Discipline of Music

Durban Noise Critics

Durban Noise Critics

Durban Noise CriticsStronger than Durban poison (CD of the week)

One of the strangest and most interesting CDs of South African origin you are likely to hear this year – or any other – is dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS. On it, University of Natal composer Jürgen Bräuninger, draws together 47 Durban players and any number of found sounds into a complex musical collage. 

One of the strangest and most interesting CDs of South African origin you are likely to hear this year – or any other – is . On it, University of Natal composer Jürgen Bräuninger, draws together 47 Durban players and any number of found sounds into a complex musical collage. 

His chief collaborator is poet Ari Sitas. “My lyrics/poems were seen by Jürgen as part of the ‘noise’ that was happening in Durban from the late Eighties to the early Nineties.” says Sitas. Scattered through the ever-changing sonic landscape, these urgent, edgy utterances are treated like musique concrete. They are, as Sitas says, “given the treatment – their seriousness dispersed, undermined, changed, and their humour perverted and enhanced.”

Alongside interwoven bursts of practically every kind of music presently available to one’s ears – free jazz, hip-hop, rap, modern classical avant-garde – there are the noises of a city and its inhabitants, whether human or insect, tourist guide or fruit-bat. Bräuninger calls it “a celebration of and a blast (an affectionate stab?) at Durban”.

The present meets the past and Africa meets Europe with an exhilarating crash. Among the 47 musicians, Monde “Lex” Futshane provides acoustic bass, while Matthew Brubeck plays violoncello; Pedro Espi-Sanchis is to be heard on jew’s harp and xizambi, while Bräuninger samples everything from nyanga panpipes to mbira.

Bräuninger engineers a series of fertile collisions: muzak is added to the buzz of a marketplace; the sound of house alarms mutate into the noises of insects; Deepak Ram’s north Indian bansuri is laid over the rhythm of the toyi-toyi.

The project, says Bräuninger, takes as its subject “Durban’s urban musics, accents, ambiences, sounds, history, memory, tradition, ‘the other’, ambiguous identities, hybridisation of cultures, manipulation of reality … ”

Bräuninger, who has composed film music for The Lawnmower Man and dance dramas like Ahimsa-Ubuntu, is also “a facilitator of popular recording in KwaZulu-Natal through the Culture and Working Life Project”, or, as Sitas puts it, “a selfless recorder, producer, documenter of a lot of the grassroots musical energy that was happening all around us”. On dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS, Bräuninger’s disparate skills and interests come triumphantly together.

In case you can’t find the CD in your local CD shop (and its absence is, unfortunately, a likelihood, though it should be available at branches of Musica, through Nebula BOS Records), ….

[Shaun de Waal. Mail&Guardian/Friday. January 8 to 14, 1999. p15]

 dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS

If ever a single album could defy simple categorizations or glib descriptions, it is this one. The brainchild of Professor Jurgen Brauninger, in collaboration with Ari Sitas and a huge supporting cast of KwazuluNatal musical luminaries, ‘dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS’ is a diverse and evocative collage of the music, sound, styles and attitudes that exist in the “new” South Africa. Within this album’s 71 minutes is a seemingly jumbled selection of poetry and lyrics, snatches of everyday city noises, and a representation of the finest music coming out of SA these days.

Between the ocean sounds and street poetry of the opening track, ‘Shrieks’, to the flute-based gentle jazz piece, ‘Fractal Shapes’, that closes this album, one can hear a rich and intriguing mix of original, improvised and avant-garde musical compositions. This may deter those less adventurous listeners but, regardless of that, it still provides a musical feast that will take many listenings to fully digest and appreciate. ‘Warwick’ recreates the energy of the city with traffic noises and sirens and ends with the distant sound of gunfire which illustrates the ongoing political violence that is still all too prevalent in KwazuluNatal. ‘Violino’, by contrast, is a specifically-written classical violin composition featuring Dolores Buthelezi on the umakhweyana. As mentioned previously, ‘dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS’ is a wondrous piece of South African music that can only influence and help to develop a new generation of SA musicians. Prepare to be amazed!

