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A Running Diary of Merzbow’s Merzbient

February 25, 2011

It looks so peaceful.

A week and a half ago, I was tasked by PopMatters (at my own request, granted) to write a review for Merzbow’s recent 12-disc monstrosity of a new album / box set, Merzbient. The theory is that it’s ambient music, run through the Merzbow noise filter. To Masami Akita himself, it probably is ambient music. This may not be terribly different from what he listens to on a day-to-day basis.

I wrapped up the review today. In preparing to write it, though, I kept notes of my Merzbient listening experience, front to back, which basically detail a man’s slow descent into insanity. I didn’t want to just delete them, because I spent a lot of time putting them together, so here they are, unedited (and rough in spots), and saved for posterity. All 1500 words or so. They’re mostly pretty dry, but if you ever wanted a blow-by-blow experience of what listening to 10+ hours of Merzbow (well, Merzbow-lite I guess) sounds like, this is your chance. I imagine the review will post at PopMatters sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Without further ado:

* * *

Disc 1 (RBA 1A) is basically random static and chaos until the end, when it becomes more meticulous.

Disc 1 features some sampled radio broadcast-esque sounds…there’s “real music” poking through.

Disc 2 far more “structured” than disc 1…still noise, but beats are mixing themselves in.

Disc 2 (RBA 1B) reminds of late coil experiments…Worship the Glitch/Constant Shallowness/Astral Disaster…bow instruments poking through, ugly but identifiable

Disc 2 also more difficult to background.

Disc 2 continues with tape experiments – organ music chopped and re-assembled?

“Western Noise is often too conceptual and academic. Japanese Noise relishes the ecstacy of sound itself.” –Masami Akita

Disc 2 “RBA 1B” closing out with big distant drums and phaser effects…back to more improvisational stuff, but still not terribly alien

Disc 2 “untitled” is an assault – high-pitched electronics giving way to a tremendous static wave, eventually featuring “windshield washer” electronic effect

Disc 2 “untitled” is shortest track, at 12:41

Disc 3 (RBA 2A) starts much like Disc 1 – big, scary, lots of reverb and static and squealing

Disc 3 “RBA 2A” eventually develops a comparatively peaceful drone behind the big scariness, a nice variation on the sound so far…noise seems to be phasing out in favor of the drone

Disc 3 “RBA 2A” has a rock beat at the 35-minute mark! This is…weird. There’s still static and something I can only describe as wind-tunnel noise, but yeah, that’s definitely a rock beat

Disc 3 “RBA 2A” Oh, hey, big band! And I think it’s winning!

Disc 4 “RBA/Capsule Cologne Maxell”. This is the one my wife called “broken refrigerator music”, because she actually thought something was wrong with our fridge when I turned it on.

Disc 4 has lots of rattling and scraping.

I know I’m listening to Merzbow and all, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m pretty sure Disc 4 is actually giving me a headache.

Disc 4. 15 minutes in. Break time.

(this break lasted three days.)

Disc 4. Back at it. Clanging in one ear, pressure changes in the other. Brutal.

Disc 4 “RBA/Capsule Cologne Maxell” has rounded back to static and clanging. Purest noise disc so far.

Disc 5 “RBA 8B” better not continue this high-pitched drone through the whole track or I’m going to have a migraine in 45 minutes.

Disc 5’s drone is starting to bend, as persistent pot-banging continues in the distance.

Didn’t notice that the drone left, but it must have, because I just heard it return (12 minutes in)

Disc 5’s banging losing steam.

Disc 5. “RBA 8B”‘s drone has picked up some bass, and become more of a ghost than a pierce. Pot banging and silverware clanging is back to being pretty persistent, though, with some distant scraping mixed in.

Disc 5. “RBA 8B”. Close encounters!

Disc 5. 37 minutes in, and we’re toying with real honest-to-goodness “ambience.” There’s a broken piano plonking away in a very large room.

Many of these pieces end suddenly after 45 or so minutes – one side of a 90-minute cassette?

Disc 6 “RBA 8A” starts as a ghostly, whistling thing. With, of course, a little bit of background clanging.

Disc 6 “RBA 8A”‘s whistle is gone, replaced by water running through pipes. And more immediate clanging.

Disc 6 is like stretching out the moment before someone gets killed in a horror flick to 45 minutes.

Disc 6 “RBA 8A” has a nice little moment in the 23rd minute where a particularly loud clang causes the now-returned whistle to cut for a second, and another clang a second or two later signals its return

Disc 6 “RBA 8A” trudging through a stretch with some random xylophone banging.

Disc 6 “RBA 8A” replaced the pots and pans with an irregularly-dribbled basketball (with delay effects!).

Disc 6 closes with the dribbling/drumming sounding like burbling water and the return of the whistle.

Disc 7 “RBA 7+2” starts with a minor sixth drone, but quickly devolves into wind and distant scrapes.

Disc 7: A horn! (?)

Disc 7. Just had an image of crossing a long metal bridge inside the jaws of a giant metal dragon. While kicking a pan. Too much more of this might not be healthy.

