Tuesday 26 April 2016

Review: Merzbow – 'Life Performance'

'Life Performance'

Out of the vaults by way of Cold Spring records comes a long overdue reissue of some very rare classic noise. Originally released on his own ZSF Produkt label, 'Life Performance' by Masami Akita (AKA Merzbow) dates back to 1985 and was originally put out on cassette. Fast-forward thirty years and Akita has dug out the original master tapes and given them a remaster for 2016.

The album title suggests this is a live performance, but it isn't. The pieces 'Nil Vagina Mail Action' parts 1-5 were recorded in Akita's own Merz-bau Studio. With a discography in the hundreds of releases (in one format or another) so far there were plenty of other candidates for the remaster treatment, but 'Life Performance' is one of those nice succinct time capsules that demonstrates some of Akita's great analogue experimentation in an era when the synth was being pushed harder than ever before.

'Nil Vagina Mail Action Pt. 1' unloads with a wall of static noise that slowly evolves into a drone and then into heavily distorted minimal rhythm before once again becoming engulfed in a swell of static noise eventually punctuated by bass. 'Nil Vagina Mail Action Pt. 2' begins with a dissonant sample overlayed with distorted waves and swirling static before reverting to piercing pitches and becoming engulfed in layers of heavily distorted samples. 'Nil Vagina Mail Action Pt. 3' like the first track opens with a swell of static noise, this time punctuated by piercing notes and gurgling distorted synths that evolves into a dark droning wall of sound thick enough to bludgeon you with.

'Nil Vagina Mail Action Pt. 4' opens with a distorted vocal loop slowly becoming in a blend of static and rapid monophonic bleeps that sounds like a dial-up modem being possessed by the devil. The final assault on the senses, 'Nil Vagina Mail Action Pt. 5' continues on somewhat from the previous track with swirling tape sounds and heavy static creating a psychedelic dial-up sound.

The summing up above doesn't really do the pieces justice though. The heavy atmosphere and sustained attack of them (they're twelve-to-fifteen minutes long) are endurance testers for even hardened noise fans.

In terms of production it is hard to tell this was a mid-1980s cassette release. Yes it is primitive and analogue from the ground up, but it has been remastered really nicely and to a high quality which gives an extra level of clarity to the din of sonic dissonance.

This will be one for the collectors or very, very intrepid explorers. It isn't Merzbow's most stunning works, but it is a relentlessly hard lesson in noise music from one of its undeniable masters. It is intense but rewarding if you are a fan of noise.  

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