Corvallis Experiments in Noise builds community for eclectic performing artists

Donald Orr, News Contributor

Puppetry, poetry and PVC bagpipes intersecting in one place may be an unexpected combination to witness, let alone at your local coffeehouse. Yet regulars of Interzone Coffee may already be familiar with such performances at a noise show, popularized by their signature flyers around town. This begs the question: what is noise?

Corvallis Experiments in Noise is a DIY community of musicians focused on creating consistent live performances that live within experimental, noise, avant-garde, drone, free jazz, performance art, puppetry, theater and more. This ranges between sounds such as abrasive distortion, to ambient, calming soundscapes.

Jim Whittemore, an electronic artist who goes by Luthor Maggot, described noise succinctly while reciting his poetry.

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“If, as Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse said, ‘Music is Organized Sound’ then perhaps Noise as Performance Art is Disorganized Music,” Whittemore said.

According to Chris Durnin, organizer for Corvallis Experiments in Noise, the community embraces the notion of noise as a challenging form of art and sound.

“Noise, to me, is no different than punk; the energies are exactly the same,” Durnin said. “I wasn’t talented enough to be in a punk band, but all of that energy is still there. I’ve never been able to keep time, but I can take something from the dumpster and blast out a 10 minute set.”

Booking noise shows for over four years in Corvallis, Durnin has helped facilitate a community of experimentation and acceptance.

“The main motivation is to continue to provide a space for people to perform music that doesn’t really fit within set genres,” Durnin said. “It’s important to continue to use noise as a context for people who feel like they’re not good enough to experiment, to play for a crowd that’s accepting—it’s important to cultivate weirdness.”

Originally a Chicago-native, Durnin explained that finding a home for noise shows in bigger cities was not easy. Myles Morris, who goes by Playboy Smooth on stage, is a noise artist originally from California. He expresses his appreciation for taking part in a music scene in a smaller town like Corvallis.

“There were no venues who would be willing enough to make that venture, people were too worried about the monetary aspect,” Morris said. “Here, it’s kind of become a family. Chris is one of my best friends now; I met him just by coming to these shows.”

When it comes to instrumentation, the lines between form and function are blurred, as community members-turned-artists shift the focus away from musical composition in favor of dissonant, abstract expression. Angela Scott, a local noise performer, suggests that the genre challenges the listener to ask what is considered an instrument at all.

“I’ve played a bicycle, a paper shredder, a hair dryer…what is a chair capable of, besides being a chair, sonically?” Scott said. “Noise becomes an accessible form of critical thinking. It’s really a beautiful thing.”

On top of booking performers for noise sets, Durnin performs in a ‘noisechestra’ that doubles as an experimental puppetry troupe by the name of Project Aisle Productions, with bandmates Angela Scott and Galaxz. The other members echo Durnin’s statements on the importance of expression through noise and the community that supports it.

“The Noize shows have been a life changing, inclusive beautiful thing for me,” Galaxz said. “Project Aisle has been a creative platform that allows me to do things by myself or with friends.”

According to Galaxz and Scott, the performers welcome laughter in the face of what can be seen as absurdity. Seeing past that, the expression in itself is a form of absolute freedom from structure altogether. Durnin iterates that he wants noise shows and fests to be opened up to artists who still demonstrate noise-based, challenging art.

“I like keeping it more open. We’ve done two festivals at The Majestic called ‘What is Noise?’ Fest, because we’ve had groups that aren’t electronic, aren’t distortion/feedback driven,” Durnin said.

Durnin opens up shows to other microgenres and bands such as Intrinsic Quartet, a free jazz band who opened for a noise show last Saturday night. Durnin wants to continue to curate eclectic shows and provide an inclusive community for underground artists.

Corvallis Experiments in Noise will have their next show at Interzone on Saturday, Oct. 13, starting at 6 p.m., and will feature a menagerie of performers, including a clown, a 6-year-old electronic artist and an ensemble performed with bicycle parts and found objects.

More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.