Smiling Through My Teeth
It is relatively unusual to find humour in sound art, even less has been written on the subject. The avant-garde can be a dry and humourless area (and is therefore perceived as such), both in writing and practice. It is not unusual for writers and audience alike to dismiss anything to the contrary; the catch is humour sometimes isn’t taken seriously, although the reality is a practitioner has to be extremely serious and accomplished in order to carry off a good piece of humorous work.
Humour and music are commonly perceived as an unlikely pair. But the removal of this expression from the pleasure and appreciation of creative art is impossible. Inflections of wit can be found in the most unlikely places, from John Cage’s 4’33’ (using silence in the way Tony Hancock used dead radio air to implicate his own boredom) through the parody of Erik Satie and Charles Ives, the metric disruptions and misquotations of John Oswald or Stock, Hausen and Walkman, and the mixing of genres by Ground Zero’s Revolutionary Pekinese Opera. The more popular end of sound manipulation is also inflected with avant-garde playfulness, for instance Carl Stalling’s cartoon music, the cut up manipulations of Spike Jones, the chaos and disorder of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and the ruination of the classics by Portsmouth Sinfonia.
If the receiver isn’t intimidated by the sort of extreme surreal humour presently found in TV and radio production, there isn’t a reason why they cannot open up to the same categories of humour apparent within the work of, for instance, Runzelstirn and Gurzelstock, Otomo Yoshihide or the Nihilist Spasm Band. This isn’t to say that they would necessarily listen to this art form in the same way as pop music, but it is possible to shift the barriers between “popular” and “obscure”. Humour transcends the confines of language and metaphor, opening the receiver’s mind to new ways of experiencing art, and a comprehension of something that may previously have been obscured.
It is interesting when my work succeeds in a humorous context, then I research and discover that it fits into all of kinds of psychological categories of humour and music that I didn’t know existed. It is true that one doesn’t need to know anything about art or cultural history to be able to make good art, but it enriches the context in which one is working, and is very inspiring to take the time to look into this history and try to also apply it to the art of one’s contemporaries.
Having considered all this, I’ll throw it all away and just say that I love the music and sounds found on this CD, for the pure energy and enthusiasm found within, and may sparks fly when you press play.
Vicki Bennett, People Like Us 2008