Review: Ted Byrnes – Double Negative (Absurd Exposition, Mar 3)

As I sit down to write about Ted Byrnes’ new tape Double Negative, I realize that there is really nothing I could bring up or praise that Sam McKinlay hasn’t already acknowledged in his beautiful piece about the album. So instead I will reprint it below (full credit to Mr. McKinlay, who makes his own music as The Rita and with Byrnes as CACKLE CAR, and the Absurd Exposition page) and do my best to continue the discussion.

Byrnes performing at the Warp Weft release event

“One of the most interesting aspects of Ted Byrnes’ C16 work Double Negative is the fact that it is presented by Absurd Exposition, which is very much an analogue electronics based label that is most commonly concerned with ‘harsh noise’ and ‘power electronics’. The exciting aspect of Ted’s percussive work versus the electronics is its incredibly common means to an end. After years and years of my delving into the world of silicon and germanium fuzz circuits with various colleagues, contemplating the electronic processing of source into rough textures can really make someone question the various apparatuses conceptually, especially when you experience raw comparable sound via internal combustion, or in Ted’s case – percussion. ‘Striking something’ for a conceptualized sound acts as a pinnacle of deconstructed sound technique, especially when making a career out of creating seemingly percussive rough textures via electronics, can make the artist doubt their practice and its analogue gear avenues that may simply be (in extreme terms) a ‘waste of time’ when compared to straight well conceived percussion. Again, presented within the world of harsh noise specifics, Ted Byrnes’ rapid fire washes, lines and layers of shifting percussively created textures very much converse in the language of harsh noise with a vicious truth that analogue electronics may never be able to replicate.
Every year I think about ditching my electronic gear and just having some ‘percussive’ setup like strips of aluminum that are lined up to make ‘slapping / snapping / crack’ noises, but then I’m constantly reminded of Ted’s work and the fact that I’m just purely jealous and should just stick to what I know.” 

As McKinlay says, improvised music and especially abstract percussion shares a great deal of qualities with ‘noise,’ an observation immediately apparent from the squealing abrasions and endlessly pummeling walls employed on Double Negative. It’s a, if not the, culmination of Byrnes’ visceral approach that he’s taken on recent releases such as Materialism and Source, and leads me to question the often ambiguous dividing lines between noise and other abstract musics. It’s easy to fall into a bottomless pit of semantic runarounds in discussions of genre, but in this case it comes down to what definition we give ‘noise’; while an archetypal artist in this area would use tabletop electronics such as effects pedals and contact microphones, if the sound produced is viewed as an isolated entity, the breadth of ‘noise’ grows tenfold. I by no means intend to completely abandon the attachment of methodology to the sound it creates, because the actions behind the sound and the relationship between the two are often just as important. Instead, with this hypothetical redefinition, I argue for a less restrictive view of noise music, one that doesn’t exclude atypical approaches. This ultimately allows me to articulate what is so magnetic about Double Negative: that it doesn’t hide its direct physicality behind curtains of effects and manipulation, yet still fills the same void as more conventional harsh noise works do, a dual identity that cannot, and should not, be ignored. So when McKinlay resolves to “stick to what [he] know[s],” I couldn’t agree more; the best noise is made when the artist uses the arsenal with which they are familiar, reaching that clamorous catharsis in entirely their own way—which, certainly, is what Byrnes accomplishes with Double Negative.