Merzbow - Strings & Percussion(boxset) [Slowdown Records - 2019]As this six-CD boxset title suggests the focus of the material is largely percussion & string-based- the 2019 boxset homes in on the years 1987-1988, so it's very much the analogue often the jam-like side of Japans king of harsh noise.
This boxset appears on Japan's Slowdown Records, and is part of a series Merzbow CD boxset & single disc releases- which has seen the Japanese king of noise digging back through his huge archive of rare/unreleased material. Each of the six CDs comes in a glossy colour sleeves that features abstract, colourful & college artwork, and inside this, we get a plain white card slip sleeve that holds the CD. These all come packaged in a card box- featuring a more active collage taking in flowers, birds, plants, and textures. Not sure how ltd the boxset is, but I can't imagine it been huge- though I think you still may be able to buy some of the discs separately- but I'd advise picking up the whole set, as while some of the discs here are a little mixed on quality- there are some great stand out moments, and as a whole box it works well as a good snapshot at this period in Merzbow career- and much of this stuff hasn’t been released before.
Disc one is entitled Environmental Percussion Vol 1- this brings together two tracks from 1987- with each running between twenty-three & thirty minutes apiece, and each is fairly pared-back largely loose jam-like in their unfolding. First up we have “EP22887 Mix”- this opens with a blend of fairly random percussion- taking in wood-like knocks, rattles, steel bangs. As the track moves on we get whistling & waving Volin elements added into the mix- these create a fairly primal & loose feel, at around the forth minute very subtle touches of noise bound electronics & grating junk elements are added in the decidedly swampy & seared sound stew. Latter on the more detailed & dense percussion pares back to more tribal-like rhythms, which are a edged by baying & brooding string saws, though this doesn’t last long as we return to more abstract & times loose improv vibe with wondering percussive detail & string scrubs ‘n’ scratches.
The second track here is “EP87mix” here we start with a more playful blend of zipping 'n' baying string/ junk metal matter, and shifting fairly pitter-pattering percussion. Latter on things turn nastier & grating with more dense build-ups of metallic bangs & building knocks, and all manner of saws.
As an opening statement this CD is a fairly primal & loose time in Merzbow work , this CD is ok, and the more tribal/ playful elements are worthy, but largely these tracks are a little shapeless & wondering for their own good- meaning this isn’t the best moment of this set.
Moving onto disc two, and we have Environmental Percussion Vol 2- this features two tracks worked on between 86 & 88, and each of these has run times of around twenty-three minutes. First, we have “Storage Variation”- this opens in a surprisingly almost ethno- ambient meets industrial vibe, with a lulling warbling flute tone & rattling junk bows & saws. The more mellow/ mysterious side departs, and is replaced by more rapid/ abstract flute tone- these are joined by junk sawing & grates, bashing & ringing percussion- with the lion share of the track taking on more of cluttering & angular feel- it’s only in the last quarter the track takes on more focused percussive leanings with some quite nice moody interplay between fiddling percussion & slowly serrated bashes.
Next, we have the track “Raw Material DP”- this starts with some nice atmospheric interplay between moodily wailing violin/ string elements and detailed textured junk tones- these take in an often detailed selection of cascading clutters, scratches, rattles & knocks which create an effective feeling of taut & tensioned alien-ness. Around midway through we move towards the more haphazard/ wondering improv like feel of the first track, though this doesn’t last too long- and we return to the interesting & effective junk/percussive interplays, and moodily place string work.
Of the two Vols of Environmental Percussion- this is most certainly the most worthy & rewarding, meaning I can see myself returning to this disc again.
On disc three we find Crocidura Dis Nezumi- this is a two-track release recorded back in 1987, and released on ZSF & Banded Productions in 1988 as a cassette- it also appeared on the Merzbox(disc 30 to be precise, though that version added in an extra sixteen Strange Strings)- as with all of the discs in this box this gets a recent remastering. The two tracks here run around the twenty-three-minute mark. First up we have "Mustela Erminea Nippon"- here we find a rather busy & shifting blend of violin bays & wails, layered junk percussion detail, waving lo-fi thump & rubber band pick, along with all manner of creaks/ bashes/ texturing- it’s a most eventful & rewarding track that always remains compelling & detailed in it unfolds. The other track is "Mustela Sixasa Namiyie"- this starts off slightly more consistent & almost American Indian tribal in its percussive feel, as the track goes on more subtle & moody violin scrapes, junk detail, and warbling horn are added to the mix as well as more detailed & layered percussive detail which certainly highlights Merz’s talent as a drummer/ percussionist. Once again this is a most enjoyable track- with Merz creating a compelling blend of more formal, yet still shifting percussion & more moody-to- controlled noise elements.
