Mattin - Proletarian of Noise (Hibari Music CD)
Mattin's stayed off my radar for the longest of times no matter how often his name pops up on Bagatellen/I Hate Music or in the Wire (through no actual intention of my own - I just never got around to hearing anything), but he's getting pretty hard to ignore lately. I think it was either last year or the year before where he decided to go full-on anti-copyright, making all of his music available online, a practice still in place to this day. In fact you can head on over to Mattin.org right now and download this very album, no charge. Of course this raised lots of questions (did all of the other artists featured on those recordings agree to having work they participated in made available for free?) and ire (what about the stores stuck with Mattin titles in their inventory that nobody really has anymore incentive to purchase?) and discussion. And just this year he participated in Michel Henritzi's "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" album which seems to have succeeded in annoying just about everybody, although that's more Henritzi's heat and not Mattin's (but I got that one too - tune in next week!). Somewhere in between those came "Proletarian of Noise", not quite as talked-about but still curious enough to warrant a couple of double-takes. First of those curiosities would have to be the use of the cover image from Hijokaidan's 1985 pasting "King of Noise", only with a dollar sign in the baby's eye and Mattin's title emblazoned across. Fold out the oversized glossy sleeve to reveal the lyrics to the tracks "Attitude Fetishist", "You Are Stuck as a Free Human Being" and "Thesis on Noise". The words are as crucial (you could argue more so in fact) as the music that appears on the album because they convey the questions about "noise" that Mattin has made it his business to investigate. A sampling of the questions raised: "Can you get your ears fucked? Can you get mentally raped? Can you become someone else? Fucking consumer / you are a fucking passive endless consumer / just to feel a little bit above average" and "You gracious creature full of talent / your careful listening is fully appreciated / thanks to you I feel like the best whore in this brothel / I get so much pleasure out of your attention / a transaction that only you and me know is only cultural prostitution". You can read the rest on Mattin's website. The conclusions one can draw from those lyrics alone are pretty self-evident and it's safe to say Mattin does have a point (at least I myself enjoy and bask the irony of the flagrant materialistic/consumerist nature of those who listen to a so-called non-genre of music like noise - a point seemingly backed up by the dollar sign in the baby's eye, e.g. the fact that an album full of trashy noise is now a revered classic and, essentially, a "brand"). So before you really even drop "Proletarian" into the CD player it's already hitting pretty hard, and the first track "Computer Music/Post-Fordism" piles on the sarcasm even further - the "computer music" here is nothing more than the sound of somebody hitting the keys of a laptop for five minutes - the commentary there isn't exactly cutting edge, but I did enjoy the relaxing sounds of a keyboard sprinkling. That is until "Attitude Fetishist" cuts through and blitzes your ears with an acid rain of computer-generated static and noise, over which Mattin says/shouts his manifestos with an incessant snare hit keeping time for no real reason. "You Are Stuck as a Free Human Being" follows and the inclusion of lyrics was all but essential because Mattin's voice is so wholly mangled that it's impossible to make anything out. The backing noise (again, all computer generated - using Linux no less!) varies quite a bit more than the previous track with virtual knobs twisted and tweaked and wrenched to alternating degrees of intensity. An all-too-easy sonic reference point would be Whitehouse, especially their most recent works, and even Jojo Hiroshige's solo work outside Hijokaidan bears similarities. "Desecration of Silence" is an instrumental, despite the absence of actual instruments, and is cut from the same cloth as the previous two tracks in terms of abrasive attack, and the final 30 minutes of the disc are dedicated to Mattin's "Thesis on Noise" which doesn't actually feature Mattin at all but instead one Lisa Rosendahl reading the "Thesis of Noise" itself in a pleasing English monotone. To say it's drawn out would be a colossal understatement, as you could probably blow through the "Thesis" in about a minute reading aloud, so strap yourself in for a lot of Cageian silence.
I think anybody listening to "Proletarian" will eventually have to ask themselves if the words are serving the music (no pun intended) or if the noise is just a backdrop for Mattin to expound his current views on the "state of noise" if you will. I also think those questions are justified, because musically (again, no pun intended) there isn't a whole lot of meat to be found here. But then on the other hand I wonder if that was even the point in the first place? Or what the point even was? I suppose at the end of the day if Mattin has stirred the pot or started some conversation he can consider his album to be a success, although a lot of people will undeniably dismiss it as someone looking for another angle and just using controversy as a means to further their own agendas - but we can talk about that at greater length when I listen to the Henritzi album. It may not be his greatest aural feat to date and it may not contain bulletproof notions and musings, but a lot of what's written and spoken on "Proletarian" is worthy of being given a second thought...even if you don't want to give the album a second playthrough.