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There is no need to argue: Merzbow stands as the most important artist in noise music. The favorite moniker of Japanese Masami Akita appears on hundreds of albums. The name comes from German artist Kurt Schwitters' famous work Merzbau, which he also called The Cathedral of Erotic Misery. Akita's choice reflects his fondness for junk art (through Schwitters' collage method) and his fascination with ritualized eroticism, namely in the form of fetishism and bondage. All these elements constitute the Merzbow persona.
Akita was born in Tokyo in 1956. He grew up with psychedelic rock and began to play the guitar in progressive rock cover bands, in particular with drummer Kiyoshi Mizutani, who would remain a frequent collaborator. After high school, Akita studied literature and visual arts in college. There he discovered free jazz and studied seriously the ideas of Dada and the surrealists (Salvador Dali remained a big influence). Akita gradually withdrew himself from the rock scene and began experimenting in his basement with broken tape recorders and feedback.
In 1979, Akita created his own cassette label, Lowest Arts & Music, and released the first of many albums, Metal Acoustic Music. Infiltrating the then-burgeoning network of underground industrial music, Merzbow lined up one cassette after another, packaged in Xeroxed collage art. His harsh noise eschewed the primitive anger found on this scene (Throbbing Gristle, Man Is the Bastard) to reach a Zen state, calm inside the storm. Mizutani occasionally appeared on some of the raw material, as would other musicians (like Reiko.A), but in essence Merzbow is Akita and would always be. The artist/group made low-budget live appearances in Tokyo, but his main focus remained on his art production and his writing (he is erudite in 20th century art and the Japanese tradition of bondage).
In 1983, Akita's first LP, Material Action 2 (NAM), was released on Chaos/Eastern Works in Japan. Out of the mail-art network and into the specialty record shops, Merzbow began to attract some eyes and ears. Akita started a second label, ZSF Produkt, which put out dozens of 7"s, EPs, LPs, and more cassettes. By the late '80s, other record labels had begun to pay interest, namely the Australian Extreme. Collaborative (1988), an LP recorded with Achim Wollscheid, brought the Merzbow sound to more international listeners, and slowly Akita invaded other territories. By the mid-'90s, his reputation verged on the mythical. He toured Europe and the U.S., and had high(er)-profile releases on Extreme, RRR, and Alchemy.
In 1997, Extreme announced it was putting in production a 50-CD box set, Merzbox. It was finally released three years later. It includes 30 reissues dating as far back as 1979, and 20 discs' worth of unreleased material, and remains the biggest musical statement in the history of noise music. More widely available albums for Alien8 Recordings (Aqua Necromancer, 1998) and Tzadik (1930, 1998), combined with constant worldwide touring, have taken the artist out of mythical status and propelled him into the legendary. In the late '90s, Akita started to collaborate with other artists outside the Merzbow moniker, namely with Mike Patton (as Maldoror) and Otomo Yoshihide. Both a prolific composer and performer, Akita continued his string of Merzbow releases into the next century, including Frog (2001), V (2003), Merzbird (2004), the two-volume set Minazo (2006), Merzbear and Synth Destruction (2007), Dolphin Sonar (2008), and the multi-volume 13 Japanese Birds series issued monthly between January 2009 and January 2010. He followed this massive undertaking with Another Merzbow Records, released by the U.K's Dirtier Promotions imprint in April of 2010. Ever prolific, and with a huge backlog of archival material, Akita released ten collections in 2011, as well as an additional four live sets, and four more albums appeared in 2012, along with the box sets Merzphysics and Merzmorphosis.
Masami Akita (秋田 昌美, Akita Masami, born December 19, 1956), better known by his stage name Merzbow (メルツバウ, Merutsubau), is a Japanese noise musician. Since 1979, he has released over 400 recordings.
The name Merzbow comes from German dada artist Kurt Schwitters' artwork, Merzbau, where Schwitters transformed the interior of his house using found objects. This was chosen to reflect Akita's dada influence and junk art aesthetic. In addition to this, Akita has cited a wide range of musical influences from progressive rock, heavy metal, free jazz, and early electronic music to non-musical influences like dadaism, surrealism, and fetish culture. In the last decade, he has been inspired by animal rights and environmentalism, and has become a vegan.
