They walk among us, inconspicuous, hooked on the sickest fix in town. Jason Aldy, an overly polite 28-year-old, works at a health food store, relaxes to Bastard Noise, and performs as Unprotected Sex. Soft-spoken Mickey Spalding, 39, spends his days in a shipping warehouse and very late nights performing at harrowing house-shows as either Poison Apple or Screamin’ Fetus, abusing ears and also musical equipment.
Mike Maxwell, an American Airlines fleet service worker for 22 years, has done more “experimental projects” than he can remember and is in the small percentage of men over 40 who comfortably fall asleep to sadistic walls of static. They all share the same addiction: noise music. And Aldy’s Arlington home — otherwise known as Wasted Words Art Collective — has become the epicenter of the 817’s burgeoning noise scene.
When the venue first opened in December 2008, some folks came purely out of curiosity. The venue’s subversive, grotesque fliers of 13-year-old girls with braces, close-ups of fingernail fungus, and burning churches certainly promote a unique experience. Other people, like Aldy, Spalding, and Maxwell, started out in music in their teens playing in punk bands before gradually embracing noise as the final frontier. Current music disgusts Aldy and company. The stuff on the radio is too safe, too expected — definitely not art, according to Spalding. He and his friends were drawn to noise because of the genre’s intense experimentation, extreme aesthetics, and inherent sense of freedom.
Most acts at Wasted Words craft their cacophony through nontraditional means, often with electronics. Performers heavily alter equipment, warping or degrading pre-recorded material — such as political speeches, clanking machinery, and movie clips — or making bizarre, entirely new instruments. As Poison Apple, Spalding produces his sounds via pre-recorded tape manipulation and a homemade 11-foot strip of flexible metal with a microphone attached to the tip. His energy level and the specific things he decides to do with his “instrument” determine the resulting sounds. Playing his first Wasted Words show in October 2009, he charged around the room, cathartically cracking the strip of banding metal like a whip. He also rammed a microphone into his own amp just for some additional ugly clatter.
The conventions, the goals –– everything related to noise exists in a separate, insular world, far removed from traditional music. “It doesn’t matter if it’s making someone else feel good,” said Maxwell, whose ambient noise act is Short Wave Death System and whose harsh noise group is Aphonic Curtains, “as long as it’s making you feel.”
Noise — much like the DIY ethos of punk — creates a space where Aldy’s painfully average, one-story home becomes an open forum for unbridled expression. His and his two roommates’ dining room doubles as a stage for local, national, and international artists. Depending on the artist, you could get anything from a performer who smears his nude body with toothpaste to another performer who bathes the room in fake blood.
Many people at Wasted Words — including the artists themselves — question whether noise is music at all. “I prefer the term ‘art,’ ” Maxwell said. Aside from some ambient acts like A Smile Full Of Ale, bands are generally unconcerned with melody or time signature. Songs tend to emphasize texture and mood over distinct structure. Some acts, like Screamin’ Fetus, perform “wall noise” — deafening sets that tower ominously like screeching monoliths of feedback. Just about every artist challenges listeners, forcing them not only to accept the sounds as music but also just endure them. Aside from a few grossly overused terms like harsh, ambient, glitch, and industrial, most noise refuses classification. For the listener to grasp the phenomenon, noise demands to be experienced.
As recently as three years ago, there wasn’t any trustworthy place in North Texas to find or to stage a noise experience. The scene was scattered. Artists and fans were segmented. They had nowhere to build a community. But in 2005, Aphonic Curtains’ Rob Buttrum opened House of Tinnitus in Denton. Aldy and his roommate, Josiah Miller –– a sometime member of the experimental band Zanzibar Snails –– regularly attended Buttrum’s shows, weaning themselves on locals like the industrial duo Steel Hook Prostheses.
Inspired by Buttrum’s example, Aldy and his roommates knew they had to open a venue out of their house. Aldy had always wanted to start his own club. The absence of a noise venue in the 817 was more than enough reason to begin hosting concerts. He owed it to all the bands and concertgoers who lingered around the House of Tinnitus until 5 a.m. When Wasted Words opened, becoming the first and only noise-dedicated venue in the 817, much of House Of Tinnitus’ crowd followed.
Touring artists who used to skip the 817 entirely suddenly are now stopping here, and despite the volume, crowds of 50 people or more, and concerts lasting past 3 a.m., Aldy said his neighbors appear to be oblivious.