title: various Merzbow albums
genre: noise, harsh noise
the brave reviewer/ listener / reporter: Forfy
Forfy Acid listens a full month to music of the legendary noise artist Merzbbow.
When Yeah I Know it sucks saw his intensive and honest report,
we thought this might be of the readers interest!
Here is the brave, brave Forfy reviewing and listening Merzbow for a full month in his own words:
Last year I saw Merzbow perform live. I’ve never heard much of his music asides from a couple of snippets on YouTube and a Negativland remix.
Before seeing his performance, there was an article posted about this music blog writer who listened to Merzbow for a full month. So, I’ve decided to do something similar.
I’m going to listen to at least one release a day, every day, for the whole month In doing so, I’m also going for as chronologically as possible, rather than just picking and choosing. If all goes well, I might continue beyond the month and aim for the full collection.
February 1, 2014
I guess it’s sort of cheating to do this one – considering it’s never been released outside of Merzbox, but technically it’s the first so it’s where I’m starting.
The first half of this album is a low hum drone riddled with banging metal sounds, akin to the similar Noise pieces of the era. It’s your stock standard Drone, really. Following that, the shorter tracks include a heavily distorted improvised drum “solo”, as well as one for guitar too.
I quite like the guitar piece, mostly for it’s odd mixing of taped voices in the fluttering, eclectic barrage of various sounds. The rest of the release was pretty sub-par.
Is this even an album? It’s basically just one 14min jam session. Anyway…
Similar to the last track of OM Electrique, we get more improvised guitar noise – though this time the guitar is a lot more recognisable. At one point he coughs quite a bit into the mic whilst all the nonsense is going on. Not as enjoyable as the last guitar thing from OM, but it is what it is. Also, fuck exercise.
Does the “E” stand for “Erratic”? More spazzy, random, improvised music. Though this time, things are a lot more “organised” and less lo-fi. Noise still rings out through the bashing and the banging, with a weird whistle-like sound. Occasional vocal effects hit the mix, and I swear I heard some traditional flutes in there too.
While it is nice to hear some decent improvised work, I have been preferring the noisy side.
Live at Kid Airak Hall
Now this one was a welcome change. The first half of this live show involved an onslaught of mad professor-esque organs howling amidst static and wailing noise; and of course, lots of banging metal. The whistling howls almost flutter throughout the pieces, and the banging of various objects supplies a decent undertone.
Come the second half, and the flow has slowed down – bangs are almost syncopated and rhythmic (to start with at least), as it flows back into the similar state of the first half of the show one minute at a time – ending abruptly as the tape cuts out about 20 minutes later.
Gotta love these titles – quite fitting too. Departing (albeit only slightly) from previous releases, this is (so far) the most rhythmic release by Merzbow. Noise Rock splattered with improvised banging (wow, really, more banging?!)
I believe at least one or two tracks are live performances, or are at least recorded differently than the others. A pretty solid release overall, nice to hear a good mix of the battering noise and the more “musical” music.
February 2, 2014
About 50% assorted concrete music, 50% improvised jams on assorted equipment. The vocal track is really bad, it honestly is the worst track I’ve heard so far.
However, the album is saved by the radio. I do love when artists incorporate radio use into music, and this is no exception. The occasional seeking through the stations, mixed vocals and radio static blend in nicely with the other various sounds going on. Highlight is probably the “guitar solo”, or “Theme of Dadaist” – not for its very Egyptian sounding riff, but for the effects that mingle amidst the song.
February 3, 2014
It wasn’t until after about 20min in that I realised this is basically the same as the last live record. In fact, part 1 is the same as it appears on the Kid cassette. So there’s the usual banging, static, radio effects, and organs wailing.
However there’s also part 2, which is different. This appears to be the remainder of the concert that wasn’t on the original cassette. This seems to pick up where the end of part 1 left off. The majority of it being detuned Synth whining amidst base Drone, what sounds like an alarm, and some more banging. Not as interesting as the first part, but at least you get a full picture of what Merzbow’s first concert was like.
February 4, 2014
Material Action for 2 Microphones
This is the sort of music that makes you check your headphone connection cause you think that most of the time it’s cutting in and out of the channels. That seems to be the intention – as the title suggests. Perhaps one per channel?