[Stephen “Sugar” Segerman. Amuzine reviews. April 15, 1999] 

Noises from the new Durban

One of the most vivid memories I have of my stay in South Africa to report on the 1994 elections for Green Left Weekly was the time I spent on the beach promenade in Durban. Just a few years before, the beach was reserved for the exclusive use of white South Africans. But in the post-apartheid era all that changed tens of thousands of people of all races thronged the promenade. The sights, sounds, smells and excitement came flooding back as I listened to this challenging album. Black South Africans were there to swim in the once forbidden waters (or at least walk on the sand), and Afrikaner families from rural Gauteng and the Free State were making their traditional annual trek for their seaside holiday. Thousands inspected the wares at the informal market on the promenade, teenagers were flirting with each other, lost kids were crying, drunks were fighting, European tourists were clutching their bags and purses, while pickpockets were on the lookout for those that weren’t. The marvellous sound of busking Zulu guitar players and dancers drifted across the crowd, while the wail of police and ambulance sirens was ever present.

dURBAN NOISE combines a fascinating and surreal collage with the sounds of post-apartheid Durban and the new South Africa. While many South Africans are painfully aware of the slowness of the change in their lives, especially in kwaZulu-Natal province which is still ruled by apartheid collaborator Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, this surprising work of sound-art reminds us that winning the right to walk on a beach, and to have fun, was no minor achievement.

Jürgen Bräuninger, University of Natal professor and composer, and Ari Sitas, trade unionist, anti-apartheid activist, playwright and poet, have collaborated with 47 of Durban’s musicians and borrowed the daily murmuring and noises of dozens of ordinary Durbanites. The CD opens with the crash of the waves from the Indian Ocean, followed by Sitas’ first poem read in the many accents heard on South Africa’s urban streets. South Africa’s many varied musical accents are also blended traditional and electronic instruments, township jive and jazz, hip hop with nyanga panpipes, migrant workers’ gumboots and concertinas, and the north Indian reed instrument, the bansuri. The music ranges from the funky, the quirky and the quaint to the way-out. A highlight is Violino, a classical piece written for violin music and played brilliantly on the traditional umakhweyana by Dolores Buthelezi, while crickets sing in the background. Warwick is a sound-scape that weaves together the raucous sounds of the marketplace, the traffic, the sirens and the buzz of the city. It ends disturbingly with the sound of gunfire, a reminder that political violence still bedevils kwaZulu-Natal.

Perhaps this CD will be a little too abstract and avant-guard for many, and Sitas’ poetry is certainly on the obscure side, with overt political sentiments hard to find. Yet, with each listen you discover something you didn’t hear the first time. This makes dURBAN NOISE annoyingly addictive.

[Norm Dixon. Green Left Weekly (Australia). February 3, 1999. p19]



This CD consists of 24 tracks ranging in duration from nine seconds to almost six minutes. The ‘noise’, ‘music’ and ‘soundscapes’ were composed (if that is the correct word) by Jürgen Bräuninger (tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 24), Dolores Buthelezi (track 23), Jürgen Bräuninger in collaboration with Feya Faku (2), Ulrich Süsse (4,10,18, 21), Toine Scholtz (6), Carolina Suransky (12) and Deepak Ram (17). Some of the tracks contain musical passages that are most likely improvisations by the instrumentalists. The ‘lyrics’ and ‘poems’ are mainly written by Ari Sitas, with one short introduction to Pantsula Brains by Gladman Ngubo, and a written ‘preface’ by H.I.E. Dhlomo. As with the music, at least some of the texts are also improvised. The CD booklet contains only verbal texts and graphics, and for one track, Violino by Dolores Buthelezi, ‘programme notes’ are included. Various performers took part in the project. More information and discussions of this recording can be found at www.und.ac.za/und/music .

I will attempt to describe the first four tracks for the benefit of those who are making their first acquaintance with this CD through my less than satisfying verbal description above. The recording starts with Shrieks, the recitation of a poem to a background of sea noises by no less than eighteen voices alternating and overlapping. This track flows into Thabo’s Ties, likely an improvisation for muted trumpet (by Feya Faku) over a repetitive background of sampled sounds of dümbeck, tambourine, lesiba, mbira and percussion. Dancing Shoes delightfully mixes different styles and is followed by a harbour soundscape with instruments, Anywhere Far IV.

The sounds and lyrics do exhibit some characteristics of ‘popular’ music, and some of ‘art music’. However, it will be impossible and meaningless to categorise this recording with any familiar label (not in the least because our familiar labels are usually not informative). To those who feel that they understand only when they have classified, I suggest listening to the recording and performing the labelling exercise for themselves.

For listeners enthused by this kind of combination of words and sounds and interested in the culture of a specific time and place, this will be a very valuable resource. Those with knowledge of ‘African Music’ may find a wealth of familiar sounds and ideas in a new context. Still, the recording can be understood without an ethnological background or inclination.

