Book Review: Not Your World Music: Noise in Southeast Asia reviewed by George Rahi

Not Your World Music: Noise in Southeast Asia by Cedrik Fermont and Dimitri Della Faille

Not Your World Music: Noise in South East Asia is a timely disruption of the ‘world music’ genre, as readers are introduced to diverse practices of noise music in parts of the world often exoticized by the catch-all ‘world music’ label. Co-authors Cedrik Fermont and Dimitri Della Faille begin with a critique of the Western viewpoint, suggesting it fails to account for new practices of noise which do not conform to certain aesthetic expectations. They then invite noise artists to describe the various noise scenes as well as what they mean to the people creating them. Combining an essay and interview format alongside an audio compilation, the book documents and describes various contemporary noise practices in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

For the reader not familiar with noise, Fermont and Della Faille provide a condensed history of its development in European and North American avant-garde movements, citing Luigi Russolo’s influential manifesto The Art of Noise as a common origin story. We learn that noise music is often defined by its tendency to transgress mainstream aesthetic ideals, becoming a “platform from which society can be criticized, reorganized, and changed (NYWM 32).” They also address common tropes associated with noise, such as the idea that it can be explained as a sonic “image of the social environment (NYWM 1).” In the context of Southeast Asia, the authors reject the idea that noise is simply the sonic mirroring of the region’s hyper-development, industrialization, and traffic congestion. They instead propose that in its expressions as academic, electroacoustic, industrial, experimental music and sound art, noise is a loose framework for various sonic practices that are themselves cross-pollinated with other genres in search of new forms of expression. Facing the impossible task of engaging every sub-genre, each defined by a specific aesthetic code, the authors choose to focus on japanoise, power electronics, harsh noise wall, black noise, ambient noise, drone, noise grind, onkyo, and danger music.

The Art of Noises - Luigi Russolo [1916] By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15206722

Like any music scene, noise can be understood as a social activity shaped by its practitioners’ organizational practices and political expressions. Not Your World Music provides us with illuminating details about the demographics, physical locations, visual imagery, and political expressions of scenes across the region. For example, it is noted that within Indonesia there is a sense of “unity against common enemies: poverty, corruption, police abuse, dictatorship and capitalism praised by the regime (NYWM 86).” We also learn about how urban patterns shape the practice of noise, entrenching it in networks of underground venues found in industrial areas of both urban and suburban neighborhoods.

Throughout the book, an anti-colonial and anti-sexist position is taken towards the act of documenting these new terrains of noise. Fermont and Della Faille point out that many contributions by women as well as artists outside the West are often missing from discourses surrounding noise. It is particularly noteworthy that Not Your World Music recently won the prestigious Golden Nica award at the 2017 Prix Ars Electronica festival in the Digital Music & Sound Art category. The award vindicated the authors’ stated goal of leveraging their privilege to elevate the voices of those without the means to challenge conventional understandings of these scenes alone. As the first book-length publication that covers noise in South East Asia, NYWM allows the names and stories of these artists to circulate in more valorized domains, and to therefore be recognized and legitimized in narratives that once ignored them. The book also successfully destabilizes the centrality of Western artists in the contemporary practice of noise by revealing the sheer volume of activity around the world. Admittedly, the authors’ ambition to document such a vast region creates a problem as they are forced into the position of highlighting some voices at the expense of others. The noise scene in Indonesia alone is described as being “so vast that it is, at present hard if not impossible, to include all the artists, collectives, fanzines, labels and people who are active (NYWM 93).” This balancing act is a delicate one, as Fermont and Della Faille cannot escape their position as gatekeepers for readers unfamiliar with the region. They are highly aware of this predicament and to their credit have made efforts to make the book accessible in multiple languages and to offer a free digital PDF version online.

The last two chapters are comprised of lists of selected scholarly texts on the subject of experimental South East Asian music and a discography of physical and digital noise releases with the names of artists and label entities. To many readers it might seem to be extraneous information, but there is a political goal in its reproduction and circulation. This content offers access to these scenes that are otherwise limited by their own DIY communication channels. Fermont and Della Faille’s use of an online crowdfunding campaign to fund the book is a testament to the strong sense of community that plays a vital role sustaining each noise scene. With the book, Fermont and Della Faille extend an invitation to connect with these scenes, in the hope that they may grow and become more vital and disruptive in the process.

George Rahi

Fermont, Cedrik, and Dimitri Della Faille. Not Your World Music: Noise in South East Asia: Art, Politics, Identity, Gender and Global Capitalism. First ed. 2016.

About the NYWM authors:

Cedrik Fermont is an artist and manager for Syrphe, a platform and label mostly focused on alternative electronic, noise and experimental music from Asia and Africa. He is based in Berlin.

Dimitri della Faille is an experimental musician and a scholar based in Ottawa. He founded the independent record label, Disques Hushush, from which he has released noise music from Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.

George Rahi is an experimental musician and founding member of both Gamelan Bike-Bike and Publik Secrets.

Learn more about George's work here:

Check out tracks from Insitu Recordings on Cedrik Fermont's Syrphe program at Colaboradio June 27th 2017: