Ballet Shoes, Butchers’ Knives, and Black Leather Gloves: Narrative of the Body in Harsh Noise Wall (One: The Rita)

(Given at the Punk Scholar’s Network’s “Anyone Can Do It: Noise, Punk and the Ethics/Politics of Transgression” conference, Newcastle University, UK, 17th December 2019.

As reflected in the abstract for this paper as it was included in the programme, it was my initial desire to do something of an artist study of both Richard Ramirez and Sam McKinlay here today. However, I did ultimately decide it would be best to focus on the latter for the purposes of the 20 or so minutes we have together, as McKinlay’s work can, for the most part, be easily and legitimately be synecdochised through discussion of his moniker The Rita, whilst an understanding of Richard Ramirez’ goals, aesthetics, methods and developments of those three require discussion of – at the very least – his group Black Leather Jesus and solo project Werewolf Jerusalem, if not also many other of his myriad projects, such as Crash at Every Speed, Last Rape, or his increasing output and performances simply under his own name. Accordingly, it is my belief that these artists deserve at least one chapter each, and I would encourage anyone interested to follow my blog, which will have this paper going up almost immediately, and can expect a follow-up relating to Richard Ramirez as soon as is possible.)


In the Instagram and Bandcamp-based copy for The Rita’s most recent release, Martine Grimaud, UK-based noise label Foul Prey introduced the EP thus:

“Few noise artists manage to imbue their material with such sensitive, intimate emotion as Sam McKinlay. Resolutely dedicated to his art form and the subjects therein, his work is nothing but sincere devotion.

On the face of it, Martine Grimaud is an actress known for her roles in various Euro-erotica films, but to The Rita she is much more indeed.  An example of ‘aesthetic perfection’ and a most worthy subject for detailed contemplation, The Rita sets about manipulating his source material like only he can.  Spoken exchanges and passages of film score are subjected to the trademark gated fuzz turbulence the artist has become synonymous with.  Puckered folds of sticky, crunching noise gather and enfold, as voices become strangled and melody choked, occasionally straining out through the thick curtain of distortion.  The result is a devastating and heady affair that breathes and throbs as if alive.”

Such a description can certainly evoke various responses, including criticality toward a male gaze objectification of a woman into a fetishized female object, rendered a dehumanising, pedestaled ideal. It is not my intention in this paper necessarily to rescue The Rita from such an accusation, rather instead to muse to a certain extent upon what it means to have a dynamic of relation, identification and power between two agents in which humanity may be reduced or discarded, when placed within the context of musical production whose sonic brutality is often celebrated and castigated, simultaneously by different parties, for its inhuman qualities.

In this paper, I shall engage with aspects of The Rita’s oeuvre, particularly charting what might roughly be bifurcated into two relatively distinct eras: the initially giallo slasher and horror-focused work of the late 90s and 00s, and the current era of albums and Eps, predominantly centred around classical ballet, and individual actresses from softcore and mondo pornographic cinema. My aim here is to open conversation regarding The Rita’s particular sonic interaction with ideas and bodies, the extent to which these may create specific sounds, and in what ways such a supposedly chaotic aural oikos can alter (or at least alter our perception of) the subject/object caesura of events that, pre-recording and manipulation are so routinely considered the very icons of such distinctions, not least of all within the context of power relations.

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Album of the Day: The Rita – Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence