Vol. 1, Issue #2 Feb. 17th - March 2nd, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

In Defense of Noise, and especially Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”

I recently acquired a copy of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” It’s been a long journey, but I think I finally understand and love the album. I originally bought a vinyl copy 30 years ago from the Columbia House Record Club, and I still owe them money for the set.

MMM is four sides of sped-up and slowed-down tapes and feedback sounds ran through various audio effects to create over an hour of sheer sonic intensity. It’s not conventional “music,” as there are no keys, melodies, rhythms, discernable instruments, words, etc., just “noise.” As opposed to the avant-garde stylings of Karlheinz Stockhausen, or John Cage, there was not even a composition or game to the organization. Of course, that’s the way it is, was, and always shall be in the blues tradition that Reed comes out of, as opposed the anal-retentive recitations of “noise” compositions in the classical tradition, but the album barely even comes under Varese’s correct-yet-vague definition of music; “organized sound.” It’s obvious that the sounds were organized, but in a rather arbitrary way.

I suppose “arbitrary organization” is a contradiction of terms, so is this technically “music.”

In the original liner notes - and bare in mind that Lou was possibly the greatest artist to wear the Andy Warhol brand name - Reed admitted that he never got through all four sides of the album, and has since said that the people who have gotten though the whole album are dumber than himself.

Reed’s contempt for listeners with a less severe case of ADD than his own echoes Warhol’s comments when asked why anyone would watch his film “Empire,” a three-minute loop of the Empire State Building shown for twelve hours; “I don’t know, I sure wouldn’t.”

Is MMM Reed’s attempt to live up to Warhol’s/the-father-figure’s “Empire”? Probably, since Lou has a lot of issues, most of which he has publicized about himself in his unique wanderin’ troubadour way. But MMM really feels like a mixture of too many drugs, the Warholian concept of manufacturing art without soul or meaning, contempt for the frat boys that got into him because they found the term “colored girls” amusing in his smash top 40 hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” and part 2 of the twenty minute feedback masterpiece “Sister Ray” by Reed’s former band, (a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s) Velvet Underground. I also tend to think the album reminds him of the electroshock therapy he went through as a youth, even if he was unconscious at the time.

Most people misunderstood the concept of MMM. Many copies were returned as “defective” - and remember this was in the 8-track tape days, so theoretically, if you were around the right set of heavy magnets, a tape might possibly get screwed up and sound kind of like…Naw, what am I saying? It would never happen!

At the time of my first encounter with MMM I would have been fourteen years old, but it reminded me of when I was even younger, probably five years of age, playing around with my parents’ military band radio and finding electronic drones… WAS THE MILITARY REALLY BROADCASTING THOSE TONES OR WERE ALIENS TRYING TO COMMUNICATE WITH ME?! …that would change as I moved the dial. It always sounded like an infinite whole note held by an entire orchestra.

When I listen to the album now, I hear the audio chaos of John Cage & Lejaren Hiller’s 21 minute computer and tape composition “HPSCHD,” Christian Marclay’s scratchy records scratch mixes, Throbbing Gristle at their tape manipulation zenith -“Second Annual Report,” Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz,” Glenn Branca’s industrial guitar symphonies, Yoko Ono’s primal scream period, The Beatle’s “Revolution Number 9,” the giant machine breathing of NIN, and the sheets of distortion of Sonic Youth, who sampled MMM on “Bad Moon Rising,” and of course, they “found” Nirvana

If you want to get poetic, it sounds like a Jackson Pollack painting, a mosh pit, a crashing 747, William S. Burroughs’s screams from hell, and that sound you hear seeping from schizophrenics’ ears – if you listen real close, all rolled into one.

Just to push MMM over the top to the point of the absurd, the final side climaxed in a locked groove, meaning the phonograph needle would be kicked back for the final seconds, and it would play those few seconds forever if you didn’t stop it, or at least as long as the electricity, needle, and phonograph held up.

It’s also interesting to note that the first of Brian Eno’s droning series “Ambient 1: Music For Airports” was also released the month as MMM, which is the opposite end of the spectrum yet somehow in the same spiritual ballpark of anti-music, or non-music.

I’ve always love Eno’s vocal albums, but I found his Ambient series to be pretentious crap at the time. Now I like them, but they have been so imitated so many times in the New Age world that I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not listening to “Music From The Hearts of Space.”

There is something masterful about MMM. Like good blues guitar, the mix is cool and effortless sounding. Going back to when I was fourteen, I distinctly remember listening to the album in the summertime as I stood on my balcony and surveyed the woods and ranches in my view. There was something natural to it. Many years later I found myself driving on the highway, going past some of Oklahoma’s most beautifully kept ranches, while listening to a Throbbing Gristle tape, and it seemed to all make perfect sense.

And speaking of “Revolution Number 9,” does anyone know if Manson was listening to a mono copy of the white album? or was it stereo? I recently heard the mono version and it is very different; more Monty Python, than more commonly heard brown-acid-trip/Paul-is-Dead dreariness of the stereo mix. If Manson heard “Take out the coffee heiress” in the mono version, he was further gone than I originally thought.

And isn’t a good chunk of Manson’s megalomania due to the constant media attention he receives?

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.