Merzbow - Life Performance [Cold Spring - 2016]The most well known name in noise, Merzbow, sees one of his oldest tapes re-released by Cold Spring Records. Nil-Vagina Mail-Action February 85 has bee remastered and re-released under the title Life Performance. Originally released by Akita's own ZSF Produkt, Life Performance shows an early version of the King of Japanese Noise doing what he does best.
Fans of Merzbow's prolific and highly inspirational 90's output would be surprised by Akita's earlier works. My first exposure to these came via re-releases of older tapes on the Merzbox, and, while they're not as dynamic as I've come to expect, they're still very solid in creating an early version of the harshness Merzbow came to represent. Most striking on the five tracks is the brash, crunchy distortion on display. Modern listeners may be underwhelmed by this, but compared to other tapes and releases from this period, this is a noise riot. A lot of early Merzbow focused more on noise through more traditional musique concrete along with added effects. Nil-Vagina Mail-Action cruises forward with a buzzing, thick, distorted layer of noise. Some cuts appear to break it up, but it's generally only though new sounds emerging from the muck that we're given our sonic treats. "Pt 2" approaches the listener with a higher pitched, treble heavy attack. While not as much of a noise assault as the opener, "Pt 2" is still very crispy, and its lightness allows more of the backing layers to show through. It may have been 10 years between Nil-Vagina and Pulse Demon, but a lot of the fury and technique can be felt on "Pt 3." The closest to what I'd call "Classic" Merzbow on the tape, "Pt 3" isn't nearly as clean as Akita would come to be, but that's expected. Blistering and relentless, this track serves as a great reminder of Akita's greatness, which many of us, not too impressed with his current output, may need these days. Nil-Vagina's final tracks feel like the biggest departure from the norm. Looped samples and crazed arcade tones honk and roll the two parts onward. Despite this approach being more common place in the work of others, this is uncharacteristic for Merzbow. Although they're still better tracks than most put out, their lack of punishing tone definitely keeps them distant from the first three parts.
A definite time capsule from the beginning of a master's oeuvre, Life Performance captures Merzbow starting to work more with heavy, distorted noise and punishing textures. While this won't get as much praise (or plays) as the likes of Aqua Necromancer or Pulse Demon, it's still a very important piece of the early noise puzzle, and a welcome release from Cold Spring.Paul Casey