Anyway, all the tracks range from mixes of warped turntables, tapes, radios – all layered within various banging (yes, again), noise, and drone-like bass. Track one seems to be slowed down funk (PROTO-VAPORWAVE?!?!? Nah.) The third track has an almost “riff” in it for the most part.
February 5, 2014
Electric Environment starts as a ‘more-of-the-same’ piece, bashing drums and modulated noisy effects rippling throughout the improvised piece.
Then something different; Untitled Material Action – a piece consisting mostly of just a modulated metronome or short beeping synth, water sounds, and occasional assorted cacophony mixed in. Sawing sounds, tape loops, and rhythmic electronics get thrown in towards the end of it, akin to the Material Action for 2 Microphones work.
The third track, Telecom Manipulation, is a mix of the two. What sounds like distorted, out of tune violins and other instruments wail amongst the modulated synths, hisses, and spontaneous bangs.
February 6, 2014
Basically: imagine all the previous music that’s happened so far (the banging, the modulated synths and effects, the mixing of oriental and stringed instruments, and of course the occasional harshness) – now add a very minimal drum machine under it.
Yup, that’s basically it. Banging, effects, noise, drones, synths, and a very minor drumbeat underneath it all. Most of the time it’s almost just a metronome under the track, or just a simple hi-hat loop. Towards the end it cuts out and it’s just more ‘material action’.
February 7, 2014
In the style of Remblandt Assemblage, as the song titles suggest. The first track, something different, is a mix of improvised piano and the usual sawing, banging, and assorted nonsense this entire era has made me accustomed to.
The second track is basically the same, just replace the piano with a harmonica. More modulated noise here and there and general cacophony.
The third track is basically noise akin to the previous Material Action pieces.
So yeah, basically more of the same. Despite having a bit more experimenting in more traditional instruments, it’s still the same sort of thing.
February 8, 2014
Basically the same thing yet again. Even moreso, the first couple of tracks start of in the same vein as 004 did – improvised piano pieces. Though in this case, guitar-based noise ripples within the piano notes.
The album flows from piano with noise, to just noise, to just basic guitar strums and bangs, to a final noisy finish. So again, really, similar to what the other Collections and Material Action pieces have been, just in a new order. I did like how it all flowed, but it’s really just more of the same at this point.
“Drums, Tabla, Guitar, Merztronics, Tapes, Syn-Are, Synthesizer, Percussions With Ring Modulator, Recorder, Guitar, Tapes”. The track titles don’t lie, that’s basically the extent of the release. A smattering, once more, of assorted instrumentation; manipulated with numerous effects and played seemingly at random. The early sections include occasional drum machine, and the latter has more of a distorted guitar over-the-top of more banging.
So yes, once again, basically the same thing. Why is this one rated lower than the others? I dunno, it’s just not interesting. It’s nothing new, really, just done in a different order, or done with different levels of what goes where. It’s getting really annoying at this stage.
February 9, 2014
Almost done with the Collection series (thankfully), well at least as many as I could find that is. Regardless, this is yet another collection of assorted layered, improvised instrumentation. Once again, we have stringed instruments, guitars, tape loops (one of which isn’t half bad), and of course – lots of banging.
This one in particular is a bit grittier than the last few, with a lot of static radio noise in the background, and a lot less quiet times than previous Collections. But is it any better? Not really. Still about the same, just another 40 or so minutes of improvised hitting stuff.
There’s only two more from 1981 to go.
Metal Acoustic Music
Egads, something different, finally! Well sort of.
So this release is basically a two part onslaught of everything we’ve already heard – lots of sharp electronics, high pitched whines, oscillation and, yes, BANGING.
Anyway, this one was kind of cool, at least the first part was. Part 1 is a solid 47min of nearly constant noise, concreted in it’s manufactured state of being, and mixed with assorted bits and bops as usual. It’s really a great mix, for a change.
Then part 2 comes in (assuming you have both parts from Merzbox, that is). Annnd it basically cuts a full star from the release. So here we have yet another 45min of music, this time, flooded with a whiny oscillator throughout basically the whole damn piece. Normally I don’t care, but it’s just not helping the song. The original piece could have been great in its own element, and this part just spoils the fun.
