Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Noise and enabling: Stefan Kushima's farewell to Joey Chainsaw

The musics commonly tagged as noise or drone, with their frequently encountered tendency towards the formless, often evade the sort of emotional ascriptions that are common to more traditional forms. Can there be intention to noise? If intention is deducible, if the sounds are recognized on the level of intentions and perceived emotionality, is it still noise we are hearing / feeling? If noise is that which disturbs, which is always unfinished or dissipates (as Paul Hegarty, also discussing the "formless" via Bataille's informe, would claim in Noise / Music: A History), can emotions be ascribed to it at all? Of course, this might conflate "noise" as a common term with "noise" as a genre denominator. An intense Viennese Saturday night, somewhat colder than it could have been at this time of year, offered food for thought on these issues and, more importantly, enabled, fed and helped memories for those involved.

That evening, Vienna-based musician Stefan Kushima bid farewell to his close friend and artistic collaborator, Bristol-based Joey Chainsaw, who had passed away a few days earlier. It was Stefan himself who had introduced me to Joey's recordings not too long before, lending me a CD-R anthology he had received from his friend as well as presenting me with their duo release In The Spiral Door. Joey's music sounds uncompromising, and uncompromisingly DIY, crude, intense and certainly diverse in its exploratory character. I hear Joey, whom I never got to meet, was a gentle and sweet character. These musical and personal attributes are not necessarily ones often thought analogous in everyday usage – a discrepancy that can be frustrating, presumably for the artists in particular, but also useful, even possible to harness. This "secret Joey farewell" similarly defied these characterizations.

The concert took place at the Lust Gallery, a space close to the Donaukanal and, at the time of the concert, visited by a crowd probably attending an exhibition event. The concert itself was not publicized, and exhibition attendants mixed with the group of people interested in Joey's and Stefan's work. The handful of times I had seen Stefan play live recently, usually under his Cruise Family guise, his work embraced a certain pop pluralism. It has been tending towards, as he might call it, the "technoid", an imaginative melting and molding of musical ideas easily identified as the work of a voracious listener: visit Stefan's apartment and you're as likely to hear Ol' Dirty Bastard as Orphan Fairytale, while :zoviet*france: share speakers and headspace with Mariah Carey…

Still, at this concert, Stefan's music was probably closer to the raw, murky drone / noise of In The Spiral Door, a move that in what has been called today's "post-noise underground" here and there could almost be tagged "back to the roots"; however, it appears more beneficial to consider these sounds strands of a broadening field of artistic possibilities. It is fitting that Stefan has recently released a tape (Orbital Express) on Not Not Fun Records, a label whose quasi-postmodern pluralism is a particularly successful example of these tendencies (and whose website very aptly described Stefan's most recent exploits as those of a "neo-rave laser-rider").

As is his wont, Stefan spent most of the gig hunched over keyboards and pedals. In addition to a photo depicting Joey, some fond and playful tribute artwork and the circulation of a water bottle filled with vodka, Joey-style, he incorporated recordings of Joey's into his set, looping them and weaving them into his dense soundscapes. I finally got to see Stefan use his violin live, both vocalizing into it and stroking it with his bow during what felt like the concert's second third. The last part included percussive elements and, I believe, featured one of Joey's recordings looped on its own for a while.

I can't tell what the (presumably) unknowing bystanders thought of the set; did it just appear to be one ungodly racket (which it certainly was in the best possible sense), or did they perceive how Stefan's feelings for Joey (obviously, to me) fed into his physical approach towards his gear? While its vocal sounds were almost unrecognizable, the violin-centered section certainly matched signifiers of intensity and emotionality. The percussive section could doubtlessly be called ritualistic, or ritual-like in its emphasis on repetition and shifting tempi.

