Merzbow – Pulse Demon

If music is a long, winding road and the boundary between melody and noise a steep cliff, then this is the rocky, bramble-ridden floor at the end of the plummet. In this sense, Masami Akita is the EM world’s Thelma & Louise, guiltlessly careening over the cliff and into a screeching inferno over and over again each year (as of today, somewhere around a whopping 250 times).

Merzbow is the veritable Alexander the Great of the Japanoise scene, perhaps even the global noise scene, renowned for his innumerable sonic accomplishments, though “conquests” might be a more appropriate word. Despite his literally colossal discography, he’s most respected for the works he’s done with other musicians, notably Boris at Last: Feedbacker and Akuma no Uta with Boris, Andre Sider af Sonic Youth with Mats Gustafsson and of course Sonic Youth, Sunn O)))’s Flight of the Behemoth, and Electric Dress with Carlos Giffoni and Jim O’Rourke. Chances are you’ve run into Merzbow before in some shape or form.

Chances also hold that if you’re largely of neutral opinion about “The Masami Akita Experience,” then you’re not experienced. Merzbow is nothing but crowd-splitting, his shows often inciting as many cheers as spiteful boo’s from the audience. It’s damn near impossible to hear one of his works and not feel polarized one way or the other; common reactions include “What the hell is this garbage?” “Wow, this is pretty interesting!” “Derp, it’s static, lulz.” “This is pretty sick shit, bro.” and my all-time favorite “OW, WHAT THE FUCK.” Tales tell of big city cafés filled with hip youngsters imbibing Merzbow from their laptops along with their morning coffees. As of today, I’ve yet to stumble upon one of these fabled cafés, but I have no doubts that the ambience alone might be just as sufficient a waker-upper as a breakfast latte.

It would please me very much to weave several graphic metaphors to illustrate the mental effects of listening to Merzbow’s opus Pulse Demon and do that I shall. Imagine shoving a bottle of Mad Dog hot sauce, glass and all, into a Blend-Tec blender on puree, then suspending the shard-laden paste in a concentrated hydrochloric acid solution and injecting said solution directly into your ears with a syringe. Or why not just cut out the middleman and just shove your head right into that blender? Try blaring your TV on maximum volume without a signal, allowing the box’s painful shrieks of white noise to ricochet off the walls of your living room before colliding with your ear drum. How about jet engines? Or Warped Tour? Indeed, anything audible that can be characterized as obnoxious, ear-piercing, painfully sharp, or just plain noisy as fuck can and probably has been topped by Merzbow. Pulse Demon is no exception; in fact, I’d say it’s the paragon of unadulterated noise.

However, I feel that these highly exaggerated hyperboles tell little of precisely what’s in store for you. In this case, a personal testimony is in order and one that I’m sure my dear friend/trollmate Greg would be all too happy to give himself:

After a tiresome day of tedious lab work and struggling to remember the difference between a blastocoel and a blastocyst, Greg and I would drive from the University’s main campus to the much smaller north campus, all the while engaging in hearty discussion. Whether we were debating the vices and virtues of 80’s music, I was calling him an idiot for suggesting that Portishead, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and all other bands with female vocalists are unquestionably bad, or he was expressing his distaste for Isaac Brock’s “drunken pirate-like” vocal style, all talk would cease at a certain overpass. At this preordained location, the conversation, as if seized by divine will, would suddenly focus on Merzbow, particularly his classic Pulse Demon. This overpass is where I once savagely tore the noise virginity from Greg’s unsuspecting ears. Playing DJ with my mp3 player hooked up to his car speakers, I announced to Greg that I would be playing lead single “Woodpecker No. 1” off of the electronic artist Merzbow’s popular album Pulse Demon. From his poor car door speakers gushed forth a glorious maelstrom of razor wire and machine gun bullets  that flooded his Acura in the most graceful dance of deflowering his innocent ears had bore witness to. He never knew what hit him.

“What the fuck are we listening to?”

“This is by an artist called Merzbow. You wanna know how the song ends?” [I skip several minutes into the song, then again, snickering all the while]

“What kind of crazy hipsters listen to this garbage?”

“I guess the kind that have a fanciful interest in static.”

“The sad part about all this is that this asshole probably makes a ton of money off this.”

“You kidding? I’d be surprised if this pays his rent.”

“Still, I can’t believe people listen to this crap. It’s painful.”

“I know. It gave me a headache. I started feeling the pain in my gut around ‘Tokyo Times Ten.’ It’s quite an accomplishment, in my opinion, to make music that’s physically discomforting to listen to. The funny thing is that Merzbow’s quite legendary in noise circles for his work.”

“What the hell for? It’s fucking static! I can’t imagine any review that wouldn’t sound like that critical interpretation of Peter Chimaera’s Doom: Repercussions of Evil.”

“Well, being a critic myself, I feel obligated not to judge anything by its face value. Regardless of what I’m listening to, I feel a competent critic should rank an album based on its content, not necessarily its sound. I suppose in the extremely esoteric world of masochistic noise music, Merzbow’s Pulse Demon would be a Revolver or Led Zeppelin IV.”

“So you’re saying you legitimately LIKED Merzbow’s [he pronouncing it Murz-boe’s] Pulse Demon?”

“Fuck no! But I can respect it.”

Whether Merzbow is one of the world’s greatest sonic swindlers or just a tremendously unlikeable musician remains to be seen. What I do know is that he’s possibly THE most influential noise musician of the past three decades, more archetypal than even Sonic Youth or Mats Gustafsson. Were it not for his contributions, it’s unlikely that we would have artists like Wolf Eyes, Prurient, Yellow Swans, or Skullflower, though it’s dubious they would be missed by the vast majority of music-goers. Pulse Demon is dynamic where it needs to be, outrageously experimental, and throughout a relentlessly brutal audio assault. This release established Akita as a Jackson Pollock of the contemporary music world; with stalwart resolve, he crafts a near-limitless repertoire of haphazard collages that, while presenting no subject in particular, are a subject in themselves. Now, if Pollock painted with razor blades and insisted that his work be best interpreted through one’s feet, then the allusion would apply doubly so. Dear Cambodia: we’ve officially found a viable substitute for water-boarding.

by Mason “loves that one song that goes ‘SKREEEGRAWRBRLWARGARBL’” McGough

1 Comment

  1. New Nostalgia Trip! Merzbow – Pulse Demon « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Merzbow – Pulse Demon, by Mason McGough […]

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