A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Paradoxa Paradoxa album review

On Live at Kid Araik Hall I, Merzbow reveals noise – alongside hip-hop and electronic music – reveals itself to be the spiritual successor to jazz. 

Merzbow Paradoxa Paradoxa review

There’s not enough appreciation for improvisation in most forms of popular music of the last 50 years. Even the presence of a slight, unscripted solo could get an act accused of “noodling,” getting them tagged with the dreaded “jam band” handle that’ll discredit them for nearly everybody but the most hardened, ardent leftover Deadhead mystic. 

Jazz and noise have more in common than you might think, though. They’re both essentially controlled chaos, imposing order via harmonic structure, in the case of jazz, and with a focus on process among the noise camp. The focus on expression and a drive towards freedom makes the most outre free jazz – the fire and fury of Albert Ayler and the furious passion of late-period John Coltrane – make even extreme records by Masonna or Vomir sound tame and pale in comparison.

Merzbow Paradoxa Paradoxa album review

Live at Kid Araik Hall I sounds surprisingly gentle and soothing compared not only to something like Anthony Braxton, with or without Wolf Eyes, but Merzbow himself. A rare live recording, of Merzbow’s first live recording, is offered in an airy, scuzzy low-fidelity, bringing to mind Charlie Parker sets being recorded from the lavatory. Except, in this case, the field recorder is turned as much on the ductwork and rattling traffic as the “music.” The instrumentation is also surprisingly mellow, being made up almost exclusively of an organ and some industrial junk, although some raw scraping strings make a guest appearance from time to time. 

Begins with a rickety almost straight rhythm, if it happened to be played on a Volkswagon engine block with a pair of Philips Head screwdrivers. Anonymous machine buzzes and groans dwell in the margins – the long dark 24-hour car wash of the soul. A burning static organ drone enters around the 3-minute mark and never really leaves, amping up the tension and dissonance with some ominous organ chords that go nowhere and never resolve, making Live at Kid Araik Hall sound like the strangest, most arthouse silent film, full of figures stalking down long, creeping hallways – if giant machines and pterodactyls happened to be raging outside. 

Things get even more ragged and unkempt as the organ gives out, leaving only a rhythmic metallic racket.

Organ gives way to atonal catgut sawing strings on “Part 2,” as if Stephane Grapelli had gotten a hold of some of Paganini‘s manuscripts and been driven mad by what he’d summoned. Trashcan percussion and shortwave radio jam along while yr ears burn and strobe with tinnitus. 

Organ gives way to atonal catgut sawing strings on “Part 2,” as if Stephane Grapelli had gotten a hold of some of Paganini’s manuscripts and been driven mad by what he’d summoned. Trashcan percussion and shortwave radio jam along while yr ears burn and strobe with tinnitus.

Eventually, anything approximating music falls away, as snippets of tape recorded conversations and a clattering rumbling post-industrial racket take over, as if the strange arthouse silent film burned up in the projector, leaving you listening to the hum of the machines while you watch the searing celluloid burn a hole in the wall.

Paradoxa Paradoxa or Live at Kid Araik Hall is both a historical curiosity and an interesting, insightful document of early Merzbow, before he settled into the HNW expressionist pallet you would mostly prefer for the next four decades. Deprived of the line noise and the static, Masami Akita (and Kiyoshi Mizutani in this instance) reveal themselves to be sensitive, intuitive improvisers, capable of stunning acoustic sculptures even less tethered to musicality than free jazz.

Got a particular favourite Merzbow album you’d like to see us review as part of our Merzbow Monday series? Or another classic noise album you’d like to see us weigh in on? Let’s us know in the comments or get in touch via Twitter!

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