Madness & Civilization
Civilization and All Its Created
CD-R, TIC Productions, 2008
No, this is not an audiobook of Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault’s 1961 genealogy of folly and no, the CD isn’t damaged and the first track is supposed to be ninety seconds of hissing, bitcrushed noise reverberating over a gurgling bass. This is not a meme either, although the small portrait of Foucault at the center of the white cover might make it look like post-ironic graduate student humor; the second track is a progressive layering of multiple time-stretched audio clips driven into digital distortion, climbing up in pitch one after the other. Under the “Michel Foucault 1926 – 1984” dedication, two lines of text (the album title?) read “civilization and all its created apartness, crazy, rapacity, corrupt, anomalism…”, and the third track puts this object squarely in the category of noise music: the panning is extreme, and a droning bassline pulsates on the right while a magma of overdriven hiss churns on the left – after a minute, a sudden jolt fractures the composition and throws things off-kilter, as sequences of sweeping digital clipping stutter from different locations in the stereo field. This could be a lesser Merzbow record about a peculiar Japanese bird, if only the cover didn’t anchor it to the weird undergrowth of late-2000s Chinese noise. I forgot where I bought this CD-R, and only vaguely remember it being the last one of its kind, housed in a broken jewel case – it might have been Beijing, but it was probably Shanghai. Track four continues the surprising tour in lo-fi deconstruction, as bouts of spurting and hissing frame a recurring synth beep, sudden microphone pops, and a continuous grinding sound in the background. The aesthetic purpose is clear, as is its enthusiastic lack of direction.
According to the few traces of this record available online, its title is Civilization and All Its Created, and it is the first full-length record released by Madness & Civilization, a noise project of a certain 楊彬 (Yáng Bīn) from Kunming, Yunnan province. Also known as “Moose”, Yang Bin loves Death in June and Current 93 and has previously formed some bands which all quickly fell apart – after setting up Most of the Taciturn, his first solo project, he established Madness & Civilization in 2008. Some concrete tinkling sounds introduce track five, featuring ominous synth lines and fragmentary samples coming in and out an unstable droning distortion, a funky bass counterpointing the collage as harsh noise restlessness veers toward the playfulness of a certain post-industrial lineage. Released by Beijing-based TIC Productions in 2008, this record is clearly a concept album: as Yang Bin asks from its liner notes,
Human beings are bound to go mad to the degree that non-madness becomes just another form of madness. Are there still people in China who care about Foucault?
With its booming tremors crisscrossed by metallic synth squeals, track six seems to share this existential despair about the questionable status of Foucault’s heritage in the People’s Republic. The label’s record description introduces Yang Bin as a state-owned enterprise employee who enjoys delving into philosophical and historical questions, “thinking while reading, doubting while thinking, and hating while doubting.” Madness & Civilization is his new “weapon”, a harsh noise project dedicated to “the most extreme and violent music in human history”. Track seven sounds like a ring-modulated lead fed into a short delay through a broken cable – it might not top the world chart of extreme musical violence, but it’s definitely irritating.
Before this record, Madness & Civilization released the demo single 198-964, clearly titled after the date of the Tian’anmen protests crackdown. Surprisingly, unlike most cultural artifacts nodding towards the event, this record’s page is still available on Douban, and one listener comment even reads
I think of the Summer Palace, and I also think of those young people, and those equally young soldiers. The generation of our parents has experienced the fluttering of white clothes, the age of college campus poets. I haven’t experienced it personally and I feel lucky, but I also feel sorry.
The stuttering continues on track eight, now coupled with rising and falling volumes, as if the signal path broke down under signal saturation. Writing about Madness & Civilization, Yan Jun connects its output to the arrival of broadband internet in the country, which put an end to the last ideological decade of the country’s cultural landscape: “violence was over, and pornography began”. Prompted by Yang Bin’s vague melodies and fuzzy noises, he concludes:
Rather than calling this noise, it is better to say that the author finds himself among fragments of language, trying to recompose them back into a once-complete subject: he also wants to cry.
Track nine quickens the pace, as rhythmic surges of bubbling synth overlap with flanger-processed noise crackle. Only around fifty people have listened to and rated Yang Bin’s records on Douban, and their relative obscurity has afforded their pages a degree of invisibility to censorship; it is unclear how much Civilization and All Its Created manages to “kidnap people’s homesickness by using seemingly unfamiliar materials,” as Yan Jun suggests, but this record remains a quirky chapter in the history of Chinese noise. The last track ends in a thunderclap and a prolonged synth scream that suddenly cuts to silence.