Friday, October 16, 2009

Merzbow: A Whole Lot of Noises Going On

Noise. My father used to tell me when he disliked some of the music I listened to as I was growing up, "that's nothing but a bunch of noise." How prophetic of him. Today, noise has entered the New Music scene in a big way. John Cage probably is responsible. He opened up the playing field to any sounds whatsoever, noise included. Listen to his early-fifties electronic composition "Fontana Mix," for example.

There are composers and improvisers today that deal exclusively in noise, and many that incorporate it into their otherwise tone-based music. When you think about it, the complexities of tone itself involve texture, except perhaps in the instance of a pure syn wave. And the more texture, the closer to "noise."

All this brings me to today's featured CD. It is by the Japanese noise composer Merzbow, otherwise known as Masami Akita. 1930 (Tzadik) is the recording in question. This is noise at its noisiest, most sustained, and paradoxically for some, most sophisticated.

I have experience with this sort of music. I spent some time in my high school years essentially destroying several tape recorders, much to my father's chagrin. I did it with an aim: to create collages of electronic noise. Unfortunately in those days and with the equipment available to me, destruction was necessary. My results were spotty. By the time you got good at it, things stopped functioning, and the experiment was at an end.

Merzbow is much better at it than I ever was. 1930 gives you a five-part work that lays down thick blankets of unending but ever-evolving noise. After you listen long enough, you reaffirm that noise does indeed have pitch and so there is a kind of melody here, very latent, but present in long sustained caverns of sound. It may be the world's slowest melody, but it is there. In short, this is music of some kind. It has pitch, periodicity (and so rhythm) and overlapping (which is a kind of harmony). Perhaps the point though should be, is it "any good?" You be the judge of that.

Some of the sources are most definitely analogue, some digital. All of it, experienced end-to-end, is close to being overwhelming but perhaps in its own way is wonderful. There are people who will not like this. If you hear the word "noise" and you respond with, "no thanks," I don't believe this will be for you. For those that seek musical intrigue, for those who have a pioneering spirit, a vision quest outlook, this will give you a trail to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. Liked the line "the more texture, the closer to 'noise.'" a lot.