Meet Eric McDonald. He loves noise music and he wants you to like it too.
But noise music often gets a bad rep. Most of us just don’t understand it due to its lack of structure; the cacophony of odd noises, loops and distortion that turns us off. It invites labels like ‘mental masturbation’ and ‘narcissistic’. But a lot of people really love it. The genre attracts a devoted bunch of melody makers, some you wouldn’t expect, to create their own brand of sound art.
For McDonald, noise is another form of artistic expression (the other is film and he co-owns his own production company), and cites his influences from the likes of John Cage, Delia Derbyshire and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.
In 2010, he released EPs for his two musical projects: Raised on Robbery (yep, that’s an ode to a Joni Mitchell song) and Make Swift These Legs. Both of these projects are similar instrumentally but vary in style. Some tracks are melodic and meditative while others are tinged with drum ‘n’ base and Japanese koto sounds. We sat down with McDonald to talk about noise and how Toronto just isn’t ready for this sort of stuff.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
It’s electro acoustic with strong ties to instrumental hip hop. I used to really like DJ records and I like instrumental music in general so it seemed natural, especially since I’m a drummer. Somehow I fell into programming.
For those who listen to your music for the first time, what’s their reaction?
I get comparisons to DJ Shadow, Kid Koala or something like that just because that’s what they’re familiar with. I don’t cut samples and there’s no scratching but because it’s a beat oriented music and that might be the only understanding they may have. Generally, it’s positive.
Why did you create two separate band names?
I'm indecisive. It's more about trying to create two separate personas for two very different acts. I always marveled about how angry fans got when a band they've followed for years changed their sound. Some of them felt betrayed and ripped off. Others enjoyed the divergence but I thought it would be easier for people to accept two different types of music if they were backed by two different names.
Do you think Toronto appreciates noise music?
The few noise performances I’ve seen here in the city have been in front of artistic crowds and they’re still not that cool with it. It’s like ‘Ok, that’s neat that you’re doing your thing but when’s the next band come on?’ There’s usually a minority in those crowds. I’ve seen a band piss off an entire room.
Really, which band was it?
You know Timber Timbre? When their third album came out, they hadn’t played it to a live audience yet. A day after the release they played the Tranzac (along with Green Go and Forest City Lovers.) Taylor from Timber Timbre goes up on stage with a friend of his who wasn’t part of the band. They both had a single turntable, a couple of noise makers like a kazoo, and they sat on the ground and just started making noise. That’s it. It was about 25 minutes in for most people in the room to realize that something was happening on stage and started wondering, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’
After the show, I ended up going into the change room and talking to them and told them that they pissed off everyone in the room, to which they said, “Sweet!”
They were happy that they did it because they wanted to do something different. I respect that and I enjoyed it but, yeah, that’s how it goes over most of the time here.
Do you think your music might get the same reaction?
No, but that’s because I still try to put musical sensibility into the noise stuff that I do. I still try to make it melodic, have some sense of rhythm and make it easier for them to listen to.
I’d like people to take bits and pieces of something I make and even if they’re not fans of that style or that genre. I don’t like turning people off entirely.
What’s next up for your projects?
I’m hoping I can get other people on board for Raised On Robbery. I just like playing with other people and I’d like to play both of those styles of music in a live venue. I’m hoping to do a series of EP singles, two songs for two bucks, kind of like the old 7” stuff. Maybe at some point I’ll turn it into a compilation album thing or leave them as singles all together.
Photo by Stephanie Cloutier
Stephanie Cloutier is a photographer, writer, and a wannabe lady of leisure. Her work has appeared in NOW Magazine, blogTO and SoundProof Magazine. You can find her posts here, find more of her work on her website here, follow her on Twitter (@stephcloutier) and e-mail her at email@example.com