A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Merzbow Monday: Merzbow – Collection:001 album review

One of the earliest Merzbow recordings is also one of the most intriguing.

Merzbow – Collection 001 album cover credit/@rateyourmusic

Early ’80s Merzbow is an interesting beast. It seems more in-line with his guru and namesake Kurt Schwitters than the harsh noise scene he would inspire and help create, as albums from this era sound much more like junk sculptures and alien assemblages than the howling infernal machines that make up so much of his later work. Even though it’s anomalous in Masami Akita‘s seemingly endless back catalog, these early recordings are still a good place to start with Merzbow as it becomes obvious he knows what he’s doing – that he’s a sensitive improviser who knows his kit, strange, ramshackle, and ragtag as it may be.

Recorded on June 3, 1981, the same recording date that yielded Collection:002, Collection:001 is one of the rare Merzbow recordings to include Kiyoshi Mizutani, giving the proceedings a looser, more spontaneous group feel. The recording itself feels anomalous, as well, with more of an ethnographic, documentarian sound quality, making you feel like a fly on the concrete bunker wall.

original Collection:001 cassette on Lowest Music & Arts credit/Tape Mag

Collection:001 is comprised of two side-long tracks, named after the bricolage they were constructed with. Side A, “Microphone, Echo Machine, Violin, Drums, Effects, Voice,” begins with a light, clattering percussion, like soccer cleats on the spin cycle, which is quickly joined by thick sheets of analog noise. From there it’s off to the races as Akita and Mizutani play everything from a shortwave radio to a detuned violin to random metal junk singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

“Microphone, Echo Machine, Violin, Drums, Effects, Voice” reminds us that no one plays the radio quite like Masami Akita, which also gives the recording an ephemeral charm, snatching signals, disembodied voices and regional music from Tokyo, now well on their way to Alpha Centauri. It’s also a useful shorthand of the delights and charms Collection:001 – and Merzbow albums and improvised music in general – has to offer. It’s a snapshot and a document of a particular moment of time and space, as the Earth hurtles through the void of space at 1,037.68 miles/hour.

“It’s a snapshot and a document of a particular moment of time and space, as the Earth hurtles through the void of space at 1,037.68 miles/hour.”

“Tapes, Acoustic Guitar, Effects, Syn-Drum, Recorder, Voice, Records” has even more of an ensemble feel, with an emphasis on live drumming and percussion and some acoustic instruments buried in the mix. It starts off with the sparse, spare sound of lapping water, which is joined by a bleepy early digital riddim box, sounding like an Atari calling the faithful to prayer. The rhythm strengthens, solidifies, while some oscillators join the fray, squiggling and writhing like lampreys. Towards the end, there’s more radio recordings, more musical and less shortwave than those on Side A, including some early ’80s New Wave/Funk, as heard from 1200 miles away.

With sound art, so much of its success rides on the qualities of the sounds themselves. This is the first area where Collection:001 really shines, as the radios and syn-drums and analog effects boxes are quite nice to listen to. Collection:001‘s next selling point is the pacing, which is where improvised music lives and dies. Akita and Mizutani reveal themselves to be restless, searching performers, which remains true throughout Akita’s career. He never leaves well enough alone, always poking and prodding his junkboxes and howling machinery. Akita never just sets it and forgets it – he’s the polar opposite of a noise musician simply cutting-and-pasting white noise loop into a DAW for 55-minute. Let him be an example for us all.

Collection:001 was recently compiled and re-released by Urashima as a lavish 10-cd boxset in a deluxe wooden box. It’s well-deserved, too, as the Collection albums are quickly becoming some of my favourite Merzbow releases.

Welcome To Merzbow Monday!

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.



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