Posts Tagged ‘Merzbow’

Editions Mego – EMEGO264 – 5th July 2019

Australian avant-gardist Oren Ambarchi has enjoyed a varied career spanning over three decades, and includes among his associations Sunn O))), Merzbow, and Burial Chamber Orchestra. To describe his output as ‘prodigious’ would be an understatement.

According to the press release, ‘Simian Angel finds Oren Ambarchi renewing his focus on his singular approach to the electric guitar, returning in part to the spacious canvases of classic releases like Grapes from the Estate while also following his muse down previously unexplored byways’.

It continues: ‘Reflecting Ambarchi’s profound love of Brazilian music – an aspect of his omnivorous musical appetite not immediately apparent in his own work until now – Simian Angel features the remarkable percussive talents of the legendary Cyro Baptista, a key part of the Downtown scene who has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn and Derek Bailey to Robert Palmer and Herbie Hancock’. Some of this has meaning: a lot of it doesn’t. I don’t know everything, and nor have the time or inclination to research. Jobbing reviewers crib from press blurbs and make like they know stuff. The majority are lying.

Neither Brazilian music nor guitar are overtly apparent on the two long-form tracks which make up Simian Angel: the sixteen-minute ‘Palm Sugar Candy’ consists of supple, trilling organ notes drifting across clopping, loping, irregular wood-based percussion which fades out to nothing leaving only soft, whisping tones which weave in and out of one another.

The title track is vague, piano notes rising into a rarefied air. It builds gradually into flurries of notes which flutter like snow in a breeze, skittering unpredictably. Baptista’s contribution is remarkable in its subtlety: a sedated heartbeat pulse which occasionally stutters and stammers. Around the mid-point of this twenty-minute mod-inspiring epic, the piano halts unexpectedly and an upward gliding drone alters the previously straightforward trajectory of the composition. Simmering down into twittering gentleness, subtly twisted with the slightest hints of dissonance and eventually transitioning into some mellowed-out semi-ambient reinterpretation of minimalist jazz – which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Instead, the slowly insistent beats force something approximating a solid frame on which all the other abstraction hangs – and it works.

AA

Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel

Advertisements

Room40 – EDRM419 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having released about a thousand albums since first emerging in 1979 (Wikipedia states ‘over 400 recordings’, which still makes for a completists impossible dream), a new Merzbow album still instils a certain glimmer of excitement and anticipation. Perhaps it’s the fact that while Masami Akita’s work sits squarely in the domain of ‘noise’ and the element of surprise is limited when it comes to a new release – there’s no dropping of a sudden and unexpected pop or country album, for example – his capacity to push the parameters of a genre he almost singlehandedly defined means that there’s always something to warrant interest.

Writing on MONOAkuma, a live recording made in Brisbane in 2012 at the Institute Of Modern Art, Lawrence English, the man behind the ROOM40 label, recalls ‘this was the second time I had the pleasure to present him live in Australia. To me, this performance epitomises the physiology of Merzbow’s sound work. He creates in absolutes; sonically he generates a tidal wave of frequency that sweeps across the spectra with tireless frenzy. Merzbow’s capacity to conjure a massive swirling mesh of analog and digital sources is without comparison. His work is one of physiological and psychological intensity; a seething, psychedelic and utterly visceral noise-ocean.’

English continues by noting that ‘2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Merzbow. This recording, which epitomises Merzbow’s 40 years as arguably the most important noise musicians of our time, demonstrates the intense and complex audio world Merzbow has created. It’s the perfect starting point from which to wade into the noise ocean that is Merzbow’s vast output.’

Sidestepping the fact Merzbow has been in existence almost as long as I’ve been alive, I’d be inclined to agree: MONOAkuma is quintessential Merzbow and encapsulates all of the defining features of said vast output.

I’ve personally only witnessed Merzbow once, performing in Glasgow in 2004 – a set which saw him split the signal between the PA and a massive – and I mean immense stack of Marshall cabs. Akita was barely visible, perched atop a wall of speakers that made the combined backline of both Sunn O))) and the Quo look like they’re travelling light. The sound he produced through this set-up was a face-melting, brain-bending, tone-shifting wall of noise. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite the same since.

