Merzbow and Other Noise

I saw Merzbow do a free show at an art gallery in Soho Friday night. He was sitting cross-legged behind a table with two iMacs and a small mixer. You would think he was meditating, except that every few seconds he would reach out and adjust something on one of the laptops. The experience was deafening, over an hour of relentless caustic sound. You get the feeling that it’s almost like a dare, to make it through the show without covering your ears. A lot of people left before it was over.

But it was more than that. A lot of the sounds were extremely evocative – sometimes cartoonish like the sounds of movie monsters, enormous industrial machines, nightmarish screams, metallic clanks, helicopters and guns. It was like a Philip Glass composition made out of movie sound effects instead of pure tones.

One of my music professors in college would always say, traditional music is all tension and release, tension and release. With this music the tension builds for a very long time before you get release, and you don’t get full release until the concert is over. I would start to internalize the sounds that repeated in a pattern, and then I would be jarred by a sound that came out of nowhere. Then the patterned sound would change slightly, and it would draw my attention to another area for a few moments. Then suddenly it would switch to an entirely different pattern, a different mood. At times, though, it felt entirely like I was going insane, and I felt myself on the edge of the most crippling depression. Fortunately, the concert ended before the darkness really took root.

I just spoke to Weingarten. He saw Merzbow at a different concert on Saturday night and reported a very similar experience to what I felt. It really drove us both deep inside ourselves in a way that was ultimately not very pretty.

It’s been many years since I was making that kind of music, and I never did it particularly well. But there is something very satisfying about manipulating loud, booming sound over a period of time. I remember feeling very lucid in those days. The album that I made with the noise band Smack Doris was interesting in some ways, and in fact, I got more notoriety for that than I had with any of my pop bands.


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