The poems and lyrics treat familiar themes of everyday life as they relate to certain parts of society, especially South African society: family, love and other emotions, dreams, thoughts, dancing. All the themes are treated with a certain degree of political involvement. ‘Ostranenie’ has been an artistic technique for many centuries, and was studied by Russian literary theorists at the beginning of the previous century. This technique forms one of the supporting columns of all of the material on the CD. Musical and other sounds are taken from a specific external or internal environment, and then ‘made strange’, possibly in order to resemble the strangely unfamiliar (unreal) experience many South Africans currently have of their world. Crooning (track 5) is a good example of how this technique can powerfully represent disintegration of a family and ensuing suffering. Including a dance mix of Crooning as the next track, enforces the darker undertones of the CD, and strengthens the satirical vein that runs not only through the lyrics, but also through the music and soundscapes.

The use of contemporary aesthetic ideas is pervasive, but informed, never giving the impression of cliché. These ideas found their way into the soundscapes, music and the way the texts relate to other sounds. Integration of speech and music has been a topic of discussion since antiquity. One may like or dislike the approach followed here, but one cannot deny skilled execution when hearing it. On the first track the use of many different voices may appear simply as a facile novelty, done for the sake of effect alone. Closer inspection does, however, reveal a functional approach. A more complex rendition of the same idea is found in This song has hardened like a hide (track 15), where three poems are presented simultaneously to good effect and not without ‘philosophical’ implications that link with the words. I would suggest that a listener investigate how this technique creates meaning on various levels. It is worth the effort.

Although the recording sets limits on the material produced, it is characterised by inclusiveness and variety, by disintegration more than by a unified approach to and selection of material. The manner in which material is gathered and then integrated is of course referred to in the section of the title using the words ‘and scraps’. An investigation into the many possible meanings of the title will, once again, prove rewarding. I will be the first to admit that this existence of multi-layered meaning is one of the strengths of the work. I should also admit that I was unable to listen even once to the whole CD in one single session, and that I have not yet managed to assimilate the almost 72 minutes of, at times, sonic assault. This admission does not reduce the value of the potential experiences created by the artists, but hopefully it will help the reader of this short reflection to decide if this particular recording may be interesting to listen to.

I am not convinced that my experience of a ‘satirical vein’ or ‘darker undertones’ approximate the intentions of the composers, but I did find the questioning ambiguity aroused by the listening experience the most engaging aspect of my becoming acquainted with the recording. It was also the one aspect that I kept revisiting during the course of writing this review. It is possible, even likely, that not all listeners will immediately be able to relate to the sound world created in this recording. I could not hear this CD as ‘generally South African’, but this does not in any way reduce the validity of the work. One may even postulate that the specific, even personal nature of the created sound world contributes to a certain power of statement.

This recording is not easy listening, just as the lyrics/poems with their broken syntax and unconventional semantics, laden imagery and specificity of experience are not of the ‘easy-reading’ kind. In fact this CD may be for many, as it was for me, a welcome relief from the ‘easy-listening’ cultural projects that are produced as ‘the real African experience’. It makes an informed contribution to the African/Western and New/Old debates that are often characterised by shallow thinking and, sadly, uninformed opinions. In my view the recording has a documentary value that surpasses its ability to give aesthetic enjoyment (Yes, I do mean to refer to that very old fashioned – out-of fashion, even – and much maligned notion that music can give affective pleasure when beholding its beauty). For this reason it will remain in my collection to await the day that it will be used as a document. It may remain silent for many years in which I will not miss the sounds I have heard.

[Hannes Taljaard. NewMusicSA: Bulletin of the International Society for Contemporary Music – South African Section, second issue. 2002/2003. pp24-25]



Jürgen Bräuninger clearly has some amazing ideas. It’s just that they are surrounded by a mixture of a-tonal, pre-school drama teacher poetry recitals and a sampler gone mad. Features Deepak Ram, Melvin Peters, Matthew Brubeck (who also features as cellist on Tom Waits’ ‘The Black Rider’) and about 20 others. ‘Barbarism’ is really beautiful.

[Ross Campbell. Open Record. http://www.gig-guide.co.za/open/reviews.html ]

Warning: local content

dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS is a powerful soundscape encompassing the many moods and sounds of Durban. It dips into the pool of action that makes Durban unique, and comes up with an extraordinary product. […]

Be warned indeed! For interspersed between the rhythms, catchy songs and arresting words are little pieces of pure abstraction, couched in reworked sound bites, playful, eerie and often inaccessible. Unless you take the time out to listen again – reserving your programmed responses and opening your ears and mind to the possibilities that are presented. A buffet of enchantment and disenchantment.

