Dec 13, 2011, 10:53PM

Overthinking Noise: Subleties, Extremes and Complexities

The first part of a conversation with noise artist Jason Crumer.

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The world of noise music is populated, mostly, with nihilists: guitar stranglers, electronics perverts, feedback fiends, and sonic dislocators whose primary interest lies in fucking shit up as loudly and randomly as possible. Jason Crumer is not one of those people. Formerly of Oakland, California—and for the past year a Baltimorean—Crumer might be accused of overthinking noise. Stretched over veteran outsider labels like Misanthropic Agenda, RRRecords, Ecstatic Peace, and Hospital Productions, his solo catalogue is a baroque gallery of subtleties, extremes, and complexities. 

If 2006’s Hum of An Imagined Environment found Crumer exploring the quiet-to-battlefield-loud possibilities inherent when commingling bowel-tickling rumbles, seven-headed hydra afterburner roar; and manipulated bell reverberations and 2007’s What Is Love? cassette demonstrated a rather grim sense of rhetorical humor, two subsequent releases would raise the stakes considerably. 2008 breakthrough Ottoman Black offers a compressed, guided tour through the noise/ambient universe, kicking off with heavenly hums and louvered static, turning industrially corkscrew and discordant, dipping toes into incessant scree sleet showers and weirdly crumpling, automation whirring and mouth-breathing noise, then winding down with some sort of horn-drenched, fanfaring Star Wars intro music that explodes into a distorted alien creepshow; 2009’s Walk With Me is nothing short of granular musique concrete perfection, a series of immersive set pieces so well-crafted and intricately conceived than they deserve their own museum wing.

The much-feted Walk remains Crumer’s best outing to date, and fans of artisanal noise might, understandably, look askance long wait between full-length albums. The culprit? Rape allegations that strafed the Internet at about the same time that punk-noise trio Drunkdriver imploded over rumors that drummer Jeremy Villalobos had assaulted women.

Arriving three years later, Let There Be Crumer (Second Layer) presents as something of a geological core sample. Crumer reveals itself in phased layers, peeled away on scab at a time, meandering into mostly uncharted territory; tracks were recorded in varying parts of the country, and most titles reflect that. Haunted, yawning “Lovelock, NM” teems with sinister brass and swamp noise that resolves into an undulating ambient stew; the mysterious “Chicago, IL” loops layers what sound like kazoo-amplified vocals into an abomination that gradually intensifies in volume; “Sault Ste. Marie, MI” subsumes a deconstructed music-box version of “Oh Susanna” in cataclysmic power electronics. The crushing, annihilative “All Friends and Old Flames” suggests ratchets splintering rusted, crumbling bolts, a wonder of fractured tool revolutions, of tightening and grinding. But the ask-no-quarter-throttle of “Self Pity Fuck” is where Crumer really destroys, where the artist’s disgust and dispassion truly take flight: a tonal abacus bead wraith slides in and out of perception like ringing metal or a singing blade, framed by a slowly thickening combination of field-recording rustle/bump and sub-dermal noise. It all eventually becomes a strafing, acidic churn, a veritable battle royale of tussling leviathan angst. 

In the first part of an email interview with Splice Today, Crumer talks about moving to Baltimore, making Let There Be Crumer, and the charges that he’s had a hard time shaking. For background and context, it may be helpful to read this interview first.

SPLICE TODAY: You're living in Baltimore now, right? What led you there? 

JASON CRUMER: Yep, living in Baltimore. The Ravens are awesome, though if I keep moving I'll have to root for every NFL team. I was trying to finish Let There Be Crumer, which at the time had a much lamer name, and went to stay in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Didn't know where I was going to go, hoped a rural and scene-free environment would allow me the mental space to figure it out. I knew it would be east coast, wanted to be near North Carolina and New York City, found out there was a cheap room in Baltimore. I moved a few days before last New Year. I can do what I do anywhere in theory, and Baltimore was the East Coast town I knew the least about - as good as any place to pull it back together. If I can get my shit anywhere near together this will be a wonderful place to do music.

ST: Have you been able to find any good nature spots in Baltimore? I'd recommend Gunpowder Falls State Park.

JC: I really haven't found anything within walking distance. Baltimore has been epitomizing "urban jungle" for me lately. Any recommendations of stuff on bus lines would make my day. I did stumble upon that Joseph Beuys sculpture park on some campus, and realized I hadn't seen a tree in almost a year. That's just fucked up.

ST: I grew up near Baltimore, and when I find myself missing the city it's the weirdest stuff: the stench of urine downtown, garbage floating in the harbor, being mobbed by the homeless. You've been in Baltimore almost a year now. What in particular have you found yourself drawn to, conventional and not-so-conventional? 

JC: I like the architecture; every other turn, you’re confronted with some brilliant-looking church. I always like how churches look, even the Pentecostal warehouse-type churches are made with more love than, say, a trailer park.

ST: You should check out some of the ones on Edmonton Ave., if you get over there; some awesome stone churches. They look like fortresses.

JC: Yep. They're sick.

