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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Merzbow Day *

* (restored)
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“I named my project Merzbow after a great work by the German
collage artist Kurt Schwitters which he called “The Cathedral
of Erotic Misery”. He made an art from oddments
he picked up from the street, just as I make sound from the scum
that surrounds my life. I was very inspired by Dada and
Surrealism. Probably the greatest idea of Surrealism for me
is “Everything is Erotic, Everywhere Erotic”. for me, Noise
is the most erotic form of sound…that’s why all of my
works relate to the erotic.”
— Masami Akita

 

‘Merzbow (Japanese; メルツバウ) is the name used by Japanese musician Masami Akita (秋田昌美 Akita Masami) (b. 1956) for most of his experimental noise records, and is considered by many to be the earliest project among others in what has become known as the ‘Japanese noise scene’. He has released over 300 CDs, LPs and cassettes since the early 1980s.

 

‘His earliest music was made with tape loops and creatively recorded percussion and metal, and has been compared to Throbbing Gristle and Nurse With Wound (an acknowledged influence). Early methods included what he referred to as “Material Action”, in which he would closely amplify small sounds so as to distort them through the microphone; later, he made several albums of “SCUM” (“Scissors for Cutting Up Merzbow”/”Society for Cutting Up Merzbow”), for which he would cut up previous Merzbow albums until they resembled something new. His tendency to work in themed phases recalls his training as a visual artist.

 

‘He released his music on cassettes through his own record label, Lowest Music & Arts, which was founded in 1979. In the early 1980s, after meeting the Italian avant-gardist noise artist Maurizio Bianchi/M. B. in Milan, he founded a second label, ZSF Produkt.

 

‘He later began to use more electronic instruments and electric guitars, but his music still consisted of what most people would think of as “noise”. In the past few years, Merzbow has begun to use digital technology more in his music. At a live performance these days, it is normal for him to produce all his music with two laptop computers, or combination of a laptop and analog synthesizers. In 2000, the Extreme record label released Merzbox, a 50 CD set of Merzbow records, 20 of them not previously released. The set also included stickers, postcards, poster, “merzdallion”, book, CD-ROM, and T-shirt; initial copies included extra posters and double album.

 

‘Merzbow’s most recent phase has an added political dimension, being explicitly related to animal rights and similar themes. An example of this is Minazo Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, dedicated to an elephant seal he visited often at the zoo, and Bloody Sea, a protest against Japanese whaling. He has even produced several works centered around recordings of his pet chickens (notably Animal Magnetism and Turmeric).’ — collaged

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PUNISHMENT AND THE BEAUTY OF JAPANESE BONDAGE (KINBAKU)
by Masami Akita
The History of S&M; in Japan

 

S&M; Art has taken many forms in Japan and this relates directly to the history of Japan. One established genre of S&M; art in Japan is what is known as the Joshu or female prisoners stuff. When we say “female prisoners” or “Joshu” stuff, we generally refer to those pictures of torture from the period between the battle of Onin (1467) throughout Sengoku and Edo periods to Meiji. Sengoku period is noted for its cruel methods of torture – fire, knife (to cut off parts of the body), tattoo, rocks, boiling water, divining blocks and rocking horses, and so on and so on. The most brutal forms of execution and torture were employed during this period of hell on earth. The methods of torture and execution used against the Christians were most barbaric. It should be noted, however, that there is nothing uncommon about brutal religious prosecutions throughout history. Elsewhere the believers of ‘wrong’ religions have been treated separately from the rest of the population. Christians in Japan got their ears, fingers and noses chopped oft, which were originally punishments for those who committed the crime of treachery and deceit. It was meant to give maximum public humiliation by physical deformation.

 

The Tokugawa government laid out in 1742 the foundation of crime laws, which spelled out seven different types of punishment – death, exile, slavery, forced labour and so forth, as well as four kinds of torture – .whip (mutchiuchi), pressing stone (ishidaki), bend by rope (ebizeme) and hung by rope (tsurizeme). It has to be noted that all four official methods of torture from this period ore still considered the main stream torture patterns in the S&M; ort today. You could say the foundation of today’s S&M; art was laid down then. (the entirety)

*

The Beauty of Noise
an interview with Masami Akita
by Chad Hensley

 

What first attracted you to Noise?