MONOAkuma, then, contains 50 minutes of classic Merzbow. It begins with s few seconds of scratchy feedback. It tweaks at the nerve-endings. And then the levee breaks and the sonic deluge explodes. All the frequencies, all the tones, all the textures erupt simultaneously and blister and burn and fire in all directions. It’s so dense, so immense, so all-encompassing and immersive: the experience is overwhelming. There is noise, and then there is Merzbow. There is so much detail here… although it’s almost impossible to absorb even a fraction of it with so much, and delivered at such volume. Everything is tossed and churned in a barrelling tempest of relentless abrasion that scours the skull’s interior – select cement mixer / blender / washing machine / oil drill / swirling vortex / apocalypse simile of choice here. Whiplash blasts of funnelling distortion howl and scream in a churning tunnel of overloading distortion, and within six minutes it’s hitting the lower levels of pain and by 21 minutes aural and psychological ruination is achieved. The power lies in the ever-changing textures and tones: there isn’t a second were the sound doesn’t change, and it’s this constant shift that makes it so powerfully challenging, with layer upon layer of howling racket tearing the air to the point of atomization.

Few artists – if any – have the capacity to inflict brain-pulping anguish like Merzbow. This isn’t just nose: it’s all the noise. All at once. Amplified to the power of ten to create screeding, screaming, multi-tonal, multi-faceted blitzkrieg. There is no respite, no space to make shelter. It hurts. And until you’ve experienced Merzbow in full effect, you really haven’t experienced noise. And MONOAkuma is relentless in its assault. This is total noise, relentless, obliterative, devastating.

But as punishing and oppressive as it is, there’s something cleansing and cathartic about it. And herein lies the pleasure of the pain and the ultimate joy of Merzbow.

Please note: All proceeds from MONOAkuma will be used to fund research and preservation attempts for the Tasmanian Devil, which in recent years has suffered greatly due to effects of a transmissible facial cancer.

Merzbow - Mono

Nonclassical – cnclss024

Christopher Nosnibor

Langham Research Centre originated through late-night experimental gatherings at the BBC studios, and have evolved to produce long-form radiophonic works, of which 2014’s Muffled Ciphers was inspiredby JG Ballard’s seminal novel -which challenged the very notion of the form – The Atrocity Exhibition. Created with an accumulation of rare and obsolete instruments and devices, and inspired by early electronic composers spanning John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and Delia Derbyshire, Tape Works Vol. 1 is pitched as ‘a collection of modern musique concrète.’

The first thing I noticed was that my copy is number 11 of an edition of 30 promos. This knowledge spurs me to get my finger out and provide some coverage. The second thing I notice, on scanning the track listing, before reading the biography containing the above, is that it features tracks with the titles ‘The Voices of Time’ and ‘The Terminal Beach’ – the former of which is a collection of short stories by Ballard, and the latter of which is the title of one of the stories in that collection, which first appeared in 1963 under the title The Four-Dimensional Nightmare.

On Tape Works Vol. 1, the Langham Research Centre (and doesn’t that sound so Ballardian in itself… I’ve spent hours scanning my collection to see if there’s a character named Langham in Ballard’s oeuvre and have drawn blanks before ultimately deciding it’s better to actually get the work done than disappear down another rabbit-hole of research) explore all the dimensions. And while at times it confirms to the template of so much experimental analogue work, at times it ventures in the truly weird.

‘LOL, Pt 1’ mixes monkey chatters and R2D2 bleeps with eerie abstractions, bibbling bloops, fractured vocal snippets and small samples of laughter enter the mix alongside the kitchen sink to from an uncomfortable, disorientating sound collage.

There’s a lot of stopping and starting, whistling and droning, woe and flutter and infinite disruption. This is the sound of dislocation, a soundtrack designed to induce maximum disorientation.

Bleeps and squiggles, trilling squeals rising to a high-pitched hum collide with woozy, groaning bass frequencies. Notes bend as if on a stretched tape, and tape whips back and forth through heads. There are moments which recall the head-spinning cut-up and drop-in tape experiments conducted by William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Iain Sommerville in the late 50s and early 60s.

