forestpunk

A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Finding Pleasure In Restraint: Merzbow – Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 review

merzbow album review

Yes, we may chafe at restrictions, but Masami Akita, aka Merzbow‘s, Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 not only suggests we can find happiness in slavery, but even enlightenment.

Noise music, perhaps more than any other genre, is famous for problematic depictions of femininity. From the very start, noise was draped, festooned, and adorned in horrific imagery, depicting rape scenes, serial killers (who mostly preyed on women), mass murder/genocide, animal cruelty, and a litany of other atrocities. The first wave of power electronics/harsh noise artists used this strong imagery as a critique of the modern world, and the abusive industrialization and power dynamics it’s built upon.

While it’s important to take a cold, hard, steely, unflinching gaze at hard truths – talking about difficult matters, lest they be forgotten – it also raises a certain contradiction; namely, while the progenitors of noise may have been being transgressive, breaking boundaries and sneering at taboos, the same cannot be said for the followers and imitators, frequently wolves in sheep’s clothing, using the language and imagery of extreme musicks to basically convey hidden biases. It’s the equivalent of someone telling sexist or racist jokes, then saying “Just kidding! Don’t you have a sense of humor?”

It’s a tricky, slippery slope, playing right into both what noise IS and STRIVES FOR. Noise is meant to undermine, unsettle, parody, satirize… serving as a feedback loop, circuit-bent on society swallowing itself whole.

Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2, from 1996, is the second suite of sound poems from Merzbow, meant as soundtracks for live bondage performances as well as “pink films,” pretty much any Japanese theatrical release featuring nudity or focusing on sex.

bondage noise album

Roughly half of Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 is comprised of “Ambient Study For Kinbaku-Bi, parts 1 – 6”. Kingaku, and Kingaku-Bi – translating to “tight binding” or “the beauty of tight binding,” respectively – is a traditional form of Japanese rope bondage, originating as a form of samurai imprisonment during the Edo period, and entering the mass consciousness via the sexual fascination, eventually culminating in the style known as Shibari or “decorative tie”.

Writing for Scan: Journal Of Media Arts Culture, academic writer and noise historian Daniel Wilson makes some interesting connections between Masami Akita’s noise and bondage, shibari in particular:

The constantly shifting spectrum of what is and is not acceptable runs in line with Bataille’s definition of excess as adopted by Hegarty with regards to noise, and, specifically, to the music of Merzbow. It seems logical, therefore, to conclude that noise and the practice of sadomasochism can be related through the notion of excess; the pushing, destruction, and reallocation of limits. This reading, however, is still related to the edge of the acceptable: to exceed the limits is to briefly step into the realm of the unacceptable, that is until the person experiencing this excess moves their boundary of acceptability to accommodate. One might argue that these subjects are still on the whole unacceptable and only become acceptable once a person’s boundaries have moved. The relationship between sound and image in Music for Bondage Performance is, however, two-fold, and this is important when one returns to the notion of the unacceptable. In addition to Bataillean excess-which, one might conclude, is still close to the notion of unacceptability-the concept of overcoming is also important. It is at this point that a refined distinction between shibari and other westernised bondage practices must be made clear.

Whilst the practice of bondage from a western perspective is often conflated with the act of tying the submissive up to restrict movement during the sex act, shibari uses rope to invoke arousal through the discomfort associated with the restriction itself. The form is highly aestheticised and often involves the use of complex knots and intricate layering of different ropes. It is important to note that the type of rope used here is typically made of natural fibers: the use of materials such as hemp or jute cause far more friction than the nylon ropes used most commonly in western practices and this friction is used as another source of pain, thus heightening the erotic experience for the bound subject.

Wilson goes on to comment how shibari, and many other BDSM practices, actually make sex impossible, meaning the pleasure is in the restriction itself, co-opting the repression and control of society and taking ownership of it. Shibari itself could even be seen as a reclaiming of a martial practice, as kinbaku was originally a punishment for samurais, for pleasure, serving as a kind of sensual protest, at least mentally speaking.

