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Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation

by Shaun Mckenna

Staff Writer

There are some genres of music that Japan excels in. Recently, acts here have been appropriating the dance music styles of dubstep and juke to create a sound that feels like a real contribution to the global music scene. Before all this, though, there was noise.

Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation, by David Novak, Duke University Press

In “Japanoise,” author David Novak delves into the music genre called noise — more specifically, this country’s brand of Japanoise — to explain how it thrived in the underground music scene here and unintentionally became a product that represents Japan overseas.

Novak gives accounts of live performances, speaks to musicians and fans, and presents an analysis of noise that goes deep in describing the elements that make it a form of performance art — even if all the first-time listener is hearing is a sonic racket.

He goes even further in his research and takes a look at scenes that exist in selected countries around the world, which leads to him questioning the direction in which the music is migrating. Through it all, though, Japan has maintained a prominent position in its development.

The book should prove particularly interesting to musicians; Novak has done a good job in describing the instrumental set up of the artists whose shows he watches. Just as interesting, though, is hearing that members of Boredoms were once welcomed as “noise idols” on mainstream Japanese TV in the 1990s — I’m sure the many Arashi variety shows on air could benefit from the likes of Merzbow showing up.

While “Japanoise” gives a fantastically detailed account of Noise’s history and evolution, it is also interesting to see it framed as a true representative of what has come to be known as “Cool Japan.” As the government promotes sugary sweet pop acts that cause toothaches abroad, the grassroots noise scene (OK, it might be causing earaches) is making real progress in keeping Japan cool.