A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The most recent Merzbow album to receive the digital reissue treatment from Slowdown Records recalls the adage from the Scottish play “all sound and fury… signifying nothing.”
Recently, Japan’s Slowdown Records has been re-releasing archival recordings recorded by Masami Akita during the tumultuous years of 2011 and 2012, first as a CD and then as digital downloads. Bit Blues is one of the most recent, released as part of the same batch that gave us Kotorhizome which we recently reviewed. It could almost be considered an album of outtakes or b-sides, as it was recorded around the same time and using a similar rig, most notably a minikoto, responsible for much of this era’s Einsturzende Neubauten-esque junkyard percussion. This clank and clamour is then layered with eternal oscillator drones and other industrial claptrap, like his signature “gas station vacuum from hell” which features prominently on album opener “Bit Blues” and album highlight “Otonokoto.”
Bit Blues even follows a similar structure to Kotorhizome, with two monumentally-long tracks followed by a short burst as a coda and denouement.
Things kick off with the title track, “Bit Blues,” whirring and grinding like some post-industrial locked groove, only to quickly be joined by Merzbow’s trusty face-sucking soul vacuum. Things just keep getting more noisy and alarming, as the sheet metal white noise is joined by air raid sirens, until the bottom drops out and the noisiness is slowly subsumed by what sounds like a Fax machine. The end result sounds something like a washing machine, scarred and pitted and sparking, whirring away on some dirt mound in some blasted field, while some apocalyptic factory sends out distress signals, before the entire scene is absorbed into some primitive digital database.
“Otonokoto,” which translates to “about sound” is relatively sedate, following the blistering onslaught of “Bit Blues,” as the scrap metal junk percussion is replaced with a sustained drone and a minimalist hissing air hose. If “Bit Blues” is the apocalypse factory sounding the alarm, “Otonokoto” is the sound of exploring its interior, listening to its dreary, dirty fly-specked fluorescent lights while some pipes hiss ominously in the distance.
Finally, we end with “Raspberry 1417,” at a scant four-and-a-half minutes. “Raspberry 1417” is like “Bit Blues” in reverse – it begins with a digital dither and then spits back out into a howling, shrieking world of scrap metal and pain.
The liner notes from this batch of releases talks about Merzbow being inspired by and commenting on the recent tragedy at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, alongside his on-going fascination with themes like animal rights. Can you tell that Bit Blues or Kotorhizome is about nuclear disasters or conservation? Not really. Does that in any way impact your ability to enjoy or appreciate Bit Blues? Not in the slightest.
We started this article with that old Macbeth chestnut, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Bit Blues returns us to the central question of Merzbow Monday – why review a Merzbow record? What constitutes “good noise music,” in a genre that is dialectically opposed to hierarchies and value judgements. OF COURSE these Merzbow records are trash, that’s the point. They’re also works of alchemy, translating trash into treasure, and even teetering at times on The Sublime.
So, to phrase things in the terminology of a regular album review, Bit Blues feels like more of a minor release compared to Kotorhizome, the only two of the new batch we’ve had time to spend any significant time with so far. Bit Blues will be mostly for the completists and Merzbow superfans, although it’s notable for being hotter, heavier, and more extreme than other works recorded during 2011 and 2012.Bit Blues by Merzbow
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.