A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Remblandt Assemblage (Merzbox Disc 3, 1981) album review

One of Merzbow’s earliest recordings nods to the theoretical underpinnings of the project as well as his earliest improv techniques.

Speaking on the influence of pioneering German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters, the Merz Barn website writes “So many-sided were Schwitters’ talents, so varied the forms that he experimented with, that the influence his work has exerted on later artists, designers and architects is not particularly easy to discern. Rather it is that he influenced whole schools of thought, opening minds up to the possibilities opening up when the temples of art were blown into smithereens, allowing artists to incorporate elements from cinema, advertising, folk tale, birdsong, the old masters, into their work, in order to create new meanings for the present age.”

Kurt Schwitters’ work not only laid the groundwork for Dada, he would also predict many of the art movements and philosophies of the 20th Century, from Pop Art to Postmodernism. Most notably, his work laid waste to imaginary dichotomies like “High/Low Art” and the myth of the artist as the Great Being, solely responsible for the sum of their creations. Instead, postmodernism reminds us we are all collages, a product of the environments that created us. It also calls into question previously established artforms and mediums, conjuring new narratives for an increasingly fragmented age.

Instead, postmodernism reminds us we are all collages, a product of the environments that created us. It also calls into question previously established artforms and mediums, conjuring new narratives for an increasingly fragmented age.

Remblandt Assemblage is a particularly pure exploration of these concepts and ideals. It’s also a particularly interesting document of Merzbow’s earliest approaches to making sound, which are a far cry from the overwhelming maximalism of his later Harsh Noise work which would make him a household name among noise freaks. Instead of the brutal abrasive sandstorms of scouring white noise, we get a hodge-podge of scrapes and twonks elicited from brittle metal; detuned radios; guitar abuse; ritualistic percussion; and cannibalized tapes.

Three of the longform pieces on display are some of Remblandt Assemblage are its most essential elements and also serve as a mission statement for its raison d’etre. Album opener and title track “Remblandt Assemblage” is one of Merzbow’s finest early recordings, showcasing that he can exercise restraint as well as overwhelm. Built around a throbbing, strobing machine drone, which is subtly broken up by the tiny tinny tintinabbulation of small tines. It’s the sound of trancing out in a late-night machine shop, finding the patterns in the chaos, pleasure in cacophony.

“Hans Arp” is another interesting, albeit less essential, early Merzbow track. It seems to be predicting later Merzbow with its focus on intense, grating, repetitive machine noises, tones, and rhythms. One of the early “harsh” moments in Merzbow’s discography, but not yet focused on the blistering white noise static of HNW he would be known for later on nor the analog oscillator fuckery he can get into sometimes, which makes some of Merzbow’s music sound like raw, rough brutalist electronic music. Instead, this is the sound of Radio Shack ritual abuse, early digital machines used and abused and tortured and discarded – the sound of a Casio watch screaming, dying…

The longest track bookends the album, “Prepared Guitar Solo I & 2”, is largely notable for the relative rarity of its instrumentation. Masami Akita doesn’t seem to work with guitar, prepared or otherwise, very often. One review on Discogs compares “Prepared Guitar Solo 1 & 2” to Keiji Haino, but i feel like a comparison to Keith Rowe and AMM is even more apt. Atonal metallic scrapes and arythmic percussion are accompanied by subtle radio manipulations, transforming the prepared guitar into a kind of post-industrial koto. It’s a rare opportunity to see Masami Akita working in something akin to traditional music, although not melodic in any regard. It’s like a one-person jam, with tablas and tabtabletop guitar, and would even appeal to fans of more outre noise rock and free/freak folk.

That’s part of what makes Remblandt Assemblage so exceptional and such an essential early Merzbow recording. Its actually enjoyable to listen to. (although i can’t pretend to be anything close to unbiased or impartial, with 20 years of listening to noise, experimental, improv, and industrial music under my belt.) The sound quality is actually quite soothing, giving the proceedings an airy field recording quality that will make you feel as if yr wandering through the austere rooms where Merzbow is conjuring this bricolage. It also serves as an interesting time capsule into early 80s Japan, via the field recordings of public radio, which are of similar ethnographic interest as the Sublime Frequencies radio albums.

Remblandt Assemblage was first released on cassette in 1981 and later compiled as part of the Merzbox. The Merzbox disc cuts off a bunch of tracks, however. The full album was re-released on vinyl in 2016 by Urashima, so pick that up if yr a completist. Whichever version you end up seeking out, you should hear Remblandt Assemblage for an excellent example of excellent early Merzbow.

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