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Experiments in sound: Noise musicians in New Orleans

Editor’s Note: The following series “Boots n’ Blues”  is a week-long series curated by Kila Moore as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Insitute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skill sets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.

In the toe of Louisiana lies one of the world’s greatest contributions to music: the city of New Orleans. The trumpets and trombones heard from the city’s infamous second-lines have inspired so much of the music we hear today — from jazz (New Orleans’ specialty) to blues, bounce, and hip-hop — its legacy on the sound of America’s music is unprecedented. This collection of articles explores the presence and impact of New Orleans’ music scene from the red lights of Storyville to the neon lights of Bourbon Street. And while the streets are silent from the effects of COVID-19, it is the perfect time to remember why music is so important to so many.

Combining noise and music? These two New Orleans musicians are breaking ground, and it’s with the instruments you’d least expect. You won’t find a saxophone here, folks. Check out this article, originally published on December 10, 2015, for more.


Bradley Black (Photo by: Greg Scott)

Noise music. The two words ring with a dichotomy, or do they? For a small pocket of atypical — dare I say atonal — musicians, swirling sounds that ebb and flow unpredictably are as necessary as Jackson Pollock’s abstracts or Marcel Duchamp’s discovered art.

We sat down with Bradley Black and Isidro Robinson for a special “Artists In Their Own Words” WWNO style.

BB: At a certain point musical expression comes out from the tools you have around you, through instrument building, or through taking what’s around you and using it in a way that feels natural to you.  It’s maybe not even the way the object really wants to be interacted with, but you do what comes. Do what comes when you try it out. That’s, to me, the most exciting musical moments.

Q: So what’s a tool or object that a lot of people often use in experimental music that you don’t ever use? 

IR: I think computers are often associated with ‘experimental music.’ The idea of using a computer for performing music is sort of horrifying to me because it’s so powerful. If it doesn’t work you can’t do anything at all.

BB: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a computer do anything interesting when it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It’s purely yes or no.

IR: If you have an analogue synthesizer and suddenly the voltage starts glitching out then you actually get some pretty interesting, exciting results. With a computer, you’re just out of luck.

BB: Chaos is pretty critical to noise music. Letting a bit of entropy into something. Set something up and then you watch how it decays. You watch how it destroys something else. You put too many things through one signal chain maybe, and those things have this interesting little tussle. And usually cool sounds are the result.

Q:  I’m thinking about your interaction with objects — inanimate objects — so I want to know when you think it’s important to make eye contact. 


Bradley Black and Isidro Robinson (Photo by: Greg Scott)

BB: I think I’m really hesitant to address people eye to eye because of the relationship of platform, stage, microphone. This overlording thing. I don’t want there to be this dynamic of consumer and producer. It’s much more like we’re all in this space, and you’re bringing this music into the room. It’s less about giving and taking.

IR: Yeah, I guess it’s all circumstantial to me. When we’re practicing and building sections and figuring things out there’s a lot of eye contact. We keep practicing and practicing and then it gets to a point where I notice that we’re not looking at each other. That’s this sort of breakthrough, exciting moment where we can both exist with the music together without necessarily even communicating visually. With the audience, the music has to be happening in a very natural and very rehearsed way in order for me to make eye contact. Otherwise, I end up feeling distracted. I’ll make eye contact, and then I’ll start thinking about what I need to get at Rouses on my way home. I lose my track and end up messing up live. That’s happened a few times.

If you want to hear Isidro and Bradley, they’ll be playing on December 18 at Saturn Bar (*Update: This is a repost, so they will not be at Saturn Bard on 12/18). You can check them out at Whom Do you Work For and Isidro Robinson. Check out Nolavie’s “Artist In Their Own Words” on December 18 for more questions and responses from Bradley and Isidro.


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