Nocturnal Hiss is an obscure act that blends heavy distortion and hypnotic electro beats ultimately yielding a truly unique experimental approach. Their aesthetics are as raw and bare as their sonic approach. The latest release is called Stop Eating Animals/Start Eating Acid. You can check it out at the Bandcamp link at the bottom of the interview. We are very grateful to Nocturnal Hiss for their time.
Hello and thanks for the interview. Can you pleas start by giving us a bit of a background of Nocturnal Hiss and your beginnings in the noise arena?
I’ve been making different types of electronic music for a number of years with projects like Eagle Chalice, Extruder, and Goblin Priest. These have mostly been at the intersection of experimental ambient and industrial music, and the music was mostly composed and performed with a PC at the center of the workflow. Recently I’ve found myself drawn more to hardware synthesis, and at the same time I’ve been listening to more death metal and techno, stuff that has a higher tempo and more energy. I wanted to find a way to bring that level of intensity to my music, and given the sufficiently different vibe I felt it also deserved a new moniker. The “hiss” in Nocturnal Hiss refers to both the background noise present when using heavily amplified audio, but also a constant threat of hidden violence implied in the music.
The latest release is “Stop Eating Animals. Start Eating Acid.” Most of it has an underlying techno/electronic beat on top of which likes layers of feedback and static. Were your influences for this music from both noise and the electronic/techno world?
My noise hero has always been Yasutoshi Yoshida of Government Alpha. Albums like Sporadic Spectra form the pinnacle of electronic noise in my mind, and that’s often the ideal I’m going after when I record a pure harsh noise track. On the techno side I’m drawn to a lot of hard and minimal records. The first recordings I did as Nocturnal Hiss were inspired by low fidelity gabber of acts like Nasenbluten, and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Surgeon, both his early recordings and his more recent “return to form” with the Raw Trax series. Of course I have to shout out local PNW heroes like DJ Headwound and Silo77.
I see a natural connection between minimal techno and harsh noise, although maybe that’s not obvious to everyone. I think it’s the combination of overwhelming, intentionally disorienting sonics and slow evolution (or sometimes total stasis) of timbres over time. There’s also an interesting match just in terms of the frequencies – techno has a lot of emphasis on low end with kick drums and sub bass synthesizers, whereas classic harsh noise is all about mids and treble – I find that they complement each other well.
I’m always curious how artists create their work. Can you give us an inside look into your studio and your tools of your trade?
I try to switch up the specific instruments and effects I’m using across tracks to keep things interesting, but there are a few constants. I’m generally using a TR-09 drum machine either live or sampled for the drum tracks, often played through a Big Muff or other pedal to alter the timbre. Noise is coming from a variety of heavily distorted field recordings, pedal feedback loops, or sometimes just a no-input 4MS Noise Swash. Synth tones are often coming from an SH-01A or pitched samples. And all of this is getting recorded together onto a four track and then uploaded into my PC for mixing. For live performances I’ll take a subset of the different sound sources and ideas from the studio tracks and work out some variations that sound interesting with a more limited set of inputs.
Some artists actively manipulate their sounds and others simply select their noises and parameters and let them rip. You’ve told us what you use, now what is the process that you use?
I usually write a track with a particular goal in mind – I want this to be a fast cut-up noise piece, or I want this to be more of a straightforward techno track, or something that’s like a digital grindcore song with insane tempos and lots of stops and starts. Some of those are much more structured, with different parts that come in and out or tempo changes, and I generally need to plan that stuff out and sequence everything in advance. Whereas with a freeform noise piece it may be pure improvisation on a couple different pieces of hardware, just turning knobs and reacting intuitively to the sounds that come out.
Why do you feel that people listen to noise in the first place? What was the first recording that drew you into this art form?
For me the attraction of listening to noise is a total break from the conventions of tonal music. I can only listen to so many tracks with clean electric guitars and familiar digital piano presets before I find myself getting bored and wanting something with more interesting timbres, with more intensity and energy and less predictability. As a performer or a composer noise is incredibly freeing, and I find that freedom can be transmitted to a listener as well. This might sound odd as so much of the visual language of harsh noise is punishing and grim, but in many ways I find noise to be an incredibly liberating and humanistic endeavor.
I’m of a generation that has grown up with the internet, so I’ve been listening to noise tracks since the golden days of Audiogalaxy and mp3.com. In addition to the aforementioned Government Alpha, I think some early influences were recordings I stumbled across of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon and the album Making Orange Things by Venetian Snares and Speedranch.
The artwork on your releases seems to be always black and white. Is this a reflection of a desire to present your work in a very straightforward, abrasive, but basic manner or are there some dynamics in there that we might not be aware of?
It’s definitely intentional. For other types of projects I would probably choose to use more color, or at least a few shades of gray! Black and white seems like the default color palette for noise and industrial, it’s part of the culture going back to the days of xeroxed cassettes and mail art collages. But I also see it as a pretty direct visual metaphor for the sound of the music. Generally the art that I use comes from a few pictures of everyday objects or surfaces that have been merged together in an unusual way, with the contrast turned way up to highlight details of the texture at the expense of form or color. I see this as analogous to my process with the music, which generally consists of mixing together several simple sound sources and using distortion and manipulation to turn them into something extreme and obscure.
More recently I’ve also been experimenting with applying feedback techniques from pedal noise to digital image synthesis, which is a technique that other artists like Cementimental have used in the past. This results in very dense, abstract images that are simultaneously very mechanical in their details and very organic in their overall structures. I’ve got some examples of this type of image on my Instagram feed, and I’m looking to publish a book of these images later this year.
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020?
Well, for one thing I’m going to be moving from Seattle to Pittsburgh, where the rent is a little bit cheaper! That means feeling out a new scene and making new connections. As for music, I’ve got an album coming out on Low Noise and a couple more recordings that are completed but still looking for a home. As I mentioned before, I’ll also be publishing a book of visual art based on my digital feedback technique. Live performances are on hold for the foreseeable future but I’d love to play out at the Black Lodge and Hollow Earth Radio before I leave the Pacific Northwest for good.
How do you think that the current state of the world and the coronavirus has affected you as an artist?
A little chaos can be extremely clarifying! Under quarantine common habits have been disrupted and many incidental human interactions have disappeared from my life. If anything, I think it’s forced me to really focus on the things that I care about the most and learn to let a lot of other things slide.
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