I was influenced by aggressive Blues Rock guitar sounds like Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Robert Fripp and fuzz organ sounds such as Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine. But the most structured Noise influence would have to be Free Jazz such as Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and Frank Wright. I saw the Cecil Taylor Unit in 1973 and it was very influential. I was a drummer for a free form Rock band in the late ’70s and I became very interested in the pulse beat of the drums within Free Jazz. I thought it was more aggressive than Rock drums. I also became interested in electronic kinds of sounds. I started listening to more electro-acoustic music like Pierre Henry, Stockhausen, Fancois Bayle, Gordon Mumma and Xenakis. Then I found the forum for mixing these influences into pure electronic noise. I was trying to create an extreme form of free music. In the beginning, I had a very conceptual mind set. I tried to quit using any instruments which related to, or were played by, the human body. It was then that I found tape. I tried to just be the operator of the tape machine– I’m glad that tape is a very anonymous media. My early live performances were very dis-human and dis-communicative. I was using a slide projector in a dark room at that point. I was concentrating on studio works until 1989 then I assembled some basic equipment before I started doing live Noise performances. Equipment included an audio mixer, contact mike, delay, distortion, ring modulator and bowed metal instruments. Basically, my main sound was created by mixer feedback. It was not until after 1990, on my first American tour, that I started performing live Noise Music for presentation to audiences. The first US tour was a turning point for finding a certain pleasure in using the body in the performance. Right now I’m using mixer feedback with filters, ring, DOD Buzz Box, DOD Meat Box, and a Korg multi-distortion unit. I am using more physically rooted Noise Music not as conceptually anti-instrument and anti-body as before. If music was sex, Merzbow would be pornography. (cont.)

 

*

The True Story of the Merzbow Car

 

The Story of the Merzbow CD packaged in a car has spread itself across the globe. Alot of rumors have circulated and the truth has been hard to come by. To coincide with the “Resist the Factory” I decided to talk directly to Anders at Releasing Eskimo, the Swedish label that put out the Merzbow car.

 

Here’s what he said:

 

“A while ago I had a Mercedes 230 that I didn’t drive much. The police told me that I had to move it or they’d tow it away. Well, I didn’t want to keep it and I didn’t have anywahere to store it so I decided to use it for something else. I rigged the car’s CD player with our latest release of Merzbow’s “Noise Embryo” CD so that the music started when the car was turned on and it was impossible to turn it off. I put it up for sale as an extremely limited edition of the “Noise Embryo” CD but no one ever bought it, and in the end the car broke down. So we took out the CD and got rid of the car. Now I’m thinking about if it’s possible to release a record in a Boeing 747…”

 

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EXPANDED NOISEHANDS
The noise music of Merzbow
by Carlos M. Pozo

 

The Austalian Extreme label’s announcement of a forthcoming $500 50 (fifty) CD boxed set (the “Merzbox”) of Merzbow’s music provoked the following selected reviews of the CD output of Masami Akita from 1990 to the present day. With the knowledge that this is forthcoming, to include a complete discography in this article is as ridiculous as it is pointless. Maybe Masami himself has kept track- I personally doubt he has a complete listing of his recorded works- but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. A listening guide of some sort is also pointless- noise seems to be even more subjective than non-noise musics. One man’s masterpiece is literally unlistenable to another, and for the most part, the fact that some noise music is unlistenable is the aesthetic victory the noise musician is striving for. Merzbow music is unlistenable in that sense. But it’s not just about the music, its the man himself, the mystery engendered by the endless stream of music emanating from his home studio. It’s the fact that he’s been doing this for so long, and can pull it off live worldwide. He’s an art critic noise rock and roller who writes articles about pornography for a living. (cont.)

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Five notable collaborations

Merzbow & Genesis P-Orridge A Perfect Pain (Cold Spring Records): ”This is a whistle-stop journey through the redded tooth and claw of Natural Selection, where the strong survive and the weak are incapable of stemming the bloody flow that Masami Akita has induced from their beleagured eardrums. A long-awaited masterpiece.’ — Synthesis

Alec Empire vs. Merzbow Live at CBGB’s 1998 (Digital Hardcore): ‘The CD races through all 58mins at a phenomenal speed, leaving a burning trail of splatter breaks and white noise in its wake. There are many moments when the sheer volume of different layers of beats and screaming machines threatens to collapse under its own weight but its fascinating to listen to and spot where the underlaying substructure of cohesion is coming from. Often this is supplied by the strong and driving rhythms which alternate between styles such as drum n bass, industrial and hip hop loops, but at other times its the job of the pounding synths to maintain at least a shadow of order over the run-away percussion.’ — amazon review

Merzbow / Carlos Giffoni / Jim O’Rourke Electric Dress (No Fun): ‘Whirring static, spurting effects, heavy drones: everything you’d expect from three prolific noisemakers is here, all doled out in big, dense brush strokes. Yet Electric Dress is no oppressive onslaught. Each participant is careful to share and trade sonic space with the other, and what could have been claustrophobic or suffocating is instead a balanced improvisation, akin to a thoughtful free jazz session.’ — Pitchfork

