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Music / Merzbow

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Masami Akita (born December 19, 1956), better known as Merzbow, is a Japanese Electronic Music artist and composer, as well as a book writer and editor for various publications.

During his youth, he listened to psychedelic rock, progressive rock and free jazz, all of which influenced his musical style. He has been the drummer for various rock bands during his high school years, but began his musical career as an experimental rock artist with his high school friend Kiyoshi Mizutani.

He later attended Tamagawa University to study fine art, at which he majored in painting and art theory. During this time, he developed an interest in Dada, Postmodernism and surrealism, eventually learning about Kurt Schwitters' Merz, or art made from rubbish, including the installation "Merzbau", which became the source of his stage name.

Merzbow began in 1979 as a duo consisting of Masami Akita and Kiyoshi Mizutani, initially playing Industrial music, which was not well-recognized during their time. They began garnering recognition in The '80s with their record label, Lowest Music and Arts, as well as its Spiritual Successor, ZSF Produkt, which released material produced by other industrial artists. During this era, the duo began producing recordings for various international labels. Merzbow performed in the USSR in 1988, and have toured the US, Korea, and Europe in The '90s. In 1989, however, Kiyoshi left to pursue a solo career.

As of the present time, Merzbow has released over 350 studio recordings. He also has loads and loads of aliases and side projects.

Merzbow's music is a matter of debate among Electronic Music fans, owing to its highly experimental and abstract nature. He is frequently cited as an early pioneer of Industrial music in The '80s, alongside acts such as Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. Due to this, he has gained substantial attention in underground electronic music circles, with many indie acts drawing inspiration from his works. However, he has also made forays into ambient-ish music and musique concrète. It is also arguable that he had a role in establishing/influencing the intelligent dance music (IDM) genre when it was still an Unbuilt Trope, before artists like Autechre and Aphex Twin entered the spotlight.

Despite being highly acclaimed in many musical circles, Merzbow's music is definitely NOT for everyone. Much of his work is extremely harsh, dissonant, mechanical and rough-sounding, and often employs every form of musical Sensory Abuse imaginable, including, but not limited to: heavily distorted and chattering electronics, tape loops, an emphasis on both heavy sub-sonic bass and piercing ultrasonics, and extensive use of reverb, feedback, and static, which is even made more harsh and sonically abusive through his rough production style. His music comes across as overwhelming and difficult to listen to, and to the uninitiated may come across as sounding like a massive wall of black noise. note 

Tropes applying to Merzbow:

