Merzbow - Duo(Boxset) [Tourette - 2013]This ten CD box set from early 2013 offers up a look into the lengthy,more improvised & at times fairly musical side of the Japanese master of noise Merzbow. The nearing eleven hour collection sees the project as a two piece, bringing together Masami Akita & Kiyoshi Mizutani, and over the twenty one tracks we see the pair creating dense, layered & active slices of sonic fare that sit somewhere between improvisation & noise.
So before we get into the sonic side of things lets talk about the packaging side of things. The 10 discs each come in their own card slip sleeve- the front of each sleeve features a glossy laminated cover that takes in surreal college art work, with a black mat reverse side.
All discs are contained in a black card cd box, which features gloss laminated lettering. This release is available in two editions- the standard edition which features ten discs. And a art edition the features a 11th disc & a signed art card( I’m reviewing the art edition, which is ltd to 100 copies- the standard edition is ltd to 400 copies).
So onto the sonic’s with-in, the 21 tracks (22 on the art edition) run between just over eleven minute, to nearing the fifty two minute mark. Texturally & sonically the pair utilize the following: Masami Akita-metal box with piano wires, guitar, violin, byan, junk metals, keyboards, drums, Synare 3, tapes, radio, motor, electric fan, egg cutter, flute, rubber, paper tube, percussions & effects. Kiyoshi Mizutani- guitar, bass guitar, audio mixer, metal box with piano wires, tapes, balalaika, byan, violin, drums, keyboards, flute & effects.
The dates of the ten discs tracks follow a fairly rough chronological order moving between September 1987 & September 1989. Some of the track elements here got landed up been re-worked & more noised-up for solo Merzbow releases such as 1989’s Scissors for Cutting Merzbow, which latter appeared on the Merzbox in an extended form.
Disc one opens with "Duo 1987", the twenty four minute track starts out with a mixture of swirl ‘n’ scratching violin sawing, layers of dirge string sawing, and wondering & slightly jazz tinged rudimentary guitar wonderings. As the track goes on the guitar elements slowly but surely seem to get a bit more musical- with traces slurred sort of swing/surf, or blues twanging coming in- these elements are joined by slowed & descend lose junk pattering & rain fall of tin roof textural elements. Later still we get random sort of clunking & tinkling vibe type texturing, along with cluttering textures as the track becomes more tangled & less musical once again.
Secondly on disc one we have "26 September 1987" , and this just shy of twenty four minute track starts with lots of rapid scuttling & banging junk elements which are over hang by avant grade violin saw & dart- all this is underfed by twanging 'n' wondering loose guitar structure, which from time to time drops down into a fiery blues sliding & skittering playfull-ness . This track is a lot more manic & careening than the first track, though latter on it moves into almost a sort of slow galloping country rock vibe, but of course the loose-ness is still there.
Disc two is taken-up by “19th of June Parts 1 & 2 “, and both of these tracks come in at just shy of the 24 minute mark. The first track starts off in a fairly loose & spread-out manner with junk metal like clunks ‘n’ bangs mixed with forking feed back, & in-between these elements are scrabbling slow-mo guitar scuttling. As the track moves into it’s third minute things start to get more active, agitated & tighter with the junk metal & noisy avant guitar elements moving together to create crescendos, chugs & rises in the sound map. At times the track dips down into thinned 'n' reeling feed back dips, & at others into more thicker & piercing wince inducing highs. Around the mid-way point the tones take on a nice woozy 'n' wavering feel, also a guitar picks out a wonky/ rudimentary thin ‘n’ string wondering blues like shapes too- through the more musical elements die back soon. Around the 14th minute this great sort huge snorting/chair dragging element comes into play with the quartering/ grating smaller noise string texturing around it. With in it’s last five or so minutes a loose ‘n’ crashing sort of percussive march comes into play under a white hot haze of searing & smarting texturing.
