Of all the cities in the world where you might expect to find a flourishing noise music community, Ann Arbor, Michigan is probably not one of them. A college town on the outskirts of Detroit, Ann Arbor remains in a constant state of flux as students filter in and out. A new batch of undergrads sporting “U Mich” T-shirts filter in and out every four years, and rented houses switch hands every few months, gradually falling more and more into a condition of tired dilapidation.
The town itself screams for an electrified jolt of revival, or, at the very least, a new coat of paint. Perhaps it’s for these very reasons that noise, drone, and trip metal have found such a comfortable home in the groggy back-alleys of Ann Arbor, hiding out from the echoing chants of college life and sports culture just a few blocks away.
For the uninitiated, noise and drone stress experimental dissonance, and the evening of October 7 was no exception to this sense of instability in motion. As a storm outside accosted the sidewalk outside of Club Above with the kind of wind and rain necessary to a change of seasons, the music venue’s upstairs room radiated the sweaty, oppressive heat of bodies packed close together. Hosted by Club Above on behalf of the David Lynch Foundation, which benefits Transcendental Meditation practices, the crowd awaited the arrival of Aaron Dilloway, Windy & Carl, and the headliner, Wolf Eyes.
Originating in Detroit in 1997, Wolf Eyes has generated a considerably large cult following for a band that creates such harsh, dissonant compositions. Currently comprised of Nate Young, John Olson, and Jim Baljo, Wolf Eyes has released over 100 recordings since their 1997 conception, and have toured with the likes of Sonic Youth and collaborated with Black Dice. Though it’s relatively easy to categorize the band based on their involvement with other artists, their specific recordings squeeze past the grasp of mental clarification and order. A steady current of submerged, itching drone streams throughout their albums, forcefully guiding listeners to a place of internal monologue.
But why book Wolf Eyes for an event that’s designed to benefit Transcendental Meditation (TM), a practice meant to bring peace to those suffering from traumatic stress disorders and diagnosed PTSD? “TM works by bringing the mind to the simplest state of human awareness, transcendental consciousness, where consciousness opens to it self,” said Sylvia Rivera, a specialist at the Downtown Chicago TM Center. “During the TM technique, the individual’s awareness settles down and experiences a unique state of restful alertness. As the body becomes deeply relaxed, the mind transcends all mental activity.”
As I glanced around the crowd during Wolf Eyes hour-long set, multiple men with bleach blonde David Lynch-esque hairstyles and women with fringe skirts sat cross-legged and closed-eyed on the dirty concert floor. They swayed back-and-forth rhythmically with the pulsating music, as if they had reached a separate plane of reality entirely.
Olson (or perhaps, “dribbling crazed inzane johnny,” his email persona) is familiar with the benefits of TM, and practices a similar method daily after attending a clinic that practiced meditation through mindfulness. On a West Coast tour, the band was given an MP3 of Lynch reading excerpts of his book involving TM with recordings of KISS stage banter buzzing afterwards. “Can’t really top that for spiritualism,” Olson added.
Sporting sunglasses indoors at midnight, Young paced the stage as he screamed largely unintelligible, rhythmic murmurs into the microphone. Members of the audience continued to drop to the floor as the clock struck 12:30. A heavy, alert sleepiness travelled through the crowd – the perfect breeding ground for subconscious speculation. “(TM has) affected the sound in the best, most positive, progressive ways imaginable,” said Olson. “It keeps (us) performing in the moment, disciplines the “busy-ness” aspect to fingers and music making, and keeps the jams from being a fifty-yard sprint to the finish line. You have each sound develop and infect the earth in its own manner. TM gives life to every sound; it’s like a garden for the musician. Slow it down and think better, clearer- it’s the sweet spot where everything can flow.”
Unsurprisingly, TM is known for the ways many artists believe it can broaden the creative mind. Practiced by sitting silently, eyes closed, for 40 minutes a day, the goal of the method is to open up the human consciousness to itself. “The experience (of TM) enlivens the natural innate intelligence of body and mind, stimulating creativity and lifting anxiety and fear caused by the high stress of life, the fast pace of the world,” added Rivera. “We are all hardwired to have this experience, but have not had a mechanism to achieve this state until now.”
Lynch’s art itself is highly driven by the internal state reached by TM, according to his book, Catching the Big Fish: Mediation, Consciousness and Creativity, displaying drowsy, alternative versions of reality in Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet. His works, now cult favorites for the Millennial generation, capture variants of the world we navigate each day, but this time drenched in a heavy coating of syrup; all is decelerated, the sensory details heightened. “Lynch is pure charisma. He’s his own person, the consummate American Wild West Individualistic Visionary,” said Olson.
In a noise scene where so many artists are born, buzz, and gradually burn out, Wolf Eyes’ almost 20-year-old career is unusual. When asked where that desire and ambition originates, Olson gave an answer as poetically cryptic as the scripts of Lynch, “There is always new equipment, new subtleties to explore. The map of sound is bottomless, endless: every single detail needs to be investigated with ceaseless lust. Words can only go so far: sound is the opposite. Universe in braille is the objective.”
Keep up with Wolf Eyes here.