Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Sounds of the Junk Yard

Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)

By Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

In the very early '80s, after we'd all moved to NYC and begun Sonic Youth, this record came to my attention somehow. It was one in a series that the wonderfully adventurous Folkways label was doing of natural sound recordings, made possible by the advent of more portable recording technologies.

Field recordings from the junkyard? More like the precursor to every avant-garde rock band of the ‘80s…

There's no doubt that the general huzz and clang of New York City had been seeping its way into much of the music made here for quite some time. In the early '80s the general noise level of the city was certainly an inspiration, something to incorporate into the music we were beginning to make. Sounds of the Junk Yard seemed super-relevant. Bands were using scrap-metal percussion, electric drills and grinders in performance, attempting to incorporate the insane noises of the city into the most advanced rock music of the day.

The opening track here, "Acetylene Torch," seemed in exactly the same ballpark as the music we were obsessing over at the time by the German band Einstürzende Neubauten ("Collapsing Modern Buildings") on their album Kollaps. (They even named a later record called Five on the Open-Ended Richter Scale — equating their sound with the magnitude of earthquakes!) Tracks like "Truck Unloading" and "Crane Loading" could have come off the first Mars or UT album. Stray sounds, chaotic percussion and jarring climaxes were inspiration for such No Wave bands then springing up around the city. Why differentiate between melodic chord changes and random noise bursts? "Burning" (great title) is as ambient as you wanna be, more glitched out than Autechre. Had he ever heard "Alligator Shear," Aphex Twin might never have happened! "Steel Saw Cutting" presages American hardcore music by about a decade. "Paper Baler" evokes Eric Gaffney rummaging around his bedroom, trying to find the mic and bong just before heading out to record The Freed Weed, the first Sebadoh record. (It was a cassette, actually.)

I found myself frequenting many construction sites around NYC, early-version Walkman® in hand, recording pile drivers, truck horns, etc. Glorious NOISE seeped into our mindsets back then, reprogramming our synapses — it was all around us city-dwellers and, as this record shows, at the junk yard as well.