Birdsong. New snippets. A plane roars overhead. A conglomeration of voices. Static. Interference. A howling wind. Sparse, arrhythmic beats clatter and clang. Yes, this is life: fractured discordant, difficult. Simultaneous. Overwhelming. This is essentially how I feel about it. I cannot compute. I feel dislocated, alienated. I feel tense. Nothing new there. But Just as reading Ballard makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, so Langham Research Centre’s fucked-up sampling of old adverts and blending them with minimalist dark ambient twists me into a state of discomfort.

At time gentle, at others abrasive and bordering on the attacking treble whistles and white/pink noise crackle of early Whitehouse and Merzbow, Tape Works Vol. 1 is at no point accessible, easy, cuddly. But it does push the senses and question linearity and accessibility and even the boundaries of musicality. And as such, it fulfils its objective.

AA

Langham

Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS039

Christopher Nosnibor

We live in a world of noise. We live in a decaying, post-industrial world. The so-called developing world is on an inexorable trajectory toward the same calamitous end, a world of tertiary industry and a level of noise – literal and metaphorical – which the framework of postmodern hinted at and but failed to fully appreciate the totality of its eventuality. To contextualise Natural Incapacity requires a certain grounding in postmodernism and the idea of a society defined by information overload. But, to reframe my comment on the shortcomings of postmodern theory, it essentially fails to account for the impact of the culture on those who find themselves existing in that culture. What have we done in making such technological leaps with so little consideration for the psychological consequences? Has the human mind evolved at a pace correspondent with the technologies we’ve made? What does the infinite noise actually sound like in the middle of that blizzard of information?

Natural Incapacity is an immense work, with a total running time of some two and a quarter hours across its two discs. Housed in a hand-rusted cover produced by Jim Haynes, this is serious art. The album soundtracks not the external noise so much as it does perhaps the internal noise, and the experience of the collapse of everything into an amorphous cyclone of everything happening all at once. The human brain simply isn’t built for the world in which we find ourselves. There’s so much talk of ‘white noise,’ but ultimately, total overload is an entirely different kind of noise, an explosive noise, simultaneously conveyed as the sound of collapse, of panic, anguish, and screaming despair.

Disc one is the shorter of the two, with has a running time of an hour and two minutes. A dark, quiet rumble soon breaks into a dense, harsh wall of sound. Tidal waves crash and planets explode in slow-motion, creating layer upon layer of textured noise that pounds the senses relentlessly. This is heavy, brutal stuff. The violent turbulence is punishing, effecting a psychological disturbance. The moments of calm are but brief and heavy with tension, the suspense of how and when the next wave of noise will erupt. And erupt it invariably does, tearing the fabric of the atmosphere, an annihilative volume of atomic force.

There’s no obvious shift moving onto disc two, but the effect of so much oppressively dense, murky and irredeemably inhospitable noise is cumulative. As the time crawls on, one senses the walls slowly moving closer, the light and oxygen gradually being pushed from the room and the life slipping from one’s soul.

Hums and whirs offer cold comfort in this funnelling fermentation of foul decay as factories collapse in slow-motion under the weight of so-called progress. The absence of vocals renders this even more disturbing, in that there are no obvious signs of human life to be discerned in the churning melee. As such, were reminded of our ultimate obsolescence, and there can be no bleaker prospect than that. Natural Incapacity is nihilistic in the absolute, a soundtrack to the end of time.

 

Relay for Death - Natural Incapacity

The Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS040 – 2nd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

My first encounter with the work of Jim Haynes (the musician, not the writer who rose to a degree of cult prominence in the 1960s) came when The Decline Effect landed with me in 2011. Haynes’ territory is the dark, the ambient, the subterranean, but Throttle and Calibration is an altogether harsher work, which emerged from Haynes’ 2015 residency at MoKS in Estonia, where he would collaborate with and contribute to Simon Whetham’s Active Crossover series.

As the blub accompanying the release on the label’s website explains, ‘Throttle and Calibration is the first in a series of albums that find Haynes digging through the Active Crossover archive and grotesquely exaggerating the details into exploded compositions of volatile dynamics, nerve-exposed dissonance, caustic shortwave signal abuse, and a considerable amount of scarred metal. Marked as one of the more discordant works to date in Haynes’ career, Throttle and Calibration finds company near the atonal compositions from Hermann Nitsch and the sour, industrial collages that pock the Nurse With Wound catalogue. Previously released digitally on Crónica, Throttle & Calibration is fleshed out with an additional 20 minutes of material.’ This time around, the augmented digital release is also accompanied by a cassette edition. But, sadly, no vinyl, and no CD. Sadly because

As the blurb which accompanies the release intimates, discordant is it, and Throttle and Calibration does, most certainly, slot into the space where industrial and avant-garde intersect, and this reissue, expanded to eight tracks from the original five, is an essential work within its field. The album finds Haynes in exploratory mode, and he delves deep into the granular elements of sound over the course of this challenging work.

