The violence enacted by noise and industrial music has been, from their very inception, directed towards the body in one way or another. Shattering its insides, penetrating its skin, transgressing all of its boundaries, they are musics that draw the domination of nature to its harshest consequence — an organic pain inflicted in the key of progress. It is not, however, a sort of absolute pain (as romantic longing for nature), but one that concedes the complexity of the body-mind relationship when it states the obvious: some of us like this stuff. This kind of pleasurable harm presents a very modern revelation with which tradition prefers to be iron-fisted, in the sense that when taboos are broken there is often a disciplinary ritual process of social healing, of reintegration, but what happens when that ritual enacts even more violence upon the body it is attempting to restore? Such is the portrayal of Rumpsringa by She Spread Sorrow, with which the artist, Alice Kundalini, appropriates the long history of the genre’s violence towards women (power electronics is, in most cases, an apt name for what it describes) and does something very, well, industrial with it.
Rumpsringa is the term used in certain Amish communities to refer to adolescence in general, but adolescence in this case is a kind of trial that ends with the teenager’s decision to either join the church or leave for another community altogether. As a time of trial, it represents that point not only at which identity becomes a part of consciousness, but also when the body grows up and the mind with it, all those new thoughts and desires colliding with those of others as well as those of the society that in many ways engenders them. It is with this theme that the album operates, and the images that accompany it are striking for the contrast between the pleasurable and the cruel, the ‘pretty’ and the ‘ugly’, the suggestion that it is during this trial when those categories emerge and are made finally concrete in the choice between what is implicitly the right set of laws and its other, less virtuous counterpart.
With the gruelling electronics and elements such as the sweet whispers that make up a track like “Inertia Malaise”, SSS collapses what seems like a natural opposition, and instead of taking the harder, dogmatic route of artists like Theologian, who reverse those categories to present a new natural opposition, she muddles the field entirely. “My guilt is my pleasure”, one of the images says, its ambiguity reflecting the sort of effect we can all experience with extreme kinds of music, in which the moral becomes just another aesthetic element – the more wrong it feels (to the ears, to the skin), the more enjoyable it is. By grinding this confrontation into a certain set of (noisy) sounds, texts, and images, SSS turns around the violence that power directs at bodies such as hers, whether through rites of passage or musical expressions, and internalizes it as precisely that which gives that body a certain kind of pleasure. “She Spread Sorrow is chastity, She Spread Sorrow is discipline, She Spread Sorrow is denial”; it finds freedom in aesthetics, a way of feeling that takes judgement away from the trial’s final decision and makes its oppression known in an entirely sensual, corporeal manner.
The Rumspringa, like many other rites of its kind (secular or not), might be an institutional limbo, a horizon constituted completely out of expectations and judgement, mapping youth as a perilous geography constantly in resistance out of misguidance and lack of familiarity with the law. Like many other rites, it also never takes into account the possibility of said youth over-identifying solely with the expectation and the judgement, their violations expressing not discomfort but utter comfort, the harm brought upon by restoration and correction integrated into an eroticism that cares for virtue inasmuch it is the only source of perversion, of very specific types of pleasure. This is how SSS folds the violence of power electronics, stripping it of its virile declarations of war to claim it as a key part of a much more interesting form of subversion in which those in transition, those who are in principle powerless (or are offered an illusion of power), gleefully show how wrongly that power, by its own moral measures, can be received and turned around in forms that look the same as it does, that look like tradition, but that actually feel very, very different.
In the end, an album like Rumpsringa presents a wide array of interpretations, and it is this complexity, this opening up, what makes it so compelling as an artwork with which to reflect upon noise music in general. If you enjoy an extremity that is not all Merzbow walls of sound, then this album is definitely for you, and you should get it… now. You’ll like it. (David Murrieta)