The second track starts in fairly loose yet ragged lo-fi manner with a series of spiralling & bouncing guitar chugs, hacks & phaser like textures. Like the first track the sonic spread goes from tense & cluttering, to thinner, whining & grating unfolds. At times you can make a locked sort of chiming semi harmonic guitar tone, but these shifts in & out of the foreground, as overloaded guitar tones & noise texturing fork, bay & swirling around each other at times in a almost slowed eastern dance. Around the eight minute mark darts of smashing semi percussive junk like hits are added, along with wavering & mangled effect engulfed vocalising . As the track progresses from this point it seems to get more & more woozy/ psychedelic seared in it’s feel with some neat sort of slowed & foreboding slide guitar noise formations appearing around the 14th minute mark. Then at the 15th minute mark we break down into lose selection of hazed ‘n’ sleazed clunking junk smasher, feed back smarts, & texture clattering-after this point the track never really recovers it’s thickness again, but instead slow slides/ drags along in series of shunts, grates, and pulls.
First up on disc three we have “25 June 1988”, and this just over forty four minute track starts off in fairly conventional musical fashion, with a single guitar playing a semi-distorted though still fairly mellow & proficiently played blues rock jam- this is a backed by a more rudimentary, blown-out & wonky on/ off second experimental guitar element that roughly follows the first more polished guitar jam. As the track progresses into it’s seven & a half minute mark, the second noise guitar element( and possible grating violin texture) become more prevalent , with a sneering & low end wonky pitch bending feel to them- at times this 2nd guitar elements takes on a slowed & melted sort of Snakefinger type feel, at others it just scrabbling & sickly tone bending. By the 12th minute the second guitar element has become even more out-there, noisy, and grating as it weaves out sawing higher pitchers, textural scuttles & scrapes- while this is going on the first guitar takes on sort of Latin blues rock soloing vibe, not unlike the type of thing Carlos Santana does. By the 15th minute the more clean guitar has turned more murky & tone bending pulling out slowed & bleak textural shimmers as the other guitar element( with possible violin/ junk elements) take on a more scuttling/ feasting feel, or bending sort of metallic like waver & comic chatter vibe. From here on the track sails effectively between more manic rock/blues runs, and experimental & angular noise guitar work outs, with possible junk/ searing violin textures subtle weaved into the mix- at times the joint guitar/ noise textural take on a more throbbing & breathing semi sensual feel, but most it’s focused on a weaving, whining, scuttling, and scraping vibe. In it’s last eight or so minutes a weaving & mysterious flute element is added to the now very slurred/ at times spacey experimental guitar textural runs- this has quite a dada & wonky krautrock feel to it.
The other track on disc three is entitled “27 August 1988”, and this just over thirty two minute track starts out with a baying metallic wind like guitar back drone, which is mixed with a selection of various saw 'n' grating texturing along with a on/off purring/ juddering electro tone rips. This track is a lot more dense & layered in it’s attack than the first track, with the guitar taking on almost off angular jazz runs at times which are nicely mix with the more forking & grating noise textures. By the mid-way point it’s swung into a mixture of experimental guitar texturing & electronics that take–in: moody & deep tonal like drifts, waving drone pitches, scuttling metallic runs, textural electro jittering & darts of eerier high pitch texturing….with the whole thing get more & more spaced-out as it nears it’s end.
Moving onto disc four we have another two tracks, and the first of these is the just forty four minutes of “25 June 1988 A”. The track starts out with what sounds like tow guitars, or maybe one guitar, one Merz guitar & maybe some manic violin playing- one ‘string’ element focuses on high pitched mix of rudimentary pickings, unwell scuttling, saws & sidings, while the other ‘string’ element focus in a mid-to-lower tone billowing, manic drone & off-key warbling. It’s starts off as a very manic track, were there is little space or air, as the two( or three) elements battle & rage against each other. But latter on it does open-up & space out a bit more into a woozy/ warbling sound stew, but pretty soon it fills back up again, and the rest of the track sort of switchers back & forth between manic/full, & more open woozy/wonky. The tracks effective enough for it’s first half, but the full forty plus minute run time just feels too long for it’s own good.
