forestpunk

A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Material Action For 2 Microphones (1981) album review

Collected as part of the Merzbox, Material Action For 2 Microphones stands out in a nearly bottomless discography.

Considering the project name’s debt to Kurt Schwitters, it’s easy to forget that noise music isn’t inspired only by Dada shenanigans. It’s inspired even more with the violent outbursts of Viennesse actionism and Adorno’s Theatre of Pain, critiquing the embers of the 20th Century with piercing feedback and devouring static.

Material Action for 2 Microphones feels more like a document of a live Aktion than yr typical harsh noise release. This is just one detail that makes Material Action distinctive among Masami Akita‘s hundreds and hundreds of releases. In fact, Material Action for 2 Microphones sounds unlike any other Merzbow album i’ve heard to date, although it has precedents among Merzbow‘s other early releases.

First and most importantly, Material Action for 2 Microphones is a collaboration, performing with sometimes Merzbow member Kiyoshi Mizutani. Mizutani occasionally transmogrified Merzbow into a duo until 1989 when he would strike out solo for his own prolific noise career.

Secondly is the sound quality. Material Action has the raw, airy sound of a bootleg or field recording than a studio document. It gives the three sprawling tracks a beguiling fly-on-the-wall quality that is rare not just for Merzbow’s discography but noise music in general. It gives the surrealistic din a compelling, evocative quality, reminding you that this is being recorded live. It forces you to imagine the tangled wires, the dusty crackling shellac of old 78s, the bizarre crude metal contraptions.

It gives the surrealistic din a compelling, evocative quality, reminding you this is being recorded live. It forces you to imagine the tangled wires, the dusty crackling shellac of old 78s, the bizarre crude metal contraptions.

Thirdly and lastly is the source material itself. There’s barely any of Masami Akita‘s trademarked harsh abrasive scouring wind. Make no mistake about it – this is not a HNW album. Although the rumbling crumbling static lurks in the background, like a burning oil derrick in the distance, most of Material Action for 2 Microphones is a mixture of tape music, musique concrete, and turntablism. It’s a good look for Akita and i wish he’d explore this approach more, as it reveals his deftness with sonic source material, his attunement to raw timbre that can sometimes be lost in the sheer information overload of white noise static.

Material Action for 2 Microphones is made up of three long tracks. .”Hoochie Coochie Scratch Man” and “Yumin, Non-Stop Disco” were released on the initial cassette release with “New Acoustic Music No. 7” getting added to the CD included in the Merzbox. Each is over 20 trance inducing minutes long, yet you’ll never get bored. Akita and Mizutani never get complacent, never zone out on their own tones. Each is working their respective dials, oscillators, tape players, and (presumably) homemade instruments to create a jungle of raw metal flora bristling with radio signals and the voices of the unquiet dead.

Material Action for 2 Microphones is as compelling as a document as it is as an album. There’s something almost mournful but also fascinating about the snippets of CityPop and Japanese New Wave Akita snatches from the airwaves, from the Viennese romanticism and fragments of Japanese news. What was probably fairly banal and un-noteworthy in 1981 now takes on an otherworld sheen, a ghost of a world long since crumbled into cobweb and rust. Merzbow captures this ether on ferric tape like some sonic medium.

Thank the Gods that he did. There’s never any telling how posterity will react. It’s hard to tell the significance of one’s own life and works. 40 years after the fact, Merzbow’s cacophonous scrapes, clangs, rumbles, and radiowaves are not just Art. They are doorways to a vanished world. They are magick.

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