As well as being a prolific musician, he has been a writer and editor for several books and magazines in Japan, and has written several books of his own. He has written about a variety of subjects, mostly about music, modern art, and underground culture. His more renowned works have been on the topics of BDSM and Japanese bondage. Other art forms Akita has been interested in include painting, photography, filmmaking, and Butoh dance.
In 2000, Extreme Records released the 50 CD box set known as the Merzbox. Akita's work has been the subject of several remix albums and at least one tribute album. This, among other achievements, has helped Merzbow to be regarded by some as the "most important artist in noise".Couture, François. "Biography". Allmusic Guide. Retrieved 2008-04-01. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 40. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 27. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Batty, Roger. "Animal instincts". Musique Machine. Retrieved 2008-04-02. "Merzbow". Extreme Records. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
ContentsLife and career1.1 Early life1.2 Lowest Music & Arts (1979–1984)1.3 ZSF Produkt (1984–1989)1.4 Digital era (1989–1999)1.5 Laptop era (1999–2009)1.6 Current era (2009–present)
Life and career
Masami Akita was born in Tokyo in 1956. He listened to psychedelic music, progressive rock, and later free jazz in his youth, all of which have influenced his noise. In high school he became the drummer of various high school bands, which he left due to the other members being "grass-smoking Zappa freaks". By this time, he and high school friend Kiyoshi Mizutani had started playing improvised rock at studio sessions which Akita describes as "long jam sessions along the lines of Ash Ra Tempel or Can but we didn't have any psychedelic taste".
He later attended Tamagawa University to study fine art, at which he majored in painting and art theory. While at university, he became interested in the ideas of dada and surrealism and also studied Butoh dance. At Tamagawa, he learned of Kurt Schwitters' Merz, or art made from rubbish, including Schwitters' Merzbau ("Merz building"), which is the source of the name "Merzbow".
Lowest Music & Arts (1979–1984)
Merzbow began as the duo of Masami Akita and Kiyoshi Mizutani, who met Akita in high school. Akita started releasing noise recordings on cassettes through his own record label, Lowest Music & Arts, which was founded in order to trade cassette tapes with other underground artists. The earliest recording he made was Metal Acoustic Music. Various other early releases included Remblandt Assemblage and Solonoise 1. The Collection series consisted of ten cassettes, the first five were recorded in a studio for an independent label called Ylem, which went defunct before they could be released. So, Akita released them himself, and recorded five more at home.
Akita's earliest music was made with tape loops and creatively recorded percussion and metal.
I threw all my past music career in the garbage. There was no longer any need for concepts like 'career' and 'skill'. I stopped playing music and went in search of an alternative.—Masami Akita
Early methods included what he referred to as "material action", in which he would closely amplify small sounds so as to distort them through the microphone. This method was used on Material Action for 2 Microphones and Material Action 2 N.A.M.. Among early releases like the box set Pornoise/1kg, Merzbow created artwork using photocopies of collages made out of manga and porn magazines he found in trash cans in the Tokyo subway. Akita explained this as trying to "create the same feeling as the secret porn customer for the people buying my cassettes in the early 80s". In 1984, he founded a second record label called ZSF Produkt.
ZSF Produkt (1984–1989)
ZSF Produkt (pronounced Zusufu, from an ancient Japanese word meaning "magnetic") was founded in 1984 to release music by similar artists within the industrial movement but eventually became the successor to Lowest Music & Arts. Numerous Merzbow releases were recorded at ZSF Produkt Studio, Masami Akita's home studio.
During this era, Merzbow found much wider recognition and began making recordings for various international labels. He also started touring abroad with the help of various collaborators. Merzbow performed in the USSR in 1988, toured the USA in 1990, Korea in 1991, and Europe in 1989 and 1992. Kiyoshi Mizutani left Merzbow after the 1989 European tour and continues to pursue a solo career.
Digital era (1989–1999)
During the European tour in September–October 1989, Merzbow could only bring simple and portable gear; this led to the harsh noise style Merzbow became known for in the 90s. Cloud Cock OO Grand (1990) was the first example of this new style, Merzbow's first digital recording (on DAT), and the first recording made for the CD format. It also includes live material recorded during the tour.
