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Merzbow - Sha Mo 3000 & Tranz

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Artist: Merzbow

Album: Sha Mo 3000 & Tranz

Label: Essence

Review date: Jul. 1, 2005

There is likely no better-known noise artist than Masami Akita, a.k.a. Merzbow. Active since the late '70s, not even Akita himself knows how many releases Merzbow has created. The two albums here, however, serve admirably to demonstrate both the breadth of sound which goes under the name, as well as the variety available within the "noise" categorization.

It's long been both amusing and frustrating to see "noise" dismissed as indistinguishable, interchangeable muck, much like rock'n'roll was dismissed some 50 years ago. No doubt, it's either an acquired taste or simply a sonic style that appeals to a small sliver of the record-buying public. The reductionism of the naysayers, though, does no favor to either side. The idea that both Merzbow and, say, Hijokaidan sound the same because they're both "noise artists" is absurd; anyone with open ears could pick one from the other blindfolded with no difficulty.

At the same time, it's not as if every Merzbow release sounds the same, proven by these two albums. Over 25 years of work, anyone will develop a recognizable style no matter their genre, and Akita is no different. Yet the results are far from identical.

On tranz we have four tracks: two of them produced by Merzbow's Masami Akita using raw material from Elliott Sharp; and two the reverse. Each artist takes care to place their stamp on the material while maintaining the identity of the other - there's no heavy-handedness here. "MARES1" is 12 minutes of Merzbow retouching Sharp. It's not a harsh wall of noise, though a little over five minutes in there's a burst of Merzbow's trademark screaming hiss. Mostly it's a trance-inducing rumble, a vaguely rhythmic pulse with rising and falling fuzz, playful sounds dropped in here and there. "ESRMA1" reverses the process, with Sharp taking Merzbow material and working with it. Quiet, zoned-out fields of static bubble and then step aside for interjections of seemingly electronic streaks of sound. This track may be the quietest thing anyone's ever constructed via Merzbow. "MARES2" again lets Akita loose, with particularly abstract results. Smears of noise, gaps of near-silence, echoing sparks of sound, and flashes of notes that are recognizably Sharp's guitar battle it out amidst what sounds like a factory crushing rocks. It quiets down into minimalist clanking and buzzing, then comes alive again like a faulty hydraulic pump before a humming conclusion. "ESRMA2" meanders its way through numerous phases in its 15 minutes, from science-fiction sounds to murmuring artificial intelligences and creaking distress signals. As a collaboration, tranz succeeds through careful listening and the balance of each artist's own personality.

Sha Mo 3000 is a solo Merzbow releases, a limited edition of 900 copies in a nice mini-gatefold sleeve with very colorful art by Akita. It's also available in a remarkable handmade box edition of 99 copies with a scroll, cards, additional 3" CDR, and more for those with particularly healthy bank accounts.

The front sticker on the package calls Merzbow the "master of psychedelic, structured noise," and while it wouldn't occur to most people to consider noise to be psychedelic, a reasonable argument could be made. In the case of this release, though, it's explicit: Akita was presented with a collection of South American psychedelic and experimental releases to be used as sound sources.

"Suzunami" is a surprisingly cute intro, a brief blur of quacking distorted buzzings and whooshing fuzz swoops. The 20-minute title track opens with a deep chugging rhythm and sheets of distorted sound slicing through. Things get pretty harsh and dense, with high-pitched fields of scintillating noise, but for the most part it's a relatively sedate piece. One might almost call it Krautrockian noise, with a hypnotic groove and brain-teasing noises coming and going. Once it passes the halfway point, suddenly there are discernable drums and fuzz guitars, albeit twisted into an abstract cubist portrait of themselves. "Ghost Hide Your Eyes" initially sounds like giant peeping chicks lost in a hurricane, surrounded by whooshing winds and peeping synths, until a mechanical engine takes over. Throughout its length, the piece passes through many more phases, including one that sounds like a seasick carousel being hosed down.

"Dreaming K-Dog" is the album's 22-minute centerpiece, opening with mysterious alien sounds and an alarm clock ringing. Primarily it's all deep droning atmospheres, which start to break apart and rock out after the halfway point - at times it actually resembles some Nurse With Wound material. "Hen's Teeth" finishes the album, from an initial compressed guitar and bass growl through perhaps the first noise segment ever dominated by guitar leads, then onward into a landscape of drawn-out power chords, cymbal crashes and electronic squiggles. In all, a fine collection of noisy sounds, given a unique slant by the source material.

By Mason Jones

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