Sunday, August 18, 2013

noise/ listening/ composition/ the future

It's a question I've been asked a lot in the two years Column of Heaven has been playing sporadic live show (we may have played 20 times at this point, possibly less, certainly not much more); "why don't you do the noise stuff live?"

One answer is that I didn't want this band to be seen as exactly the same as The Endless Blockade – the line up is 50% different after all and despite the fact that I'm an unrepentant tyrant and control freak I don't want to diminish Dave and Mike's valuable role in the band.

The main answer is that I want to purposefully move away from the contemporary wisdom that the public performance of a composition somehow has to measure up to or mirror exactly to the recorded version.

The noise in Column of Heaven manifests differently than it did in Blockade. Blockade's records were slightly noisy; but because we were always at the mercy of other people recording us we never really developed it in a way that we wanted. Our live performances, particularly in the last year of the band when we added Bloomer to the line up, were pretty noisy though. In the last five years of the band we had zero silence live; we'd play a block of three to six songs and then we'd use noise to fill the space whilst we retuned. Sometimes I felt the audience didn't really know how to react as we never gave them a space to do something as simple as applaud (or yell "you're a bunch of dicks, fuck off") and the vibe would often seem strained. Or maybe we were just horrible.

In Column of Heaven we don't allow anyone to record us; two of our unbreakable rules are we release everything ourselves on cassette first, and no one outside of the band is allowed to record us for a release. Because of this I get to spend as much time as I want sandblasting everything in noise and generally making releases flow exactly how I want them to flow. My recording skills are not particularly great, but hey, if someone's going to not do full justice to your intent, it may as well be you.

Music and Where it's Consumed

In Blockade I was using the noise primarily to accentuate the dissonance already present in hardcore. It was used to push to breaking point the implied chaos present in the music I'm influenced by.

In Column of Heaven it's used for those purposes as well, but something I've been interested in of late is how the mechanics of consuming music influence the production of it. Stadium rock sounds like it's meant for stadiums, certain types of hardcore sounds like it's only meant to be played in basements with kids piling on top of the band as they play.

The venue of music consumption I've been interested in is related to the ever onward advancement of downloaded music. A quick look at my Mediafire and Bandcamp stats tells me that Column of Heaven has been downloaded around 3-400% more times than we've sold records and tapes, and those are just the stats I have access to. In terms of where people consume music I suspect most people listen to a significant amount on their phones as they're travelling during the day.

In my own listening experiences – there was a span of close to two decades between my last walkman and my first iPod – the leaking through of environmental sounds into my "private" listening has made me reassess how I make music. Walking past a construction site and having the sounds blend with what I'm listening to at the time has made me think in different ways about non-musical sound, which was something I was always interested in anyway. I've lost count of the amount of times I've paused something to figure out if that sound (frequently sirens or a strangely sonorous subway train) was an intentional part of the music I was listening to or not.

Old Punks Don't Die (They Just Record at Home)

When I see a band I don't want a perfect transcription of their records. If they're a hardcore band I want it to be in someone's packed and broken basement and I'd rather the bass player got pushed through the drums mid-song, or I have to duck as the singer throws a mic stand at me than hear a perfect recreation of their 7". 
Most Column of Heaven is not consumed by people seeing us play live, we don't play live very often and that isn't going to change. I'm a 40 year old with a mortgage working towards my PhD, employed in a management job in the social services industry. I don't have the time or energy levels to be touring much or playing 90% of the shows I'm offered, even the local ones.

With that in mind I don't actually want to only compose and release music that's suitable for live replication; it just doesn't matter at this point. The original goal of the band was to be a two piece and not even playing anything remotely grind sounding anyway. Somehow I got tricked into doing another band…

The Holy Things are for the Holy 7" due out on Iron Lung Records pretty soon (I mean it) is an example of a record that's not meant to be played live (we couldn't if we wanted to because it wasn't written or recorded that way) and is influenced by my experiences of hearing other sounds filter through into my private listening experiences.

some wolves and some religious shit, AKA Column of Heaven artwork 101

The Future

We aren't going to stop playing live, well, I hope not, I actually quite enjoy the experience, we play so selectively that it's not something I feel is a burden or an unwelcome necessity. But we are going to be releasing more records and tapes that aren't really for live consumption. This does not mean we will release a bunch of noise records with vocals over the top under the banner of Column of Heaven, we're conscious of the fact that we're first and foremost related to hardcore and grindcore and getting too far away from that for too many records is going to make us an inconsistent experience for most people.

Some future releases will be under the name Wolves of Heaven; I have a release under that title I've been slowly picking away at for a while now that's too removed from Column of Heaven to be released under that name, despite it being the exact same four people involved. That being said there are going to be more releases that don't fit as grindcore records.

As for touring we're currently committed to heading to the eastern US next spring to drink fine beers and meet interesting new canines at house shows.