Maldoror (Merzbow & Mike Patton) She (Ipecac): ‘I think the last reviewer, who gave one star, was possibly expecting something a bit more musical from mike patton, or perhaps has never heard merzbow.’ — amazon review

 

Merzbow & Boris Sun Baked Snow Cave (HydraHead) ‘In all likelihood, you’ll have to take a break from Sun Baked Snow Cave halfway through and listen to some mainstream pop to cleanse your palate — otherwise the degenerating sine waves and disintegrating guitars will start to sound like the showers at Auschwitz.’ — Splendid Magazine
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Video Components

Documentaries


Beyond Ultra Violence, a Merzbow Documentary (1998)


MERZBOW – Part of Viva2 documentary from 2000 [VHS rip]

 

Live


Masami Akita’s supergroup Bust Monsters live ’91


Merzbow ‘Minus Zero’ music video


Merzbow live at the No Fun Fest 2007


Masonna and Merzbow live in Osaka w/ interview


Sonic Youth w/ Merzbow @ Roskilde Festival, 2005


Boris & Merzbow Boiler Room Tokyo Live Set


Merzbow with Wolf Eyes live at Kings Raleigh NC 8/6/13


Merzbow & Balazs Pandi – Saint Vitus 2012

 

Recorded


Merzbow – Pulse Demon (Full Album)


Merzbow – 1930 [Full Album]


Merzbow – Venereology [Full Album]


Merzbow – Electric Salad [Full Album]


Xiu Xiu + Merzbow – Merzxiu B


Merzbow / Mats Gustafsson / Balázs Pándi / Thurston Moore – Divided By Steel

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Very happy to read your shining endorsement of ‘Mobile’. I’m with you all the way. So did the rapture arrive yesterday? Hard to tell. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thank you. I’m really happy you’ll go to the showing. Well, yes, about the release. Our US distributor is very schedule-oriented on their films’ DVD releases, and hellbent enough about keeping to the schedule that, in our case, our theater release really suffered. Still, we’re lucky to have US distribution at all, so … the film will be fine. The Yellow Vest protests: hard to say. They continue regularly, ebbing and then intensifying, back and forth. Sure, eventually they will effect elections, but those are a ways off. It’s quite a different situation here than with Occupy in the sense that the protests are about preserving what already exists against Macron’s so-called reforms rather than trying to change the existing system into something brand new and fairer. They’re about keeping the French system the way it is and was. ** Nick Toti, Hi. Yep, fairly recent. That’s the cool thing about making stuff: you just never know what its life is going to involve and how it will reach people. Things can be given enormous push and promotion and be forgotten in a year or two, and things can sneak quietly into existence and end up being greatly more valued. Cool that you’re almost finished with the Megan Boyle film. Having edited a couple of films, I can’t even imagine. Much less imagine what a hell of an upload that must be. You’re doing a DVD of Bene’s short films? Why did I not know that? How great! Whoa! I’m good, just, you know super busy. Thanks about the gif novel. I’m on it. Take care, man. ** Grant Maierhofer, Hi, Grant. I’m thrilled to have been able to introduce you to the book, and, duh, that it excited you. Awesome, that’s the best. Have a swell day. ** Right. I decided for whatever reason to restore this quite aged but hopefully still cogent post that circles around noise innovator and maestro Merbow. May it make a difference. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. My DVD of PGL has arrived! Very very beautiful. Everyone who posts in here should own a copy (Go directly to Amazon!) In the interview “special feature” you strike a particularly sober and thoughtful pose, Dennis. ach looks as fetching as ever.

    “Noise Music” is something I theoretically recognize but in execution can’t really deal with For me it’s Mahler of Nothing.

    Interesting that Merbow should mention Cecil Taylor. Bill had an affair with Cecil many years ago. When we first got together we had him over to the apartment (this was when we lived in new York) for dinner. He was charming and polite to me but the moment I left the room to go to the john he told Bill to drop me and come live with him. (Which of course Bill did not do.)

    Cecil was a long-term PWA but none of the obits mentioned he’d succumbed to the effects of the disease or even that he’d contracted it.

  2. Dennis,

    Yeah, we’ve kept Bene’s DVD quiet because the process of making them is taking a lot longer than expected. I started talking with her about it over a year ago. I’m working with some folks under the collective name “DieDieMaoMao,” which is functioning as a sort of DIY production company/DVD label. All the DVD packaging is handmade with screen printed artwork and a little zine/booklet thing to accompany the movies. I’m pretty happy with how the first release (for my pal Jacob Graham’s puppet series “Creatures of Yes”) turned out, but I wish that it was possible to have a faster turnaround on them. I guess that hand-making everything basically necessitates it taking a long time, so there’s not much we can do about that.