Disc 7 continues with a high-pitched whine. We’re officially at the point where these discs are starting to lose their identities and blur together.

Disc 7 “RBA 7+1” is jittery electronic static with a treble toned drone on top.

Disc 7 “RBA 7+1” continues with the jittery electronics, but is now adding piercing dog whistle electronics. WHEEEEE

Disc 7 “RBA 7+1” is starting to sound like glitch without the beats.

Disc 7 ends, randomly, with pulsing, unobtrusive synths. There’s a little bit of skittering that sounds like random superfast guitar/violin plucking, but it’s a strangely peaceful finish to an hour of noise (though this disc did lean toward ambient in general)

Disc 8. “RBA/Maxell UD II-S 90”. Mmm hmm. Most obnoxious thing since disc 4. Like listening to an airplane punctuated by buzzsaws cutting sheet metal. And falling apart.

Disc 8 also has a weirdly audible-but-quiet drum thing going on in the left ear that keeps making me look over my shoulder.

OH HOLY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING

Disc 8. “RBA/Maxell UD II-S 90” (that title alone makes me want to wreck things) just riffed on the Star Spangled Banner (SQUARE WAVE REMIX) for a second before giving up entirely and defaulting to the distant rattling that is this set’s default position.

Disc 8 “RBA/Maxell UD II-S 90” allowing some found sound to trickle in intermittently

Maybe the best moments in this thing are where it goes almost silent, because you know it’s going to break soon, you just don’t know how.

Disc 8 making me check my headphones…everything’s happening on the right channel while the left glitches.

Disc 8. “RBA/Maxell UD II-S 90” The sound of squeaky shoes. Lots of variation in this track.

Disc 8. “RBA/Maxell UD II-S 90” ends with squeaking and more cutting in and out of the left channel. Why not.

Disc 8. “Mixer/Scratch AXIA for CD” is screechy and ugly as hell.

Disc 8 “Mixer/Scratch AXIA for CD” is the aural equivalent of one of those static electricity globes you see at science museums.

Disc 8 “Mixer/Scratch AXIA for CD” fades out at 17:45. Picks back up again with alien record scratches with heavy delay effects. DVOA-esque.

Disc 8 is back to mild obnoxiousness – bendy high-pitched tape manipulation alternating with backdraft.

Disc 9. “Metal4ch”. The first track name that doesn’t look like a cataloging mechanism. Already seems to live up to its name one minute in.

Did I turn on Pulse Demon?

Disc 9. Wall of noise.

Disc 9 has gone from wall of noise to low-level static with clattering noises.

Disc 9 shifts the wall, but it’s an assault front to back. “Metal4ch” indeed. It’s ended. My ears are still ringing.

Disc 10. “Matehnas”. Sounds like we’re actually sawing something now. There’s a voice here, too. Making growly noises. And a long, sustained fart.

Disc 10. The farts are gone, but they’ve been replaced by more saws and squeaks…maybe a bowed instrument or three being abused mercilessly.

20 minutes into Disc 10 and there’s been no appreciable progression…just an endurance test.

Disc 10. “Matehnas” drops off at the 24-minute mark and turns into vague rattling. A few saws make their way in, sounding a little like screams.

Disc 10, into “1988DECsolo”. I’d say it’s more obnoxious than “Matehnas”, but it’s only more obnoxious than the END of “Matehnas”. Maybe equally obnoxious. Different things going on in both stereo channels. Ugly ugly ugly.

Disc 10. “1988DECsolo” is totally unspectacular. Screeching, noise, etc. Not particularly violent nor particularly “ambient”.

Disc 11 starts with “9011”.

Past the point of giving a shit.

Disc 11. “9011”. Reverb. Scraping. Activity. Yes.

Disc 11’s “9011” has another one of those bits where all the clattering and static drops out for a second and you just get a piercing, high-pitched whistle. As if he’s saying ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION !!!

Would it be bad if my review just went like this: “Merzbow. It is what it is.”

Disc 11 has a second track: “Violinsolo89”. Scraping and skittering with a super high-pitched thing going over the top of it.

Disc 11. “Violinsolo89″ actually has some truly ambient moments…quiet just waiting to be broken.

Disc 11…”Violinsolo89” sounds like a violin, being played with incredible quickness and dissonance. Surprise?

Disc 11 is showing off some surprisingly Mid-Eastern overtones

Okay, Disc 11 ended on a high note with “Violinsolo89”. That was pretty interesting.

Disc 12. Into the home stretch. Of course, it’s the longest disc in the set (62+ mins)

Disc 12. “Gasstove4-90”. Always a big fan of the “aluminum bat hitting a concrete floor” sound.

Disc 12. “Gasstove4-90” at least sounds like it’s going somewhere…variety of sounds so far.

HEY THAT’S ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, SORTA

Disc 12 is shaping up nicely…5 minutes left of “Gasstove4-90” and I’m actually less bored than usual thanks to power white noise and space sounds.

Disc 12…”92288″…shortwave radios?

Disc 12 is just going to ride out on a wave of static and pulses, isn’t it?

Yes it is. Good night, Matilda, I’m done with this thing. Time to write something.

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