• Reviews

    Torturing Nurse – In Ruins

    In RuinsTorturing Nurse
    In Ruins
    3” CDr, Shasha Records, 2006

    I’ve been in and out of Shanghai since 2006, and each time I return to the city I can’t help considering how much Shanghai has changed, and how this impression isn’t simply a consequence of less than a decade of intermittent visits and stays. “What do I think of Shanghai?” – a local friend, born and raised there, takes her time to reply to a question by a first-time city visitor: “It’s always changing. The buildings, the landscape. It changes. A lot.” In the crevices between stylized narratives (from the Whore of the Orient to the Paris of the East to the blueprint of China’s urban future) and aestheticized contrasts (Puxi versus Pudong, tradition versus hypermodernity, the hot hell of Beijing versus the cold hell of Shanghai) lie the corrugated histories of everyday lives traversed by the shifting configurations of urban change. In terms of sound ecologies, the place occupied by the auditory presence of construction work in the living matrix of the city is perhaps a good example of these everyday rugosities of change: in contrast to other Chinese metropolitan areas undergoing more recent and more reckless waves of development and renovation, unfolding on the massive scales of peripheral conurbations or engulfing entire districts, the relatively long history of Shanghai’s multilayered urbanism has by now trapped the concrete sounds of demolition (拆迁, chāiqiān) in the walled pockets of construction/destruction sites popping up around the city overnight, remodeling housing blocks piecemeal, and weaving a cyclical patchwork quilt of noises which stands as a contrappunto to the routines of urban living. In a conversation with Bivouac Recording‘s own Terence Lloren about the label’s long-standing series of soundwalks Growing Up With Shanghai, graphic designer Ericson Corpuz reflects on this peculiarity:

    It is the never-ending construction in Shanghai that stands out. The raw sound of concrete scraping, being torn down and being rebuilt stands out from the everyday cackle of the City. [It is] the stains on the road, the concrete walls that are witnesses to the sounds that make the Shanghai experience rich and memorable.

    It is precisely the sounds witnessed by the concrete walls of Shanghai’s construction sites that Torturing Nurse engage with in this EP. In Ruins is perhaps my favourite release from the outfit: as a minor work from their early years, and perhaps their most conceptual record (so to say) it is also the one that better situates Torturing Nurse as a noise act emerging from the Shanghai of the mid-2000s. Ethnomusicologically speaking, In Ruins documents how a trio of locals, in their early efforts of forging a distinctive sound in an aesthetic community largely obsessed with Japanoise, turned their ears and hands towards their daily experience and the closest noise at hand – the tools and rubble available in each construction site and abandoned semi-demolished unit – and broke in one of them with the sole purpose of sounding the ruins of Shanghai. Despite the faux-glitch transparencies and cut&paste photos of the recording activity that characterize the artwork, In Ruins isn’t yet the solipsistic post-harsh noise meditations of 不活了’s Xin Fu, picking up the sounds of the chattering city with cheap digital devices and bitcrushing distortions. What Junky, Youki & Miriam mapped, quite physically, in this EP is the raw sound of the materials of urban change hidden behind the temporary whitewashed walls and metal fences of construction sites: short, metallic echoes; things, smashed one against the other; ruined structures, collapsing; screams, bored parodies of repetitive physical labor. In In Ruins there is no order nor thought nor composition, but not even disorder, frenzy or excitement. There is rather randomness, dejected constance, casual bursts of violence and animalesque grunts, which at times make the EP sound like a disturbing audio veritè of a mental institution.

