Here's the Good Noise

Musician summit challenges the borders between sound and music

Although it's an intimidating, incomprehensible format to some, the electronic noise genre has seen growing exposure in exhibition and performance spaces in recent years. At a symposium and in concert this weekend, three major figures from the artistic, academic, and experimental corners of this world gather to explain just what makes their music tick, buzz, crunch, and wail.

The guests have such heavy-duty resumes one might reasonably expect they'd have lost their hearing years ago. An instigator of the Japanese Fluxus movement in the '60s, Yasunao Tone often takes a conceptual approach to his compositions and gallery installations, some of which he created by damaging CDs or converting images of poems into audio recordings. A professor at UC Santa Barbara, Curtis Roads has written several textbooks on music composition and was the first to program a computer to generate music from tiny sound grains, a technique many electronic musicians use today. From Germany, Florian Hecker is a self-taught noisemaker with half a dozen experimental albums, including a reinterpretation of Tone's poems, on premier laptop label Mego.

After filling our ears with artistic context in a lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute, Tone, Roads, and Hecker will hammer out three performances at Recombinant Media Labs. Expect a collision of electronically generated sounds that changes in shape as well as time. Roads will take advantage of multiple speaker channels to project audio in space and Hecker has experimented with the psychoacoustic disorientation of spatial perception. Bass-heads listen up: Words fail to describe the power of the RML speaker array system.

Florian Hecker.
Miroslav Hudak
Florian Hecker.


Tone, Hecker, and Roads play Recombinant Media Labs on Friday, April 14th, at 9 p.m. and on Saturday, April 15, at 8 p.m. and 11p.m. Admission is $15; call (650) 255-8947 or visit for more info. The trio will lecture at SFAI on Friday, April 14th, at 5 p.m. Admission is free; go to for more info.

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An inevitable question is how to separate good ear damage from the bad. Hecker warns that these days he hears many "dangerously simplified and hollow plagiarists." Roads' simple answer is "you can just play. Either you have it or you don't." For more detailed answers you'll have to come down in person and raise a little ruckus of your own.

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