A long, buffeting rumble, like a distant train or the sound of wind on a mountain-top (if there is no-one there to hear it, does the wind still roar around the rocks?) is the first sound. The harrowing bleakness is but short-lived. Explosive blasts of noise rip and tear like detonations, atmosphere and ear-shredding eruptions. Small sonic ruptures are rendered at such volume and intensity as to inflict sensory and psychological.

What exactly is this? The Arctic wind ripping through an empty water tower? Or the apocalypse? It could be either, and may be both. It’s disorientating as well as full-on. Throttle & Calibration is an album which places sound under the microscope, so to speak. It’s not microtonal, but it is microcosmic, at least on the one hand. But in placing its focus on a small corner of the scene, Haynes then blows it up to A3 and zooms in 500%. The effect is terrifying, bewildering, intense, and the results are immense. In Haynes’ hands, mundane sounds are reforged and take on sinister dimensions. His addressing them from alternative perspectives – up close, amplified – is the key to building a new understanding.

A quiet rattle is annihilated by a roar which melts all definition into a whirling multitextural aural vortex in ‘Tabula Rasa’, and over the course of the album, Haynes repeatedly drags the listener through a succession of vertiginous sonic sinkholes. Single impacts – origins unknown and undisclosed – resonate and decay slowly n heavy atmosphere. The spoken word introduction to ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ sets an eerie tone, but this again is devastated in a tinnitus-inducing wall of screeding noise worthy of Merzbow at his most brutal.

It takes time and focus to peer through the harsh noise to discern the textures. Like stepping into the dark from a brightly-illuminated interior space, it takes time to recalibrate the senses. There are quieter passages, but they’re no less intense and no lighter in tone. Ominous monotone drones and hums hang for aeons; time is suspended in space.

Neither the full-throttle abrasion nor the shady, moody spells of dank mental torture offer anything by way of respite or levity: Jim Haynes is an artist who dwells in darkness and creates work that ranges from the darkest greys to the pitchest of blacks. Throttle & Calibration stands at the darker, more violent end of the spectrum. Uncomfortable unpleasant, and unforgiving, it’s a well-realised plunge into the bowels of a new shade of, rendered from the terrains of the everyday.

 

Jim Haynes – Throttle and Calibration

Hallow Ground – HG1606 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reiner Van Houdt presents an interesting proposition: a classically-trained pianist who’s worked with John Cage and Luc Ferrari, he also plays in Current 93 and has worked in collaboration with Nick Cave, John Zorn and Antony Hegarty. The fact this release is on the Hallow Ground label should perhaps give an indication that this is no soft neoclassical effort – although I’m in no way criticising neoclassical music here: I’m simply saying that this dos not sit within the field, and is harder, harsher, heavier, at least in places. There are no neat melodic structures to be found on Paths of the Errant Gaze, and no instrumentation which sits within the classical bracket: this is very much an electronic album.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to this. Paths of the Errant Gaze is an album which is extremely quiet, sparse, minimal, and the detail – and the quantity of source material involved in its creation – are not immediately apparent. Just as Burroughs and Gysin theorised on the power of ‘The Third Mind’ through the act of collaboration, so Van Houdt believes the act of recording creates a ‘third ear’. And so it is that Van Houdt built Paths of the Errant Gaze from myriad recordings gathered from a near-infinite array of locations.

‘The Fabric of Loss’ creeps ominously, scraping strings like creaking doors echo in the still air as dust motes descend silently, ‘Orphic Asylum’ introduces the first semblance of rhythms, murky, clanking, developing to extended bursts of bass-end noise and a thumping, trudging beat which plots treacherously through an unnervingly dark sonic labyrinth. Even when near-silence encroaches, there remains a dark, oppressive atmosphere in the air. Sparse piano notes and a Scott Walker-esque vocal emerge briefly from the dense sonic fog on TR 5, but neither does much to orientate or ground the listener.