(Joey and Stefan live, July 2010)

Stefan's set, not just in its obvious musical and performative aspects, did that and more. Through the incorporation of Joey's music, photo, artwork dedicated to him, through Stefan's own bodily involvement, through one's knowledge of the concert's occasion as well as the personal and, indivisibly and indistinguishably from it, artistic friendship between Joey and Stefan, visitors were able to connect to a very unique field of intensity. Stefan's sometime collaborator Vanessa Arn (of Primordial Undermind) commented on his set that he was a "channeller"; if he was a channeller, he was also an enabler, invoking not one objective image of Joey Chainsaw but performing, harnessing and offering diverse aspects of their relations and experiences. Anyone engaging with Stefan's set and its background is likely to have developed very inspiring ideas of what Joey Chainsaw and his connection to this evening's performer were about.

The music's formless character itself arguably was not the evening's very central factor in the sense of a deterministic mood-shifter, but rather was a realization of daily and yet not-daily artistic DIY praxis integral to the farewell performance. This was not functional music subject to a specific topic and occasion, but certainly not untouched thereby either. Stefan has expressed frustration about the relatively small size of Joey's listener base, but the complex of music, artwork, DIY tactics, memories and care he helped manifest at the Lust Gallery has certainly helped make Joey unforgettable to some people and will help further investigations and connections be made.

Dead Pilot Records: RIP Joey Chainsaw
Lava Thief: RIP Joey Chainsaw
Rottenmeats: Joey Chainsaw Rest in Peace

Thursday, May 12, 2011


(Avarus, Jarse, Mik Quantius and Tempel Solaire will play Garage X on May 20.)


Avarus’s Jättiläisrotta (giant rat) depicts five perfectly healthy band members, with ringleader Arttu “Amon Düde” Partinen either signalling his approval or hoping to hitch a ride. The scene also features a collection of disembodied heads belonging to other members of the collective, so it seems unlikely any vehicle would stop for this bunch. Will Avarus make it to Garage X?

Members of Avarus are involved with the Fonal and Lal Lal Lal labels, focal points of Finnish friendship and freak-out networks. These people are everywhere. How can Avarus itself, as an entity, leave the sidewalk that is obviously not their only habitat? Let’s focus on one particular mode of travel and consider the “Three Stages of Drunkenness” encountered prominently in the Jättiläisrotta press release:

Stage 1. “I wish I were drunk”

Stage 2. “I have to puke”

Stage 3. Jättiläisrotta

Stage 1 manifests desire and serves as entry point. While stage 2 might appear fairly dynamic, it can be conceptualized as territorial. Layers of vomit stratify the sidewalk. Arttu wants to hitch a ride, but he approves, too. Avarus’s music: positive, improvised, if necessary using balloons and inflatable guitars, is dynamic enough not to be shaped solely by territorial limitations. Slip onto this sidewalk as you pass by… Stage 3, the giant rat itself, is a parasite and happy to stay and enjoy its position, but don’t expect it to remain forever. It goes beyond, denotes what is hard to grasp. This rat will not be domesticated.

We need not reduce the giant rat to a mere effect of alcohol. If it keeps on moving, it is both a placeholder and a vehicle for the non-territorial. Like Avarus’s music, it is transporting. When it passes by, Avarus climb up its tail and throw rope ladders over the side. Sometimes Jättiläisrotta even becomes a beast of the sea, carrying its riders/manifestors across oceans, as it did for 2006’s amazing Terrastock 6 festival in Providence, Rhode Island, which showcased the band as part of an international network of adventurous, DIY-oriented musicians. Keeping in contact internationally through various shifting media over the years, they boldly go where no rat has carried anyone before.

Terrastock organizer Jeffrey Alexander has released Avarus albums on his Secret Eye label, and he will join Avarus on this tour (hopefully not as a disembodied head), ideally preparing the Viennese audience Rhode Island Coffeemilk Lattes. Arrive in one piece, Jeffrey. Vienna needs you!

Like rats conjoined by tails, Avarus may be confined to the stage; but musically, this rat king spreads plague, gyrating with punky krautrock rhythms or hovering, spewing not-quite-animal noises while, as their tour artwork suggests, a unicorn sits on a nearby cliff and excretes rainbows all over the place. You have been warned. Please attend.

(Poster by Royl Culbertson and Stefan Kushima)