But when I started live in late 1980's I didn't like to use tape on stage. I like only live electronics. So, my studio works changed to more live composition style. I'm still using many tapes in studio works, but difference is I treat tapes and instruments. Before, I used tapes as overdubbing concept. But now tapes are crashing together, no static overdub. I found that style on Cloud Cock OO Grand.—Masami Akita
Recordings from the mid-1990s onwards are mostly of extreme volume, some mastered at levels far beyond standard (Noisembryo, Pulse Demon). In 1994, Akita acquired a vintage EMS synthesizer. From 1996, plans were made to release a "10 (or maybe 12)" CD box set on Extreme Records. In 2000, Extreme Records released the Merzbox, a fifty CD set of Merzbow records, twenty of them not previously released.
Throughout most of the 90s, Merzbow live was a trio with Reiko A. on electronics and Bara on voice and dance.
In the early 90s, Masami Akita composed the soundtracks to numerous kinbaku videos by Fuji Planning (不二企画, Fuji Kikaku) and seppuku-themed videos by their sub-label Right Brain. Akita would also directed Lost Paradise (失楽園 乗馬服女腹切り, Shitsurakuen: Jōbafuku onna harakiri) for Right Brain. Some of this music was included on Music for Bondage Performance and Music for Bondage Performance 2, co-credited to Right Brain Audile. Director Ian Kerkhof would use a Merzbow track for his 1992 film La séquence des barres parallèles, and Akita composed original music for Kerhof's 1994 film The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man. Kerkhof made the documentary Beyond Ultra Violence: Uneasy Listening by Merzbow in 1998. Akita also created music for Ilppo Pohjola's Asphalto (1998) and Routemaster (2000).
Laptop era (1999–2009)
Since 1999, Akita has used computers in his recordings, having first acquired a Macintosh to work on art for the Merzbox. Also at this time he began referring to his home studio as "Bedroom, Tokyo". At live performances, Akita has produced noise music from either two laptop computers or combination of a laptop and analog synthesizers. Reiko A. and Bara left Merzbow during this time, Reiko Azuma now has a solo career. Since 2001, Jenny Akita (née Kawabata) started being credited for artwork on various releases.
Since 2001, Akita started utilising samples of animal sounds in various releases starting with Frog. Around 2002, Akita became a vegan, he stated how it began:
I started raising four bantams, the little ornamental chickens. With this experience as a start, I gradually started to be concerned and care about chickens and all the barn animals I used to eat without giving it a second thought before. So I started reading books and researching on the internet about Animal Rights and that triggered an awareness of "evil" that human society has done.—Masami Akita
During this period, Akita also became a supporter of PETA which is reflected in his animal-themed releases. An example of this is Minazo Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, dedicated to an elephant seal he visited often at the zoo and Bloody Sea, a protest against Japanese whaling. He has also produced several works centered around recordings of his pet chickens (notably Animal Magnetism and Turmeric).
Also in 2002, Akita released Merzbeat, which was seen as a significant departure from his trademark abstract style in that it contains beat-oriented pieces. This has sparked some controversy among fans, though some reviewers pointed out that it sounded very similar to Aqua Necromancer (1998) which features samples of progressive rock drumming. Merzbird (2004) and Merzbuddha (2005) followed in a similar vein with sampled beats combined with Merzbow's signature harsh noise.
Current era (2009–present)
In 2009, Akita reintroduced the drum kit, his first instrument. This could be heard on 13 Japanese Birds, a thirteen disc series recorded and released one-a-month throughout 2009. At this time he changed the name of his home studio to Munemihouse.
