Merzbow – 24 Hours a Day of Seals

Merzbow
24 Hours a Day of Seals

Hipsters who are really into their Merzbow are beginning to talk about “pre- and post-Merzbox” releases. For the uninitiated, the Merzbox is the freaking giant 50-CD retrospective, covering Merzbow’s early mail art/cassette tape terrorist days up until 1997 or so. Apparently, during the compilation and mastering of the Merzbox, someone introduced Mr. Akita to that recent invention, the laptop. Merzbow, it seems, has embraced the digital age and now composes and performs on two laptops (though oddly uses analogue to record the results), with occasional bursts of sound from old synths. All ready frighteningly prolific, this has enabled Merzbow to crank out releases like nobody’s business, including this four-CD set of new material. Yes, four CDs, stuffed into an unattractive glossy box; he seems to be moving thematically away from his bondage and porn obsession to sea animals, with a number of his recent releases featuring pictures of seals, or being named after seals, or amphibians…
As with most Merzbow, I find trying to figure out what his intentions are is a pointless exercise. Sure, the tracks have names, and all four of these CDs are packaged together and given a common name, but he may as well go the route that Global Communications did and name everything after the lengths of the pieces. I think I hear sea lion barks on “Scarletstripped Clean Guitar” (disc 3, track 1), but more than likely, it’s just an accidental combination of noises. Merzbow’s embrace of computer technology has meant that his work has actually gone a step or two backward. No longer sounding like he’s attempting to hold back a hurricane of static with sheet metal, his newer stuff seems to be largely composed of slowly mutating loops, which remind me a lot of Namanax (in fact, I could swear that’s a Namanax sample used on “Kissing King Penguin” (disc 1, track 4)). As with most loop based things, it’s interesting when the loops change and go places over time, as they do on say “Charcoal Grey Clouds” (disc 2, track 1). The longer pieces here fare the best in this regard; and Merzbow has almost always fared better when given room to breathe; his shorter pieces tend to sound curiously stagnant. There are exceptions to the rule; with “Bikal Sunshine” (disc 3, track 2) flying all over the map in just under seven minutes, and “Sleeping White Whale” (disc 3, track 4) more or less acting out the same white sheet drone for almost all of it’s 19 minutes. More often than not, though, shorter pieces like “Untitled Pulse” use the same whump whump whump noise throughout.
This album leaves me thinking about the “new” computerized Merzbow, and how I feel about it in general. Noise musicians (noisemakers? noisicians?) are generally against the use of computers for reasons that are too boring to go into here. Merzbow’s embracing of them can be seen as a “bite me” to that tiny community; but really I doubt that’s the case, Akita has always been willing to use anything and everything to create his sonic world, from Styrofoam to actual guitars (indeed, this record has a few moments where you can actually hear a guitar which sounds like a guitar). Basically, the use of computers has allowed him to use repetition more; almost a throwback to his tape loop days, with more precise control over the sounds produced. The problem is that endless computerized loops are not always very interesting, after five minutes of hearing the same thing, even with layers of other sounds, it becomes dull. It’s not “pleasure through pain” or “extreme” or anything like that, it’s just dull. But not all of this stuff is like that, and not all “post Merzbox” Merzbow is, either. Ultimately, this means that the new Merzbow is a lot like the old, stressing quantity, making small shifts in overall sound and texture, and being really goddamned noisy.
Basically, these CDs reflect that output – at times dull, at times fascinating, and at times just an aural assault, 24 Hours a Day of Seals serves as both a Merzbow primer and a state of the Merzbow address. However, it lacks the courage of its convictions, trying to keep it’s feet in the old and the new, and it often sounds like Merzbow is still trying to find its voice with the ProTools and laptop. It’s an interesting step on a journey, though I find myself wishing Masami Akita would stop recording every single idea he has, and focus a bit more on refining the sound before he invites the listener along for the ride.