Not since Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music has noise-as-art danced this close to the mainstream.
Kunal Gupta, Tristan Perich and Katie Shima, collectively known as The Loud Objects, have become darlings of the electronic underground since they brainstormed the concept during their tenure at Columbia University in the mid 2000's.
Its intention is to expand the listener's idea of what music is.
The Loud Objects' creative mash-up of circuitry, sound, lights and soldering irons (!) is a sort of extreme performance art, and it brings down the house (sometimes literally) at noise festivals the world over.
In a nutshell, it goes like this: On the light surface of an antiquated overhead projector (the kind they don't use in schools any more), the three solder together a series of one-bit chips onto a string of wires connected to an audio output jack.
The Loud Objects perform Friday at the Jepson Center, part of the PULSE: Art & Technology Festival.
Every performance is different, as you'll see. We spoke with all three members of the Loud Objects this week, via conference call.
How can we explain to the folks at home exactly what The Loud Objects do, and why?
Tristan Perich: We create electronic music, and our performances are about exploring the noise side of music, through building our own electronics. Which we perform by actively hooking up and re-wiring and modulating, so that there's a connection between what we're doing, physically, and the sounds that we're creating. Even though they're based on code and software that we're working with on the physical side, we try to bring the audience into that process.
Kunal Gupta: It makes the sound very limited; it makes the sound more extremely noisy, and the palette is very crude. At the same time, it allows us to be completely physical and allows people to participate in the performance. That might not happen when there's a whole layer of buttons and technology added on top of it.
So it's music in its purest form?
Tristan Perich: In a certain way. There's no such thing as a totally pure form. There's always just certain directions you can take it. The microchips that we're using are extremely limited in what they can output. They essentially can only turn on and off electricity on each of those output pins. It's either a one or a zero, pulses of electricity. That's the whole one-bit idea. In the case of Loud Objects, we're trying to create sound that's as rich and as expressive as possible with that extremely simple palette.
How does that work as a performance?
Tristan Perich: We've got all these microchips, and each one is a single sound source. We improvisationally bring them in and out of our music, like different kinds of sounds, or different patterns and stuff. So music is built out of these sound sources, each trying to be expressive in this limited electronic sound palette.
Kunal Gupta: Our performances vary to the utmost extreme of directions. We'll have some performances that are pure improvisation, where we choose every chip spur-of-the-moment, based on how things sound, and building off of that. There's a whole degree of unpredictability around that. Sometimes we'll design the entire performance out beforehand, and maybe even restrict ourselves to just one sound.
But you know in advance what each chip will do, right? Do you just reach into a bag, pull a chip out and say "Let's use this one"?
Tristan Perich: It's hard to explain the mathematical side of it, but it basically means that if we create some music and we want to add a chip, we only partially know what'll happen. And that, coupled with this mess of wires that we have on the overhead projector ... there's always this level of chaos in Loud Objects, It's this really interesting navigation between what we understand and then how things get very complicated very quickly, to the point that we can't always know what happens next. Things that we think will sound great sound awful, and other things happen and they're totally unexpected.
Kunal Gupta: The other analogy is that it's building an instrument and playing it live. That's the way I usually like to describe it to people that don't have any experience in electronics at all. Because we are wiring the instrument together with the different parts we're adding to affect the sound.
Katie, you're an architect by day - how does that inform what you do with the Loud Objects, in a visual sense?
Katie Shima: I think it happens in two ways. One, the music is very structured in a certain way, and it's math - zeros and code. So in that way the structure of it is very interesting because each microchip has its own logic, and when they mix together it's a different logic. So that's one aspect.
The other one is that our performances have a very strong visual component, and it's always been important us to make it clear to the audience what's going on. As opposed to a lot of noise music, where it's just a guy behind a computer with a bunch of mixers. It's always been important to us to have that visual clarity, and to have the connection between what you see and what you hear.
PULSE: Art & Technology Festival
The Loud Objects performance
Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
When: At 6 p.m. Friday, March 2