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We Travel the Spaceways

Merzbow Brings The Noise

By Published: October 18, 2012
Merzbient was originally released in 2010 as a limited edition of 555 CDs, it's re-release here is an 18-LP collection (with additional tracks) limited to 222 signed copies, enclosed in a pair of custom made boxes, 44 of which are pressed on red vinyl. The collection is satisfying enough as a stand alone piece of sculpture art. These days, where Dante's nine circles of hell include digital downloads, Merzbow feeds the fetish collector's dream for objects. Merzbow's boxes underscore the saying that the medium is indeed the message.

For those more enlightened folk, I'm a newbie to meditation. I struggle and failed constantly in my practice, but then again, isn't that the point?

To begin this investigation, I employed the CD collection of Merzbient because I wanted to monitor my time via the clock on my player. Sitting on a pillow on the floor, I pushed play and began my journey. 30 seconds into the first disc, the phone rings. Damn it! There is no way I'm voting for your candidate now. I begin again. The sound, devoid of beats is part underwater motion and part muffled blasts. Merzbow delivers sounds like circuits frying in a constant wash. Then, at 12 minutes my dog Freddy starts licking my arm. I shoo him away and close my eyes again only to be greeted by my wife at the 20 minute marker. I can only wish I had been meditating when the only thing that can be described as a beat or pulse enters at the 28-minute mark.

Masami Akita's work here is from the late 1980s. He was then experimenting with found objects, metal boxes adapted with strings and piano wire, and his homemade sound generators and synthesizers. This box, loosely (very loosely) associated as ambient music was recorded as Merzbow was becoming a live entertainer. His performances, Fluxus "happenings," drive a wall-of-sound at listeners, he mocks ambiance by creating an anti-ambience.

Day two and three (CD2 and 3) both find my meditation lasting approximately 18 minutes each session. My monkey mind distracting me from the sound. While I was concentrating, Merzbow's wave force acted like a constant hurricane of energy both violent and attractive at the same time. From the depths there are sampled cow and dog sounds and maybe even a bit of turntable scratching. Was that a guitar solo in CD3, or was it the sound of Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
' wah-wah trumpet pedal? His decidedly low-tech approach is part surrealist dream and part primitive noise. He favors broken amps, industrial tools, strings, feedback and the ghosts inside his machines.

As my meditation practice continued, I realized the old adage "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" needs to be updated. Merzbow's sound with it's heavy bass pressing down on my chest, and almost constant harsh metallic storm is music that is also architecture. With eyes closed and mind tuned, the sounds build forms, spaces, blocks of sci-fi dreamt environments. His noise creates visuals, not unlike computer generated imagery. We are deep within the Matrix here. Not the clean world of Wachowski films, but that of Philip K. Dick's science fiction. He samples drummers, and there's even a jazz band playing somewhere in the mix, albeit next door. Merzbow is constantly battling this huge monster.

By day five he allows for some spacey echoes and bits of toy piano. Of course all is in service to the constant rumble of the beast that lives under water. Merzbow, creates a roar, a hurricane of violence that is simultaneously repulsive and yet attracts. It's the metal-on-metal car crash you cannot look away from, the disfigured homeless man, the roar of Niagra Falls.

My meditation (which could have be in silence) seeks out this ferocity. Not for its violence, but was a calming effect. A way to focus the mind, rid myself of the distractions of noiselessness and clear my thoughts. Merzbow's sound cannot be ignored, except at low volume. But that's the point. This collection is decidedly primordial, you hear the constant hum of the engine, maybe the sound (and feel) of the jet airplane's rattle and hum as you try to sit through the darkness of an overnight flight. The roar of a blizzard beating at the windows are often coupled with the artist bowing, scraping, pounding and coaxing sound from various objects. The inorganic is juxtaposed against the animate. Merzbow hammering on some found art, bowing strings, and dropping misshapen samples into the mix.

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