The second track on here is entitled “Duo 1988 Penta 2”, and this comes in at near half the length of the first track at the twenty three minute mark. The track opens with a mix of dragged-out droning 'n' billowing guitar, violin saw, and higher pitched feed-back sears with a faint 50’s spacey vibe to them. This track has quite a morbid & simmering feel to it, and as it goes on I’m sure I can make out wavering sort of church organ, and random slurred march band percussive runs buried deep in the track. At just around the 5.20 mark, when you think it’s going to get even deep & more murky with it’s drone & saw soup, it sudden stops for a brief moment. When it returns the track has returned with this mix of weave & melting mid range feed–back forking, rushing of scuttling & spacing-out noise, neck bangs, and mixers of manic geese call like swoops, and churning yet slowed squawking. The rest of the track nicely build-ups, then thins back to eerier droning trails with sudden darts of tone, and it keeps repeating this cycle. All told the tracks a nice balance between atmosphere, and shredding/ warbling/ stretched-out noise making.
Onto disc five, and this offers up three tracks in the form of 9 October 1989 parts 1-3. First up we of course have “Part 1”, and this comes in at just shy of the half an hour mark. The track starts out with a wavering high-end feed back buzz ‘n’ drift, which has a series of on/off slightly warble ‘n’ watery metal hits on top of it. As the track moves towards into it’s third minute the metal hints stop, and we move into a baying 'n' oscillating psychedelic mid range white-out, but fairly soon around the 4th minute the metal hits appear once again, but now they seem to have more of a harmonic chime like feel to them, and they are mixed with scrubing ‘n’ sawing improv guitar grates, feed-back rises ‘n’ falls, and the slight hints of almost speed-up comic like easy listening matter. As the track progress towards 10th minute we first drift into fields picked 'n' wonky almost oriental sounding refrains, which are swirled by moody feed back fuzz. Onto whirling ‘n’ swirling mid-ranged guitar craft that has almost a groove to it. By around the 15th minute we've moved toward more pronounced wavering wind like feed back, which suddenly pulls the track off into the thick space bound & swirling noise making. Before moving towards just peaking then fading feed back floats at the 17th minute. The rest of the track see the pair effectively drift from one sonic idea after another- with little rest between each phase.
Up next of course we have “Part 2”, and this 11.17 track starts with a mix of bashing guitar pic fuzz, & mini chattering/ buzzing almost slurred groove like effect- this is pitted with sc-fi electro throb & phazer like textures. As the track progresses the sc-fi effects become more pronounced & prevalent, adding quite a crazed alien laboratory vibe to the whole thing. Also you get the plucking & twang oriental sounding string swarms shifting through the track in a most disorientating manner. As the track drifts towards it’s last minute or so we return to the less manic feedback drifts ‘n’ swirls.
So last of all on disc five we have “Part 3”, and this comes in at just over the twenty minute mark. The track opens with this amassed & slightly soured layers of twanging oriental distorted string elements- as the track carries on you get a nice atmospheric yet wonky seared feeling. Around the two minute mark we get sudden burst of thick noise roasting, before we returning to more playful almost voice like feedback bays & shifts. The rest of the track sort of moves between more crazed & often manic noise elements, and more moody harmonic feed-back wails & bats.
Moving onto disc six, and this CD offers up another two tracks. First up we have “11 May 1989”, and this track comes in at 30.43. The track starts out with a mix of pained yet repetitive violin sawing, baying & galloping guitar string picks, and on/off layers of more manic & speed-up noise tones- and at times these sound a bit like locked down mechanical chicken chatter. Around the 6th minute we get wavers of more harmonic & more formal guitar soloing appearing here & there in the mist of the buzzing & swirling wavers of feed back- and I’m afraid after this point the track really drifts into a rather uneventful & unfocused mix of twiddling sped-up guitar soloing, feed back bays, with the odd hint of low-grade galloping electronics.
Second on disc six we have “15 September 1989”, and this comes in just over the thirty seven minute mark. The track opens a mix of feed back haze, sudden angular guitar shapes, and galloping guitar pick wonkiness. Like the first the track on this disc, to start with it all feels more than a little shapeless & aimlessly wondering with it’s seemingly fairly basic shifting layers of guitar pick, bash & drift plus minimal electronics. But at around the 10 minute mark some slowed drum rolls & bashers start to appear & expand in some what of more a fixed rhythmic structure, and to begin with this adds back in interest to the track. But sadly fairly soon these elements start bringing to mind the more drab & unrewarding drum based noise scaping of the Japanese Bird series of albums. At times some of the textures & rhythms played out are effective, but mostly it feels like a there’s a really lack of worthy noise craft, or attention grabbing improv on display here.