    I’ll definitely let you know when Bene’s DVD is finished. Like I said, it should be later this year, but it’s hard to give an accurate estimate…

    Oh man. I love Merzbow so much! I remember seeing this post a few years ago and appreciating it then as I still appreciate it now. Thanks!

  3. Hey,

    Thanks, man.

    Cool post. Love Merzbow.

    Well, I can only keep my fingers crossed regarding the current state of my Beloved Maid Of Orléans’s Statue. In any case we still have the one at the Place Des Pyramides by Emmanuel Frèmiet and the one in Orléans by Denis Foyatier; at least…

    BTW, months ago saw Bonello’s ‘Nocturama’. Masterpiece.

    Love ‘Death Sentence’ too! What do you think of ‘The One Who Was Standing Apart From Me’?

    I’ve loved all the DeLillo I’ve read so far, but, curiously enough ‘The Names’ doesn’t really appeal to me that much. My favorite DeLillo is definitely ‘Point Omega’.

    “either Richard Chiem’s ‘King off Joy’ or Mark Doten’s ‘Trump Sky Alpha’”

    ^ Mmm, first time I hear of them. Thanks.

    Ugh, I recently read this ‘Zombie’ thing by this Oates person. What a load of shit. It’s pathetic and sad how badly she tries to be/write like Burroughs/McCarthy/Didion/DeLillo/You/Selby, Jr. and it’s all nothing but an *Enormous* waste of time and paper…

    Oh, no, not going to Pasadena. Just told you I’m going to CA next month and then asked you if you were born and grew up in Pasadena to be sure. But, no, as Zep would say: ‘Going To California’; but won’t be in Pasadena. It’s all very residential, isn’t it? It’s not much of a place for a tourist, right; or am I wrong? Did George Miles live in Pasadena or Arcadia when you met?

    “I’m extremely excited about the new Malick, and I’m hoping that, since it’s premiering at Cannes, it’ll open in France”

    ^ Hopefully (for you) that’ll be the case. In France His Work is much, much more appreciated than in the USA, anyway. But, well, here in my country neither ‘KOC’, nor ‘STS’ were ever even released at all. Had to wait for the Zone A Blu-Rays to come out to see them… Just sad, sad…

    Man, I’m *DYING* to see ‘PGL’!!!… Some months ago I read some reviews and it certainly seems like a Perfect Film I’d Absolutely Love.

    I recently reread parts of Derek McCormack’s Great ‘Dark Rides’ and ‘The Haunted Hillbilly’. Love them both. Especially ‘DR’. Guess it helped a little bit with the two small writing projects I’ve just finished. Is ‘The Well-Dressed Wound’ a novel?

    Good Day,

    Good Luck,

    A.

  4. @David Ehrenstein,

    “My DVD of PGL has arrived! Very very beautiful. Everyone who posts in here should own a copy (Go directly to Amazon!)”

    ^ Oh, didn’t know it was out already! Such WONDERFUL and GREAT news!!! I just *NEED* it!!! Too bad I’m so broke right now! FUCK!

    Thank you so much for the tip!

    Regards,

    Armando.

  5. @David Ehrenstein,

    Hi again.

    “For me it’s Mahler of Nothing.”

    ^ What about Bach and Wagner? What do you think of them?

  6. Just pre-ordered the ‘PGL’ Blu-Ray!!! YAY!!!

  7. I was listening to a Merzbow podcast the other day – the Merzcast is presented by two guys named Mike and Greh and they were chatting with Philip Best of Consumer Electronics and Amphetamine Sulphate fame about the Spiral Honey album. It’s a deeply worthwhile listen!

    This is me back in Leeds as of today to spend a short while with my family. Next week me and my mum are heading up to Glasgow for the PGL screening, but for now I’m eating lots of my dad’s fine cooking and keeping tabs on Leeds United’s stuttering promotion push. Right now it appears Leeds will contest the playoffs in mid May, which is a big letdown given that we were top of the league for most of the season and nailed on for the Premier League. Ah well, in Marcelo Bielsa we have the world’s coolest manager and we’ve got to keep the faith.

  8. When I worked at Kim’s Video, there were wonderful moments when the guys who worked in the music dept. would crank up Merzbow or other Japanese noise artists to drive away people they disliked. (Often, if this worked, they would then switch to something mellower.)

    I’m seeing Werner Herzog & Andre Singer’s MEETING GORBACHEV tomorrow at the Tribeca Film Festival. I’m also seeing the Other Music doc and Abel Ferrara’s THE PROJECTIONIST there.

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