Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Merzbow - Sphere (2005)

Merzbow, also known as Masami Akita, has dominated the market for Japanese noise music for decades. His discography spans hundreds of releases, many of which have obtained astronomically high prices due to their extremely limited editions, and the fanatical nature of some of his fans. Sphere is yet another example of why Merzbow has proved so persistantly successful in a genre that can be easily aped by anyone with a laptop.

While he has certainly turned out some hastily constructed trash in his day, here Merzbow is at the top of his game, somehow managing to find new and interesting ways of producing horrible noise even after all this time. The three part "Sphere" suite begins with acoustic, distinctly Asian sounding drums, which in itself is noteworthy, as the presence of any acoustic instruments in Merzbow's work is extremely rare. Of course, the feedback and distortion quickly emerges as the dominant sonic feature, but not without its share of twists and turns.

Part two is built around a slow, quiet, unobtrusive bass line that repeats, holding down a tempo even as it is slowly consumed by swirling static. The third section is the most overtly electronic, but even so there is a lot going on underneath the surface. Low pitched murmurings fade in and out, creating an atmosphere that is mysterious and slightly sinister. I can imagine some of this music as the soundtrack to a film noir movie... from the future.... made by robots.

The half hour "Untitled for Vesteras" closes the album, but despite its length it almost feels like a bonus track. I for one would have been perfectly satisfied whith the 38 minutes that comprise the "Sphere" suite, so the rest is really gravy. The track is typical of Merzbow's earlier, less subtle work, and is frankly anticlimactic, given that the rest of the album is so strong.

If you're new to noise music, this might be a good place to start, as it offers a broader pallette of sound and a more subdued approach than the work of other artists and indeed, many other albums by Merzbow himself.

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