Chris Durnin and Corvallis’ Experimental Front

Chris Durnin is a name you should know; a promoter and organizer of experimental and noise music locally, he founded the monthly shows at Interzone that attracts bands from Corvallis to as far away as North Carolina. He started booking the “Free Noise Show” events three years ago, and it has been a wild ride ever since.

What is noise music, exactly? Maybe not what you think. Noise is actually a fairly broad category of experimental music that encompasses a diverse range of style and influence, but it is unified in one principle: freedom of expression.

Finding Acceptance in Corvallis
Durnin grew up in the sprawling northern suburbs of Indianapolis. As a youngster, Durnin’s first love was with punk music, listening to bands like NOFX, Green Day, and Rancid. As he got older, he soon began to appreciate a swath of different musical styles from hip hop to world music, but still he searched for something a little less orthodox.

Along with a friend of his in Brooklyn, they began to play a game where they would try to find the most heinous music available. In this exploration, the untamed styles of experimental, free jazz, and noise music emerged. Durnin, who never considered himself a great musician, enjoyed the pure energy that came out of noise music – as well as the lack of constraints intrinsic to well-rehearsed and polished sounds.

 Although he lived in a bigger city, the Midwest was a less hospitable environment for his particular musical tastes. As he did research, Durnin found the Pacific Northwest already had a well-established home for noise music, and generally a much more accepting community. So, he hit that dusty trail.

Free and Inclusive
Freedom to do whatever with the music is the driving force in making noise inclusive. Durnin explains that noise is unique in that it is solely about the music and has no established scene or aesthetic that accompanies it. At shows, he’s had performer’s show up in their corporate suit and tie. There are no strobe lights or smoke machine’s, either. It is just the music stripped down, with the house lights up.

At a show last month, a dozen or so people stood in the doorway huddled around a guy playing a jaw harp. The young jaw harpist from Cottage Grove was just one of five musicians on the stage that night. The next performer, a musician from Olympia with a portable black soundboard, played an uninterrupted set of ear-rattling digital music.

From the face, noise resembles a lot of things. Some of noise is harsh and abrasive, distortion-driven sound. It can be digital or analog. A lot of performers make their own instruments. Durnin prefers the harsh, pedal-driven (ie. Guitar pedals) noise, but has lately opened his shows up to a variety of styles within the genre in order to attract more people.

Emulating the more established noise landscape in Eugene, he approached the owner of Interzone, Bill McCanless, to do a regular noise show. At first, Bill was hesitant because people would often book shows and not show up. Eventually he agreed, and Durnin began organizing shows each month with 10 or 11 acts a show.

The point of having it free is to bring in the crowds. Some of the more accomplished bands that stop through on cross-country tours play pro bono solely to promote the music, and to do what they love: make noise.

Noise Festival in the Works
Durnin is planning a local noise music festival on March 31 at the Majestic Theater. The planned event located on the second floor of the iconic theater will feature over 30 acts, all from the Willamette Valley. Although, normally local noise shows are free, this event will have a small cover of $5 at the door, which will go entirely to the Majestic in hosting such an event.

The Festival will also include featured local artists, handmade musical instruments, and tables for different groups. In addition, one of the three rooms on the upper floor of the Majestic will be transformed by Portland artist and musician, the Halloweener.  

Durnin knows that noise music will ultimately see a bigger following and influence over time. But he sees the main draw for making noise music is simply to have fun.

“All were doing is making noise,” Durnin exclaims. If you are curious, don’t be afraid to drop in to see the next show, or sit in and make some noise. Who knows, you just may fall in love with it.

By Chris McDowell