Disc seven takes in two tracks, and these come in the shape of 16 April 1989 Part 1 & 2. So up first we have “part 1”, and this comes in just under the forty seven minute mark- the track starts off with a deep mix of fuzzing ‘n’ buzzing feed back sculpting ,which has a single & random feed back tone developing percussive hit in it’s guts. By around the 3rd minute we get sudden stabs of harmonic almost melted funk, to roaming/ wonky rock guitar elements that bob & dip on the now quite swirling feed back sculpturing. By around the 5th minute mark the guitar has taken on quite a rewarding & wavering sort of feel, sounding like a whistling 'n' warble like sound with extra pale & wonky guitar elements drunken squabbling around the edges. As the track progresses the pair create this compelling mix of musical & noise elements- with the guitar playing out a roasted & wonky sort of selection of blues/ noise rock moves, and the fairly fixed mix of feed-back fuzz & single point picked feed back rhythm really keeping you fixed on the track. At around the twelve minute mark the more formal though fairly loose drum based percussion runs comes in, but thankfully these do manger to keep the track getting more & more interesting instead of making things more shapeless( as with the track on disc six). By nearing the 18th minute things have nicely noise-up with harsh banks of electro drone, & slight more psychedelic ‘n’ buzzing sound scaping in place- also the percussive element has now departed once more. By the twenty third minute the pair have nicely thinned the sound down to a moody & almost meditate guitar feed back buzz ‘n’ hiss, with the odd higher harmonic pitch surfacing from time to time. And as this part of the track carries on a very effective sort of spacey vibe starts to be felt. By the 37th minute the track briefly thins into back a mix of revolving noise crackle ‘n’ phases texture, but pretty soon the loose percussive elements return into the mix once more. And at the forty minute mark we get a weird & surprising edition to the track, first we get a male radio pronouncer talking about something( you cant make out what as the voice is effect layered & distant in the mix)- this is mixed with more layers of baying male & female chatter. And in the last few minutes the track moves into a mix of crashing barely shaped percussive runs, & effective buzzing ‘n’ feed back fizzing guitar textures.
“Part two” comes in at the slightly shorter 25.18 mark, and it starts with a thick & loud mix of: looped ‘n’ stabbing low- to-mid range guitar craft, loose drum rains, and more layers of whistling feedback. At times the guitar elements almost take on sludgy ‘n’ roar groove like feel, & at other times there’s a more noise based sound craft. Later on a more up-front & traditional rock 'n' blues style of playing kicks in, but it’s all still fairly free falling jam like. This tracks ok, and offers a fairy shifting & rewarding playtime- though it’s certainly not as engrossing or effective as the first track on disc seven.
Onto disc eight and we have another two lengthy tracks here- first of these is “1 May 1988 A”, and this comes in just over the forty six minute mark. The track starts off with rudimentary on/off guitar pick & scrub, before fairly soon moving into wonky yet coldly atmospheric mix of on/off manic saw violin & slowed slightly off key guitar wonderings. At around the third minute the sonic picture suddenly moves from the atmospheric to the manic, with non-stop rapid violin saw & full-on guitar scrub ‘n’ scuttle. As the track progresses we move from the more loose & stripped atmospheric dips, to the more sudden, manic & rapid attacks-which now have these swirling & roaming weather like noise elements underneath. Also as the track continues the guitar elements seem to shift up & down in speed in a almost cartoon like manner, and at times they almost have a manic banjo like picking quality to them. By around the 12th minute the roaming weather element has become more pronounced & rapid in it’s feel, and on a few occasions these rises into sudden noise peaks- but these never last long as the scuttling ‘n’ sawing stringed elements keep moving & shifting from wavering & hazed, to more caustic & scuttling. The whole sound picture drops back to just off-angle guitar picks around the 17th minute, and I have to say this felt like a miss step for me, as the guitar feels rudimentary in a bad way….anyway thankfully the more layered sound kicks back in soon with a mix of bash ‘n’ crash merz guitar trails, scrabbling guitar textures, shifts up ‘n’ down in speed, and these great series of caught scuttling 'n' seesawing guitar/ violin patterns. The remained of the track carries on in a similar manner, moving from more manic yet moody tonal attacks, down to the odd more stripped dwellings. On the whole this track has it’s moments of great-ness, bur equally it has lesser inspired moments too- I guess this is were good editing/mixing could have made this track more wholly fulfilling, but then again I guess you’d lose the spontaneity of the whole thing.
