82 minute full-length film with over an hour of additional performance footage and deleted scenes.
'People Who Do Noise’ is a film about the experimental music of Portland, Oregon. Extensive interviews and intimate performance footage provide an intense portrait of the motivations, emotions, and ideas that go into this uncompromising, sometimes brutal musical form. Unwavering in its focus, the film brings to light an art form unfathomable to many, with only the words of the musicians themselves providing any explanation for the pulsating sonic chaos they create.
The film takes a very personal approach, capturing the musicians working alone with no interference from a live audience. What often took place in crowded basements or dark smoky venues was stripped bare for the cameras, providing an unprecedented glimpse of the many different instruments and methods used.
Covering a wide range of artists and styles, the film features everything from the absurdist free-improvisations of genre-pioneers Smegma, to the harsh-noise assaults of Oscillating Innards and everything in between. Many of the artists in the film, such as Yellow Swans and Daniel Menche, have performed and sold records all over the world. In spite of such successes, noise music remains one of the least understood and most inaccessible of genres.
With an unflinching cinematic style, the film defies any trend-setting or commercial representation, opting instead for a stark portrayal of a musical underground at its most genuine and vital. For the subjects of the film, noise music is a way of life; a life in opposition to the tidy, orderly, and vacuous pop-culture experience.
I started preparing to shoot “People Who Do Noise” in fall of 2006. Like many of my projects, I came up with the title first as it was derived from an in-joke between my friend Kevin (With Caro in the movie) and I. Kevin told a story about someone he met at a party who introduced themselves by saying, “My name is ______, I do noise” and it became a catch-phrase of ours. The project was intended to be a short film but quickly grew as we felt more and more people should be included.
I had already met and made friends with many of the people who ended up in the movie playing in my own bands (including Under Mountains) which sometimes overlapped with the noise genre. At the very first noise show I shot, a man came up to me and noticed that I had an expensive camera bag similar to his. He turned out to be Bob Bellerue (Red Glaer in the movie). He ended up being a good friend and more or less became co-producer of the film. As a long time noise artist he had some insight into the scene and credibility I lacked and also lent his camera talents as well as advice recording and mixing the audio. So the project came together very naturally and in April of 2007 we shot for three days at Foodhole, which was an all ages venue adjacent to the Tube where many noise shows took place. Each artist performed for the cameras and was interviewed. I provided VooDoo Doughnuts, Miller Highlife, generic soda pop, and Mississippi pizza to the subjects and crew, which was the only real budget considerations the film had other than mini-DV tapes. I also bought some rounds of shots at Tube if I remember correctly.
Aside from that, I shot some Daniel Menche performances, a Yellow Swans performance, and a God performance at Rotture. With that I had enough material for a feature. With hardly any idea what I was doing, I holed up and spent the next five or six months editing in my spare time (I was still holding down four nights a week at my restaurant job at this time).
The movie was completed by around October and I submitted it to about 20 festivals. With no idea about the process at the time, I believe my presentation was somewhat poor. This combined with a very long, dialog-free intro of about 7 minutes killed the film’s chance to be taken seriously by festivals judges, who I now know, due to the huge volume of entries, will chuck a DVD after just a few minutes if it tries their patience. Ultimately I changed the intro and dropped in some helpful interview quotes but by then it was too late for festivals.
Finally, after giving up our festival hopes, we released the film on DVD and had a premiere screening at the Clinton Street theater on July 13th, 2008. The theater was packed, and with many in the audience being very supportive it turned out to be a feel-good hometown screening. Despite this, I could not stand the pressure and ended up getting quite drunk in the attached brewery while the screening was happening. However, I was able to hear lots of laughter and sensed it was mostly a positive response. PWDNmarquee
In the years since, the film has played all over the world at music festivals, galleries, and museums. It was rated nearly 2000 times on Netflix, the initial run of 1000 DVDs is sold out, and an unauthorized youtube upload received nearly 100k views. Now, leading up to the five-year anniversary of its release, I am remastering the film for HD, with new color-correction, sound mix, and a bit of fat trimmed. Once it’s finished I will re-release the film digitally at a very cheap price and this is how the film will live on. Even though it’s not perfect, I do feel it’s an important document that will continue to be relevant to future generations. So I believe it is well worth my time to make it cheaply available at the highest quality possible.
