WRUW’s “Harsh Noise” Problem



Some disc jockeys are really into broadcasting long tracks of radio-static-sounding “noise wall” and raise a fuss when management asks them not to. Such is the case at Case Western’s WRUW last week, when Dominic Kavelski, known as “Medium D,” the disc jockey of “Delicious Delusions of a Discriminating Mind” on the station, forwarded an email chain to Scene and other outlets crying censorship from the station’s student managers who asked him to stop playing it.

Medium D — who’s done more than 220 shows in three-plus years there — loves the “harsh noise” genre, particularly the music of French artist Vomir whose tracks often last between 30 or 60 minutes and sound like he held a microphone in the wind and looped the resulting audio for an arbitrarily long time. But it’s “art,” and something that should be allowed to be played on a college rock station that prides itself on staying out of the mainstream, the DJ argues. This is his most played song at WRUW:

“This is going to sound strange to you, but a lot of the stuff I love now I used to hate,” he told Scene in a phone interview, saying he’s developed a deep appreciation for Vomir and fellow noise-makers Nightmare Castle. To be asked to not play the music he enjoys the most is unacceptable, he said.

For listeners who may have tuned into the station in the midst of a half-hour-long “harsh noise” track, it could very well be confused as really bad radio static, management said: “Because noise wall can be misinterpreted as WRUW being off the air, we have decided that playing it does not align with our primary purpose,” station general manager Bethany Kaufman wrote in an email to the programmer. “Our primary purpose is to provide eclectic programming that reflects the interests of the students and the Cleveland community… Additionally, WRUW is owned and operated by the University, and we are responsible to them for our programming. WRUW is not an appropriate platform for this genre.”

But that “static” argument is bullshit to Medium D: “It’s just like how my mom thinks Twisted Sister and (death metal group) Obituary are the same band. That’s what that argument sounds like to me.” (The station issued a public statement on Monday saying, “The conflation of ‘noise genre’ with ‘pieces of music that lead to confusion about the status of our air signal’ was one that was made out of ignorance, and for that we are truly sorry. We are not banning our DJs from playing any genre of music”).

But, if he continued to play the long chunks of “harsh noise,” he’d lose his timeslot, the email from management concluded.

“I will NOT be censored for programming that does NOT violate FCC policy,” he wrote back. “Find a programmer that agrees to be censored for your no-longer (‘absurdly’) eclectic station.” That email chain was forwarded to Scene and others, leading to dozens of Facebook posts from those sympathetic to the cause. (“This is shocking to me and utterly reprehensible to the behavior on part of the GM”; “Her actions show a clear lack of understanding in this regard. History is replete with examples of the power-that-be stifling serious/difficult art.”) There was also a lengthy blog post from the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, by artist Derek Erdman, a former Clevelander, saying “I imagined [the harsh noise] could possibly make a person think that the radio station was experiencing some kind of difficulties. After a few more minutes I’d decided that it doesn’t matter if that’s the case. The ‘noise wall’ is a pure act of free expression and simply must be allowed to continue.”

The show is done, he resigned on Feb. 9. Those clamoring for that trademark “harsh noise” sound are encouraged to stand behind a jet engine for an hour and a half.

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