Oh well, at least it’s not another Collection (though I still have one more to get through, joy).
Collection Era Vol. 2
This is probably the same as the other Collections, but according to the Merzbox, this is a few clips from assorted outtakes/alternate versions of other volumes? I dunno. I hate to throw the phrase around but “it all sounds the same”.
This release in particular is drum heavy. Every track is riddled with improvised drum jams, with noise running over the top. Doesn’t seem to be much in the way of off-kilter banging, and assorted other sounds, seems to just be drums and noise.
The final track is kinda catchy, but that’s because it’s all in time to the simple drumbeat. Probably the first beat-based thing so far. Aside from that? More of the same. At least this is it for 1981 (until I track down the missing ones).
February 10, 2014
So, it’s a new year now and.. oh look basically the same again.
Well OK, at least this release was a little better. It’s pretty dissonant and powered by the static (and I believe, vocal) noise almost the whole two pieces. The second piece features a heavy use of turntables being played at random in the mix, which is kinda cool.
So yeah, at least we’ve moved on a bit from the standard banging and improvised drum nonsense and into more noisy territory.
February 11, 2014
The second part of Solonoise, being another 20 odd minute piece, and a shorter 14min one as well.
Part 3 of this is about the same, more dissonant-driven noise riddled with occasional bangs, clangs, and other noises. It’s about as average as the previous tape. The turntabling, like the last one, is cool.
However, one of the highlights of the listening experience so far has been Part 4. The piece is made up of about three main tape loops that are repeated consistently. Atop that there’s a layer of noise that comes in and out, and a lot of tinkering with the loops. The way they’re affected here and there, and the almost battering nature of their repetition is great fun. If more pieces were like this the ratings would be a lot higher.
February 12, 2014
Nil Vagina Tape Loops
So, as I said with the last release – I quite enjoyed that little loop that it was based around.
This release is nothing but the same thing, but for an hour. Therefore, yay! Both parts are bled into each other without much hassle so there’s no real point in separating them here. The piece consists of about 4 or 5 main tape loops, which are vocal, or made up of odd sounds and noises. Over the top of it, from time to time, there’s noise that comes in and out.
There’s a little banging and improvisation here and there, but honestly not enough to spoil it too much. So yes, this was quite the cool release.
February 13, 2014
Ugh. Here we go again, with the improvised bangs and assorted noises. This is mostly recycled material from what I can tell (mostly from earlier tapes or the Collection series, albeit slightly different).
The already heard pieces were nothing fancy, and the new bits (if there’s even any, I can’t remember anymore) aren’t interesting. Just more of the same bangs and clangs and static overwash. Bring back the tape loops.
February 14, 2014
Expanded Music 2
Probably the first release that can be called Harsh Noise. It’s an onslaught of harsh static and battering noises.
The first piece, the longest, is basically a long Onkyo piece (being sine wave manipulation), whereas the others are pretty hard-hitting.
I was basically passed out with a fever the whole day so I only just managed to squeeze this in.
February 15, 2014
Material Action 2
Much better than the first Material Action tape. These two pieces are a lovely mix of assembled Noise, with a good undertone to each one.
I honestly don’t know what to say about it beyond that – I’m still feverish and everything hurts, but this was kinda fun. Nothing great, but a step in the right direction.
February 16, 2014
Yantra Material Action
Eight untitled pieces, ranging from sonic, resonating noise, to just a little bit of the old improvised collage-style piece work.
Each track flows basically more or less into the next, so there’s not really any standouts here. Most of it is pretty average though. Towards the end there’s some cool manipulation of radios and effects which goes into a low, dissonant static mix, amidst the bubbling sound of the noise.
February 17, 2014
Probably my favourite release so far. It’s a great mix between the general dissonant, harsh, static Noise of the mixed releases – and the more Noise Rock oriented releases like Normal Music.
In the mix there’s a little tape manipulation, and programmed drums under it all, which is a nice touch.
Seriously, equal parts cascading as it is enjoyably painful to listen to. More like this please.
February 18, 2014
Dying Mapa I
About a halfway point between the awesomeness that was Escape Mask, and the average, same-sounding releases prior.
It gets a little beat-based amidst the noisy clutter, as most of the releases have been doing so.
Not terrible, but nowhere near as great as the last one.
