THE NEW YORK TIMES
A Really Old Noise Band Makes a New York Debut
by Jon Pareles

For three decades, mixing nihilism and a kazoo. In the 1960's the idea that improvised sounds could be music occurred to groups around the world. One was the Nihilist Spasm Band from London Ontario, which started as a kazoo band in 1965, soon turned to homemade and plugged-in instruments, and has been playing regular Monday night shows for three decades, which probably makes it the oldest continuously operating noise band around. It made its New York debut at the Knitting Factory on Sunday night.

The droll, clattery ensemble has maintained the sly humor and casual provocation of 1960's art movements like Fluxus. "In the 1960's, our audiences were quite hostile at times," its vocalist, Bill Exley, said onstage, speaking in deadpan, orotund tones. "It warms our hearts to see that you have not left yet." The band also includes John B. Boyle on a three-bell kazoo, Art Pratten on a homemade electric violin (the Pratt-a-various), Murray Favro on drums and John Clement on guitar; its bassist, Hugh McIntyre, stayed behind.

My. Exley introduced each piece with mock pomp and a plug for the band's CD's, then intoned lyrics like those of "I Have Nothing to Say": "A paradigm shift into a matrix of dynamic activity/a musical synthesis." His readings were punctuated by squawks and crunches from the instruments, which gradually engulfed him. Soon he shifted to rhythmic low huffing, often joined by a steady tapping on tom-toms, or he picked up a saucepan and dropped marbles into it or used its top like a cymbal.

Meanwhile, Mr. Favro tapped a steady drumbeat as the other instruments wailed, skittered and scraped. They aligned themselves with the beat, then staggered away from it, ending the piece when it had fallen apart to their liking. At various moments the band sounded like cracked hoedowns, hyperactive barnyards, misfiring truck engines or the magnified gnawing of beavers. It was good-natured noise, still being made just to see what might happen.

Along-running New York noise band, Borbetomagus, shared the bill: two saxophones, electric guitar and a guest guitarist, Jojo Hiroshige. (Mr. Hiroshige runs Alchemy Records, which has released CD's of Borbetomagus and the Nihilist Spasm Band.) The New Yorkers set up a sustained dire squall of sound, like a slow-motion avalanche, blanketing audible frequencies from rumbling guitar tremolos to whistling overblown saxophone. The Canadians offered sounds at play; The New Yorkers delivered a close-up of mayhem.