Wednesday, March 10, 2004


MERZBOW – Music For Bondage Performance Vol. 1 CD

Some may scoff at this entry, but scoff all you like, this list speaks the truth. Let me explain it this way: there are roughly three different categories of music that exists in my collection...

1) Music I really like and play a LOT. Such artists include: Germs, Black Flag, Ornette Coleman, Funkadelic, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Minutemen, Black Sabbath, Sonic Youth, William Parker, Hawkwind, Neil Young, Eno, Die Kreuzen, Howlin’ Wolf, Pere Ubu, etc. These people bring me boundless pleasure.

2) Music I really like but have hardly listened to in the last 5 years due to the severe flogging they’ve received in years gone by. In other words, I’m giving them a break. Such artists include: Stooges, MC5, Chrome, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, John Fahey, Miles Davis, The Pop Group and most krautrock. I really love them, but we need some time apart.

3) Music I really like, find interesting, unique and worthy, yet don’t listen to very often. I put these artists under the banner of Record Collector Music. Great stuff, looks swank on the shelf and impresses all your friends, and who’s to deny the utterly compelling and visionary tunes set forth on such discs? Yet, to be honest, how fucking often do I listen to the damn things?! Such artists include: John Cage, Derek Bailey, Silver Apples, Fugs, Incredible String Band, Cro Magnon, Destroy All Monsters, Art Bears, Lou’s Metal Machine Music and just about every reggae album I own. I love these guys, but, you know, they can be a little too much sometimes.

And then there’s Merzbow, who falls somewhere between the cracks of all three. Or let’s put it this way: I play Merzbow for actual “enjoyment”, at home, on my own, because it brings me pleasure. I’m sure there’s a million shrinks out there who’d love to book me in for a weekend of intense therapy to help me overcome such an affliction, but it’s true. I don’t play Merzbow a “lot” (like a few times a week, or weekly), but it does get somewhat of a regular spin. This is what takes Merzbow out of category # 3.

Merzbow is no noise hackery, it’s the real thing: an attempt to sculpture pure noise into something that can be listened to, and something from which the listener can gain something from. This is what separates Merzbow from hacks like Hijo Kaidan, the Incapacitants or total losers like Whitehouse. The former two are not bad, just not very compelling; the latter’s music is so secondary to their status as an “idea-oriented” band (whatever idea that is) that they might as well just publish books of bad poetry and forget about their woeful attempts at “noise” altogether.

None of this is to say that everything Merzbow does is great; fact of the matter is, I’ve heard some real turkeys from the man in my time and I’m well aware of his ability to release volumes of drivel, but when you record as many albums as Merzbow does, the basic law of averages dictates that such things will happen. To make a long story short, when Merzbow is on, it’s the absolute shit. Music for Bondage Performance is about as on as Merzbow has ever gotten.

I bought the CD in late ’92, having seen the Merzbow name in various mags over the previous 18 months and being mighty curious about the Japanese noise scene at the time. Being on an Australian label – Extreme – it was just about the only readily available piece of Japanese noise I could find in Melbourne in the early ‘90s, so I took the plunge.

…Bondage Performance is an all-time fave for two reasons: its sheer sonic force, and good ol’ sentimentality. For the uninitiated, it should be made clear: this is probably the most “soothing”, “ambient” disc Merzbow ever made. It’s like a cross between Eno’s ‘70s work, Stockhausen’s Hymnen, Japanese kabuki music and the Eraserhead soundtrack. For sheer listenability, it’s unbeatable.

Why the sentimental attachment? Promise not to laugh? OK, at the time my parents were living in Hong Kong for an extended period, and in January 1993 I was invited and flown over to stay with them for a month. I brought my recently-purchased Merzbow CD with me, along with a stack of other favourites of the time. There’s something about this album that still makes me feel like the dumbfuck 20/21-year-old blasting it out over the balconies of Hong Kong when I play it. Oh dear, excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye…

Pros: The KING of Noise, with his BEST disc. Is there a higher recommendation?
Cons: Swimming in a sea of Merzbow releases, it can be easy to dismiss most of everything the guy's done.
Related Releases: Music for Bondage Performance Vol. 2. Yup, it’s a good ‘un, too.

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