Somnambule - Writing About Music

Merzbow ~ Rattus Rattus Suite
Merzbow and John Wiese ~ Multiplication
Merzbow vs. Tamarin

Your reviewer isn’t unfamiliar with Noise artists such as Florian Hecker and Russell Haswell. However, the Rattus Rattus Suite represents his induction - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say rite of initiation - into the Merzbow listening circle. It’s difficult to know how to write this review. It would be a redundant exercise to repeat the approach of describing Merzbow’s sound, both because it’s already been done so well by ? in the previous issue, and because Noise doesn’t appear for the most part to be subject to radical changes. To the Noise aficionado, such an opinion is probably both ignorant and irritating. It’s probably similar to somebody writing that ‘music is music’ or ‘rock’n’roll is rock’n’roll’. ‘It is, but so what?’ s/he may ask. My hesitant suggestion, however, is that the extreme that Noise represents is both fascinating and, in its engulfing impact, ultimately silencing. As I begin to draft this review, I’m listening to Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off Baby - a noisy, disjunctive succession of cubist collages if ever there was one. Its spiky rhythms both interfere with and help to drive along my thoughts. Then it occurs to me that I should be replaying one of the CDs under consideration. I choose Multiplication, the collaboration with John Wiese. In the face of the instant sonic sandstorm that blasts from the speakers I find myself immediately struggling to focus and I experience a cognitive blurring, as though my mind were being wrapped ever more tightly in a felt blanket. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, but it’s not exactly conducive to writing a review in the face of an imminent deadline. I stop and listen for a while, then pause the CD...

Noise represents an exultant extreme that it’s difficult to imagine surpassing. Its abstraction articulates a boundary that trumps the gradations even of Hardcore or the near-silence of recent free improvisation. I can imagine that for some, experience of this territory makes every other music pale by comparison. Personally, I find the sound of Erotic Westernscape and then Multiplication magnificent, the subtleties of the layered sound and the sense of a constantly moving, three-dimensional sonic space, thrilling. A moment before in silence, the prospect of someone becoming a connoisseur of Noise appears ridiculous, a moment later and the idea seems almost inevitable. As the 27 minute, 12 second mass of Multiplication ceases I discover that my sensitivity to ambient sounds is briefly heightened and I wonder whether a frequent listener would experience ever extending or ever briefer periods of such sensitivity. How to assess the relative merits of one Noise release to another? It appears to make the traditional critical role of recommendation and comparison redundant. Merzbow vs Tamarin contains three tracks of Merzbow interpretations of Tamarin and three tracks of Tamarin interpretations of Merzbow. The latter are more varied and even steer away from Noise altogether, leading into near-silence and flute-like melodies. The effect is eery, ageless and strangely suggestive of a William Burroughs nightmare. Merzbow and John Wiese’s Multiplication is a dense work with a sense of varied activity occurring behind latticework screens. Rattus Rattus is Merzbow alone with his fractally-replicating soundscapes. Each of these releases is different, but how to identify criteria to declare which is better or worse? If pushed, I would recommend the Merzbow vs Tamarin for its variety. Anybody who isn’t repelled by Noise’s onslaught should own at least one Merzbow CD, then listen to another and decide for themselves how to negotiate the challenge of Noise.
Colin Buttimer
April 2006
Published by Signal To Noise magazine