February 19, 2014
Dying Mapa II
A step down yet again.
Back to the same old thing, noise over the top of occasional drum machine. The first track wasn’t too bad, but side B was terrible. All of the little tracks meld together, but they’re just irritating and non-memorable.
February 20, 2014
Dying Mapa III
And another step down. Normal junky Noise over the top of more junk.
Track one isn’t too bad, it’s a little graony and has some decent noisy sections. But the majority of it is just more of the same.
The other side of the tape is mostly cut-ups of radio, tapes, TVs, etc. So you get to hear a lot of random nonsense throughout the track. There’s some drum machine which comes in. Wow.
February 21, 2014
Back to about as good as Escape Mask was. Semi-organised Noise Rock, with sub-levels of improvised Noise jamming.
The latter half of Side B is kinda cruddy, and spoils most of the release. It’s repetitive and annoying.
Stick to the first half, it’s quite enjoyable.
February 22, 2014
About a mid-range release between Escape Mask, Yahatahachiman, and Normal Music. Not too shabby when it comes to the improvised Rock elements, but lacking in depth compared to the others in the same vein.
The first track was really cool, as they generally seem to be. Track two gets a little bit more jammy, which was also a nice change of pace. But track three, once again, was a little bit of a spoil to the release. It’s just too long for its own good, it doesn’t add context nor creativity, just detracts from a good little amount of noisy fun.
So far I think the main bane of most of these releases is they’re all formatted for cassette, and generally go on for far longer than they need to. If they were stripped back, shorter, even EP-length – they’d be more choice.
Mechanization Takes Command
A good way to end the 1983 year (or at least as much of it as I was able to obtain).
The first track was really cool, it was a great mix between the collaged tape cut-ups of the earlier releases, and the recent style of harsh Noise Rock jamming. Each track that followed flowed into a stream of sonic, disproportionate Rock, rooted in its place by the surrounding Noise.
Again, though, the main setback that makes this release less worthwhile is the length. An hour long, ugh. I don’t have time for all this. I do, but, I don’t want to. Frankly, just cut it to about a third of the tracks and you’d have a 4.5/5 album. Regardless of this, it’s still a good listen. Though I think Escape Mask takes the cake for the best release of the year here.
The month is almost up, I’ve got about 9 hours worth from 1984, so that’s probably where it’s going to end.
February 23, 2014
Probably even better than Escape Mask, honestly. This release is what I would call the first dabbling in the Industrial side of things (seriously people, there’s none before 1984, stop it.)
There’s synths and weird, alien sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a T.G. release. And possibly my favourite Merzbow track so far, Makinna, is like the Merz equivalent of Persuasion.
Tracks get clustered up with the same damn drum machine he always has in there, but it’s a little bit more lo-fi and a lot more hard-hitting than the previous pieces involving it. Tape loops and odd sampling galore, and of course, enough Noise to ring it all out.
This one was a great listen, and I seriously hope for similar things in this last week.
First collab release I’ve listened to. This one is made up of four “parties” (I assume “parts”), which range from this random Coldwave artist mumbling over the top of his beats and Merzbow’s synthy-noise – to individual tracks by each artist.
I kinda dig it. Not as much as Aka Meme, but it was kinda fun. They all blend like a melancholic storyboard, spattered with both downtempo, low, cold beats, and harsher Noise provided by Merzbow. The main setback is probably the random vocals used (and you can even hear a callback to early Merzbow work when he starts wailing into a mic while thrashing it about).
There’s even a bunch of banging (whodathunkit), but it actually kinda works on this one, at least.
The first tape is kinda cool. The first track is a half hour blast of static Noise, with a lot of tape manipulation underneath. Lots and lots of random loops of screaming, vocals, noise, and the general cut-ups.
I like the other half a little more (for once), with a lot of crazy loops. It breaks up a few times and then gets barraged with even more dissonant loops. The final 30 seconds has a really high pulsing bit of Noise that was just the cherry on top.
February 24, 2014
The first track is probably one of my favourite Merzbow tracks to date. It’s made up of an incessant groaning, loads of tape loops which are quite haunting by themselves. A guy repeats “9-1-1” and there’s a lot of screaming in the mix. The Noise is less prominent, but it’s overall quite an enjoyable half hour of looping clips.