There is no indication of the sounds captured by Van Houdt being your common or garden field recordings – in fact, the ‘everyday objects, situations and moments’ which Van Houdt records obsessively are all but lost amidst the process of forming a sonic melange. Nor does Van Houdt utilise these soundpieces in a conventional way: one does not get a sense of Paths of the Errant Gaze existing as a collage work. Paths of the Errant Gaze is not a work which is encumbered by a sense of pretence, and nor does its theoretical or conceptual framework impinge unduly on the end product.

The ten-minute ‘Transfinite Spectre’ is an all-out sonic assault worthy of Merzbow, as laser-guided blasts crackle and fizz, top-end treble drilling directly into the brain through the ear to create maximum discomfort.

 

Reinier Van Houdt - Paths of the Errant Gaze

Ventil – V004

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been impressed by the Kutin / Kindlinger / Kubisch / Godoy collaboration, Decomposition I-III, released on Austrian label Ventil Records, I was eager to get my lugs around Manuell Knapp’s latest offering, which purports to see the Vienna/Tokyo based artist depart from his ‘analogue home-turf to go exploring in the digital fields’. None of this forewarns of the fact that he pours napalm over every last inch of every field in a five-hundred-mile radius and hurls an incendiary missile straight into the middle of it just a few moments into this devastating album.

There’s something stark and straightforward about the track listing for this release: AZOTH Side A and AZOTH Side B. In a way, it gives the listener a blank frame in which to place the music, and equally, it gives nothing away.

The synthesised plucked chimes follow warped Kyoto motifs, while explosions blast all around. The contrast between tranquil folk tropes and the sound of a war raging makes for an unusual and unsettling experience. Gradually, the notes become increasingly dissonant until, before long, all semblance of musicality is obliterated in an ear-splitting wall of noise and rubble. From the wreckage emerges dark, chthonic drones, monstrous, alien sighs, which tear from a whisper to a scream. It’s fucking brutal. Brief moments of tinkling synths taunt the listener with the prospect of respite before the next merciless, neuron-melting assault. Brief moments occur where the noise and the fear chords emerge simultaneously, inviting comparisons to Prurient, but for the most part, AZOTH is the kind of atomizing noise attack that’s Merzbow’s trademark.

Knapp certainly grasps the power of frequency – and volume – and uses the two in combination to achieve optimal sonic torture. When it comes to overloading sonic noise, just when it seems impossible to push the circuitry any further, Knapp tweaks it a bit more, amping up the shrieking blast of noise to levels beyond madness, pummelling the listener from every angle with snarling bass noise competing with a shrill, jagged, high-end squall. While many noise recordings are generic or plain lacking in imagination – Harsh Noise Wall being a particularly dire example of how derivative noise-related subgenres can be, and the moribund nature of concept music centred around a weak, one-dimensional concept, Knapp is attuned to the importance of dynamics and textural variation.

Knapp also knows about art and exploitation: the vinyl version is released in an edition of just 15 copies, each with unique, hand-painted art, and comes with a price tag of €666. Amusing in an ionic way, it’s worth noting that at the time of writing, only five copies remain. This is the kind of release that won’t have broad appeal, or, indeed, much appeal at all in he scheme of things, but will always attract some truly fanatical devotees – and speculative purchasers with cash to burn. But in all seriousness, viewed from a broader perspective beyond merely sound, AZOTH is a work of art. And, ultimately, the sound is art too. It is, of course art, of a challenging, avant-garde nature, rather than of the entertaining, accessible, poster and postcard reproduction variety.

Side 2 marks a change of tone and begins with rumbling, dark ambience and hints at being something of a counterpoint to Side 1. The low, ominous drones eddy bleakly around in a tense, turbulent atmosphere. And then the screeding feedback tears through, while a growling drone worthy of Sunn O))) blasts beneath, and in an instant, everything is fucked. Total aural annihilation ensues amidst an avalanche of flanged laser bomb detonations fire in all directions: it’s bewildering, overwhelming.

The totality of the blitz is all-encompassing. AZOTH is about as uncompromising as can be.

 

AZOTH