One of the central tenets of this blog – something that I consider almost sacred – is that its contributors should review what they’re actually reading; if they’re reading a romance, I want them to review it, instead of feeling they should be reviewing a Booker Prize winner (unless, of course, that’s what they read this month, in which case, have at it).
It is in that vein that I’m reviewing this book. I dithered over it, considering that it’s a niche book for a niche audience about a niche subculture, but according to the central tenet, I must!
Before we begin, however, I must confess that whilst I was looking forward to reading it, I bought this book because a musical project (not power electronics, but another type of noise music) that I did for about eight years was briefly mentioned in it, which left me feeling lovely, and I was glad to be included about a book on noise music.
Whilst being a fan of noise music (for those who are wondering what exactly noise music is, I say two things: one, it is what it sounds like and two, there’s a good explanation here) but not particularly the sub-genre of power electronics, this is the first book that I’ve managed to make it through on the topic, but it’s given me the impetus to go back and continue reading the others (They are, for reference, the Irish academic and noise musician Paul Hegarty’s book, Noise / Music, and David Novak’s Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation), especially since they are felt throughout this volume.
As far as noise music goes, however, power electronics was never particularly something that I was drawn to, especially given the often ridiculous and offensive vocals that accompany the noise – my interests lay more at the harsh noise / wall noise (static noise) end of the spectrum, so I thought this book might be an interesting overview of the topic.
Overall, it is interesting, but I felt that overall, somehow – I can’t quite put my finger on it – I felt that this book evaded the topic. The subtitle Power Electronics and Noise Culture never feels resolutely (and thoroughly) addressed. Saying that, there is a huge swathe of articles about power electronics artists, and articles about both notable noise releases and aspects of noise culture such as noise zines.
I primarily bought this for my friend Clive Henry’s article on wall noise, Listening to the Void: Harsh Noise Walls which is an excellent exploration and quasi-history of the sub-genre, but what’s interesting is that the book doesn’t feel like it’s a book on noise culture; it feels like it’s a book on PE, and chapters like this, or on japanoise, feel somewhat out of place, despite being some of the best in the book. I suppose what I’m saying is that I wish this book had a tighter focus, almost, and excluded non-PE artists – I feel it would work better as a book. But then, I also would read an entire book about Harsh Noise Wall, and I’m probably in a very, very small minority.
To discuss the book a little more, it is laid out in three parts: Scenes, Performance and Readings. The opening chapter, The Genesis of Power Electronics in the UK, sets the scene quite well, as does Mikko Aspa’s chapter on The Rise of Power Electronics in Finland but some of the chapters are personal reminiscences of a scene based around a band’s viewpoint of their place in it – which while totally valid, I wish wasn’t the case. My favourite chapter of this first section was Chronicling US Noise and Power Electronics covering as it does a wide range of noise, projects and stances.
The second section, Experience and Performance, talks about noise performance, various notable venues and the like. Again, the most interesting chapters for me were the non-PE chapters, Clive Henry’s HNW chapter and Power [Electronics]: Exploring Liveness in Noise. It’s weird, I think as I write this I feel like the reason that that’s the case is because I’m just not really a fan of power electronics, so reading this book was a love/hate affair. I think, in addition to, and converse to my idea of just having this book as a book about Power Electronics, that it would’ve been stronger for me if it was a book about noise and noise culture, with all genres covered.
The third section is the most interesting in regards to PE. The first chapter, Questionable Intent: The Meaning and Message of Power Electronics was interesting, addressing the fact that a lot of PE projects use highly controversial imagery without comment or context. I feel that a lot of projects with very, very dodgy messages were almost let off the hook because it’s “art”, which shouldn’t be the case. You can talk about controversial topics, but when you make a career trading off controversy, sexism, racism, etc., you shouldn’t be surprised if people try and hold you accountable. What I would’ve liked in this book would’ve been a much more in depth treatment of race, culture and PE than was offered, and at least one where such content was taken to task. The most interesting chapters of this section were the two that viewed Power Electronics as a form of high-impact comedy; where the lyrics and vocals are so ridiculous that it can only be viewed as such. I’m not sure if I agree, but it’s an interesting thesis nonetheless.
What’s interesting though, is that the book ends with a chapter called Talking About Noise: The Limits of Language and the practical inabilities of accurate description, which is perfect for a book where the music discussed is pure noise.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.