ST: Some pretty heavy allegations were levied against you on the Internet a while back. It's like you were tried and convicted online. What have the last couple years been like for you, in the wake of that, and how has it affected your life and work?

JC: By the time this interview is printed the allegations will be 15 years old. They've affected me, very negatively, my entire adult life. The last few years have been ridiculously hard, though I bring a lot of it on myself by stressing things I really can't control.

They actually affected me worse when I hadn't been around very long, when I was just meeting people. At this point, the people in my life have noticed who I am and am not, and trust me to be myself. In that sense, this round of rumors didn't cost me many "friends," though my name was once again dragged through the mud. The fact that I wound up drunk in public a lot over the last 15 years I guess makes it easy to believe. It's like a trump card people can use to win any argument with me, yeah. It puts me in an awkward situation; it's heavy to leave the house, but I have to live a life. There is nothing I can do to repair my image with certain people. All I can do is try to be somewhat proactive, do music, be good to the people in my life and avoid falling into a hellish drugged out pit.

These rumors have cost me jobs, friends, homes and much less importantly shows and releases. The punkers decided to use me as an example. What can I do? It is their scene that glorifies rape. It is their scene that obsesses over rape and rapists. Their scene is still the official place for young girls to go and get molested, robbed, and yes, raped. They can't understand that my motives could be different than their best friends, who, despite constant actions to the contrary, maintain the facade of "good politics." That facade is the only prerequisite for membership in their bullshit scene.

The things I hear from average punk girls, what they regularly go through, without calling it "rape" or "assault," is way the fuck worse than anything I've been a part of. These are the real "shitty people" and I can't be the only person noticing that. Why does the "creepy noise scene" feature considerably less rape and molestation than the punk and activist scenes?

ST: Does all of this feed into your music and performance, emotionally?

JC: It has to, but I try not to let it. I don't want to talk much more publicly about this, if readers want to talk, contact me at jasoncrumer@gmail.com. I am not dodging or hiding, there is just no conceivable way for my words to be taken "the right way" so I'd prefer follow-up communications be somewhat private.  Like I said, all I can do is try to stay positive and live my life.

ST: The song titles on Let There Be Crumer seem to allude to specific locations; in a way they're almost like a trail of clues, chapters in a story. The album title itself winks at the Book of Genesis but also implies a sort of rebirth of self, or a reintroduction; kind of, you know, an "It's Jason Crumer, bitches" thing. Do the titles signify anything specific for you?

JC: The location titles are simply where they were recorded, with the exception of “Lovelock.” I spent a lot of 2010 traveling and trying to find peace of mind after being fairly well beaten down by life. A lot of the album was made in hotels and on Amtrak. It is very much an "It's Jason Crumer, bitches" thing, but mostly saying it to myself. Getting dumped, robbed, fired, evicted and then kicked out of basically every scene has a way of trampling your mojo. I intend to prove that there's still something left in here, thus the title.

ST: I don't know whether you intended this, but the flow of the album kind of mirrors the experience of traveling in a train over long distances and varied terrain: you cycle through all these intensities, conjuring up and sucking the listener into these really involving sound tableaux before gear shifting to something radically different. In that sense, Crumer feels like a departure from your previous records.

JC: The record contains its own logic; when it ends, you've heard a full album. I hate records that just do one thing the whole time. I think the harsh parts of Walk With Me weren't harsh enough, or you'd be saying the same thing about that one.

ST: Your records differ from those of a lot of other noise artists in that they're best listened to in high or at least moderate fidelity, in order to experience all the inherent nuances. Compared to how it sounds in my car stereo, listening to Let There Be Crumer through iPod ear buds is a huge letdown. How important is fidelity to you when recording or listening to music?

JC: I don't know. I just want the loud parts to be able to be loud in comparison to the quiet parts. I don't record ring tones and use almost no compression. You can always turn it up. I really enjoy it on headphones actually, but you need to crank it.

ST: When I interviewed you last time, you spoke a bit about live noise performance being oxymoronic given the anti-social nature of the music. Do you still feel the same way?

JC: I do. Something like power electronics makes more sense, but an introverted and personal noise set, at a social event? It still seems stupid to me.

ST: How did you hook up with Second Layer, and how did the label wind up issuing Let There Be Crumer?

JC: We heard of each other through Ottoman Black back in 2007. I'm happy that my last three albums will have been released by labels that have physical stores—Hospital, Misanthropic Agenda, now Second Layer. This is my first major European release as well, despite some smaller-edition European releases and re-issues. Second Layer has also released stuff from John Wiese, Lasse Marhaug, and Pain Jerk; a good label.

ST: It's almost quaint, that idea in this era, that you could buy something from a label by wandering into that label's place of business and handing over cash. As a culture we're so far removed from that kind of physicality when it comes to music; music winds up being the intangible thing we download and never hold.

JC: Yeah, the one skill you've bothered to hone in your life is now completely worthless.


  • Yikes. I feel bad for this guy but he doesn't make a great case for himself. Pariahs probably make better noise music than scene-happy nihilists, though.

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