Trying to fathom the arcane and somewhat frustrating demeanor that shrouds a Bay Area noisenik is like cross-examining Walt Disney on LSD. I've been at the mercy of Rubber O Cement's Bonnie Banks for the past week, meticulously querying the mumbo jumbo he (or she, as Banks likes to be referred to) sends in response to interview questions while nagging him for answers to my more dogged inquiries. One e-mail reply might yield a pensive thought, only to be followed by a farrago of chaotic imagery — swarms of schizo babble about vocal chord mulch, mosquito broccoli, and rabid zombie snowmen. When asked what people can expect from the impending Brutal Sound Effects Festival, Banks answers that performers "will present the sound of a stuffed horse and cat calliope skidded via hydroplane base into a volcano of semi-liquid thorium pellets." In another e-mail he writes that he hopes people will come to the event "adorning their larger-than-life scramble nightmare Bosch slip-and-slide mask."
Though put off at first by Banks's excursive, seemingly psychotomimetic rants, I soon realize this is his world. What I mistook as some puerile screwball who's simply fucking with me — I'm still convinced he's doing that to a degree — is actually the eccentric, visionary heart of the Bay Area noise scene.
Since the early 1980s, Banks has exhaustively chiseled San Francisco into the West Coast hub for underground noise by playing in prominent acts such as Caroliner, bringing up young bands (his musical influence has extended from Wolf Eyes to Deerhoof), and encouraging others to engage in the scene. In 1995 he established the Brutal Sound Effects Festival — a musical community of misfits who, according to Hans Grusel of Hans Grusel's Krankenkabinet, "didn't fit in anywhere else." Shortly afterward, Banks founded an online BSFX message board where people could discuss noise acts, events, and other bizarre topics.
Now in its 40th incarnation — Banks is said to organize four to five events a year — the forthcoming BSFX Festival includes some of the Bay Area's renowned noise addicts: Xome provides power noise onslaughts, and Nautical Almanac's James "Twig" Harper indulges in electronic cannibalism. Other notable acts include Anti Ear and Bran (...) pos of Beandip Troubadours, Skozey Fetisch, and Joseph Hammer of the Los Angeles Free Music Society in Psicologicos Trama, offering "a fun way to sample experimental sound," says Joel Shepard, film curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which is hosting the event for the first time. Each act will integrate improvised film and video clips into a short performance, creating what Shepard describes as "a real multimedia sensory overload event." If something seems boring, he adds, there will be another performance in minutes.
"I've been really impressed with what he's been doing," Shepard says, referring to the industrious Banks. "I find what he's doing to be a very important part of the art and cultural scene in San Francisco, and I want to show my support."
The freaks and geeks of BSFX push performance art to its limits, playing under unpronounceable aliases and often incorporating elaborate costumes and scenery unlike anything you see at conventional concerts. Musicians execute a medley of odd sounds using home-wired equipment and analog gadgets at warehouses like the Clit Stop and Pubis Noir. Blistering resonance is one element at these shows. Relying heavily on feedback and distortion, artists such as Xome, Randy Yau, and Tralphaz create a getting-sucked-through-a-vacuum effect by hooking up 20 guitar pedals and feeding them into each other. But don't be fooled — not all noise acts use volume as an instrument.