  • Album Intro Track: Several releases feature this, such as Project Frequency, 1930, and Door Open at 9 am.
  • Bizarre Instrument: The early 80s Free Improvisation era was full of this, with prepared guitars, sheets of metal, and literal junk often being used.
  • Brown Note: His music can be a strange Real Life example of this trope in that listeners have reported that it feels like Sensory Abuse for about five to ten minutes before it starts feeling strangely euphoria-inducing. This may in fact be intentional.
  • Careful with That Axe: Considering his musical style, his surprise vocal inserts in some songs can come across as this.
  • Darker and Edgier: He did this to Industrial, which is already a very harsh genre in itself.
    • Lighter and Softer: A portion of this work is this to the rest of his work. He's done occasional ambient works. His collaborations with other artists could also be considered to qualify; he still does his usual harsh noise thing, but since it's underpinned by works with more traditional musical qualities it's still more accessible, making it usually reside in the 6-9 range. Finally, live, while still mind-fuckingly loud, he's not quite as harsh as he is in the studio. His collaborations with Boris may be a nice place to start with him for people who are afraid of tackling his more typical works; these works generally run the gamut of various degrees of heaviness (most of "Headronefish" and the intro/outro to "Sun Baked Snow Cave" are both mild, for example).
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Early works were mostly chaotic free-improvisation Avant-Garde Music with some hints of Psychedelic Rock and Noise Rock. Merzbow later scrapped this for harsh Industrial music akin to early power electronics artists such as Throbbing Gristle, and again in The '90s for a harsher, darker and louder sound influenced by early Brutal Death Metal bands.
  • Electronic Music: His main output being a stew of the following subgenres:
  • Epic Rocking: For a certain definition of "rocking". His songs can get very long, with some being over an hour.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: He even uses instruments made out of trash.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Merzbient is a box set full of mostly ambient works.
  • Genre-Busting: Go ahead. Describe his musical style with one genre. We dare you.
  • Hidden Track: The original release of Merzbeat features a remix of Amlux by Jack Dangers, hidden after 65 tracks of silence.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: The name of the game, for a while.
  • Loudness War: His output might sound like a huge wall of blastbeats and staticky black noise, but surprisngly, he averts this trope: almost all of his musical output is highly polished, crystal-clear and uncompressed to the point where almost all the dynamic range is still present.
    • In a rather extreme example of zigzagging this trope, he has not just produced some of the clearest albums on record, but he has also recorded the two most horribly brickwalled albums ever produced: Pulse Demon and Venereology, both of which have dynamic ranges of zero and gain values in the negative twenties. The latter of these also contains the loudest track ever put to compact disc: "I Lead You Towards Glorious Times".
    • Some of his other albums are still fairly loud, having dynamic range values of four or thereabouts. It is highly doubtful whether anyone will ever make a louder album than Venereology, though.
  • Metal Scream: The vocal work in "I Lead You Towards Glorious Times" is made up of nothing but these.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Done every once-in-a-while, most famously with Pulse Demon's optical illusion cover art. Other releases that feature this include Scumtron, Dharma, and Graft.
  • New Sound Album: 1990's Cloud Cock OO Grand marked an important shift in Merzbow's music, as it was the first album to move away from the chaotic industrial-esque, sheet metal and sound collage-heavy sound of the 80s to the harsh noise assaults that would make up the majority of his career.
  • Oddball in the Series: Having a discography that numbers well into the hundreds, he's bound to have a few of these. Releases of the most note:
    • Aka Meme, a 1984 release that is more or less a straightforward (if still noisy) Industrial album which is Akita now considers an Old Shame and was later remixed in 1996 as Red 2 Eyes.
    • Vibratance, a 1998 album that spends most of its runtime as a quiet, intimidating Drone album that eventually transitions into Merz's familiar noise.
    • Merzzow, a relatively quiet and startlingly musical album released in 2002 in tribute to various Avant-Garde Music musicians.
    • Merzbuddha, another relatively quiet and meditative album with heavy influences from Ambient and Dub music released in 2005.
    • Hyakki Echo, a 2017 album that is a straightforward callback to the days of Merzbow being a Free Improvisation duo.
    • Hermerzaphrodites from 2019 is one half a standard junky harsh noise album, one half a free-improv piano piece with noise overlaying it.
  • Older Than They Look: That photo of him is pretty recent. He's in his late sixties.
  • Postmodernism: He's influenced by Dadaism, Psychedelic Rock and early Industrial artists.
  • Scare Chord: Most of his work contains copious amounts of these, for a certain definition of "chord".
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: One of the biggest inversions of this trope in music: he appears like a typical nerd, with long hair, glasses and a skinny physique. He even looks fairly young for his age. But his musical output is literally the auditory equivalent of Mind Rape.
  • Sensory Abuse: One of the masters. If your ears aren't bleeding by the end, it ain't a Merzbow album.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: On some of his releases, as much as they can even be considered "songs". Pulse Demon is basically a solid wall of noise with track divisions inserted more or less arbitrarily. There are a couple of cases where you can clearly hear significant stylistic shifts between the tracks, but you'd have to be paying close attention for some of the others.
  • Signature Style: Very loud, chattering electronics, time-signature torture, loads and loads of Sensory Abuse, and harsh, disorienting atmospherics.
  • Something Blues: The track title "Ultra Marine Blues", though it doesn't sound anything like any blues you're familiar with.
  • The Something Song: "Elephant Song" from Merzzow.
  • Supergroup: Was in a band with Masonna and Zev Asher, dubbed Flying Testicle.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: His occasional forays into ambient music could count as this.
  • Stylistic Suck: He has actual musical talent. Yes, really, he can make traditional music if he so desires; it only happens that he makes mind-fucking Harsh Noise because that's what he is most known for.
  • Textless Album Cover: Done fairly often, again most famously on Pulse Demon.