Merzbow Brings The Noise
Soleilmoon Recordings 2012
Are you of the mind, that in the big scheme of things, the really big scheme of things, there are no accidents? That everything happens for a purpose? Call it synchronicity or a Shirley MacLaine cake recipe, and I'm sure Kevin Bacon would agree, that fate or destiny plays a role in everyone's life, even a music critic.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about kismet. The revelation, that just as I was about to begin a meditation practice, this huge 18-LP boxset from the Japanese noise artist Merzbow, aka Masami Akita arrived at my door.
Why are these two related? Some background is necessary. Masami Akita is perhaps the greatest exponent of "noise-music" on the planet. That seemingly oxymoronic word raises the question (which we will leave to the scholars) how can noise be music? I'm not talking about when you lived with your parents and your mom would yell up to your room to "turn that bloody noise down." Merzbow and artists such as K.K. Null, Z'EV, James Plotkin, Kevin Drumm, The Haters and Boredoms continue a tradition of sound generation that began with The Futurists, John Cage, and runs through Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane's late work. They each strip (or build) sound, so that the listening experience surpasses the aural. But, more about that later.
I found that the best way to "listen" to this noise was to repeat the experience I've had with prior Merzbow recordings during my athletic training, specifically endurance training for bicycle racing. I often listen to music while training, and a two hour bike ride often includes intervals (a twenty to thirty minute period of intense exertion). One day, with my iPod on shuffle, Merzbow's Merzbuddha (Important, 2005) came up. That sound, fit the activity perfectly. Merzbow's churning waves of noise fell perfectly in line with my 20 minutes of high heart rate, powered-up suffering. I was transfixed, this was the soundtrack to my effort, a sort of machine-meets-animal growl that matched my primordial effort to wrestle my machine. With Merzbow I could direct my focus without being distracted by melody, soloing, lyric or rhyme. Each pedal stroke, required both continued concentration and a detachment from the pain. I had to turn off the part of my brain that was urging me to quit, saying "look at that gorgeous grove of trees, and those cows. Stop and look. Hey, let's go get a cup of coffee." Instead, I had to devote myself to the task at hand. Entering the "zone" as it is referred to by athletes. Deep concentration, an attentiveness to the task at hand.
Like athletic training, digesting a large collection of music, a complete boxset or live session, takes a bit of discipline. I once devoured the 22 hours of trumpeter Dave Douglas' Quintet and Keystone bands from New York's Jazz Standard, with a full immersion of sound. This would be different. Masami Akita's sound is often difficult, room-clearing turbulence. Thus, the idea of meditation or brain-training concentration occurred to me. Meditation can be a mantra, silent nothingness or focus on the breath. I chose to practice my meditation around Merzbow's music. That's what it is. Practice. As they say, "there ain't no perfection" in meditation.
I have been engaged with Masami Akita since his early days (the 1980s). I adopted the moniker FaGaGaGa after the dada artist Max Ernst term Fatagaga ("Fabrication de tableaux garantis gazométriques") and he, Merzbow, from Kurt Schwitters "Merzbau." Back then, bands like Fugazi, The Tape Beatles and G.X. Jupiter Larsen's Haters traded (pre-internet) cassettes and art by way of the postal system. Mail Art, a branch of Fluxus art, is a direct descendent of Dada and Surrealism.
Merzbow has since evolved beyond this fringe art scene to become the leading proponent of noise music today. He has released hundreds of recordings over multiple labels, including the 13-disc Japanese Birds (Important, 2009) series, the 10-disc releases Merzmorphosis and Merzphysics (Youth, inc., 2012) and the mind numbing 50-disc Merzbox (Extreme, 2000). It is improbable that one listener could consume his entire oeuvre. Then, such immoderation is part-and-parcel of his art. The sound is but one component of his domain. His animal rights activism is a large presence in his current output, as is his Fluxus roots, evident in the detailed packaging for each release, with elaborate hand painted boxes, wooden CD cases, LPs, stickers, posters and t-shirts, all produced to, in effect, package his sounds in an anti-art, yet art-consuming fashion.