CDr, Obscurica, 2005
It’s probably too easy and predictable to start a blog about Chinoise talking about Torturing Nurse, but at the same time it’s also the most coherent and fair way of doing it. After all, great part of the “idea” of harsh noise in China – especially for foreign audiences – was informed by Junky, Xu Cheng and friends’ overabundant production. There has been noise, experimental music and glitchy electronics in China before, but it’s with Torturing Nurse that harsh noise finds its own Chinese ambassadors.
If I have to start from Torturing Nurse, then I’ll gladly avoid the all too popular bondage performances (that actually underplay what Torturing Nurse has been, musically, for years) to focus instead on music itself. My choice is also a matter of a listener’s personal history: NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana was the the first noise record from China I came in contact with, back in 2006.
NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana is a stupid record – and I’m talking here of a sonic stupidity somehow akin to Prurient’s The History of AIDS. Stupidity here does not refer to the musicians but to the sound itself: the tracks are so blatantly direct and the frequency range so randomly unrefined, shifting and coarsely trimmed that every song transmits a sense of vulgar obtusity. Take nna, all built on a foundation of a sub bass frequency panned jerkily from left to right with gurgling vocals perched on top, or AnRa, four seconds describing the unplugging of a cable, or again Nann, with raspy screams over a clean mixer feedback pulse: simplicity drawn to its extreme consequences yields a homely and genuine version of harsh noise not moored in overmastered distortions and massive layering. Other tracks, like Anna, Lan or Qan, present piercing curls of distorted feedback over a backdrop of rumbling bass, a spectrum of decaying frequencies reminding of certain more abstract compositions by Sightings. Occasionally videogame sounds, Boredoms-style screaming and overdriven guitars appear in the background, enriching the sonic bouquet with a refreshing attitude typical of young projects not yet constrained by expectations and codified styles. I say this with a hint of disappointment, since NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana is in my opinion one of the best Torturing Nurse records and its freshness remains (yet) unsurpassed in their gargantuan discography.
The album contains 47 tracks and lasts 38 minutes, but actually the second half is just the reversed version of the first, a trick also used by the punk-hardcore band Lords to fill up the recording space on their short EP The House That Lords Built (2004), probably as an ironic comment on the fuss around the existence of satanic messages appearing in rock records played backwards. In NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana, though, the reversed half is way more functional: the tracks are renamed with titles spelled backwards so that the reversion is not immediately clear to the listener, and the beautiful translucent cover art by Xu Cheng reinforces the concept of a mirrored, two-faced record. At times, the short collages of unconsequential sounds and the almost cut-up style make the songs result actually funnier in their reversed version, especially the weirdest ones. Just give a listen to the eerie .A.N, the hilarious beginning of nnaN or ann, the reverse version of nna, where the pulses of subwoofer bass and the gurgling laments ebb and flow in a dance of unnatural attacks and decays, to understand why I like the liveliness of this stupid record so much.