The other track on disc eight is “Duo 1988 Penta Part 3”, and this comes in at just shy of the nineteen minute mark. The track starts with a mix of rumbling ‘n’ churning muffled noise making, wonky & bent guitar wonderings, and sudden swooping of scrabbled turntable like textures that have slight feed back trails. As the tracks moves towards it’s 5th minute the whole thing seems to get more melted, wonky & noisily roasted. Once again the pair keep the whole thing active, shifting & interesting as they move from one layered mix of noise texturing & looped guitar scrabble, to slight more stripped down texturing- for me this track is a shorter & much more effective take on the kind of thing this discs first track was trying to do.
Moving onto disc number nine, and we have another two thirty plus minute tracks. Up first is "15 September 1989 B", which comes in at the 33.57 mark- the opens with layers of muffled ‘n’ clanging rail run noise making, around this are twanging & gyrating noise string textures, and a revolving/bobbing constant noise circling. As the track progresses the whole thing seems to get even more shapeless, muffled & noise haze like- as different noise texture lazily drift, smash, merge & swirl. Sadly around the 5th minute the pair strip down the sound to just rudimentary & rather uneventful guitar based noisy wonderings, which have the odd burst of more dense noise-ness to them- this turn of events really makes a once promising track rather boring, though there is an attempt to try & return to the shapeless free fall of the start of the track, but sadly it’s all marred by rudimentary & unrewarding guitar noise. From around the 9th minute we get shifts between mainly guitar based scrubbing & wavering feed back, wailing trails of guitar tone mixed with electro noise currents, and wondering/out of tune guitar picking mixed with churning yet not fixed machine noise- I guess you can say the track is changing as it moves along, it’s just a pity it doesn’t really go anyway very entertaining or eventful.
Track two comes in the form of “Penta 1988 A”, which comes in at 38.58 mark. The track opens with quite haunting arc’s of slow feed back grate ‘n’ whine, but pretty soon these are added to by on/off dense flocks of string sawing & noise haze- and from time to time it strips back to single tone murky & ominous feed back droning. By around the 5th minute we’ve switched to a varying mix chugging cerement mixer like juddering & bleak drone undercurrent, and this is scraped but grating noise horn dwells, slowed junk metal like drags, and slowed angular noise grain- the whole thing feels like you stuck on some strange grating ‘n’ slowly shifting factory boat that’s endless drifting on a alien planets sea. Around the 17th minute more recognizable scraping guitar tones are added into the mix, but thankfully these don’t detract much from the shift strange alien factory vibe of the track. But sadly the start of almost blues fed riff tone at the twenty minute mark does rather break the atmosphere, but thankfully we don’t stay in musical territory too long as we return to a sawing & grating noise landscaping which is under fed by the growing ‘n’ bleak machine like chug. In it’s last few minutes we return to the haunting arc’s of feed back from the start which are now tempered with hints of more teeth gritting noise tone, and creepy junk metal scuttles. For me this track is one of the later highlights of this box set
So moving onto to the final disc (in the normal edition of the box set), and this offers another two tracks which fall between the twenty & just over the thirty minute mark. First up is the just under twenty four minutes of “30 September 1987”, and this opens with a lose mix of wondering fuzzed-up bass guitar, wood on wood sometimes rhythmic lines of bashers, & the odd hint of more metal & wood bashings. By around the 4th minute you can make out almost blues tinged riff making coming into the bass guitar, and as the whole thing gets more fixed & consistent proper drum work is added into the mix along with possible some more vague trails of blues tinged guitar work. Also we are get lots of effective & different textured bangs ‘n’ bashers added into the mix too. Around the nine minute mark the tracks percussive & bass elements drop back, and we are left with a mix of wondering flute trails, smaller improv scraps & crackles- as this part of the track carries on we get wonky horn like bellows, all manner of saws & random high end bangs added into the mix. By around the 15th minute we have considered & slowed violin swoons added to the scuttle, creak, descending & crunching improv backdrop. At around the 18th minute the violin drops out to be replaced by random stuck vibe tones, and searing ‘n’ scraping sometimes musical guitar elements. Again this is another rewarding later moment in the set, and I really like the contrast between the more fixed & structured open, and the more loose & detailed later part
