For those who have never been, the International Noise Conference might conjure up images of networking businessmen holding briefcases filled with screams and explosions. But instead, the five-night event celebrating its 13th year at Churchill's is a commerce-free, avant-garde celebration of sonic experimentation where you're as likely to hear something beautiful as you are to watch someone take a dump onstage. Started in 2004 by local noise pioneer Rat Bastard, this year's edition brought in over 200 noisemakers from corners as far away as Japan, Italy, and Hialeah.
The most important aspect to emphasize to newbies attending the event in the future is that it is an International Noise Conference, not an International Music Conference. You will hear many noises, some of them very unpleasant, and not many that easily qualify as "music."
On Saturday night, you could see one member of a Jacksonville act called Squid Squad banging on a metal barrel while a masked cohort welded as sparks shot through the air. Inside on the main stage, two long-haired Philadelphians called Drums Like Machine Guns created fax machine noises with equipment that looked like it came from a Radio Shack going-out-of-business sale. The only rule established on the conference's website is no laptops, as watching someone in front of a computer is a bore. Otherwise, anything went. The more of a spectacle, the better.
Much of the crowd on the rainy Saturday night was made up of Churchill's regulars and the conference's noisemaking participants. Some were decked out in supernatural costumes and makeup rarely seen outside a comic con or drag show. One character in an abstract outfit reminiscent of a love child of the Predator and the Elephant Man took to the stage to the sounds of distortion and began shattering saucers and plates on the ground, even going so far as to let someone shatter a plate on his or her (hopefully) protective mask.
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Over the nine and a half hours of scheduled noises, there was always something going on. Set times for each performer's 15 minutes of fame were printed on flyers posted throughout the bar. To keep the night moving as close to schedule as possible, one act would perform while another was setting up and yet another breaking down their equipment.
One of the conference's great traditions is that admission is always free. Merchandise was for sale on one of the pool tables and of course the beer required payment, but keeping cover charges away from the event allows the curious to confer with noise in all its volume. Is it music? Art? Somewhere in between? All of the above?
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Who cares. It's interesting, and it could only happen at Churchill's.