C-drik Fermont is a prolific experimental music producer and manager of the record label ‘Syrphe’ specialising in experimental electronic music to noise performance to avant-garde music in Africa and Asia. He produces and indulges in the power of noise, performing to crowds all over the world on various different continents and is deeply involved and educated in this underground art form. We talked about why ‘noise’ is so appealing to him, how we can interpret noise in many ways, what makes noise a type of music or personal expression and how it has the potential to strike poetic chords within us whether it be through relentless sound assault, through nature or in art.
I like a lot of sounds in general so anything could be music to me; structured music you make yourself or just animals, storms or trains. Above all, I enjoy sound. I can record and re-arrange any sound into a collage but noise music, is powerful, violent and is as full of energy as a storm is full of energy. The ebb and flow is full of energy is like a river. It makes me feel good when it’s loud and powerful. I noticed when I was a kid I was already crazy about sounds, I was making noises with my mouth and beating or scratching objects, but this is something I realised much later as I remembered how I enjoyed hearing and making those sounds.
I agree with the definition of music where it’s not so much about melody or structure but about harmony. To me, bird song is music; I find it very beautiful, but the noise of a tram driving down the street or the sea or thunder is also music to me. I don’t find any of this irritating because of the harmony. If, for some people, noise is not music, punk may not be considered music to that person because he finds it irritating and I appreciate that. There are many pop songs that get on my nerves, they drive me mad. To me, it is horrible. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t music per-se but I consider it to be mostly about business.
Noise has always been around us, we are surrounded by noise. When you talk about performing noise, this started in 1913 with Luigi Russolo who wrote an essay about noise music. He was an Italian futurist and anti-fascist who was supported by Dadaism. He wanted to break all the rules established around music around that time, which was mainly classical music. He invented machines to produce noise. People then began to experiment with noises; John Cage in the 30’s, Pauline Oliveros in the 50’s and Z’EV in the 60’s. Noise was connected to technology and modern art at first but perhaps, partially thanks to punk, became more popular in the 70’s. There were some parallels between this and the UK industrial music bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire who created a scene surrounding harsher elements in their music. Noise music broke musical rules, ways of producing, composing and structuring (or not), but punk music destroyed the way to produce, perform and compose pop music. There was a real movement with punk that there hasn’t so much been with noise.
Noise is quite personal and there are so many ways to perform this music. Some people only produce a wall of sound, which I find great live but not so much when it is recorded and played at home. There can be an angry voice adding a layer or ambience such as drones. Noise can be structured and is not always about simply making noise for the sake of making noise; you can play with dynamic, frequencies and elements changing. There are different ways to make noise and different ways to feel it too. Some people enjoy chaos and don’t take it seriously at all. There is also a connection between meditative, ritual noise in Tibetan music or Indian Sufi music. They use a lot of horns or gongs which can be noisy for someone who is not from there.
While I love old-school EBM (Electronic Body Music) and industrial, minimal wave, Detroit electro and harsh noise, I have some favourite bands that are totally disconnected from this. If I had to go to a desert island and only pick one style of music to listen to, it would probably be Gamelan from Indonesia. I love the tuning, ensemble of the different metal and wooden percussion and rhythm. It can be fast and violent, or quiet and have many tempo changes. I love Far-East Asian music; some with only 1 instrument, like a solo Koto, using lots of space and a few notes here and there.
Minimal music and noise are not opposites because you can make minimal music with noise. If you listen to harsh noise at a low volume, it becomes quite ambient. There are none, or very few loops and rhythms in noise. I would say quietness is the opposite of noise as total silence doesn’t exist. Quietness can feel oppressive to me and I become anxious when it is too quiet. Outside is always noisy, even at night in the winter you can hear birds in the trees and other things, but if you are isolated in your room, then there is an oppressive silence. This isn’t a general rule, sometimes I enjoy the comforting pseudo-silence of hearing cars, trams and people outside with my window open.
It is never quiet in Far-east Asia unless you go north in the winter. In the city, jungle or countryside, you can hear the people, insects, birds or traffic 24 hours a day. It was weird to me how it was never very quiet out there as it can be in the Northern European countryside. The noises create an atmosphere and connect you to a place. Silence is impossible, even in an anechoic chamber. While there are no sounds created in there, your body still makes sounds, like your heartbeat or stomach and people report this makes them feel very uncomfortable. When I wear my earplugs in a quiet place I can still hear a slight tinnitus.
The emotions which surface when listening to noise are totally different from the emotions I find in other music. For example, I love some songs which depress me, but this doesn’t happen with noise because of the energy. It’s like trance which helps you empty your mind, but with noise, my mind is full of sounds which distract me from thinking about too much shit. I can understand that some people find noise music disturbing and annoying, it is a form of aggression in a way, but I know I feel good when I listen to, perform or produce noise. I mostly play experimental, sound collage or electro-acoustic but when I play noise, there is a certain freedom I have with it and it is more spontaneous in comparison. I have to know what I am doing more or less; using the pedals, the computer, which knobs to turn, which microphone to use, but the rest is random. I think many people who play noise are releasing something, as do I. It is not only pleasure but cathartic to purge a build-up of energy or even pain and thoughts. If I fully spread all of my energy and I am tired and almost dead from it, that’s when I feel the best.