A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Aqua Necromancer (Alien8, 1998)

Merzbow album review

Disruptive Rhythm

Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.

  • – Yehudi Menuhin

Rhythm is one of the principal translators between dream and reality.

  • – Edith Sitwell

Noise music, like many forms of ambient music, is often seen as rhythmless – hour-long tracks of drowning static and blistering feedback. Whole discographies could be comprised of featureless, bleak grey noise hnw, with no discernible qualities or identifiers. It’s a condition that lies central to the question, “What is good noise music?”

The repetition and limitations of hnw/power electronics tropes have brought about an upsurge of rhythmic noise, in recent years – corrosive mutations like industrial techno, not to mention countless wyrd acid 808 deconstructions, modular meditations, and grime drum circles. Personally, it’s a step in the right direction, but it also belabors the point – must noise embrace form or rhythm in order to be GOOD? Or received at all?

Aqua Necromancer stands out in Merzbow‘s vast back catalog as one of the most rhythmic, thus making it one of the most inviting. It is an exploration and a deconstruction of his time spent in the prog underground as a drummer in the ’70s. Over the course of 5 short and very sweet, yet still explosive, breakbeats, kosmische pulses, free jazz freakouts, and powerful funk drown beneath Akita’s squalling feedback and outerspace oscillators.

“Aqua Necromancer” pulses its way into being, with a pots-and-pans hypnotic breakbeat and a whirlwind of static. The beat is loping, irregular, yet funky, yet the noise is white hot. It doesn’t last long, though, until strobing manufacturing plant basslines massage yr lobes into a narcoleptic lull. The noise is always graceful, it never grates or harshes – this is a machine trance, to be sure – a factory seance, to fall under the rhythms spell.

“Contrapunta Indian” is a standout in the entire Merzbow discography, as one of the most “catchy” and “melodic” offerings he’s made. Seemingly snake charmer flutes come and go behind sheet metal feedback, but the pain is worth it, for the narcotic rhythm. It sounds like Muslimgauze remixing the Finders Keepers back catalog, listened to in a sheet metal planing facility in Durham. When the beats come back, however, it’s SO, SO worth it! When Merzbow does beats, he does crunchy like nobody’s business. The bass is so attractively blown out, so melted and scorched, like rubber left out in a post-nuclear desert. If ever there were a track to show off a good cross-section of Merzbow’s techniques, “Contrapunta Indian” is a good introduction for the curious.

“Soft Drums” tears apart a skittering jazz solo and makes a stuttering staccato automata of whirling sticks and mallets. Metal clicks senselessly, but resolutely, while the drummer beats like a flywheel, tirelessly, ceaselessly. Hip-hop and battle DJs, i dare thee to get this into yr arsenal!

On that note, at the end of this post, i have a special treat. I’ve been analyzing tracks using Rapid Evolution 3 by Mixshare to extract song data, to put together my DJ sets and mixes. I’m also working on some data experiments, regarding aesthetics trends, but more on that in a bit.

Listening to Aqua Necromancer, i think back to being 20 – 21, sleeping on floors in Chicago, trying to piece together a musical and sound engineering education piecemeal, with borrowed library cards and shitty tape recorders. Doing whatever i could and had to, to try and get out the sounds i was hearing in my skull. I remember noise jam sessions with my buddy in the forgotten-but-not-gone Section Z, playing Can and Neu! Cds through a battalion of $20 pedals, while growling like a feral dog in a bunker beneath a red light. It was the first time we made a CD of our music, gone-but-not-forgotten, and i will never forget the electric chills of listening back, and actually LIKING what i was hearing.

Sadly, it would take another decade or so (and i’m still working on it), to come to grips with the soul of sampling, of creation, of noise and its place in the world. My soul simply would not let me release empty, meaningless art into the world, much as i would’ve really liked (and needed) the fame, fortune, and friends it could’ve brought.

Here, listening to these dada noise sculptures in the dead of night, i want to get back to those experiments. With something to say. And an idea of how to say it.

That’s the beauty of rhythmic noise. It brings you in, lets you fall under its spell. While we appreciate the aggressive abrasion of “pure” noise, it becomes a bit redundant or limiting. Can an artform truly shock or offend, when it has been encountered many times before? And if its purpose is not to assault, then why listen to hours of formless static? (there are reasons, and there is aesthetic enjoyment and appreciation to be had, but it is still a question to be asked). Rhythmic noise lures you in, lets you wander around, lets you experience shapes and sounds in new ways.

Aqua Necromancer is one of the best Merzbow albums there is, and a wonderful entrypoint for the uninitiated.

Recorded April – May 1998 in Merzbow’s ZSF Product Studio

Released October 19, 1998 on Alien8 Recordings

Merzbow – Aqua Necromancer DJ Guide

  1. Aqua Necromancer: 138. 7     A
  2. Contrapunti Indian: 120.5    C#
  3. Soft Drums: 81.4    A#m
  4. Contrapunti Patto: 137.9     Emin
  5. Farsa Del Buen Vivir: 138    A

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