Sitas and Bräuninger are sitting in the office sharing minute jokes and mysterious smiles when I pop in to chat. I want a definition of the product. They appease me: “It’s an affectionate stab at Durban,” says Sitas, with real affection in his warm low bearded voice. ” It’s a large piece … with local and popular musics, ambiences, instruments, accents, and words,” offers Bräuninger … “It combines and layers things that don’t really go together. But it does it in a way that makes it plausible.” He and Sitas exchange knowing looks. …

“Most of the poems were written in the late eighties when these ideas were dangerous.” I listen to the poems, images that are sickeningly blunt, sore and open, full of truth and painful insight, tainted with humour and despair. I listen to the voices speak the poems. Some things have not changed. Durban is still “this marvellous dump.”

Somewhere a pondful of frogs sing their creak-squeak wedding songs, a distant dog speaks into the night, a house alarm goes off. A man talks of licking his shoes with his tongue to make them shine. The doo-wop ladies croon. Sweet voices harmonise over the voices calling out their vegetables and two rands. The hadedahs cry on the wing. Surf’s up. “It’s an attempt,” says Bräuninger humbly, “to capture sights and sounds that are unique to Durban. There are levels of reality overlaid with the surreal. Some of the ‘real’ sounds are artificial. Everything has been played with, “he says with satisfaction. …

Interwoven between the found sounds and the cunningly contrived dovetailing are the improvisations and contributions from a veritable army of local names – … – nearly 50 musicians who had the chance to contribute to this extraordinary record. It’s a Durban thing. It’s a gift. It’s a picture book in sound. Read it.

[Gisele Turner. Daily News/Tonight. October 7, 1998. p9]


New on the SA sound scene

[…] Finally, there’s dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS, an audacious CD launched with a novel concert at the University of Natal on August 24.

By Jürgen Bräuninger and Ari Sitas and the dUrban Noise Workers, the 24-track CD opens with Shrieks, a poem featuring dialogue by countless people, and goes into Thabo’s Ties. It’s all slinky, playful trumpet sounds above a mix of tambourine, percussion, sampling and a constant vocal sounding like a coughing cow. This moves on to Dancing Shoes, a quirky piece incorporating vocals, samples such as bounced cello bow and nyanga panpipes, and programming. Track four, also mesmerising, incorporates bird sounds, Suzi Stengel’s vocal and tenor sax, while Crooning is notable for its fun use of vocals, metal jew’s harp, percussion and the dry lead vocal of Nux Schwarz and a kiddy back-up.

Some might label this pretentious, but I label it great fun. Check it out.

[Billy Suter. The Mercury/Good Life. October 23, 1998. p4]


Off the beaten track

[…] dURBAN NOISE and Scraps WORKS, a multi-cultural cityscape by composer Jürgen Bräuninger of the Natal University Music Department. A surprisingly coherent melange of poetry, artsong, children’s chants, traditional African instrumentation, jazz trumpet, musique concrete and electronic programming – and almost everything else – it succeeds because, while it’s sometimes difficult, and occasionally plain bloody-minded, it makes its serious points without losing its sense of fun. It also makes conceivably the best use since Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd of quacking ducks!

[Richard Haslop. Daily News/Tonight. September 16, 1998. p2]


To the pointe

[…] Pather’s work ‘Shifting Spaces, Tilting Times’ is a witty and dark look at the myth of the ‘Rainbow nation’. Drawing on different local dance forms, Pather is questioning exactly how integrated we are as a hybrid nation. Complemented by the layered music of Jürgen Bräuninger and by Val Adamson’s slides of Durban’s familiar landscapes projected over the dancers, the audience is asked to see the connection between architectural spaces we inhabit and the way in which we “shift and tilt” our various emotional and spriritual heritages, be they African, Asian or European. The audience is left with the poignant image of a white ballet dancer – dressed in a tutu made out of the new South African flag – throwing away her pointe shoes as she is carried on the back of a black man; both a comment on a dance form and also on the state of our nation. […]

[Lliane Loots. The Mercury/GoodLife. March 31, 1998. p3]


Doing the mango tango

[…] This inspired collaboration between the choreographer [Jay Pather] (partly in response to Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera’s thesis The Prison of Colonial Space ), photographer Val Adamson, designer Sarah Roberts and composer Jürgen Bräuninger is a conceptual audio-visual feast.

KwaZulu Natalians, in all their cultural glory, emerge out of, or are juxtaposed against, an architectural, urban and rural landscape.

Their feet, followed by their bodies, tap out a plethora of rhythms and identities as they do deliciously inventive things, like an isicathamiya pas de deux and the mango tango.

[Adrienne Sichel. The Star/Tonight. March 20, 1998. p13]