Merzbow stands as the most important artist in noise music. The moniker of Japanese artist Masami Akita was born in Tokyo in 1979. Inspired by dadaism and surrealism, Akita took the name for his project from German artist Kurt Schwitters’s pre-war architectural assemblage The Cathedral of Erotic Misery or Merzbau. Working in his home, he quickly gained notoriety as a purveyor of a musical genre composed solely of pure, unadulterated noise. Embracing technology and the machine, first in an absolutely analog way and then welcoming digital innovation, Merzbow broke boundaries and pushed toward new territories of the extreme, arriving at a sonic space of uncontaminated, straight noise that, from its base in Tokyo, has continued, now for over 40 years, to set the pace for the entire genre of noise.
Merzbow “Collection” series was originally scheduled to be released by YLEM on ten cassette. YELM was a Japanese art collective and independent label run by Masahiro Ueda, with bands like Perfect Mother, Airyfarm, Marionett Karma and Bushman-19 whose members worked in design, poetry, music, photos, video, movies and dance. It also had a connection with Kiyohiko Sano of the musical improvisation group GAP, Yoshifumi Niinuma (Sympathy Nervous) and Junko Tange (Tolerance). Masami Akita along with Kiyoshi Mizutani went to the YLEM studio in June 1981 to begin recording and mixing “Collection”. The studio was a room located in a large apartment and the main recording method used by artists was to overdub pre-recorded tapes, with ring modulator, effects and the instruments that were in the studio (guitars, wooden bass, percussion, violins, etc.). The original material on tape was previously recorded live by Masami Akita at his home and composed by sessions with Kiyoshi Mizutani rather than artist’s solo sound source. According to the credits, the recordings at YLEM Studio appear to be June 3rd and 16th only (the index of the original cassette says Gap Works as the recording location). Collection 003 on the other hand was recorded and mixed at Kazuto Shimizu’s Galapagos studio on June 13, 1981, where the artist also plays the clarinet and organ. However, for some reason, after producing the fifth cassette Collection 005, the continuation of the series was not recorded again in the YLEM studio. This appears to be due to studio having stopped working, but the details are unknown. The remaining 5 works are recorded at Masami Akita’s home and mixes took place on October 26th and 29th 1981 and February 12th 1982. Only Collection 006 was in 1982 because he did not like the sound source originally produced and was replaced with a new one. Finally the 10 “Collection” tapes are completed. Capturing some of the Merzbow’s earliest explorations, these are some of the most introspective, accessible, and engaging recordings ever made by a project that has long been defined by its unadulterated sonic assault, and represent a surprising ground zero in the movement of Japanese noise.
Unlike later Merzbow, within which bodies of exploration can be divided into rough eras, each entry of “Collection”appears like a free-standing world, with the project following a line in inquiry and experimentation towards a logical unforeseen conclusion, incorporating a vast range of instruments – tapes, organ, guitar, violin, percussion, effects, clarinet, synthesizers, drums machines, etc. – in a series of comparatively restrained delicate works that draw surprising musicality from harsh distances and rhythms, sometimes driven inexplicable toward flirtations with pop music by the use of drum machine. Ranging from free-flowing acoustic improvisations, tape manipulations and reworks of previous recordings, full throttle explorations of pure electronics, Collection 1-10 is the roots of Merzbow as it would never be heard again, unveiling the intricacy and introspectiveness that has always rested below more than four decades of Masami Akita’s wall of noise. Spanning a vast range of creative output and numerous roads less travelled for the project, these singular works are also among the most listenable, engaging, and inviting of anything Merzbow ever produced, making them a perfect place for new fans to dive in, while holding the possibility of endless revelation for the indoctrinated.
Collection 001-010 is easily one of the most important Merzbow reissues to have emerged in recent years. Not only does the collection’s contents rest incredibly close to ground zero of the Japanese noise movement, but it is a striking illumination of Merzbow’s early, rarely accessible activities, often entirely defying the perception of the project as a full throttle sonic attack.
Released in an absolutely stunning painted and engraved wooden box, with ten individually sealed CD wallets, complete with an A4 folded insert, a 20×17 cm insert with notes in Japanese by Masami Akita, and a numbered postcard, in a limited edition of 300 hand numbered copies. I can’t think of a better place to launch into the new year.