A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Yesterday, December 19, was World Merzbow Day, in honor of Masami Akita’s 57th birthday. Noise freaks from all over the world organized tributes, releasing EPs and remixes, gathering online to share their favorite tracks and praise the King Of Noise.
To commemorate the occasion, i’m sharing my thoughts on my favorite Merzbow LP, 2002’s Merzbeat.
Merzbeat is downright accessible. Many purists would no doubt look down their beaked noses at me, for choosing this as my favorite, as it tempers the pure freeform fury of Masami Akita by placing the mangled electronics over a bedrock of industrial beats. Merzbeat is an alchemical marriage of thriftstore transmutation and the brutal repetitive hypnosis of the beat.
Merzbeat is due for a resurgence, with the recent dancefloor regressions of Hospital Production, Downwards Records, etc. and finds Merzbow about 10 years ahead of the pack.
This is what Pitchfork writer Kim Shannon had to say, when Merzbeat was released.
This CD is just the result of the wild excesses of information in our lives. It’s essentially the most accurate form of folk music we have. Anyone can make noise; you just take the leftovers around you and extract sound. Make it loud and cathartic, or quiet and resigned: Each Merzbow release is a call to do it yourself.
The Merzbow name was taken from the German artist Kurt Schwitters, an expatriate and satellite of the Zurich Dadaists. Merz was junk art, made up of scraps, a post-modern assembly line, a beautiful evolving collage.
Everything had broken down…new things had to be made from fragments. -Kurt Schwitters
“new art forms out of the remains of a former culture”
With an artist as prolific as Merzbow (he has over 200 albums), it can be difficult to know where to begin, and how to differentiate a “good” record from a “not so good” Merzbow album. Merzbeat was the first Merzbow record i really got into, when i was a fledgling noise magician, two steps from the street in Chicago. It was the lure into the strange underworld of Noise music, which would impact my life more than any other musical moment, apart from going on tour with Phish when i was younger. It’s a good place to begin, and illustrates a number of points that the Forestpunk project is all about.
It’s almost startling, going back and re-listening to this record, how much this music, and the art movements it sprang up out of, have shaped the art that i would make. Like i said above, Merzbow is junk art, it makes the scraps and garbage of this culture twitch and howl. It is easy to imagine this world as a giant trashheap, what do they call that, the dustbin of history? You can feel like yr drowning in glossy adverts and cheap smut. Listening to Merzbow will train yr nervous system to create symphonies out of the industrial noise pollution that surrounds us, like Bjork in Dancer In The Dark. This mission of cultural re-appropriation is a major component of my musical project Dessicant, whose tagline is Disposable Artifacts Of A Digital Age, rewiring the bones of pop culture detritus to twitch to my desires.
Merzbeat is a notable release, because it has actual riffs, melodies and rhythm, over which Masami places his typhoon of burning white noise, like on “Promotion Man”, posted above, that rips detuned proto metal from a track from 1972 of the same name, by the band Highway Robbery. It reminds us that in Japan, Blue Cheer were as popular, if not more so, than The Beatles. Listening to Merzbeat will give the aspiring noise producer some ideas of ways to sculpt and abuse scraps of culture, like the variety of ways he shuffles the beat on “Promotion Man”. This record, more than any other, has the potential of being a crossover Merzbow record. It will strongly appeal to fans of Muslimgauze’s lockstep grooves, or Black Moth Super Rainbow’s street trash. I find its noise to be more colorful and more interesting than a lot of the American “harsh noise”. You get a chance to see a lot of filtering in action, hear a lot of different techniques of manipulation and mangling, and serves on a good primer on how to make good noise music.
Merzbeat goes all the way back, to when this project began. All of my art has come from having no money whatsoever, and i’ve had to make a merit of trashy production values, and learn to do everything for myself. Forestpunk is partially my field notes, training myself how to be an artist and a producer, and is intended as an archive and a resource for other broke-ass artists. It is a way to discover, through a series of correspondences and connections, great art, as well as a diary of critical listening, and training in how to make the best art.
We can make treasures out of the trash we are surrounded by. We can turn shit into gold.
MP3s @ Amazon: Merzbeat
the 66.6 series obsessively digs into a particular subject, mostly centered around the work of prolific musicians.
the vision and the voice explores the intersection of art movements and music, finding auditory equivalents of visual arts.