A vision for subcultural contextualisation
For the last seven years, I have been heavily involved in Tokyo’s underground music scene performing regularly, collaborating with different artists, and organising many events. In that environment, I have sought to be salt and light as well as a faithful, supportive friend.
The most intriguing and exciting music I am involved in is noise music.1 Unless you have come across it before, noise music is probably nothing like what you have ever imagined could pass for music! Crashing waves of distortion and feedback, a veritable maelstrom of audio chaos! No singing, no melodies, no rhythms—a no-holds-barred, undistilled exploration of extreme sonic textures.
As I’ve immersed myself in underground music culture, particularly the subculture of noise, I’ve often pondered how the Bible relates to these communities. Not only in terms of sharing the gospel, but in relation to the actual sounds, music-making, and artistry in itself. I’ve also continually grappled with what discipleship might look like with my noise friends. What format would Bible study or church look like within this subculture? What appropriate resources are available that they would connect well with? I’ve been long on questions but short on answers.
I want to deepen my involvement and impact in the noise scene, both locally and globally. However, I’m not interested in doing this by raising my profile as an artist. Personal relationships in the context of community have been, and continue to be, my top priority. Last year, I concluded that to take things further, deeper, and longer, I need to develop a comprehensive, biblically informed perspective on noise and noise music.
My vision is to reshape perspectives on noise, with the goal of pointing ears, minds, and creative hands to the glory of Christ and the expansion of his kingdom in the sonic realm.
Blogging about noise music and theology
The first step in my writing and research has been to start a weekly blog called The Word on Noise (www.TheWordOnNoise.com; currently English only, with selected Japanese content in the planning stages).
Why a blog? It means I can start getting my ideas out there now and provide a steady flow of material for my noise friends to absorb, while allowing me to improve my writing skills. And a blog opens up channels for conversation and feedback, which I can take on board.
As well as writing for my noise friends and for experimental and avant-garde music lovers around the world, I also hope my articles will be interesting for Christians who are involved in the arts in some way or who think seriously about how to apply the Bible to different spheres of life. Although I’m writing specifically about noise and noise music, a lot applies to music and the arts in general.
The ultimate noisician
God has many names and titles in the Bible that refer to familiar concepts: shepherd, father, gate, provider, king, builder, and lion, to name just a few. No name is exhaustive in its scope of what it teaches us about God’s character, but each one contributes to our understanding of how great, deep, and marvellous God is in all his ways. There is always perfect harmony among God’s attributes; paradoxes, yes, but no contradictions or conflict within the Godhead.
Paul writes in Romans 1:20 (NIV) that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Because God is revealed and reflected in his creation, I expect to be able to find never-ending parallels of truth in both the natural world and in human culture.
God’s creation is astonishingly detailed and diverse, and I am compelled to go deeper than the simple assertion that “it’s amazing because God created it,” true as that is. With the Bible as my foundation, I want to go as deep as possible into exploring how noise music reveals God and how theology can guide and inform the creative art of this music style.
God speaks many times in the Bible, but aside from speaking, the sounds that the Bible associates with God are very noisy: thunder, earthquakes, rushing waters, and so on. He is the ultimate noisician—creating noise, structuring sound, and communicating through his noise! These passages teach us about God’s attributes of power, glory, holiness, majesty, sovereignty, wisdom, and much more. Once I understood that noise can be perceived and harnessed as pointers to who God is, it took my appreciation and love for noise music to a whole new level!
Beauty in noise
Noise music can be found in different parts of the world, but Japan is widely regarded as the mecca of noise. What makes the Japanese noise scene special? It’s partly historical, but I believe it is also cultural. I think there are aspects of Japanese cultural sensibilities that find their way into Japanese noise and give it something distinct.
Silence and space. Shadows and form. Subtlety and detail. The transience of cherry blossoms. The sensory overload of pachinko parlours. The immersive escape of onsens. Taking concepts, feelings, and technology to extremes. An emotional—more than intellectual—approach to truth and art. These themes are familiar to anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time. They pervade much of the culture, and all have the potential to reflect spiritual truths. And yes, these connections even find expression in noise music of all places!
Japan’s many cultures
In writing my blog and this article, I’m not trying to persuade anyone to “get into noise music” or to suddenly start “using noise music for the gospel” in their own church or ministry. Far from it! I simply believe that any field of interest unavoidably reflects and embodies biblical truths about the character of God, the nature of man, and the truths of the gospel. In God’s providence, I have the privilege and responsibility of attempting to unpack these connections in the context of the Japanese noise music scene.
A Japanese pastor once told me that he used to think that Japanese culture was essentially one culture. Over time he came to realise that Japan is actually made up of numerous subcultures, each with their own specific identity, codes, values, rules, and language. Every circle in Japan, therefore, has its own unique possibilities for discovering and embracing the eternal truths of the gospel and the Kingdom. I’m so happy that even the weird world of noise music is included among the cultures of the world that can be touched by God’s truth and grace.
1. For more information about Noise Music, see an article by Dave Skipper, Japan Harvest, Spring 2012, p. 20.
Photo provided by author
Dave Skipper is from the UK, and his wife Heidi is from Finland. They are part of the Innovative Ministries Team of Japan Baptist Fellowship, and have been living in Tokyo with their family since 2010. Dave blogs at TheWordOnNoise.com