Beginning in November 2009, Masami Akita started releasing archival material from the 1980s and 1990s, both reissues and previously unreleased material, several of which were released on cassette. The Blossoming Noise label has reissued five cassettes, and released Microkosmos Volume 1, which is a new recording on LP with collage artwork created by Akita in 1982–83. The Kibbutz cassette was reissued on vinyl. Other cassettes of unreleased material include Untitled Nov 1989, 9888A, April 1992, and Variations for Electric Fan. Merzbow has also released several archival boxes; Merzbient, Merzphysics, Merzmorphosis, Lowest Music & Arts 1980–1983, and Duo.Cite error: The named reference Allmusic was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 10. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Cite error: The named reference Extreme_Records was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Hensley, Chad. "The Beauty of Noise". EsoTerra. Retrieved 2008-04-02. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 85. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Pouncey, Edwin (August 2000). "Consumed by Noise". The Wire (198). Brennan, Gerald. "Merzbow Biography". Enotes. Retrieved 2008-05-13. "Merzbow – Age of 369/Chant 2". Extreme Records. Retrieved 2008-05-14. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 95. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. 53. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Pozo, Carlos. "Expanded Noisehands – The Noise Music of Merzbow". Angbase. Retrieved 2008-05-14. Dixon Christie (January 1997). "MERZBOW'S Discipline, Decibels, and Diety Japan's Minister of Sonic Terror Turns On The Feedback". Digi-zine Online Entertainment. Archived from the original on February 1, 1998. Retrieved August 9, 2012. Hegarty, Paul (2007). Noise/Music – A History. London, New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. p. 156. ISBN 0-8264-1727-2. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. p. vi. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. "Corridor Of Cells - Interview - Merzbow". Corridor of Cells. 1997. Archived from the original on November 30, 1999. Retrieved April 24, 2014. </ref]} "Masami 'Merzbow' Akita's "Lost Paradise"". J-Sploitation. Retrieved April 24, 2014. "Beyond Ultra Violence: Uneasy Listening by Merzbow (1998)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 24, 2014. "Ilppo Pohjola: Asphalto". pHinnWeb. Retrieved April 24, 2014. "Ilppo Pohjola: Routemaster". pHinnWeb. Retrieved April 24, 2014. "Masami Akita". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 24, 2014. Masami Akita's vegan origins, taken from interview released in January, 2011 Anderson, Rick. "Merzbird". Allmusic Guide. Retrieved 2008-04-01. Akita, Masami. "imprec097 Merzbow, Minazo Volume One". Important Records. Retrieved 2012-03-26. "Merzbow – Bloody Sea". Vivo Records. Retrieved 2008-05-14. "Merzbow: Animal Magnetism". Alien8 Recordings. Retrieved 2012-03-26. Tausig, Ben. "Noise with a Beat". Dusted Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-14. "Merzbeat – Review". Couture, François. Retrieved 2008-04-02. "Merzbeat". Howard, Ed. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
Merzbow's sounds employ the use of distortion, feedback, and noises from synthesizers, machinery, and home-made noisemakers. While much of Merzbow's output is intensely harsh in character, Akita does occasionally make forays into ambient music. Vocals are employed sometimes, but never in a lyrical sense. Contrary to most harsh noise music, Akita also occasionally uses elements of melody and rhythm.
Akita's early work consisted of industrial noise music made from tape loops and conventional instruments. Similar to his present albums, he produced lengthy, disorienting pieces. He also became famous for the sheer volume of his releases.
The avant-garde nature of Akita's work made acceptance by mainstream audiences difficult. When he performed with Kiyoshi Mizutani at the 1988 Jazz-on-Amur festival in the USSR, his improvised, experimental electroacoustic set was praised by fellow musicians as well as the festival's producer. The majority of the crowd, however, had been expecting a more traditional (and quieter) performance, and walked out. Prior to his second performance at the festival—which was to be made to an even more conservative audience— Akita was asked to play "more musically." On that first stage, Merzbow used the finest example of "classical analogue live noisemaiking technologies" to display: untuned guitar, a drumset, various micro-objects, small springs centered in its shell baffles, large aluminium boxes with strings inside to be attacked with a fiddlestick, etc. along with multi- piezo-pickuping and close-miking techniques, live processing through vintage US fuzz, ring modulator etc. boxes, and quite vivid and spontaneous approach, backed by slide and light shows. This live recording was re-processed and released as Live in Khabarovsk, CCCP (I'm Proud by Rank of the Workers) LP – and as the (once more re-mixed comparing to the LP) CD 26 of the Merzbox later on.
During the 90s Akita's work became much harsher and were generally mastered at a louder volume than usual. These were heavily influenced by death metal and grindcore bands of the time (a prime example is the Venereology album). The mid-90s saw Akita being heavily influenced by psychedelic bands and this was reflected in various albums."Merzbow/Fennesz/Antenna Farm Interview". Retrieved 2008-09-01. Woodward, Brett (1999). Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise. Melbourne: Extreme. ISBN 0-646-38326-4. Boris A. Podkosov, esq., the JOA's producer ["Merzbow at JOA'88: Eastern Noise of Perestroika"], manuscript, June 21, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-21. Cite error: The named reference corridor was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
In addition to Merzbow, Masami Akita has been involved in a number of side projects and groups.
Abtechtonics (or variations of this) was used by Akita for his artwork on Merzbow releases and his books.
