Time Out New York
by David Krasnow

The No Music Festival even sounds like something that happens at Tonic; which the fourth one did, last week. What's weird is that the first three took place in London, Ontario, not widely known as an outpost of experimental shenanigans. No Music's organizers, the Nihilist Spasm Band, were seven London-O artists and professionals who got together to make noise. That was in 1965, and they've been gigging southern Ontario ever since. This puts them (by my shaky art history) in the Fluxus/process camp; but when you stick to ideals 30 years longer than anyone else, you're not an ideologue, but kind of an o ld nutter, is what you are.

The NSB rejected such dubious virtues as composition, tuning, or training. To overcome any instrumentalist backsliding, they invented their own (the three-and-a-half-string bass, the giant kazoo, and the Pratt-a-various, which sounds suspiciously like a cheap guitar) and switched instruments every couple of years, or every couple of songs.

But the international noise community caught up with NSB's droney, rattling contraptions: You can't have influence and yet remain singular. (It's their actorly recitations that have dated, though with style and wit.) Joe McPhee sat in on one set, and seemed to feel that grandstanding alongside part-timers would be uncouth. Still, his elegant cornet parts, encrusted with melodic variation, made the whole improvising ruckus into backdrop.

The volume pedal is now a must-have for the young bucks in electronica. Flirts, the duo of Gert-Jan Prins and Cor Fuhler, went in for shock value and grandeur of effect. Fuhler generated some of his input on a thumb piano, processing it to simulate Rhys Chatham's infamous 100-guitar army. Compared to Ovalcommers, Oval's recent attempt to pump up the volume, Flirts had a sound palette made of plywood: some knots and splinters on a sturdy sheet of off-white noise. They were joined on stage by Lee Ranaldo and the PowerBookist I-Sound. Ranaldo's bell-like feedback tones sounded rather lovely against Flirts, and his showmanshipÍÔcraping his guitar against the wallÍØas a welcome distraction from three men at tables.

Old-school improv looked fresh as a daisy. One set showcased diametrically opposed styles of guitar noise: Arto Lindsay's slashing and percussive, Alan Licht's calculated to the overtone and decibel, while Ikue Mori's drum programming served as motivic engine. On another
night, Christian Marclay worked the decks with Toronto's CCMC, and I haven't heard him with such challenging and sympathetic cohorts in years. Michael Snow's jazzy pianisms cleverly inflected the loungesploitation selections; the creepy, sputtering vocalist Paul Dutton and saxophonist John Oswald wove their lines indistinguishably while engaging Marclay's musique-concrïÕe elements. The quartet formed a tapestry of sound that was utterly transporting, and not very loud. It's not that the noise guys can't play; it's that they don't always listen so good.