Japanese noise king Merzbow once declared noise to be the “unconscious of music” which is the perfect way to describe it. When there’s little or no melody or rhythmic pattern, our minds process the sounds differently, and for me at least, it’s kind of liberating sometimes to not be so concerned about what note is supposed to follow another and in what cadence. Music like Merzbow’s is always meant to be absorbed entirely at the gut level and how it affects a listener is going to depend entirely on the listener’s ‘gut.’
Merzbow’s rare perception into this insight is what’s made him one of the legends of this genre for many decades running. The underrated part of Merzbow’s art, however, is how effectively he’s able to adapt to his collaborators. He can convey a strange sense of calm using abrasive sonorities, and that has fit hand-in-glove with Richard Pinhas’ innovative metal/ambience sound that he wrings from an effects-laden guitar, for instance.
Merzbow’s association with both Rare Noise Records and its unofficial ‘house’ drummer Balazs Pandi aren’t new developments (last year we surveyed an amazing meeting involving Merbow, Pandi, Thurston Moore and Mats Gustafsson on Rare Noise), but they are very recent ones in a career stretching back to the late 70s, and offers evidence of an unending quest to find new avenues to pursue with his groundbreaking approach to electronic noise music. For An Untroublesome Defencelessness, also on Rare Noise, Merzbow again partners with Pandi but this time is also trading ideas with yet another standout guitarist of the experimental scene, fellow Japanese artist Keiji Haino.
Haino, who very recently worked with Peter Brötzmann, changes the dynamic for the other two, a guy who pushes harder against boundaries than even Pinhas or Moore. But this isn’t his first go-around with Merzbow, and the two give each other ample space to let go and be who they are. Pandi, a rare drummer who scores very high in both the power and intuition departments, has no trouble at all negotiating between the two.
The album is formed entirely by two suites, each divided up into parts that are fulfilling enough to stand alone. The first suite “Why is the courtesy of the prey always confused with the courtesy of the hunters?” is divvied up into three parts beginning with the introduction of an actual chord, one of the few heard on this disc. But it’s Pandi who is slayin’ it the most, going machine gun amid feedback squalls. Haino’s guitar emitting strange and gripping industrial chimes sets the lengthier second part into motion, as Pandi dives headlong into freedom and Merzbow finds gaps to fill with buzzes that resemble twirling the tuning knob on a short wave radio. Before long, their disparate parts merge into a impenetrable drone and then moves on to hard rock motifs. An uneasy rumble involving Merzbow and Pandi begins the third part, evolving into Haino asserting himself with a scratchy tone, always playing the space between the notes as well as the notes themselves.
“How differ the instructions on the left from the instructions on the right?” is a four part presentation. In the first section, Haino engages in some Derek Bailey razor-toned contortions, and the noise evaporates into an electronic haze. Merzbow unleashes an electronic blizzard on Part II and Haino enters with appropriate metal force and dissonance. Pandi inserts a tom-tom groove that sets the table for Haino’s extended performance, at one time sounding a note like the ringing of a large bell at an old cathedral. The abrupt end to that leaves behind an electronic buzz resembling a plane circling overhead.
In the next section, Haino screams a strident, vocal recitation whilst Merzbow and Pandi gurgle ominously underneath; it’s avant metal of the Casper Brötzmann Masssaker variety. The final part gets started with a drum solo full of nuances as well as muscle, dominant until the demonic swirls of Merzbow’s laptop and the raging roar of Haino’s guitar intrudes upon it. It’s an Antarctic blizzard for the ears.
This meeting of masters of cacophony is the collective experience and wisdom of three visionary musicians who have made careers enthusiastically embracing the uncharted territory where few musicians dared to go. But An Untroublesome Defencelessness isn’t about breaking new ground so much as it is planting another flag on the ground they’ve already claimed as their own, with conviction. And they practically dare anyone to come and take it.
An Untroublesome Defencelessness goes on sale July 22, 2016.