Nor Noise (Tom Hovinbøle, 2004)
(note: review originally published 1Dec2008)
I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago that there were so many noise documentaries extant. I knew about the Merzbow documentaries, of course, as every noise kid does, and I’d gotten the chance to see Nicky Smith’s fantastic 2006 short “Noise”, and while I was enchanted by it, a number of the bands covered were more experimental music than straight noise. Then I saw People Who Do Noise, which definitely deals with the real noiseheads, but unless you’re a firm fan of the genre, you’ve never heard of most of these people. Just recently, however, I stumbled upon Nor Noise, a 2004 doco so obscure it doesn’t even have an IMDB page, as I write this. (I can’t do anything about that. Every time I try to make IMDB changes, I get ignored for some reason.) Having come out in ’04, it’s also the earliest of the non-Merzbow-centric noise docos I’ve seen. It took me only a few minutes to have to pick my jaw up off the floor. This was the documentary about noise I’d been looking for ever since I discovered so many of them existed. It’s the one you can use to show your friends who’ve never heard of noise what it’s all about. The names are big (yes, Mr. Bow makes an appearance), the interviewees are cerebral about their work and have really thought about what it is they’re doing and why they do it in the way they do it, and the noise is just plain phenomenal.
Nor Noise is subtitled “Twelve Portraits About Noise Music”, and that’s as good a description as any. The movie covers a number of different kinds of noisemaking, from the wall-of-noise digital aggression of Merzbow or seemingly-everpresent Norwegian noise legend Lasse Marhaug to the “environmental noise” of David Cotner or Francisco López (and the real difference within the same noise subgenre can be seen in the difference between Cotner’s work and López’), and lots of places in between. I do wish there’d been a bit more about some other subgenres (powerelectronics and death ambient are both notably absent), but what’s here is amazing. It’s not just that the artists are so thoughtful; that’s only ever half the battle in an interview-heavy documentary. Hovinbøle is a fantastic interviewer, getting to know his subjects well enough to know how to tailor the questions in order to get the best possible answers from his subjects. And those subjects are so different, as well; David Cotner is wonderfully animated, While Masami Akita is his usual quiet, unassuming self. And like the genres here, the interviewees, who also include Fe-Mail’s Maja Ratkje, noise/ambient legend Otomo Yoshihide, and Deathprod’s Helge Sten (among others), span the gamut between the two extremes.
It’s a documentary that never gets boring, that people who don’t do noise can watch and understand why those of us who do this do what we do (if that sentence actually made any sense). It’s like a film version of David Cotner; it will proselytize, but in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re being preached at. And at the end, you may actually find yourself with a few converts. This is fantastic. I’m honestly not sure where you can find copies, but I strongly suggest looking, and buying. ****