Prairie Noise Invasion II (PNI 2) will re-convene at the Rose Bowl Tavern on September 8th beginning at 9:30 p.m. PNI is a collective of local musicians and sound artists dedicated to performing experimental sound, including: drone/noise, noise-pop, ambient, harsh noise, and synth-grind.
The first Prairie Noise Invasion debuted on August 31st, 2019, billed as “Experiments and adventures in sound, to resonate a hallowed room of wood. Honorably at the Rose Bowl Tavern." PNI 2 — happening almost exactly two years and one global pandemic later — has kept its original ethos, its preference for a local lineup, and its presentation of electronic sound art. “Experimental sound” and “experimental music” have often been shorthand for “anything goes,” whether that meant sounds, instruments, or production. In this case, the experiments are with electronic equipment, their atmospheric capabilities, and emotional intensity. With their respective performances, the artists of PNI 2 explore how “noise” is evocative, what it can evoke, and what kinds of expressive capabilities it can have.
This year’s contributing artists include: Blind Equation (Bloomington, IL), Vor Pilatus, Extremely Mundane, and Zoey (all from Champaign-Urbana).
Photo by Thomas Gabriellini / Ribshot Visuals.
Blind Equation is PNI 2’s only out-of-town act, hailing from Bloomington, IL. Creating emotional cybergrind since 2012, the artist released the first of six recording projects, Too Weird to Live, Too Strange to Die, in February 2013. The most recent, Life is Pain released on September 3rd, 2021.
Of the four artists performing, Blind Equation is the most unapologetically digital. In addition to 8-bit samples, the drum machines are typically written and altered to play faster than possible for a human musician. The six projects combine drum machines and classic NES video game music with hardcore metal screaming techniques and sampled spoken audio. All of this filters through the chaos + high-energy aesthetic of grindcore—the “grind” of cybergrind.
Photo by Alan Mitchell
Vor Pilatus specializes in scrapes & scratches and tape noise. Demo (2016) is for all the ASMR enthusiasts—it is filled with vintage static and white noise. More recent pre-2020 projects like Scout (2018) and Trust (2019) experiment with altered instruments and tones underneath electronic feedback. The artist’s 2020 and 2021 work reach for tonal and ambient aesthetics much less, focusing on visceral changes between electronic sounds.
Vor Pilatus maintains a similar digital aesthetic to Blind Equation but scales back the high-energy grinding beat. They combine classic tape-looping techniques, sampled spoken-word audio, and voice manipulation with noise walls to create intensity through volume and repetition, both on Fawn Response (March, 2021) and their project Cyclone Tongue with Yotzeret Sheydim (August, 2021).
Photo by Ben Pankaw
If there’s an ambient artist in this lineup, then it’s Extremely Mundane. The artist’s self-titled album released April 1, 2021, and takes a noticeable break from both the NES electronics and static-forward sound blocks. While the artist makes liberal use of drum machines and synthesizers, the core of each track is based on tones that might have been acoustic pre-production. “Sounds Like a Movie” is of all the most ethereal, but even the less ethereal tracks make some references to instruments—garage band guitars, sampled pop vocals, and film soundtracks.
What ties Extremely Mundane and the rest of the artist’s body of work together is how transferable the signature arcs of ascending and descending are. Whether it’s heavily synthesized (“Sounds Like a Movie”), underscoring dance beats (“I Look Like Me”) or laid down with an electric guitar (“Marjorie Taylor Greene Makes Me Horny”) the signature is always there.
Photo by Yam Lin
Zoey is by far PNI 2’s widest collaborator. One look at her Bandcamp discography shows twenty-eight unique releases dating from 2018, and the majority are collaborative projects. It makes more than a little sense that the architect of this event would be an excellent collaborator—the artist is both a performer and organizer, both of PNI 2 and other projects.
Zoey’s early releases focus on experimental guitar work and sound manipulation, and the presence of distinct instrumental sounds throughout her work reflects this early influence. These sonic references to memories of instruments heard in other times and places gives each track a unique sense of nostalgia, while at the same time carrying it forward. This is not a music that longs for the past.
As a sound installation, Prairie Noise Invasion II examines sound production as both a compositional and improvisational process. Technology, in this setting, is not only a conveyance for sound or a means of reproducing a sound object. At the same time, the installation can’t be reduced to technology-as-instruments (though each artist’s setup is undoubtedly an instrument). The artists aim collectively to do what recording alone cannot: create a collective, emotive sound experience that is impermanent by design.