The other side of the tape is a ruiner, once again. It’s annoying and basically the same as the previous tape – but with Noise replacing the vocal snips. Just generic, layered, looping static noise. Nothing special.
February 25, 2014
The first piece is a lengthy single piece of Noise. A constant half hour of static walls of dissonant rumbling, groaning synths and assorted bits in the mix of it all. A pretty solid track, not very memorable though. But it beats the last piece which was annoying in its repetition.
Side B is similar to the last track of tape 2, which is also not very enjoyable. Though towards the mid to end of the track, there’s this really high pitched, modulated ringing that covers the rest of the track. It’s really, really annoying – and that’s kind of cool.
February 26, 2014
The first piece is almost a form of HNW; the static dissonance (I’m never gonna stop using those words at this rate) of it is unchanging, albeit from minor shifts amongst the texture of it all. Groaning, harsh growls of (assumed) guitar-driven static Noise is basically the full half hour of this track. I quite like it, compared to the 200 tapes of banging random shit I heard before it.
The second piece is again, annoying. It’s a set of about 5 or 6 tape loops of Noise, some demonic laughing, groaning, and general sounds. They fade in and our here and there, and at one point overlap each other. But they’re irritating, uninteresting, and ruin the first track’s flow.
February 27, 2014
Both tracks are basically similar to a few of the previous pieces – being mostly comprised of looping pieces accompanied by Noise.
Track one has a lot of moans, sexual moans. I guess it fits in with the album title, for a change.
Track two has a great title, but a very, very irritating loop throughout the entire track. The Noise is fun, but the loop in this piece kinda ruins it.
3/5 for this tape.
Overall, for the full tape, it’s kinda a mixed release. While it has its high points, it does have a lot of lows too. Not to mention the length of the full thing.
3.5/5 for the full tape set.
February 28, 2014
Blegh. This release was not really enjoyable at all. Both tracks were a total throwback to the earlier days of Merzbow – and whatever Null was doing was so washed out in the terrible quality of the tape that it was ruined. The first track had some fantastic underlying synths but they were all overwrought with god-awful banging and assorted nonsense crushing the fidelity of it all.
Track two was basically just Material Action all over again. Annoying banging of drums and such, with some noise over the top. Blah. That was really irritating.
A bit of a step up. A collab with some random unknown person; who are you person?
Anyway, it’s mostly noisy, with lo-fi drum machines and Industrial synths throughout the release. Tracks range from standard Merzbow Noise-Jam-Improvs to odd alienesque wobblings of synths and percussive patterns.
There’s also a really cool song on here which has a lot of screams and cries for help, and is not as terrible as the previous times this occurred in sub-standard tape loop format.
About an extra hour of Pornoise material.
This tape is a final mid-range look at the material from 1984. Like the full set it’s from, it’s comprised of a mix of both tape loops, Noise, and Noise made with tape loops. Tracks range from once again irritating loops that go nowhere, to dissonant howls of static anguish amongst the reels.
It’s mostly solid, though, like its predecessor. It has ups and downs, but the looped nature and way it’s all assembled made for a semi-decent final hour in this month long challenge.
The Month is Over!
Maybe I cheated, by doing this in February so there were 2-3 less days to have to listen to things; maybe I was wrong to start from the beginning and see how far I could get; regardless, it’s done, and I’m done for the month.
1979-1984, all inclusive, inasmuch as I could find the content to listen to. Ranging from the irritating bangfest concrete music era, to improvised Noise jams, and even a little bit of harshness thrown in here and there.
Overall, as a technical first listener (besides those remixes/odd tracks/live show), I’d have to say this period is just.. not that worthwhile. In amongst all of this I think I found maybe 10% of the content to be enjoyable, where the rest was just lackluster, and irritating.
That being said, it is after all only the first 5 years of a 35 year long history of music making.
So where to from here? Well I won’t be forcing myself to play at least one a day, as I have a litany of new 2014 releases I want to hear and never had the time to with this challenge. But at the same time I want to keep going, just for the hope of hearing some releases that are more enjoyable. So this list may be over for the original concept, but the sporadic listens I plan on doing will be added as they occur. One day I’ll be able to say I’ve listened to it all and be proud.. or something like that.