Burlington harsh noise. That is perhaps not a phrase uttered often by Queen City residents when referring to their music. These are the type of sounds that have some listeners upset at the very presentation and invasion of such aural abominations, of the composition of harsh and extreme sounds, to be more specific A form of ambient music, it's the type of music that works on a much more subtler level than most anything else. And I mean on a whole other level. It's the type of stuff that grabs the subconscious and tears it into tiny ribbons. Most are certainly not looking for that type of experience when throwing on a pair of headphones or retreating to the bar for some tunes. But it exists in both spaces.
Grimeology might be Burlington's home and heart for mutilated sounds (or grime) and their co-founder Matthew Mayer — aka A Snake in the Garden — is the man propagating this distinction in Burlington. Grimeology itself is a humble little homegrown outfit started in 2003 with "complete, total, and utter dedication to all sounds filthy, shitty, crusty, dirty, and Grimey®," specializing in cassette tapes and CD-Rs — fitting, in a certain context, to the depth and nature of the sounds found on such hardware. The justification that standardized music media brings would certainly be welcome. But maybe the image wouldn't fit. Or stick. One could derive that Grimeology knows its place in the musical world, truly for better or worse.
Upon entering A Snake in the Garden's studio tracks the vicious assault of feedback arranged into a sound collage of mind-bending violence can be soul shattering at best (or worst). The reaction is certainly down to perspective and there's no arguing with that. It's hard to imagine most even giving the ambiance of noise a chance. But spent more than a moment with, it's certainly interesting. It's hard to note whether that interest might be musically academic or emotional. But it's not a type of expression easily captured through headphones or treble-ridden computer speakers. In fact, in many ways it's impossible.
Live performance is starkly intrinsic to grime. So much so that unlike most music — which can project its emotional energy upon a listener's outstretched mind in almost any context — ambient noise needs the surroundings of the familiar, the untainted, in order to shatter them and mutate them into an unrecognizable atmosphere of filth and energy. The sounds need to touch and squeeze the listener's senses — violently, if need be. It can be toleration in its control over the listener, which is perhaps what is so inaccessible about the style. The bottom line is that grime is music that needs to be experienced and felt, rather than just listened to.
A Snake in the Garden is no exception. I caught one of Mattew's sets a few weeks ago at The Monkey House in Winooski and I left the place shaking. The dramatic effect the set had upon me was certainly a personal interpretation, but it took a particular amount of time to come to grips with my reaction. The atmosphere the sounds created penetrated straight down into a very primal place. The music spoke on an instinctual level that music rarely finds. The place where fight-or-flight rears its head and adrenaline fills the mind. There's a certain amount of trust you have to relinquish in order to be moved, and it would be easy to contextualize the sounds coming from the stage as just "noise" without that trust. The set only lasted about ten minutes.
The most fascinating aspect of the performance was the brutal and utter honesty that Matthew was able to bring to the wreckage. It would be easy to conceptualize composition and hide behind electronics while feedback sputters and drones. But A Snake in the Garden gives you intimate and personal knowledge of the universe that he's created. It's as if you're peering into a small galaxy of life and memory before he destroys it right before your eyes with regret and duty.
A Snake in the Garden is an important part of Burlington whether the city and populace know it or want it. Honest expression is what most musicians strive for, and I've never seen or experienced it as palpably as A S I T G. I will definitely be going out the next time the man is playing in town.