Moving onto disc four and we have Material H2- here we find three tracks from 1987, with runtimes between seven & twenty-two minutes. Starting things off we have the longest track “Material H2 Mix 1”- here we find a very layered, at times a manic blend of percussion & stringed matter- the percussion takes in knocks, bangs & constant drags, whereas the strings take in bays, rapid neck picks, grueling slices & manic scuttlings- it’s a very overwhelming track, which at times becomes a little over too much- but always remains eventful. “Material H2 Mix 2” is the shorter track here we find a more controlled & moody blend of string detail, and dada-like playful percussion & junk elements- though there are some more intense grating moments here too, at moments where I’m reminded of early Nurse With Wound work, lacking of course the sampled elements of that projects work. Lastly, we have “Material H2 Mix 3”- and I guess this is a halfway between more manic & dense, and more moody & controlled sounds- with the addition of controlling warbling horn tones, weird electro waving voice elements, and fairly space-bound effects added into the mix as well as pared-back percussion/ junk & string saws. On the whole, it’s another worthy disc in the set.
On disc five we find Ecobonage (another mix)- this is from 1987, and features two half-an-hour tracks, which make up one of the finer early releases from Merz- with each been a worthy & eventful blend of junk metal, percussive sound, found elements, tape manipulations- all highlight his skill at composing long-form noise works- though as it title suggest is slightly different from the other versions of this release that have been released in the past. First, we have “Ecobonage including Prison Of Takaou & Blow Up)"- to begin with we find detailed & fairly manic mix of layers of junk metal activity, what sounds likes slowed & stretched-out/ farting horn textures, & distant dog barks. Within a three minutes we get speed-up easy listening tape reels, chains piled & dragged, junk band almost jazz rhythm tinged percussion, , as well as some more controlled & atmospheric detailed swishes, grates & junk manipulation. As the minutes' tick by the track moves along with interesting & slowly shifting textural detail all creating this feel of chaotic & manic-ness, yet perfectly planned & slightly dada tinged noise-making.
Next, we have “Ha Ha Ho Bari(Mari) Including a Ballon”- and once again this is another rewarding & eventful noise venture- it’s a thick blend of deep stretching
dada bass tones, forking noise gallops, slo-mo shrieking junk noise shifts, and baying speed-up tape loops. With-in a few minutes, we get layers of spiking & swirling Merz electro noise tones added to the extremely dense sonic picture, but for all its mass you get still fell that there is purpose & rewarding sonic developments going on. As the track moves on there seems a slowly expanding feel of space & atmosphere - as we find spinning tape loops, subtle bashed & rubbed junk layers, screeching noise rubs, chattering voices, and eerier tolling bell element. Just like the first track, we find a lot of clever & rewardingly placed layers of sound here- which all makeup for another great example of Merz ‘s then growing talents.
Lastly, on disc six we have Enclosure- this is a three-track release that rolls in at the forty-minute mark. It was recorded & released in 1987 on ZSF Recordings. The first track on the disc is the seventeen-minute title track- this is all about a fairly thick weave of grating, jangling & clanging junk tonalities- with slightly electro beading coming into play ever so often- it’s fairly free, loose if at times atmospheric track that’s best-labeled noise bound improv. Second up we "Scarabe"- this is the shortest of the three tracks coming in at around the five & a half minute mark- here we find fairly even American Indian like drums blend with the occasional junk swipe, bash & electro fizzle- with more seared violin appearing towards the end of proceedings.
The release is topped off with the near eighteen minutes of “Interline no 1-3”- this is a rewarding taut & moody track, that moves from pensive-to-seared blends of cut junk brood & electro fuzz, feedback buffets & label line rubs, and angular string drags- it’s a great end to this disc.
In finishing Strings & Percussion charts an important point & development in Merzbow's sound during the mid-to-late ’80s. Sure to enjoy this boxset you’ll have largely enjoyed the more free/ noise improv period of his work, but they are some excellent moments on offer here, and as a whole, the boxset works well as a good primer for this certain facet of this important noisemakers work. To pick your self up a copy direct head to here.Roger Batty