For background, it's a record that was made "without musical instruments" by rigging up ring-modulators and envelope filters and tone generators to create a sort of living shape of feedback.

But every moment sounds exactly the same. I've listened to the whole darned thing. It's the closest thing I've ever found to "pure" noise. In that capacity, I have found use for this record in noise battles with the neighbors. But surely, it's supposed to be some kind of "Dada" statement about the definitional nature of categories, right? It's not supposed to be ammunition.

Certain of Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives elude tonality but retain idioms of phrasing. And even the most heavily-distorted Rock retains the "pulse" of organic rhythm. Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral incorporated "textures" of noise, but with both pulse and phrasing.

So, was there a musical intent behind the creation of the recording or was it entirely record-company politics? Could such an arrangement of technology be used to produce "interesting" sounds?


3 Answers 3


Years before Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music during his solo career, he played in a bad called The Velvet Underground with violist John Cale. John Cale is a classically trained musician, who studied with Humphrey Searle (a student of Anton Webern of the second Viennese school). During his early life and classical training he created relationships with many modern artists (Xenakis, Koussevitzky, etc.) as well as composing original conceptual music in the same vein as John Cage and Fluxus.

During this period he became very interested in Minimalism. Reed met up with John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Walter de Maria via Pickwick records, whom he was working for at the time. This band collaborated with many modernist groups and artist, including Andy Warhol who utilized them in a multimedia event called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Lou Reed was the principal songwriter for the group and was very interested in alternate tunings (one of which tuned all of the strings to the same note in order just to create a drone.) With Lou Reed's interest in alternate tunings, as well as his immersion into modernist music with the members of The Velvet Underground, I think that it is very probable that Metal Machine Music is simply a very interesting exercise in Minimalism (conceptually like Terry Riley's In C, just without any specific tonal structure.)


It is my understanding that at least part of the intent of this piece of music is "I want out of my contract with RCA".


You might not think it resembles music - many folks would say the same about opera, or metal, or pop or (insert genre here)...

Lou Reed was making a statement.

People listen to it.

Not sure there is a real question, to be honest - I would just treat it like any other music that I don't 'get'

  • 2
    Oh come on. "Music" might be loosely defined, but it can definitely be characterised by various qualities, like rhythm, melody, tonality, texture, dynamics, and intent. If you says that white noise is music, then the term is so broadly defined as to include all sounds, and is therefore redundant and pointless. Besides, the question wasn't "is this music?", it was "what's the intent of this piece of music?"
    – naught101
    Apr 15, 2012 at 14:14
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    The definition of music I most commonly see is "organized sound" which is quite loose; but this is necessary so as not to prejudicially exclude any not-yet-recognized organizing principle. Apr 16, 2012 at 4:38

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