Merzbow & Arcane Device – Merzbow & Arcane Device

Posted: 26 April 2022 in Albums
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Important Records – IMPREC511 – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Merzbow releases are rather like proverbial busses, with this collaborative release with Arcane Device being releases simultaneously with a 20th anniversary reissue of his Merzbeat album and a CD reissue of his 1983 album Material Action, all on Important Records. The difference between Merzbow and busses is that you never have to wait long for a Merzbow album.

Merzbow & Arcane Device is a coming together of two very old hands at this experimental / noise stuff. David Lee Myers aka Arcane Device has been building electronics and creating feedback based electronic music since the late 70’s. Merzbow’s career also began at the tail end of the 70s, and the last forty-odd years has witnessed the release of a truly staggering body of work, with as many as twenty or more albums being released in a single year. It’s a daunting, overwhelming output, and the same is true of the music itself. Perhaps more than any other artist, Merzbow has pushed the boundaries of music – and even the boundaries of noise – to the absolute limits, and then continued to push beyond.

The premise of Merzbow & Arcane Device as a split LP is straightforward: each takes a piece by the other and remixes it, each presenting a longform piece correspondent with a side of vinyl.

The two pieces here are very slow, low, and drony, with the EQ geared toward the mid-ranges and lower, rather than harsh walls of treble. ‘Arcane Device Remixes Merzbow’ is particularly dense, murky, and unhurried in pace. Bubbles and pops blister the crinkled surface of churning sods. There are brief, momentary stalls to the crunching earthworks, filled with swarming hornet buzzes and wippling ripples of analogue synth sounds and skimming laser blasts. A Geiger counter crackle is pitched down and slowed to register around the gut and occasional trills of feedback break through the swampy soup. But for the most part, it’s half an hour of thick, wind-blown drone.

Merzbow’s treatment of Arcane Device’s sound is similarly given to bleeps and drones, but at a higher pitch and faster tempo; the laser bleeps are machinegun rounds by the barrage, and there are wailing siren cries of elongated feedback notes. As the drones drill deeper, the washes of static grow louder and harsher, and as the layers build, so does the volume and the tension. By the eight-minute mark, the tonal separation has become most pronounced, with barelling low-end underpinning a veil of squalling pink noise. Perhaps uncommonly for Merzbow, there are lulls, and they’re most welcome – but when the noise swells once more, the impact is amplified.

In the scheme of harsh noise, Merzbow & Arcane Device is not particularly harsh, but it’s tonally varied and its comparative subtlety is effective, as it gives the album a more considered feel, and it in no way diminishes its impact. The fact the two tracks are different – perhaps not so much for the casual listener, but to a noise enthusiast – the variations on a theme hold the attention, and draw the listener into the details of texture. These works are restrained, respectful, even, but not reverently so, and in offering two sides of a melted, battered, and pulverised coin, Merzbow & Arcane Device makes for a tough yet immersive listen.

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