Wednesday, September 07, 2005


No cute title for this blog entry. No nifty play on words or reference to some obscure ditty that only I and ten other people in the world know about. To do so would minimize the impact of what I witnessed last night.

I went to my first concert at the age of thirteen. I've seen hundreds of shows in the ensuing years. Rock shows, gothic shows, industrial shows. Jazz, glitch, metal, gospel, techno, swing, drum and bass, breakcore, latin, funk, and hiphop. Hundreds of different genres by hundreds of different bands. But nothing in this world could have prepared me for Merzbow.


His is the sound of glaciers breaking apart at a thousand miles an hour; a million hurricanes of shattered glass; the solar wind shrieking through the blackest depths of space; continent-engulfing sandstorms; waves of radiation that melt everything in their path.

Four other bands played before Masami Akita of Merzbow took the stage. I do remember what these bands did. Some of it I liked; some of it I didn't. But in the end, it just didn't matter. Because listening to Merzbow live is like cleansing your sonic palette with acid. It simply erases everything.


The first thing that will strike you is the utter physicality of this sound. It vibrates your skin. It rattles in your bones and churns the very jelly in your eyeballs. It rumbles in your guts. I refer to Merzbow's "music" as simply sound because I’m hesitant to call it "music" in the classic sense. He is a noise artist; or, more accurately, THE noise artist. His mastery of generating and manipulating ear shredding static and punishing bass rumbles is simply unmatched. There are no melodies. There is almost no percussion and what little there is is comprised of jagged shreds of noise crushed into rhythmic patterns. And these don't last long, quickly becoming obliterated by the surrounding miasma of epic sonics.

Endless black waves of roiling noise, hitting you again and again; abrupt sonic changes that leave you literally breathless and dizzy, as if the floor had simply dropped out from under you. Listening to Merzbow's recordings is difficult enough (yet extremely rewarding), but hearing him live becomes simply a test of endurance. How much of this power can you absorb before you simply burst apart? Yet the resulting emotional reward is magnified in kind. There were more than a few points in the concert when I wished it would stop, the discomfort caused by this sonic assault becoming almost too much. But I had to keep listening. I had to keep listening because I knew in my heart that when the denouement finally arrived, when the punishment finally abated, it would be glorious.

I've no idea how long Akita played. It could have been hours, it could have been days, so deep is the trance his brand of noise can engender. You loose all track of time. All I do know is that when he finally cut off all sound, I was transported. A weight was lifted, a journey completed.

Many folks are going to read this and think I'm completely out of my mind for subjecting myself to this type of thing. But here's the rub. It's a completely different experience from anything you will ever encounter sonically. This sounds like nothing else. Sure, there are a myriad of musical genres to pick from, but they all share many common elements. This sound is completely alien and therefore takes you places no other type of sound does. These are primal places; deep, but not necessarily dark, places.

There is no hate in this music. There's also no love. Yet to call it sterile would be a gross injustice, for nothing could be further from the truth. This is music that PUSHES. Where it will push you to depends on who you are, I suspect. But one thing that I do know is that even if YOU don't who you are, Masami Akita's noise does. And it will take you places where you'll find out, like it or not.

Undoubtedly the most intense sonic experience of my life. Brutal, uncompromising, and utterly transcendent.


Aiding in my recovery:

Abstract Audio Systems - SomeNothing
(peaceful and floating; pull you back from any edge)

Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks - Please, Try Not To Forget Me
(finely crafted melancholy)

The Mystifying Oracle - Quintessence
(dusky, dusty, basking in the sun music)

Dertli Dolap - Sufi Music: Kaside & Ilahi
(a prime example of the form, brought back to me from Turkey by my sista)


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