    The 17-minute recording starts with a thump, echoing in a tail of backdrop ambience – passing engines and car honks which pulsate with the presence of saturated audio; the trio screams, bangs rocks on concrete, shatters glass and ceramics, crashes pieces of metal, breaks wooden planks. The urgency of the first minutes has nothing of the naturalistic intent of extracting the sound of specific matter – it’s just a mess, a senseless outburst of caged insanity, a romp. Vocalizations get weirder, gusts of wind rumble in the condenser microphones of the portable recorder – one more object among objects – as the thuds of discard and junk punctuate the space in uncertain regularities. Some droning sounds hint at the possibility of one of them tinkering with a portable device, maybe a small amplifier. Basslines and beats from a pop hit filter through the walls, at some point, as a car with a loud sound system passes by. Things are dragged, scraped on the pavement, thrown around, smashed in different combinations without any climax to aim for or any progression orienting the process. The praxis of sounding is not experimental: there is no trial and error because there is no goal. There are instead instinctive rhythmic figures, repeated sketched crescendos, ending with the mistreated object shattering or being thrown away in pseudo-ritual screams. Listening to In Ruins in its entirety is unexpectedly cathartic: a few minutes into the record the sounds lose their specificities, and a sense of primal immediacy sets in. As the anger subsides, Torturing Nurse quickly lose their fascination for full-on destruction, and settle for an annoyed tinkering with sonorous tools: they crumple sheets of paper, knock on wood, pour rubble on the ground, and slowly drift back into the regular hum of muffled traffic around them.


  • Reviews

    Torturing Nurse – NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana

    NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNanaTorturing Nurse
    CDr, Obscurica, 2005

    It’s probably too easy and predictable to start a blog about Chinoise talking about Torturing Nurse, but at the same time it’s also the most coherent and fair way of doing it. After all, great part of the “idea” of harsh noise in China – especially for foreign audiences – was informed by Junky, Xu Cheng and friends’ overabundant production. There has been noise, experimental music and glitchy electronics in China before, but it’s with Torturing Nurse that harsh noise finds its own Chinese ambassadors.

    If I have to start from Torturing Nurse, then I’ll gladly avoid the all too popular bondage performances (that actually underplay what Torturing Nurse has been, musically, for years) to focus instead on music itself. My choice is also a matter of a listener’s personal history: NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana was the the first noise record from China I came in contact with, back in 2006.

    NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana is a stupid record – and I’m talking here of a sonic stupidity somehow akin to Prurient’s The History of AIDS. Stupidity here does not refer to the musicians but to the sound itself: the tracks are so blatantly direct and the frequency range so randomly unrefined, shifting and coarsely trimmed that every song transmits a sense of vulgar obtusity. Take nna, all built on a foundation of a sub bass frequency panned jerkily from left to right with gurgling vocals perched on top, or AnRa, four seconds describing the unplugging of a cable, or again Nann, with raspy screams over a clean mixer feedback pulse: simplicity drawn to its extreme consequences yields a homely and genuine version of harsh noise not moored in overmastered distortions and massive layering. Other tracks, like Anna, Lan or Qan, present piercing curls of distorted feedback over a backdrop of rumbling bass, a spectrum of decaying frequencies reminding of certain more abstract compositions by Sightings. Occasionally videogame sounds, Boredoms-style screaming and overdriven guitars appear in the background, enriching the sonic bouquet with a refreshing attitude typical of young projects not yet constrained by expectations and codified styles. I say this with a hint of disappointment, since NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana is in my opinion one of the best Torturing Nurse records and its freshness remains (yet) unsurpassed in their gargantuan discography.

    The album contains 47 tracks and lasts 38 minutes, but actually the second half is just the reversed version of the first, a trick also used by the punk-hardcore band Lords to fill up the recording space on their short EP The House That Lords Built (2004), probably as an ironic comment on the fuss around the existence of satanic messages appearing in rock records played backwards. In NanaNanaNanaNanaNanaNana, though, the reversed half is way more functional: the tracks are renamed with titles spelled backwards so that the reversion is not immediately clear to the listener, and the beautiful translucent cover art by Xu Cheng reinforces the concept of a mirrored, two-faced record. At times, the short collages of unconsequential sounds and the almost cut-up style make the songs result actually funnier in their reversed version, especially the weirdest ones. Just give a listen to the eerie .A.N, the hilarious beginning of nnaN or ann, the reverse version of nna, where the pulses of subwoofer bass and the gurgling laments ebb and flow in a dance of unnatural attacks and decays, to understand why I like the liveliness of this stupid record so much.