Finish off disc ten we have “28 February 1988”, which comes in just a over the thirty two minute mark. The track opens with a mix of fairly spread out & small sounding metal scraping, juddering & texture pattern making- these are mixed with more noise & reverb bound metallic grates & drags. As the track progresses the pair create this wonderful layered & detailed sonic picture, which to me brought to mind making your way though some vast & shifting metal junk forest. Also as the track carries on you get darts of wonky strings picks ‘n’ twangs- I’m not sure if these are created by guitar, Merzgitar or some similar device, but it certainly works well in the track giving a quite eerier undertone to the whole thing. By around the six & a half minute mark we get runs of high pitched & more rapid tone shifting mixed in to the track, and these take in grates, bays & almost warbling/ strangle vocal like textures. Also by this point the more consistent & densely patterned metallic elements have departed leavin us with a mix of wondering-to-suddenly amass junk elements. By around the 12th minute mark the tracks taken on a wonky almost world music tone with this drunkly pluck ‘n’ waver tone, which is joined by persistent yet rough around the edges ritual like metal clunking & smashing tonality. The rest of the track finds the pair darting & shifting in a often quite playful manner, mixing together all manner of twangs, scuttles, drags, bashers, saws, screechings, grates & textural weaves. Again this is another very satisfying track with the pair keeping you on your toes all the time with the rewarding shifting sonic scenery of this track.
If you buy the ltd edition of this set you also get an 11th disc, and this takes in just a single & very early collaboration between the pair in the form of “23 November 1979”. The track comes in at just over forty one minute, and the track opens with a single mournful sounding baying & calling guitar feedback, and a cascading full drum kit. Pretty soon these are joined by jaming ‘n’ weaving organ like textures, and I guess you’d say the track has quite a careering & tripped-out jazz/ rock/ psychedelic tinged jam type feel to it. As the track progresses the guitar element is possible replaced by a mainly single pitch violin saw, but from time to time the simmer or the feed-back tonality of the guitar does seem to appear once again. By around the 12th minute a more groovy & consistent drum rhythm has kicked-in, though as the track moves on it does become more jam based & less focused again. At the 15th minute mark you get these weird very muffled & difficult to define chattering radio voice like elements which add a nice uneasy edge to the proceedings, these have disappeared by the 17th minute, to be replaced by a shifting up ‘n’ down like feed back shimmer. By the 20th minute the drums have dropped out, and we just left with the jamming organ elements which are joined by this continuingly slicing noise tone. Then just before the 22nd minute the organ drops out for a showy drum solo, before once more the organ comes back in- at first it flirts in & out, but pretty soon it starts get more rapid & consistent in it’s feel, yet it now has a more mysterious on/off almost horror film grooving vibe to it. At around the 28th minute we get a pronounced sort of proto punk guitar riff appearing for a few moments, before we disappear back to mix of grating feed-back & creepy organ jamming again,with the drums drop out for a bit, before once more returning again. The rest of the track plays out in a mix of percussive & organ runs, that are are mixed with more stripped down yet at times noisily edged moments. On the whole the track really is quite a surprise, and really shows no hints of what Merzbow was to go onto; expect I guess for the live cascading & crashing drum elements which of course appeared in some of the 2009 to 2010 releases. Anyway it would be neat to hear him try & incorporate the more freaking out organ into his modern work
So in summing up-this is another large collection unreleased Merzbow work from mid to late 1980’s, and I’d say on the whole 65% to 70 % has it’s rewarding & worthy moments, but like all large collections it takes time & effort to dig out the most rewarding moments. I guess like 2010’s “Merzbient” this shows yet another not often heard side of this noise giant- and with “Duo” it’s a more improvisational, noise jazz & often guitar tipped sound. If your after mid-to-late 80’s undiscovered classic Merzbow noise recordings- it’s best to look some place else, but if you interested in hearing yet another side to this hugely prolific & influential artists this is worth a punt.Roger Batty