People Who Do Noise is a new documentary from Portland filmmaker and musician, Adam Cornelius, featuring interviews and performances from cult-collective legends Smegma, as well as Oscillating Innards, Bob Bellerue, Pulse Emitter, Daniel Menche, Josh Hydeman, Yellow Swans, and more. On the surface, it is an extremely well-done, aesthetically good-looking documentary made on an excruciatingly small budget without appearing low-budget or sounding low-budget? but, and I hate to say it, it really misses the mark in overall content. The DVD contains some rad exclusive performances, but the interviews interwoven between cancel out most of the enjoyment. The interviews mostly come across as dilettantish and overly-serious. The Smegma interviews are the main exception here and one of the top reasons to make sure you see this DVD. Their answers are what you'd expect from them; humorous, witty, intelligent. The Yellow Swans and Josh Hydeman, also know how to have fun; but, unfortunately, those who are already into the music featured here won't find many surprises and I think it would do less to inform and more to confuse newcomers.
The documentary starts off with 2 back to back awesome performances from Honed Bastion and Pulse Emitter and the first 20 minutes really make this look promising, but sadly and disappointingly it quickly loses steam and its ultra-serious tone begins to wear on the viewer after a short while. Each artist is pulled aside separately to be interviewed giving an overall sense of the artists being isolated from one another rather than being collectively inspired by each other. There's a dry, lethargic, (pseudo)academic fog clouding over the entire DVD. For the most part everyone just seems bored. Late in the documentary, there is an unsuccessful attempt to break up the somber tone when the question is passed around discussing whether a sense of humor exists in noise, but few give answers that would break more than a smile.
A lot of this feels geared to explaining noise to a bourgeois, high-art crowd. It?s cold, stifling, and seems to try to hard. A big problem to me lies in an unsuccessful attempt to have these artists define what noise is in a larger context rather than staying focused on the microcosm of what noise means specifically to the local Portland scene. There is some discussion obviously, but I shouldn't have to question whether the filmmaker is making a documentary about noise in general or a documentary about noise in Portland? Maybe it should've been called People Who Do Noise In Portland; maybe that would've kept it more focused. Never does it contrast the difference between noise coming out of Portland and noise out of Brooklyn, or Providence, or the undisputed capitol of noisejamming, Detroit, ...or a dozen other places in the world. The documentary is also lacking any history or context and fails to show these artists as being part of a long history of sound experimentation. Only in the DVD extras, do we have some discussion of history, but it comes from Noah Mickens, who comes off pretentiously academic trying to explain the origins of noise-music and is inaccurate on a few of the points that he makes. There's no discussion about the important and highly influential Soleilmoon Recordings which started in Portland the 80s... Daniel Menche who started in the early 90s is included in the DVD for live performance, but that?s it. As a whole, this all just seems loosely thrown together. There?s really not much about Portland?s history at all except when Smegma talk about it. Instead, we're given questions like "Is noise the new punk rock?"... which to me seems irrelevant in 2008. It just makes the whole thing seem humdrum, dry, analytical, and boring when noise and spontaneous music should be anything but?
OK, so after all that I've said, why do I think you should pick up a copy of this DVD anyway? I know I sound like I've trashed the whole thing, but that's not my point here. I mean, honestly, we're talking about an abstract, undefinable word here, so of course there's going to be some differing opinions. Despite all that I see lacking in this release, I have to admit that this is one of the few documentaries that we have right now on noise musicians in the '00s and it's the first to focus solely on Portland noisers, and as such, it still deserves to be watched. Minus the stark tone, this still somehow provides a snapshot of Portland NOW. Maybe if another Portland noise compilation existed to compare this one to, I might say this is non-essential, but since that isn't the case, I say go ahead and pick this up, support the filmmaker and the musicians and file it in your DVD collection alongside 'The Power of Salad', 'Friends Forever', 'Fun From None', the ever-consistently brilliant 'Video Madness' volumes. There's a lot more noise has to offer than what's discussed on this DVD, but I think this is still quite interesting for what it is. 6/10 -- Todd Brooks (24 September, 2008)