Wilson even talks about how restriction itself played a part in the rise of kinbaku/shigari in the first place, which rose in prominence in the form of eromanga, or erotic manga, gaining in popularity thanks to long subway commutes.

 

Anne Allison’s writing on the distribution of manga and eromanga in Tokyo outlines a culture in which a large amount of time is spent in a confined space with other people. This might be compared to the underground system in London or the Subway in New York, but unlike these systems, and due to the immensely dense nature of cities such as Tokyo, it became necessary for people to commute further and further to get to work. This created, therefore, a captive audience for several hours each day for the consumption of such literature. Manga should be viewed in this context as a somewhat disposable item. In UK cities a free daily paper called The Metro is distributed on the public transport network and it is common practice for a commuter to pick a copy of this paper up from their seat and leave it there when they have reached their destination. In Tokyo, Allison notes that manga occupied a similar role:

Not surprisingly, the routes of commuter travel have been heavily exploited by this business [the production and distribution of manga]. Not only do increasing numbers of Japanese spend increasing portions of their days commuting but also for those with frenetic schedules, the time spent travelling may constitute the only unscheduled, and in this sense “free” time in their day. For such commuters, the consumption of printed media offers the promise of both a temporary diversion to ease the length and monotony of their daily travels and a momentary escape into other worlds[.] (Allison 1996: 153)

merzbow bdsm review

Tellingly, the organized sounds of Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 is nowhere near as cacophanous, violent, deranged or damaging as Merzbow at his most extreme. Instead, the sounds here are nearly relaxing, meditative, soothing; with the windy harsh noise turned down and faded to a backdrop, while an arsenal of machine noises clank, hiss, and sputter. It’s ominous and filthy, make no bones about that, but it’s also kind of… nice.

Like the best Noise Music, Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 evokes a setting or sense of place, while also commenting on a thought, feeling, or activity, serving as a kind of telepathic speech balloon into whatever grainy, grimy imagery adorns it, or on the often esoteric track titles.

Like Daniel Wilson mentions in his essay, Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 seems to take pleasure in the restraint, like the shibari practitioners getting off on the rough rub of the ropes, making the pleasurable sensations just that much more sweet.

As a lifelong noisefreak, Aquarian, and triple air sign, i absolutely despise being told what to do. I tend to hate restriction and have railed against it my entire life. And yet, for all of my idealism and pure noise instincts – art for art’s sake and all that – I’m learning to appreciate the pressures of late capitalism. Yes, my partner and i are on the verge of starvation and homelessness, yet again for the millionth time, the incessant grind of late capitalism demands we keep going, go further, try harder (even while our overlords grow fat like ticks off of our sweat, blood, and hard work). Despite that, i feel that both my personal art and criticism have reached lofty new heights due to the demands of this “late capitalist death march” as my friend and DJ Vera Rubin put it not too long ago. The pressure produces diamonds, for those that don’t crack.

While there will always be a place for ‘pure’ noise, as a commentary on the political, economic, and psychological systems it parodies, late capitalism pushes noise into pop strictures, much like the shabiri practitioners. And while i love the pure forms of expression, i do feel that artists should keep their audiences in mind. It’s a delicate balancing act, requiring one finger on the pulse of today’s pop culture while simultaneously understanding the avant gardes that brought us to this place. When done correctly, it produces real gold.

Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 2 is a gem in Merzbow’s extensive discography, worth a listen at the very least, and worthy of inclusion in the discerning noisehead’s library.

find a copy @ discogs

Can anyone recommend any other interesting scholarly investigations or books into noise music, extreme sex, or late capitalism? They’re harder to come across than you might think!

Looking for more news, reviews, thoughts, and tips on the dark side of life? Follow @for3stpunk on Twitter and Instagram, and drop by the Facebook page!

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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.

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