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The Art Of Noise

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Twenty-five years ago, Lou Reed ignored conventional musicality and dared fans to endure one hour of bloodcurdling feedback noise on Metal Machine Music. The album became a cult favorite and Buddha Records just released an anniversary edition. ”We think it’s beautiful,” says Buddha exec Alex Miller. ”You either love it or you hate it and lots of people love it.” Reed was not alone in sacrificing melodious tuneage at art’s altar. Here’s a guide to noisy odes, sublime and absurd.

— Evan Serpick

METAL MACHINE MUSIC Lou Reed

DESCRIPTION Four unbroken tracks of machine-generated squawks and whistles

WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”Realism was the key,” wrote Reed in the liner notes.

WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”Here’s another damn album!”

LENGTH 63 min., 31 sec.

LISTENABLE LENGTH Two minutes: one to hear the nuances, another to realize there won’t be any new ones

”YOU SUFFER” (off Scum) Napalm Death

DESCRIPTION A cough and a few drumbeats, clocking in at just under one second

WHAT THEY MEANT TO CONVEY ”Manic nirvana,” per the album packaging

WHAT THEY DID CONVEY ”I’m choking!”

LENGTH 0.75 sec.

LISTENABLE LENGTH 0.75 seconds; even if you wanted to, it would be difficult to cut it short.

”WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH” (off Weasels Ripped My Flesh) Frank Zappa

DESCRIPTION Atonal organ mush from a live concert in Birmingham, England

WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”We’re weird.”

WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”We’re weird.”

LENGTH 2 min., 7 sec.

LISTENABLE LENGTH Buoyed by crowd cheers, unimpaired fans might get through a minute.

ASCENSION John Coltrane

DESCRIPTION Unstructured, chordless jazz on acid

WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”Abandonment of all jazz traditions” say the liner notes.

WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”This is fun.”

LENGTH 79 min., 27 sec.

LISTENABLE LENGTH 79 minutes, 27 seconds. Varied, with a sense of adventure. Still, this ain’t easy listening.

HEART OF A WOMAN Kathie Lee Gifford

DESCRIPTION Twelve sappy, wince-inducing tracks from Reege’s ex-partner

WHAT SHE MEANT TO CONVEY ”I can sing!”

WHAT SHE DID CONVEY ”I can’t sing at all!”

LENGTH 47 min., 41 sec.

LISTENABLE LENGTH As long as it takes to lunge for the stop button