Sense Datum Blues, "Invective at the Seminal Regions of the Hullabaloo"
Rollo existed only to wither and be crushed by heroic cluster chords. He spent most of his time on the thinner side of the ontological chasm, summoned only in moments when Charles Ives wished to assault his nerves. Ives used Rollo as an imaginary foil, a vehicle for negative self-definition. Because Rollo preferred Haydn’s saccharine cadences to Ives’s tonal experiments, he was an intellectual coward and therefore deserved all of the insults Ives could stack upon him. Among these were many odd, somewhat old-timey jibes: “soft-brained,” “soft-minded,” “soft-eared,” “lily-livered pansy.” But Ives’ favorite insult was “pussy.” In fact, this man, who was the author of one of the first textbooks on insurance sales and the first American composer to gain the respect of the European milieu, may very well be the inventor of the term “pussification.”
While many musicologists focus on the reverence Ives had for the Transcendentalists and America when discussing his aesthetic philosophy, perhaps the manner in which Ives approached his life says more about his artistic disposition. His daily routine during the years he was creatively active was incredibly strenuous; he arose at 6:00 am to work a full day at an insurance job, returned home at 6:30 pm to eat dinner, then worked on his compositions until 2 or 3 am. The spirit of maniacal rigor that compelled him to keep such a punishing schedule also permeates his art. Ives was the first Western classical composer to apply many technical devices: polytonality, atonality, polymeters, polyrhythms, the use of tone clusters and quarter-tone intervals. All of these devices involve a convoluting of the standard materials of composition, arduous explorations towards a more thorough music, a music that mirrors a strenuous life.
Ives began negatively associating consonance with femininity shortly after being maligned by the ladies of his church congregation after a sonically adventurous organ recital they thought to be awful. For Ives thereafter, embracing dissonance meant using the intellect to resist the societal bounds of tonal convention. Since the intellect was a masculine domain, production and appreciation of dissonance was a masculine act. Ives gleaned the Rollo character from a popular American series of sentimental books written by Rev. Jacob Abbott. While Rollo came to be viewed by a bulk of Abbot’s readership as a sort of quintessential rube, Ives developed a deeply personal relationship with the figure. Rollo could only understand things in a literal sense, he was a “mental-musico-defective” who could not “stand up and receive the full force of a dissonance like a man”.
The use of pussy in the invective sense instead of the meow-meow or hoo-hoo sense is apparentlypopular not only amongst sadistic dads and school bus bullies but also multiple generations of penised American musicians who work with dissonance. You could probably guess that members of bands with names like Two Dead Sluts One Good Fuck or Chrome Dick do not lose sleep worrying about offending their peers.
I recall a memorable instance at a Cincinnati noise show in a gutted, expansive redbrick warehouse. Broken glass and confetti covered the floor. Shirtless, beer drunk, sitting on the floor Indian-style behind his pedal board, a tattooed fellow produced an enveloping screech with a feedback looper, then raised his arms above his head in proclamation of ultimate victory.
The other gents present at the show (a zero female environment), clad in shadowy hues and trying to swamp up a buzz of their own, were not digging what shirtless-victory- guy what was laying down that night. As they drew away from his art’s tremendous volume, the artist called after them. “Aww. What’s a matter? Is it making your pussy hurt?” It is likely that Ives at one time or another taunted Rollo with this exact inquiry.
Noisers might scoff at any comparison between themselves and Ives, but both share a heavy reliance on negative self-definition to navigate their social and artistic landscapes. As much as anything, they embody an opposition-- to the strictures of classical harmony, to convention and square culture, to the complacent seductions of “easy music.” Many noisers harbor the idea that noise music is divided into two camps: one academic and the other non-academic. The academic noiser is by far the less desirable creature, as an awareness of music history tends to circulate the dreadful contagion of self-consciousness and result in deflated hard-ons. The non-academic noiser is thought to be a more organic creature, their art more vital and honest because it lacks the pretension of a formal education and the intermediary of a theoretical edifice. (Whether or not this dichotomy has any real meaning beyond expressing class anxiety within yet another domain dominated largely by white males, I would argue that an acquaintance with music history is not a guarantor of a toothless art. Consider the odd species of arousal that results from viewing an old and dusty erotic photograph, knowing that your own greasiness is predicated by a grand continuum of greasiness.)
Though it is unlikely that you could find a noiser who concisely ascribes to Ives’s belief that both one’s life and one’s art should be exhaustive, you could certainly locate legions of blighted males who find solace in noise’s ability to clear out semiological space onto which they can project their personal fantasies and prejudices. The notion that musical harmony can substantially influence social harmonyprecedes even Plato's Republic; in that context, there is more at stake in these various tonal deconditioning projects than music's sensory pleasure. The space freed up by emancipated dissonance should not be used to arbitrate pretensions. If we are going to sacralize noise music in a manner befit for a cosmic monolith, then we need to learn new ways to listen if we are going to reap any existential benefit. The void speaks. The void instructs. Masculinity is such an odd thing to booger onto that contemplation.