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Merzbow ~ Prolific Japanese Noise Artist

Merzbow

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Merzbow

Masami Akita at Moers Festival 2007
Background information
Birth name Masami Akita
Also known as Merzbow
Born December 19, 1956 (1956-12-19) (age 54)
Origin Tokyo, Japan
Genres Noise, experimental, dark ambient[1]
Instruments Magnetic tape, homemade guitars, synthesizer, effect pedals, percussion, laptop, drums
Years active 1979–present
Labels Important, Misanthropic Agenda, Relapse, Lowest Music & Arts, ZSF Produkt, among many others
Associated acts Boris
Sunn O)))
Sonic Youth
Website merzbow.net
Members
Masami Akita
Past members
Kiyoshi Mizutani
Reiko Azuma (aka Reiko A.)
Tetsuo Sakaibara (aka Bara)
Merzbow (メルツバウ Merutsubau?) is the main recording name of the Japanese noise musician Masami Akita (秋田 昌美 Akita Masami?), born in 1956. Since 1979[1] he has released in excess of 350 recordings.
The name "Merzbow" comes from German artist Kurt Schwitters' artwork, "Merzbau". This was chosen to reflect Akita's dada influence and junk art aesthetic. In addition to this, Akita has cited a wide range of influences from progressive rock, free jazz, modern classical and musique concrète[2] to BDSM and Japanese bondage.[3] More recently he has been inspired by animals, animal rights and environmentalism.[4]
As well as being a prolific musician, he has been a writer and editor for several books and magazines in Japan, and has written 17 books of his own. He has written about a variety of subjects, mostly about art, avant-garde and post-modern culture. His more renowned works have been on the topics of BDSM and fetish culture. Other art forms Akita has been interested in include painting, photography, filmmaking and Butoh dance.[5]
In 2000, Extreme Records released the 50 CD box set known as the Merzbox. Akita's work has been the subject of several remix albums and at least one tribute album. This, among other achievements, has helped Merzbow to be regarded to some as the "most important artist in noise".[1]

Contents

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[edit] Life and career

[edit] Early life

Masami Akita was born in Tokyo in 1956. He listened to psychedelic music, progressive rock, and later free jazz in his youth, all of which have influenced his noise.[1] In high school he became the drummer of various high school bands which he left due to the other members being "grass-smoking Zappa freaks".[6] By this time he and high school friend Kiyoshi Mizutani had started playing improvised rock at studio sessions which Akita describes as "long jam sessions along the lines of Ashra Tempel or Can but we didn't have any psychedelic taste".[6]
He later attended Tamagawa University to study fine art from which he majored in painting and art theory.[5] While at university he became interested in the ideas of Dada and surrealism and also studied Butoh dance.[6] This is where he learned of Kurt Schwitters' Merz, or art made from rubbish, including Schwitters' Merzbau, or "Merz building" which is the source of the name "Merzbow".[7]

[edit] Lowest Music & Arts (1979–84)

Merzbow began as the duo of Masami Akita and Kiyoshi Mizutani who met Akita in high school. He started releasing noise recordings on cassettes through his own record label, Lowest Music & Arts, which was founded in 1979[citation needed] in order to trade cassette tapes with other underground artists. The first tape made for the label was Metal Acoustic Music and was sold exclusively by mail order. Various other releases were made before the first real release which included Collection 001 and a very limited release of Remblandt Assemblage.[8] The Collection series was originally ten cassettes that were going to be distributed through an independent label called YLEM, but when it became defunct and cancelled the series, Akita decided to release them through Lowest Music & Arts.[9]
His earliest music was made with tape loops and creatively recorded percussion and metal.
I threw all my past music career in the garbage. There was no longer any need for concepts like 'career' and 'skill'. I stopped playing music and went in search of an alternative. - Masami Akita on Lowest Music & Arts.[10]
Early methods included what he referred to as "material action", in which he would closely amplify small sounds so as to distort them through the microphone. The early releases were photocopies of collages made out of manga and porn magazines he found in trash cans in the Tokyo subway. Akita explained this as trying to "create the same feeling as the secret porn customer for the people buying my cassettes in the early '80s".[11] In 1984 he founded a second record label called ZSF Produkt.