House Hunt Hussies is credited for a track on the Sexorama 1 compilation. ZSF Produkt listed as the contact address.
Pornoise was a mail art project Akita had in the 80s where he made collages using discarded magazines – in particular pornographic magazines – taken from the trash. These were then sent along with his cassettes, the idea being that his art was like cheap mail order pornography. Pornoise/1kg was released as part of these activities. Pornoise was credit as the artist for a track on the Sexorama 2 compilation and co-credited for artwork on Scissors for Cutting Merzbow.
Right Brain Audile is co-credited on the two Music for Bondage Performance albums, as they're soundtracks he did for several S&M and faux-Sepukku films produced by Kinbiken/Right Brain. RBA reappears on Merzbient, which features recordings from this era.
SCUM was a project where Akita made new releases out of previous Merzbow sessions using cut-ups, effects, and mixing. SCUM is an acronym, standing for something different on each release, including "Society for Cutting Up Merzbow" (a reference to the SCUM Manifesto), "Scissors for CUtting Merzbow", "Steel CUM", etc.
Zecken was used for two solo synthesizer performances in 1996.
Bustmonster was a "conceptual death metal" group (because they couldn't play death metal) with Tetsuo Sakaibara, Fumio Kosakai, Masahiko Ohno, Shohei Iwasaki, Maso Yamazaki and Zev Asher.
Flying Testicle was a trio with Yamazaki and Asher.
Merzbow Null was a collaboration between the groups of Merzbow and Null. In addition to Masami Akita and Kazuyuki Kishino, it featured several other members of both groups such as Reiko Azuma, Asami Hayashi, Kiyoshi Mizutani, Yushi Okano, Ikuo Taketani, etc. They did many improv performances during 1983–84 and released over a dozen cassettes.
Tibeta Ubik was a duo of Akita and Kishino active at the same time as Merzbow Null.
True Romance was a performance art project in the early 90s with Tetsuo Sakaibara (who became a live member of Merzbow) and Toshiyuki Seido. The performances included fetish equipment, simulated gore (including autopsy), mechanical devices, nude models, etc. It was inspired by Viennese Actionism. Masami Akita was a performer in addition to composing the backing music.
Other groups include: Boris with Merzbow; Commando Bruno Sanmartino with Incapacitants and Violent Onsen Geisha; Kikuri with Keiji Haino; Maldoror with Mike Patton; MAZK with Zbigniew Karkowski; Melting Lips with Hanayo; Muscats with Hanayo and Masaya Nakahara; Merz-Banana with Melt-Banana; Satanstornade with Russell Haswell (they later released an album entitled Satanstornade under their real names); Secrets with Tetsuya Mugishima (aka Seven); Shalon Kelly King with Fumio Kosakai.
Masami Akita played drums for Hijokaidan during the early–mid 90s.
Balázs Pándi has played drums for Merzbow at several concerts since 2009, and they released several albums.Cite error: The named reference Merzbook was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference Esoterra was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference Merzbook_13 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Memorial page of Shohei Iwasaki". Retrieved 2010-09-15. Trevor Brown. "Trevor Brown interviews Masami Akita". Archived from the original on 1997-06-25. Retrieved 2010-07-19. Wehowsky, Ralf (1987). "Masami Akita aka Merzbow: Eine Cassettographie". Bad Alchemy : 45–46. Ongaku Otaku (Automatism Press) (1): 51. 1995. ISSN 1081-1761. "Salon Tetra events". Retrieved 2010-09-15. Burgess, Aaron. "Melt-Banana interview". Retrieved 2010-09-15. Sudoh, Toshiaki. "Past shows 1995". Retrieved 2010-09-15. 「日本絶滅動物記」其の１８～「独り遊びの思想」開催告知！！（終了）. Ｍｒ．エレクトの独り言 (in Japanese). July 26, 2010. Retrieved July 11, 2012. "Jungle club scene, Jan-1998". Retrieved 2010-09-15.
After completing his degree, Akita became a freelance writer and editor for various magazines in Japan. He frequently writes on a variety of topics such as sexuality (including pornography, S&M, and Japanese bondage. Excerpts appear in the Music for Bondage Performance album notes), underground and extreme culture (including music and art), architecture, and animal rights. None have been published in English.
Note: English title refers to English writing on the cover, sometimes it's a translation of the Japanese title, or a completely different phrase.