A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow + Oren Ambarchi – Cat’s Squirrel (2013) album review

Two titans of noise come together to find the sweet spot between noise, ambient, and drone on Cat’s Squirrel.

Merzbow & Oren Ambarchi – Cat’s Squirrel (Black Truffle)

As we so often say here on Merzbow Monday, the act of reviewing noise albums can, at times, seem contradictory, at best; a complete waste of time, if you’re feeling generous; or – worst case scenario – feeding the machine the genre attempts to deconstruct and critique. On the one hand, the idea of judging and ranking a noise release spits in the face of the readymade “anyone can make a noise” punker-than-punk aesthetic and ethos. On the other what, really, can one say about a noise release, particularly if it’s harsh noise-related in any capacity? “Things kick off with a white noise generator going sCH2*w@shot!!!!eEeUiqu for about 70 minutes, followed by squealing feedback guaranteed to give you a migraine.” Or should we, perhaps, rank performances, “Masami Akita plays the shit out of that shortwave dial on the A-side while the BBs and marbles rolling around a concrete mixer of Side B is one for that ages.”

The other alternative would be to simply list off the laundry list of subjective thoughts and imagery that flashes across yr brainpan while synapses fry. And while we’re all for personal, subjective music writing, we can’t help but feel that noise music deserves better, that surely it must be more than just a couple of dudes spazzing out over their overdrive knobs.

And while the idea of “mastery” may be even more antithetical to noise than the album review, we can’t help but conjecture that two individuals with over 1500 releases of experimental music of every stripe to their combined credit must have learned something across all that tape and shellac.

Cat’s Squirrel shows that they’ve learned a lot, both intellectually as well as instinctively.

Cat’s Squirrel is a recording of a live performance in May 2012 as part of the Aurora Festival in Campbelltown, Australia between Masami Akita and Oren Ambarchi, another hyper-prolific composer, improvisor, and collaborator, renowned as a purveyor of machine drones and technological ekstasis. The pair had worked together previously as parts of larger ensembles but this was their first appearance as a duo.

Merzbow Oren Ambarchi Cat's Squirrel review

For this performance, Ambarchi wields an expanded arsenal of elemental electronics, electric guitar, and a custom spring reverb unit while Merzbow’s setup is listed solely as “digital and analogue sound sources.” Going solely off of the copy, you might assume that this might simply be “Oren Ambarchi drone guitar + Merzbow harsh wind” but you’d be wide of the mark, which is the first sign why this is such a special document and so worthy of attention.

Things do, in fact, kick off with a burning, corrosive wind of abrading Harsh Noise – this is a Merzbow record, after all – but it only lasts around 15 seconds before the bottom drops out, sucking the grayscale static into a psychedelic gravity well of glistening chorus, sounding somewhere between a Dolby test signal and the sound of a cathode ray going into a coma. From there, Cat’s Squirrel never sits still, never rests, as Akita and Ambarchi tear through nearly every gimmick, tone, technique, and texture available to the noise improvisor.

Which is to say, there’s plenty of harsh noise on display, as caustic a spume as you could ever hope for, like being caught in an aerosol sea spray. There’s ringing feedback, burring sawtooth oscillators, Akita’s trademarked air compressors, pinging metal, and layers upon layers upon layers of drones, which we’re guessing are Oren Ambarchi’s contribution.

Cat’s Squirrel may be recorded live but you’d never know it simply by listening. Even though it’s actually rather harsh and completely uncompromising, this is one of the more pleasant sounding noise records you’re likely to hear due to exceptional mixing by Matt McGuigan and Jake Craig and mastering by Joe Talia for Ambarchi’s own Black Truffle records.

Listening to Cat’s Squirrel it is obvious, for those who know how to listen, that some noise albums are better than others. It’s also evidence that one can have skill, craft, dexterity, and command as a noise or drone artist. And while an album of field recordings of a bandsaw factory may be every bit as valid as an album by The Rita, The Haters, The Incapacitants, or even Merzbow himself some noise records are, in fact, better than others. And Cat’s Squirrel is a damn fine one, at that.

Cat’s Squirrel by Merzbow & Oren Ambarchi

Welcome to Merzbow Monday, where most weeks we post reviews or content related to the vast, nearly endless catalog of Masami Akita, aka Merzbow. Got a particular favourite Merzbow release you’d like to see covered on Merzbow Monday? Let us know in the comments or get in touch via Twitter!



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