When the door opens, a handful of people rush out. Scott Arford, the bed-headed 28-year-old curator and handyman for 7 Hertz, watches them with a rueful smile.
There was a time when Arford's obsession with atonal overload was shared with a large number of local folks. That time is now past. With San Francisco's nouveau population intent on closing down anything even remotely loud, noise fans are becoming an endangered species, and the number of clubs that allow even an occasional ear-splitting show have drastically declined, making Arford's bawling baby one of the city's few remaining noise-centric venues.
Arford developed his affinity for dissonance one day while stuck in "The Maze," a particularly sinister slab of Highway 80. "I think, when it really hit me was, literally, when I first moved to San Francisco," Arford recalls. "I was driving my car and I was in that weird traffic zone in between Berkeley and the bridge, totally stuck in traffic. I was tuning into a local Berkeley radio station and they were playing noise. I was listening to it thinking, "You know, this is almost intolerable. But, I imagine in a few years I'll probably be listening to this all the time.'"
Growing up in tiny Almena, Kan., Arford started his first band, the Dolly Birds, when he was 5. It was a decidedly unnoisy combo, comprised of his brother and several stuffed animals. "We had little instruments for them all, and there was like six guitars in the band and synthesizers and a drum set. And the best part of the drum set was that there was this little baby chick. It was just this little round puff of stuffing with a beak but no arms, no nothing at all. And that was the drummer."
About four years ago, Arford met Death Squad leader Michael Nine at a Merzbow show at Bottom of the Hill. After playing together on Nine's public access TV show, The Pain Factory, the duo thought up Fuck TV, a brutal series of video collages of spectacular car crashes and other noisy calamities. "Fuck TV is very complicated," Nine says. "It is the next step in television assault. The old slogan for the show was: "It doesn't describe television, it is television.'"
The duo plan to open up their program to other artists. "It will become this broadcast program that features video artists, filmmakers, performance art, installation art, everything and anything," Nine says. He and Arford intend to sift through works from other public access stations to compile a series of tapes that could run on different stations around the country. Right now, they're still looking for sponsors who can distribute the tapes, send them on to the next public access station, and basically take care of all the paperwork.
Arford books three shows a month during the summer at 7 Hertz, giving both well-known artists like Thomas Dimuzzio, Scot Jenerik, and Illusion of Safety and lesser-known groups like Arford's trio TEST ample space to explore boundaries of sound without the threat of uptight neighbors. Arford also has a solo project called Radiosonde, through which he met GX Jupitter-Larson. "He was amplifying static signals through some cathode-ray tubes [under a Highway 101 exit ramp near Market Street]," Jupitter-Larson remembers. "I really loved the minimalism of the whole thing."
Jupitter-Larson is the leader of the Haters, a long-standing group that has invaded eardrums all over the world, from an abandoned miniature golf course in Key West to the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. Known for their elaborate themes and homemade equipment, the Haters recently performed an ode to an obscure mathematician using a fan and a calculator.
"It's a piece inspired by Ross Rhesymolwaith, who lived on the windy coast of Wales," Jupitter-Larson explains. "Rhesymolwaith would always leave the windows of his cottage open so he could feel the wind against his face while he did his calculations. So, in honor of him, I balanced an amplified calculator on top of the open grill of a small desk fan. The blades of the fan slap against the face of the calculator. All of the resulting sounds are then processed into a throbbing pulse. As Rhesymolwaith would want it, equal amounts of wear arise on both the calculator buttons and the fan's blades."
Jupitter-Larson has been making noise for more than 20 years. "Back in the late '80s there used to be this space called 455 10th Street," he says. "It lasted about three or four years as a noise venue. And both the Hotel Utah and the old Kennel Klub used to have big noise shows from time to time in the '90s. I played in almost every club in town. And most of them were happy to have me back, even if I did get banned from a few of them. But now that San Francisco has become a corporate kind of town, there's only two or three places left that will willingly hold a noise night [and] only 7 Hertz has been able to stay active for so long doing just noise shows.
"It has to be one of my favorite venues anywhere in the world. It's just a real fun place to play, always a good PA. Always a good turnout of people who are really into the acts."
Still, it's only a matter of time before some loft or office space goes up near the club's Hunters Point location. But even Arford admits to a growing need for earplugs. "My threshold of auditory pain has gone down considerably," he says. "Now, when I go to see a lot of shows, my ears start ringing."