Noble pulls out a plastic-wrapped CD. It’s Frakture, her just-released album of eight tracks she says take you inside George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s her first official album, and she did everything herself—from funding it through the website Kickstarter to taking her recordings to a professional engineer and mixer to picking the vinyl-pressing studio and hiring a graphic designer to make it look just right.
Getting her sound-art pressed to vinyl might be the step Noble’s most excited about. She spent most of her life spinning other people’s records. Finally, she’ll have a record all her own.
Cheetoh gets frisky as Noble settles in and prepares to talk about how she found sound.
“OK, wow,” she says, her voice echoing up through the ridiculously high vaulted ceilings. “You see, this is a lot of reverb.”
It might be the only drawback of the new place, but rather than see it as a challenge, Noble’s already thinking about ways to use the unique sound the space produces. How about a live, in-house show in which she and other sound artists figure out ways to use, experiment and play with the reverb? It’s something that’s already crossed her mind.
“I think what really got me into sound was a background in dance,” she says, trying her best to ignore the echo.
Noble took dance classes as a kid and when the rave scene sprang up in the ’90s, she was in the middle of it, dancing to music she eventually found herself wanting to make.
“I got this inkling that I really wanted to control the music I was dancing to,” Noble says. “And that’s really what set it off, and that’s why I moved into spinning records.”
Noble got some pointers from friends, but mostly she taught herself how to use turntables and mix and match beats.
“Record what you do, listen back and revise,” she says. “If I were to tell someone how to learn how to DJ, that’s what I’d tell them.”
By the time she’d honed her DJ skills, the rave scene had pretty much played itself out. She followed the house music to the clubs, and when the gigs at nights like Lip Gloss and Underground Lounge in San Diego weren’t enough, she left for Chicago and tried her luck in a bigger city, more known for electronic music.
“That’s where I saw the most success,” Noble says. “Like, successes I never thought I’d be able to attain.”
She hustled. She made demos, sent them out and always followed up. And when a club said no, she’d do it all over again somewhere else. Her persistence paid off, and she landed big nights at top spots alongside some of her heroes, like Mark Farina and Derrick Carter.
Maybe it was her degree in philosophy from UCSD that ultimately made her question the course of her career.
“The DJing eventually got a little stagnant for me,” Noble says. “I wanted to produce sounds instead of just playing other people’s records.”
So, she got a master’s degree in sound art at the School of Art Institute of Chicago.
Graduation didn’t mean a job for Noble. Instead, she sold all her stuff, bought a van and went after art residencies around the world. She eventually ended up in Austria without a dime, so she applied for dozens of jobs until High Tech High in Point Loma responded with an offer. That was in 2007, and she’s been back in San Diego teaching media production to kids ever since.
Sound is Art. That’s the name of a website Noble created a little more than a year ago. She posts her own recordings and allows others to post theirs, too. There’s everything from the sound a microphone makes when dropped into a tank filled with algae to the audio of a cash register layered with whispered spoken word.
“This guy made his own zither”—a European stringed, laptop instrument—“and recorded it. Sounds like there’s some time-stretching in it,” Noble says.
Noble’s in her studio space, with her favorite synthesizer—a Dave Smith Poly Evolver, an analog-digital hybrid—and myriad other strange objects and instruments, like a thumb piano, music boxes, a spinning-top toy that makes music and a little metal contraption called a Euler’s disc, which Noble says makes the sound of a helicopter.
A year ago, while preparing for a live performance this past January as part of the Fresh Sound Series at Sushi Performance & Visual Art, Noble decided she wanted to make a record. Fascinated with the idea that media can control how a person views the world, she went with the Nineteen Eighty-Four theme and decided to use field recordings, samples and sound to back up an Orwellian point of view.
Pushing play on Frakture—you can listen to it at margaretnoble.net—one might expect to be assaulted with dissonant sounds of Big Brother, war and ominous propaganda, but Noble’s more subtle than that. She includes music and sounds you can tap your toes to, and aside from a few out-and-out Orwellian attacks, it’s an enjoyable listen.
“I don’t think mine is so sound-art proper,” she explains. “I’m not interested in alienating an audience. I would say mine has pop elements for sure. There are beats. There’s melody. But there are some disturbing clips in there, too. Track 3 is a little intense. I had pulled some sounds from a village after a bomb went off.”
Track 8 involves the torturous sound of waterboarding. It’s something she knew she wanted to include. Otherwise, she describes her process of making her first-ever album as serendipitous.
“That’s the beauty of recording, is—.”
She takes a minute to think as Cheetoh rubs at her legs.
“I don’t know, I think I survive on happy accidents. So, just let the tape record, see what happens and then go back and sample the best.”