[edit] ZSF Produkt (1984–90)

ZSF Produkt was founded in 1984 to release music by similar artists within the industrial movement but eventually became the successor to Lowest Music & Arts.[12] Numerous releases were made in the ZSF Produkt studio with Mechanization Takes Command being the first.[13] The studio continued to be used until 2001 when Akita started producing home recordings from his bedroom studio.[14]
During this era, Merzbow found much wider recognition and began making recordings for various international labels.[15] He also started touring abroad with the help of various collaborators. Merzbow performed in USSR in 1988, toured USA in 1990, Korea in 1991 and Europe in 1989 and 1992.[16] For most of the late 1980s through the 1990s, Merzbow live was a trio including Reiko A. on electronics and Bara on voice and dance. Around this time he started crediting the name "Abtechtonics" (or variations of this) on his recordings under artwork. He explained in the Merzbook that this name is used for him publishing his own artwork which he attempts to do as much as possible.[17]

[edit] Digital era (1990–2000)

Nick Cain of The Wire argues that
" Merzbow's analogue era, which began roughly around the time of his first CD, Cloud Cock OO Grand, is Akita's most sustained period of creativity, when he realised the latent potential of his 1980s work, accelerating it into a new variant of Noise.[18] "
Merzbow's first digital recording was the CD release Cloud Cock OO Grand in 1990.[19] With a higher international profile in the 90's, Merzbow started working on more ambitious projects such as the Noisembryo, which was a Merzbow album sealed in a car released in a limited edition of one copy. The disc was sealed in the CD player of a BMW Sedan which was rewired to play the CD whenever the car was started. The CD was also released normally on the same label.[20] Recordings from the mid-1990s onwards are mostly of extreme volume, some mastered at levels far beyond standard (Noisembryo, Pulse Demon).[21] From 1996, plans were made to release a "10 (or maybe 12)" CD box set on Extreme Records.[22] In 2000, Extreme Records released the Merzbox, a fifty CD set of Merzbow records, twenty of them not previously released.

[edit] Laptop era (2000–2010)

Since 2000, Akita began to use computers more in his recordings. At live performances, Akita has produced noise music from either two laptop computers or combination of a laptop and analog synthesizers.[citation needed] Reiko A. and Bara left Merzbow during this time, Reiko Azuma now has a solo career. Since 2001, Jenny Akita (formerly Kawabata) started being credited for artwork on various releases.
Since 2001, Akita started utilising samples of animal sounds in various releases starting with Frog. Around 2002, Akita became a vegan, he stated how it began:
I started raising four bantams, the little ornamental chickens. With this experience as a start, I gradually started to be concerned and care about chickens and all the barn animals I used to eat without giving it a second thought before. So I started reading books and researching on the internet about Animal Rights and that triggered an awareness of "evil" that human society has done.[23]
During this period, Akita also became a supporter of PETA which is reflected in his animal-themed releases.[24] An example of this is Minazo Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, dedicated to an elephant seal he visited often at the zoo and Bloody Sea, a protest against Japanese whaling.[25][26] He has also produced several works centered around recordings of his pet chickens (notably Animal Magnetism and Turmeric).[27]
Also in 2002, Akita released Merzbeat, which was seen as a significant departure from his trademark abstract style in that it contains beat-oriented pieces. This has sparked some controversy among fans,[28] though some reviewers pointed out that it sounded very similar to Aqua Necromancer (1998) which features samples of progressive rock drumming.[29][30] Merzbird (2004) and Merzbuddha (2005) followed in a similar vein with sampled beats combined with Merzbow's signature harsh noise.
Through 2009, Akita released a 13 CD box-set called 13 Japanese Birds, a set which was released monthly (one album a month). This release features the return of Akita to the usage of analog sounds and also the use of drum kits. Also in that year Merzbow cancelled his tour over United States and Canada due to the swine flu outbreak.

[edit] Current era (2010–present)

Beginning in November 2009, Akita started releasing archival recordings from the 80s – early 90s, including several on cassette. Blossoming Noise has reissued cassettes like E-Study, Normal Music, Flesh Metal Orgasm, and two volumes from the Collection series. Also on the same label he began the Microkosmos series, which are new recordings with visual collages created in 1982–83. Merzbient, a 12 CD boxset of unreleased recordings from 1987–90 was released by Soleilmoon. Other cassettes of unreleased material include Untitled Nov 1989, 9888A, April 1992, and Variations for Electric Fan.

