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The Noise of Noise: Prurient’s Dominick Fernow

Vatican Shadow by © Sven Marquardt
Photo credit: Sven Marquardt

Noise music can trace its roots back to the early 20th century. The Italian futurist Luigi Russolo wrote a manifesto on it, creating sounds through his cleverly designed intonarumori (experimental instruments). With the industrial revolution underway, Russolo proposed that, as a society, it was an apt time to appreciate a much broader sonic palette.

Dominick Fernow, the man behind the influential noise and industrial project Prurient, has undertaken similar aspirations, shaping a musical output built on questions and experiments: something both complex and natural. “It never has to do with the sound,” Fernow says. “I never start with a recording. It’s just not enough. It’s what surrounds the music.”

Fernow has been creating sound and art under the moniker Prurient for over 20 years (he’s also been a part of bands like Cold Cave, Ash Pool, and Vegas Martyrs). It’s been an impressive run. The relationship between the visual and the aural is key to Fernow’s assemblage; it is the truth of his proposition. There’s more to the sound than meets the ear, and the world of visual and literary art is the keyhole to this massive door.

Prurient’s newest record, the abundant Rainbow Mirror (released December 1st via Profound Lore and Hospital Productions), is a testament to all challenging avant-garde and noise music. It is situated in between forces, revolving and shining like an orb within an orb, reflecting blindly off an unknown Man Ray photo.

“I’m very much influenced by the Surrealists and Dadaists,” Fernow says. “Surrealism is really a simple concept and Dada is entirely reactionary. The two are like a great counterpoint. They’re like brother and sister. I think it’s the root of all this stuff I create, the paradoxes, the connections – they’re all the arms of the same cell.”

Though primarily known as a solo project, Prurient actually started as a collaborative one. Twenty years ago, the band’s first live performance was as a trio. It was based around tension and minimalism; specifically, to see how interaction and rawness could interlock with technology and randomness, but formulated and presented like a rock concert, a group of artists playing instruments in front of a crowd.

“It was a concept based on the spirit of collective limitation,” Fernow explains. “For that first show we had we all had one instrument — so we were really restricted to that one role. We were a band in that sense. Prurient has always had a special dichotomy. It’s really following the traditional rock model in a lot of ways.”

Rainbow Mirror pays homage to this tradition. Like Prurient’s first performance 20 years ago, the record features three members: Fernow, Matt Folden (Dual Action), and Jim Mroz (Lussuria). Everything was recorded live, and the substance of the album has deep roots.

Rainbow Mirror was originally a vocal recording that Josh Santek did a long while ago,” Fernow says. “Just a train-of-thought piece that I never really found a way to use. I’ve been adding background to it for years and years now.”

Photo credit: Louis Caldarola
Photo credit: Louis Caldarola

Noise music is a divisive form. There are many preconceived notions and strangely constructed platforms out there. You may think of noise and immediately picture a terrorized cement basement housing musicians with their numerous pedal boards and amps — sometimes you’d be right, it can be that. But there’s also a deep history to noise music, not to mention connections to powerful artistic movements.

Prurient has always felt like a collaborative effort, even when it’s been only Fernow behind the wheel. It’s the band’s connection to the outside consciousness of the greater whole that gives it a furthering of space. There is no shutting off here. It’s a complete intake, a whirlwind to a whirlwind: a great respect for form and of the journey, one dark and unfathomable.

“Noise has changed irrevocably. The sonic palette, as a whole, has created a frequency that’s accepted in general now. So that’s good. The palette is wider than ever before. Society as a whole can absorb more things now, more media; a larger palette of frequency,” Fernow explains. “But I think there’s a lot of tourism in noise now; a lot of people that deny the origins of the form. I feel like there’s an appreciation for the ideas and the gestures, but not many are willing to go the place that it’s truly from.”

Rainbow Mirror goes deep: it sparkles and hisses, drifting from realm to realm. There are nightmares and swoons, layers of roads like water in space; there’s always a direct humanness present, even in the midst of alien forms. Prurient isn’t really cold and disparate, it’s connective and collaborative. The outer lining of the greater sphere is open, willing to explore with the listener and take part in the voyage, wherever it leads.

“The interaction of the people around the music is what is really important. Just by people being present. Music is a visceral and abstract art form, unlike reading and film,” Fernow says. “You hear a sound and it’s an instantaneous reaction. There’s this primordial, visceral quality. No other format can achieve this.”

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