A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Mukomodulator album review

Two tracks of raw, unfiltered harsh noise from the master Masami Akita, recorded live at a gallery in Tokyo in November 2020.

For noise fans, we’ve heard the same tired refrain since time immemorial – “It all sounds the same,” “anybody can do that,” and, of course, “that’s not music!” If you’ve spent any amount of time listening to noise records or attending live performances, you’ll know that’s simply not true. Harsh noise – like any genre, especially anything experimental or involving improv in any capacity – is a language, a vocabulary, with its own grammar of discord, frenzy, feedback, and sublimity. 

Like anything involving improv, so much of what makes or breaks a recording or performance boils down to instincts. And while detractors may hate on Merzbow, saying it all sounds the same or that albums are interchangeable and that he’s too prolific, it’s hard to argue that Akita’s honed his instincts to a diamond edge over more than 40 years and several hundred albums. Which is more than evident on Mukomodulator‘s two lengthy, longform improvisations, recorded at a performance in Tokyo from November of last year. 

it’s hard to argue that (Masami) Akita’s honed his instincts to a diamond edge over more than 40 years and several hundred albums

Almost every era of Merzbow is on display over the span of Mukomodulator‘s brief 30 minutes. There’s the scouring, abrasive sheets of sound of harsh noise; there’s clattering industrial percussion, bringing to mind some of his earliest work; there’re even beats and rhythms in keeping with some of Merzbow’s albums from the early 2000s, some of his most accessible works. 

Mukomodulator by Merzbow

What is thrilling is how densely and deftly they’re all woven together. Things kick right off with some of Akita’s trademarked oscillator fuckery, riding atop a loping, irregular rhythm, the sound of a palpitating heart or maybe an idling engine. It doesn’t take long to build in intensity, climaxing into frothing feedback and klaxons of alarm. It’s busy, overwrought, overwhelming, enough to shut down the senses, like trying to count snowflakes in a blizzard to paraphrase Whitehouse’s William Bennett in regards to the dense rhythms of his Cut Hands project. Mukomodulator also illustrates what is so special about Merzbow in a sea of imitators. HNW hacks are content to cut-and-paste 60 minutes of white noise static fuzz (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but Merzbow’s music sounds more colorful, less grim greyscale xeroxed black-and-white noise than cathode ray greens and halogen oranges, like wandering through towering stacks of CRT monitors. 

There’s also far more variation within Mukomodulator than yr average HNW record, The scouring, abrasive static winds give way to rattling, knocking percussion, like rocks tumbling around inside of a concrete mixer. Truly concrete music realized, brutalist compositions for feverish times. 

Mukomodulator by Merzbow

“Mukomodulator B” flips the script. Rather than beginning with a subsuming wall of sound, it starts off small, with a tinny rhythm, like being buried alive in an avalanche of wire hangers, and a single shrieking icicle of stabbing feedback. This is Akita at his most aggressive and confrontational, like migraine-induced hallucinations or a nervous system shutting down from exhaustion and over-stimulation. Even this aggression is accessible, though, with a hypnotic rough-hewn beat, like dub reggae soaked in tar and rolled around in gravel. This gives way to a steady, loping, rolling rhythm, like the sound of a locomotive, while harsh noise winds whip past in the margins, like alpine arctic winds. 

As is the case with the best noise music, and Merzbow in particular as the master of the form, Mukomodulator invites you to find peace through raging noise, find the eye of the hurricane, the centre of the maelstrom. It’s more essential now than ever, with numerous world governments poised on the brink of fascism; with a world gasping with pandemic plague; while the ongoing ravages of climate change and ecological destruction rage on, as ever. Merzbow shows us the turbines of progress, the engine of modernity, offering the opportunity to steer the craft, to seize control and begin to direct this monolithic machine before we’re trapped in the belly of its flaming wreckage. 

Mukomodulator is out now on Superpang

Superpang Records


ig: superpanghq

Superpang bandcamp

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