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Merzbow - A Taste of Merzbow

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Artist: Merzbow

Album: A Taste of Merzbow

Label: Mego

Review date: Aug. 1, 2002

As Merzbow, Masami Akita has produced a quintessential library of modern noise music, providing an appropriate antithesis to painfully-happy Japanese radio pop. Harsh to the casual observer, epic and sensual to the diehard fan, Merzbow's music stands not just arguably but definitively at the forefront of noise.

Given his enormous output spanning hundreds of releases, his work for an absurdly diverse range of record labels (Vinyl Communications, Alien8, Staalplaat, Tigerbeat6, Blast First, Tzadik, etc. etc.) and the infamous fifty CD boxed-set Merzbox, distinguishing Akita's newest project A Taste of Merzbow as extraordinary would be the wrong approach. Rather, it is a typically outstanding document in one mythical, noisy career.

The metaphor that Akita serves up in the title and packaging of this latest release is culinary. The track list is a four-course meal of meats, miso soups, and vegetables prepared in a Japanese style. The inside of the front cover offers quasi-abstract drawings of the same delicacies. And why not? Not unlike spicy tuna sushi with wasabe, the sounds here reach for aural extremes, putting infinite faith in experimentation and the joyous tension which so often results from unexpected combinations.

And indeed, the sound of Merzbow is everything from bitter to sweet to salty to sour. Listening closely, the listener can discern all the best innovations of glitch-techno, industrial, metal, and any variety of 21st century electronic acts, though at this point Merzbow is beyond being derivative of anyone. Like all of his other albums I've had the pleasure of hearing, A Taste of Merzbow grows with every listen because of its complexity. What at first glance sounds abrasive can and does re-emerge tangibly as some kind of bizarre noisy free-verse poem, evoking colors and tastes and anger and pleasure. One ought not to dismiss Merzbow on the grounds that it's all the same, or that it's just noise; like the work of any good musician, there is a lot more to hear.

A Taste of Merzbow is an amalgam of styles, but also of textures. Such a variety of noises has rarely been stewed together so well. Second-generation video game tones and simple sine waves inhabit the same dishes as crunchy delays and rubbery, masochistic granulations. Some of the most pleasing pops and clicks imaginable are layered over hellish processed samples. The ideas never stagnate, fortunately. A perfectly good noise record could explore the same two or three sounds for fifty minutes, but Merzbow is absolutely on another plane of creativity. The sounds, unfamiliar by design, are nonetheless distinct and memorable. While clearly-defined rhythm intrudes at certain points (for example, the beginning of "Tempura In Moss Garden [frog variation 044404]"), for the most part such matters are subjective and change with every listen.

Why are Merzbow's sounds so interesting? Presumably, most of the instruments and devices Akita uses are handmade or heavily modified, their capabilities explored and refined over a very long and prolific career. What results is a personal statement in sound, one not limited by the constraints of factory settings. This record is a thunderstorm based on one personality. It reflects the sensations, passions, and contradictions of one person. A Taste of Merzbow is excellent in this regard. Assuredly, this noise cannot be heard anywhere else.

The label responsible for releasing this work also deserves mention. Mego records have in the past year put out well-received albums by Fennesz, Kevin Drumm, Jim O'Rourke, and others in addition to A Taste of Merzbow.

By Ben Tausig

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