different as the words to describe it are harder to come by and the rules of definition will be challenged and probably broken. The way we see it: “Why bother creating anything besides what we love when we must produce everything on our own to some degree?” (Much of) the very reason that we’ve resorted to self-release and self-distribution so much over the years stands as proof that we refuse to adhere to any but our own vision (be it good or bad) rather than an accepted (and therefore marketable) style or genre.
The characterization of our past efforts as non-traditional is questionable when much of the compositional structure is drawn from classical music as well as elements of hardcore and even progressive rock. It is easy to make the case that we are very consistent aesthetically from release to release but a listen to something we did in the early 90’s is VERY different than what we are doing now and even more different than where we are headed in the future. Indeed this interview finds the project at a defining moment in time when the question of change will be answered for better or for worse by the best and worst minds that care to comment. Being concerned with what they will say is, in a word: “ridiculous” and has nothing whatsoever to do with our process of composing music as long as we have been at it or will be.
RAUF: I feel the mindset alone of the three of us is such that we will never be creatively stuck or ever play totally by the rules. Sometimes this means going a little more conventional, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing is for sure, the easy route is never taken!
Thank you for your time and effort in answering these questions. Do you have any closing words?
WOOD: Many thanks to you for this opportunity and to those who have supported Bastard Noise in anyway.
Bastard Noise contacts and links:
Many thanks to Nelson, Rauf & Wood for painstakingly reading. And rereading this to the point of bursting blood vessels. In particular, Nelson with his bionic eye. ” Perfection in delivery of even an imperfect message benefits us all”
Interviewed by: Jas Murray