Beautiful Noise: Experiments at BIKO
by Celeste Phillips


The three cymbals dance together to the tones of the mellow saxophone. The cowbells sing each time the mallet strikes them. And as the melody takes its crescendo, a beautiful reverberation fills the room. The scene: Experimental Music Night at Isla Vista’s BIKO house.

The concrete garage of the BIKO house transforms on the first Thursday of every month into a celebration of alternative sound. Reds, yellows, greens, and blues cover the walls, melding with every note. I sit cross-legged on the floor of the 15 by 20 foot room, watching three musicians take on a type of sound I have never heard. Without knowing what to expect, I leave my mind and ears open to any possibility. The next song begins with the tape-recorded voice of Langston Hughes and the soft sound of jingle bells. The performer then picks up a pair of drumsticks and brings the cowbells into the mix. The sax player puts his hands to the keys and wails. A third performer moves his fingers along the strings of an instrument unknown to me. Around the room, students and fans sit, watching intently.

The next act is a solo artist whose instruments are pumps and amps. His sound is much louder than the previous group and the regulars have brought their earplugs. The earplugs are worn for simple protection. Respect for these alternative artists fills the room. The third, and final, act is played from a computer. One artist mans the Mac, orchestrating the melody line, while another artist adds rhythm, using his own voice and a large piece of metallic plastic. The beats join together to create a sound, somehow discordant and harmonious.

To the untrained ear, experimental music is simply sound and noise. But the intensity with which the artists create their music gives the sound life. The clang of the cowbells, the wail of the saxophone, and the pulse of the amps, bring a new life into the world. This life, this music, represents an alternative form of the traditional. The artists and creators of experimental music disband from the expected form to create their own. And we find that their sound is as beautiful as the sound of the mainstream, if you take the time to really listen.