1) What is your background related to the topic of the document?
In 2005, I played in sort of a drone metal band called Tecumseh for about a year. They are still a band and have been releasing stuff since. We went on tour, and most of the shows we played were noise shows. So in the atmosphere of being on tour and nothing else to do but watch the other artists, my mind was very open and I became a fan of noise music.
After that, in 2006, my other band, Under Mountains, which was a noisy/chaotic instrumental metal band, went on tour with Deadbird (Honed Bastion in the movie) and Acre (in the movie’s special features). So, it seemed all my bands were weird enough to fit in with noise, so in a way I wasn’t a total outsider. But it was also very fresh for me as I hadn’t been listening to any pure noise at all up to that point.
2) What was your aim with creating the document?
Well, I think the most basic reason for wanting to make any film is to share a dream you have, or pass on your perception of something. To me noise music seems very relevant, and a key component to understanding music as a whole. Like its the natural final outcome of all experimentation, whether you’re coming from punk, jazz, metal, hip-hop, prog, classical or whatever, if you’re trying to move forward or discover something, in the end you just have to let go of everything you know and actually kind of paint with sound. From my perspective, if you haven’t listened to noise music, and gotten into it, you don’t really have a total understanding of music’s historical trajectory, or even of music itself. So the film is my way of expressing that feeling that noise is more relevant than most people realize.
3) What were the main obstacles or challenges during making the document?
I had to retrain myself as a digital filmmaker. I went to filmschool when we still shot 16mm and edited on expensive AVID systems. So I have thought of “People Who Do Noise” as a master’s film program, in that I had to learn modern video cameras and editing software and all that. The hardest part is just researching and figuring out what equipment you need. And occasionally spending an afternoon searching Creative Cow forums for a solution to some obscure problem involving frame rates or whatever.
But during the shoot itself, there were no real challenges. Everyone was into participating and helping make it work. The biggest problem is that noise shows are always so dark. You really can’t shoot interesting video in total darkness. And I found that people at shows were usually hostile towards turning up the lights. So that is what really gave the film its character, is that I came up with the idea of just having people perform for the cameras in a controlled environment where I could do whatever I wanted with the lighting and camera placement. So, as happens with much creative work, it was the overcoming of that obstacle that really gave the project originality and life.
4) How do you see relevance of the document in long term? Will it remain bound the the time or would it have meaning for the theme in long run?
I can’t say for sure. I’d like to think it is ahead of its time. I have trouble imagining what its like for young people as music fans these days, with so much exposure to so much music basically for free… in the end I have to imagine it will mean way more noise music fans, and down the road more people looking for evidence of where it all started. Whenever you have a group of people committed to an art form with no potential for fame or money attached, there’s always something timeless and authentic about that.
I was talking to my friend, known as “With Caro” in the documentary, and he was saying 2007-2008 was kind of a high point as far as the Portland noise music scene being really active and vital. Not that it sucks now, but that was just a really good year. At the same time, I feel that some of the musicians have probably come a long way and are making much better music than what you see in the documentary. “Pulse Emitter” is one of my favorite musicians of all time, and I honestly don’t feel his performance in the doc represents his current virtuosity.
5) How has been the audience response for the document?
Its pretty interesting. Its a topic everyone brings their own baggage too. For instance, if you’re really wrapped up in noise, you might not like it, because you might disagree with the idea of Portland being a center for noise, or you might not agree with discussion topics like, “is noise the new punk?”. But I didn’t put that in there for people who’ve been into noise for 10 years, I put it there for people who didn’t know anything as more of a point of reference.
Then of course many people just can’t stand hearing so much noise music! So its not exactly a cross over hit. It probably does best with people who like other extreme forms of music or art, but have never been exposed to much noise.
Overall I am pleased the film still has a life out there after almost 4 years. Its flattering to think people are still discussing and writing about it.
6) Looking the finished works, are there things you would change now or approach differently?
I might have done more to indicate with the title or on the box that it was only about noise music in Portland. Many people seem to assume its going to be about all noise music, and you get comments like, “What? No Merzbow?” So I think its good to let people know what they’re renting/purchasing/illegally downloading right from the start.
I also might have made a short version for film festivals. As a short film under 45 minutes it probably would have gained more traction on that front. I think the version on the DVD should have been the “director’s cut”. Live and learn.