A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Two titans of noise music take us on a guided tour through a postindustrial purgatory on this essential collaboration for Los Angeles’ Dais Records
Imagine finding yourself wandering through some decrepit, anonymous industrial building in the dead of night, rain beating on a corrugated tin roof while esoteric machinery whirrs and clangs in the distance. You wipe a patch of grimy window clean to look out, seeing miles upon miles of phosphorescent lighting stretching to an indeterminate horizon. Where are you? How did you get here? A sense of unease begin to grow as you piece together your thoughts, as thunderous machines grind into mechanical life…
At first glance, Australian sound artist Lawrence English and noise legend Masami Akita, aka Merzbow, couldn’t be more different, musically speaking. Lawrence English predominantly prefers working with atmospheric field recordings whereas, for the last several decades at least, Merzbow’s favored a brutalist straight-to-tape noise assault. It’s really not as strange a pairing as it might seem at first flush, however. Both artist’s works deal heavily with the environment, with the ravages dealt by late-stage capitalism, and with pushing the boundaries of what is and is not music.
You might think of it as Merzbow’s work as the sound of the machines while Lawrence English’s field recordings are the natural world that surrounds them. Which is a lot what Eternal Stalker sounds like.
Eternal Stalker is built around field recordings of an industrial area located 7 hours north of Brisbane where Lawrence English lives. English describes the area as “uneasy and unsettling,” awash in the sickly glow of smelters and refinement machinery, somehow not of this world.” Masami Akita describes early drafts of the album as “like the soundtrack to a dystopian science fiction opera.”
This might be part of what earned the album its name – a reference to Tarkovsky’s existential dystopian sci-fi epic Stalker.
It’s a fitting descriptor, as these 7 longform odysseys sound sodden, bilge-brown and sickly green, like some CRT monitor bleeding its lifeforce out into acidic soil.
Eternal Stalker splits its time between airy ambient and harsh noise, with perhaps a 70/30 split in favor of the former. Album opener “The Long Dream” is nearly peaceful, despite its dank, somewhat ominous postindustrial ambience.
Things never get too somnolent, however, as Merzbow’s trademarked vicious feedback and soul-scouring feedback emerge from the fog for the first time on the follow-up “A Gate of Light.”
This more or less sets the pace for the entire album, which fluctuates between peaceful, albeit industrial, field recordings giving way to menacing machines more in keeping with Merzbow’s traditional harsh noise style. This variation, combined with a masterful mastering job from Josh Bonati, makes Eternal Stalker one of the more addictively listenable Merzbow releases in recent memory.
It’s overly reductive to compare Eternal Stalker to Tarkovsky’s masterpiece solely on the grim, postindustrial dystopian atmosphere. That’s not really what that movie’s about. Instead, the real point of that movie is how far people will go to discover some magic and wonder in even the harshest and most unforgiving climates, with Stalkers literally risking their lives just to catch a glimpse of something marvelous, magical, and Sublime.
On Eternal Stalker, both Lawrence English and Masami Akita invite us to reclaim wonder and find inspiration in even the ugliest surroundings. It’s a battle cry to take up thy field recorders and explore your environment, even if its a scrapyard. There is beauty there, too.
Eternal Stalker is out now on Dais Records.
Every Monday we strive to post something to do with the works of Masami Akita, truly one of the most influential, prolific, and legendary noise musicians and theoreticians who’s ever lived.
Got a particular favourite Merzbow release you’d like to see us weigh in on? A theme of Merzbow’s sound art and politics you’d like us to wax philosophical about? Let us know in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.