Kim Gordon’s Body/Head explores meaning in sound

Last week, the Internet was abuzz about a Twitter spam account. Yes, seriously. @horse_ ebooks, an account in operation since 2011 that tweeted only random sentence fragments and links to obscure self-help books, was unveiled to be a performance art piece staged by a former Buzzfeed staffer. The grand reveal ocurred in an upscale Manhattan art gallery, Susan Orlean was in attendence, and now the rest is Internet history.

Why does a Twitter feed qualify as art? Probably for the same reason Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Bill Nace’s noise-rock project Body/Head is worthy of a one-off performance at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. And that reason is, essentially, “f- — you.”

As bassist of Sonic Youth, and eventual reigning queen of punk, Gordon is no stranger to envelope pushing or transgressive art. Her departure from the band, and subsequent decision to keen over heavily distorted guitar tones as Body/Head, follows the prototypical career trajectory of most anti-establishment rock bands.

Credit should be given where it is due, though, that she did something that would keep her in the spotlight, rather than continue beating the proverbial horse or simply quitting music. For many other bands from Sonic Youth’s era, 2013 was the year of the reunion. Pixies, The Cure and The Police all announced a return to the stage this year. These reformations come at a time when guitar music may be in something of a creative trough. A quick listen to Top 40 radio, or even a brief read of Pitchfork’s homepage, will demonstrate that we seem to have moved on from power chords and drum solos, unless the beat drops or Juicy J guest stars on the track.

Evidently, Gordon and Nace have moved on as well. In performance, Body/Head seemed less experimental and more antithetical. The songs they played contained occasional fragments of something vaguely discernible as a musical idea, not unlike the piecemeal chatter of @ horse_ebooks. Gordon mostly just strummed on a beat and belted words. Nace, meanwhile, was preoccupied with trying to make the most uncomfortable sound possible with his guitar. Occasionally the pair would do something like a breakdown, wherein they straddled between two intervals so atonal, you could feel the sound waves colliding in the air.

The effect was mezmerizing, especially given the fact that there was hardly any sense of rhythm and a video of slow-motion weirdness played behind the duo. The visual accompaniment consisted first of closeups on two characters, and then devolved into something like an Andy Warhol movie played at half speed. The sum of these strange, uncomfortable parts was a roughly one hour set that felt like less than that. I think time might have folded back onto itself to cause this phenomenon.

Body/Head and @horse_ ebooks both run contrary to what we conventionally view as art, and that is why they both deserve attention. Without avant garde projects like these, there would hardly be any significant force to push things forward, especially in the case of Body/Head, a bold ray of light through a crack in the status quo. After all, as Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.”