In Lars von Trier’s film Dogville, Nicole Kidman pops up unexpectedly in an early 20th-century Rocky Mountain town tailed by a whiff of trouble. Her appearance was preceded by gunshots, and gunshots don’t happen in Dogville. The citizens are skeptical. Why should they offer her employment, shelter and social acceptance, and what would she do for them in return? Although Kidman works hard in a variety of capacities to earn Dogville’s respect and trust, it’s never enough; she poses too great a risk. As a tradeoff for not turning her in to the authorities, they ask more from her: she works extra hours for the women and is raped by Dogville’s men. In each scene after she’s raped Kidman lies motionless on the floor, crying and shaking, completely defenseless and without recourse to the law, since that’s what she’s avoiding in the first place.
Black Dice’s two-song EP Miles of Smiles opens with the ethereally peaceful chirping of crickets. But soon their peaceful cadence is coupled by an unnerving growling (dog? machine?), and finally obliterated by an abstract thumping, a horrifying vortex of noise and a persistently annoying electronic clanging that’s just awful — the same sound that accompanies the probing of humans by curious aliens on Unsolved Mysteries. Miles of Smiles could be considered more sound art than music. Black Dice’s brand of electronic noise is always evocative and thus, undeniably narrative.
So when the torrent of carnival-esque insanity follows that awful clanging, Black Dice invites you to imagine yourself in the shoes of Nicole Kidman’s Dogville character or of the Iraqi soldier whose town has been invaded and who has been apprehended by American soldiers. The blur of U.S.A. pop and patriotic cadence marches by in fast-mo on "Miles of Smiles," the album’s first track. And when "Trip Dude Delay," the album’s second and final song, opens as gorgeously as any recent Yo La Tengo tune, you know it won’t last. The lush organ chords commingling with human chants are monstrously wiped away by a cacophony of noise. These waves of terror are threatened by mirages of beauty that peek from behind the clouds before being overtaken definitively by scattered, ominous drum hits and more alien sounds.
Is Miles of Smiles intentionally mining themes of war and torture, of that vague concept of "terror"? Probably not. But Miles of Smiles is an important statement on the possibilities of ambient and/or noise music’s ability to conjure emotion through the manipulation of aural perception and by thwarting listeners’ expectations. Like Metal Machine Music, The Holy Ghost, or Music for 18 Musicians, Miles of Smiles invites and opens itself up to narrative interpretation. And the story it tells is anxious, uncertain and scary.