[edit] Musical style

Merzbow's sounds employ the use of distortion, feedback, and noises from synthesizers, machinery, and home-made noisemakers. While much of Merzbow's output is intensely harsh in character, Akita does occasionally make forays into ambient music. Vocals are employed sometimes, but never in a lyrical sense. Contrary to most harsh noise music, Akita also occasionally uses elements of melody and rhythm.[31]
Akita's early work consisted of industrial noise music made from tape loops and conventional instruments. Similar to his present albums, he produced lengthy, disorientating pieces. He also became infamous for the sheer amount of releases in a short time frame.[32]
Audiences in general, especially those of "closed societies", did not quite know what to make of his style. During his performances (with Kiyoshi Mizutani) in the USSR, at the Jazz-on-Amur '88 festival, what incorporated improvised, electroacoustic and experimental music that time (the fest's producer consciously obscured both the very type of Akita's music and the erotic trend of his art from Soviet officials), whereas the producer, rocky youth and Soviet improvised music guest stars were extremely pleased, the unprepared orthodox jazz and agier parts of the audience were severely frustrated, particularly, with loudness, to leave the site, and for the second performance, for another, 1000-place hall (of the Soviet Army Officers' House), and even much more conservative audience,[33] he was asked to play "more musically" so he toned it down a bit.[32] On that first stage, Merzbow used the finest example of "classical analogue live noisemaiking technologies" to display: untuned guitar, a drumset, various micro-objects, small springs centered in its shell baffles, large aluminium boxes with strings inside to be attacked with a fiddlestick, etc. along with multi- piezo-pickuping and close-miking techniques, live processing through vintage US fuzz, ring modulator etc. boxes, and quite vivid and spontaneous approach, backed by slide and light shows. This live recording was re-processed and released as Live in Khabarovsk, CCCP (I'm Proud by Rank of the Workers) LP - and as the CD 26 of the Merzbox later on.[33]
During the 90s Akita's work became much harsher and were generally mastered at a louder volume than usual. These were heavily influenced by death metal and grindcore bands of the time (a prime example is the Venereology album).[34] The mid-90's saw Akita being heavily influenced by psychedelic bands and this was reflected in various albums.
After 2000, Akita started making vague concept albums and experimented with sampling rhythms. He also began to use laptops.

[edit] Side projects

In addition to Merzbow, Akita has been involved in a number of side projects and groups.

[edit] Side projects

SCUM was a project where Akita made new releases out of previous Merzbow recordings. SCUM is an acronym for "Society for Cutting Up Merzbow" (a reference to the SCUM Manifesto), "Scissors for CUtting Merzbow" or "Steel CUM" among others.
True Romance was a performance art project in the early 90s with Tetsuo Sakaibara (who later joined Merzbow live) and Toshiyuki Seido.
Right Brain Audile is co-credited on the two Music for Bondage Performance albums, as they're soundtracks he did for several bondage films produced by Right Brain. "RBA" reappears on Merzbient, which features recordings from this era.
Zecken was used for two solo performances in 1996.[32][35]

[edit] Groups

Merzbow Null was a collaboration between Masami Akita's Merzbow and Kazuyuki Kishino's Null, including Kiyoshi Mizutani and Asami Hayashi among others. Tibeta Ubik was Akita and Kishino duo.[32] Both groups made several cassettes of live improv performances.[36]
Bustmonster was a "conceptual death metal" (because they couldn't play death metal)[37] group with Tetsuo Sakaibara, Fumio Kosakai, Masahiko Ohno, Shohei Iwasaki, Maso Yamazaki and Zev Asher. Flying Testicle was just with Yamazaki and Asher.
Sponge was an anonymous group whose personnel are named after prominent Japanese businessmen/doctors, the actual performers are believed to be Jojo and Junko Hiroshige, Masami Akita and Maso Yamazaki.
Other groups include: Merz-Banana with Melt-Banana;[38][39] Melting Lips with Hanayo;[40] Muscats with Hanayo and Masaya Nakahara; Commando Bruno Sanmartino with Incapacitants and Violent Onsen Geisha;[41] Shalon Kelly King with Fumio Kosakai;[42] Maldoror with Mike Patton; MAZK with Zbigniew Karkowski; Satanstornade with Russell Haswell (they later released an album entitled Satanstornade under their real names); Boris with Merzbow; Kikuri with Keiji Haino.
Akita also played drums for Hijokaidan during the early–mid 90s.
Balázs Pándi has drummed for Merzbow at several concerts since 2009.

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