In this series, Unknown Pleasures, Gary Steel makes his case for worthy but under-recognised albums and artists. Gert-Jan Prins is reasonably well-known in the experimental underground, but there’s something about his “noise” music that makes it more engaging than his stylistic contemporaries.
Unknown Pleasures #3
IMAGINE AN AMATEUR electronics enthusiast soldering together the pieces of some creation in his garden shed back in the 1940s. The “wireless” is spitting out some orchestral slush in the background, but his soldering (which itself is emitting some interesting sonic textures) is creating some cross-wire disturbance to the sound of the radio.
Gert-Jan Prins sounds a bit like that guy, or at least, a version of that guy, maybe a few decades later, and with a sound knowledge of the audio potential of analogue electronics, but still working in a tactile way; hands-on, conjuring odd and arresting electronic textures from his greasy machines and glowering valves.
I’ll never forget seeing Prins perform at an Alt-music experimental festival in Auckland early in the new century. I had never heard of the guy, and therefore, expected nothing. Unlike most of the artists, who hid behind their laptops and their pre-programmed digital scree, Prins played around like a mad engineer with his old boxes of electronics and random bits and pieces, producing sounds that, while a world away from conventional song or even composition, were thoroughly engaging.
I’ve had dalliances with what they call “noise” music over the years, and really, it deserves a better tag, because it varies hugely: it’s a whole world in its own that covers every endeavor that excludes melody or set rhythmic repetition. What people think of when they hear that word are sonic assassins like Merzbow/Masami Akita, whose sounds are an aural attack, where you either submit and submerge, or escape!
Prins is not like that, at all. On Noise Capture, recorded between 1996 and 1998, and subtitled Radio. TV. Live Electronics. Percussion, Prins presents seven tracks that are palpable, real, sculpted out of the circuitry. There’s a physicality to this sound that eludes laptopiarists, whose music almost always remains somehow stuck within the machine. It seems somehow alive, and it isn’t hard to listen to.
Frequently, I find the world of so-called noise just too arcane. There seems to be a cooler-than-school attitude, an aesthetic that if you don’t like something, you just don’t understand. But in my experience, there’s probably just as much perfunctory shit lurking in the noise genre than there is in commercial pop, and so much of it is deadly dull, and boring as hell. But Prins, on Noise, isn’t dealing with some obscure “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality. You don’t have to be an expert in the aesthetics of noise to appreciate what he’s doing. You don’t need to know what he’s doing, or how, or even what he looks like. You just need to sit back and soak up these extraordinary sweeps of what sound like real-time manipulation of pure electronics, in all their ugly beauty. GARY STEEL
Sound = 4/5
Music = 4/5