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General rants and raves on music

Random Noise

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the bottle hurtle past the hole in the brick wall at Hole in the Wall. Then there was a thud and silence. The missile was aimed at Ting Ting Jahe and it interrupted the experimental act: three guys sitting on the stage behind laptop computers and various contraptions connected with interwoven chords and plugs. They were opening the show for the headliner, Reynols, a three-piece Argentinian band featuring a singer with Down syndrome. But that's another column.

Bands like Ting Ting Jahe play laptop music, nontraditional music (some would call it racket) from the wire-choked innards of computers, samplers, radios and other things that make noises. These artists also manipulate instruments in ways most people have never thought of. There are no holds barred when it comes to this music, and the air rings with anti-melodies of vibrating pitches, cut-up bass lines and the sounds of breaking glass. And sometimes silence.

However you describe the music, the bottle-thrower obviously disliked it and wanted to project his dissatisfaction at the source. Up to this incident Ting Ting Jahe had been in the midst of making sounds interrupted by lots of silence. They washed a bow over guitar strings. They hit keyboard keys and turned knobs. They sat there. After many minutes of music one of the girls I was with took a swallow of beer and earnestly noted, "This band sure is taking a long time to set up."

Ting Ting Jahe are locals, one of a growing trend of laptop composers whose music varies from frenetic drum 'n' bass to pure gobbledygook. Occasionally they bring similar-minded musicians from around the country and the globe to Richmond. Recently a friend and I drove downtown to such a show at Artspace.

I pulled open the door at the entrance and was hit with a blast of intense white noise. I was hoping for at least a smidgen of coherence and my heart sank when I heard that sound. The static-enveloped high-pitched squeal pierced the air in a monotonous scream, like something from another planet, one where Captain Kirk and his crew go down palming their ears in blind agony.

We cupped our heads and ventured toward the noise's source, slightly hunched over like we were making our way to the Huey through enemy fire. In the brightly lighted main gallery a man sat behind a small table facing rows of people seated in metal folding chairs.

The scene was ironic indeed: an entire audience facing a performance-art musician with fingers pushed into their eardrums for relief. It looked like some cult whose god manifests itself as a wretched, searing blare boring into one's skull.

Lots of people were leaving, but the performer sat there defiant. A masochistic preacher at his pulpit, he flagellated the crowd for several minutes more before pulling the plug. The remaining audience applauded. A man leaned over to his friend standing next to him and said, "If you cover your ears somewhat, it's actually quite nice." Word is still out on his definition of "nice." — W.M.

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