Interview with Masami Akita by Corridor of Cells. 1997.
Commonly acknowledged as the most accomplished Japanoise artist, Merzbow (a.k.a. Masami Akita) has built a large following over the last years with his brand of brutally harsh noise. Here's a brief introduction to the artist that many people credit with popularizing "noise" as a genre in the 1990s.
When did you start Merzbow and why?
In 1979, I started making noise. I was bored with playing musical instruments and I was looking for a new form of music. That's why I started noise.
The name Merzbow was taken from a Surrealist collage by Kurt Schwitter called "Merzbau". Why was DaDa & Surrealism such a big influence on you?
I was very influenced by pre-surrealist poets like Arthur Rimbaud, Lautreamon, Jean Jenet, etc. because these poets are very close to rock'n'roll. I was an art school student and painting every day. My first influence was George de Chirico and Dali. Then I read a book by Marcel Duchamp. This book talks a lot about DaDa and Surrealism. I found out why Dadaists destroyed all conventional art form. I decided to destroy all conventional music. I thought nobody composed real surrealist music except Pierre Boulez and Frank Zappa. But for me, they are too musical. I wanted to compose real surrealistic music in a non-musical way. Surrealism is also reaching unconsciousness. Noise is the primitive and collective consciousness of music. My composition is automatism, not improvisation.
Your very first releases were distributed as accompaniments to pornography. What is in your mind the connection between noise & eroticism?
My first idea of using pornography is in mail art concepts. I sent them with my cassette tape. I was trying to make the very lowest form of sound and it seemed similar to pornography, because porno is the unconsciousness of culture, the libido of humanity.
How did the noise scene start in Japan? What sort of artists/groups were an influence on you when you started out as Merzbow? Do you believe that there is something specific in the Japanese culture (or counter-culture) that provided such a fertile breeding ground for a large number of noisicans?
There was some scene in Japan before noise started. In the early 1970s, there were free rock bands like Lostalarf and after free music and punk rock came Hijokaidan, because they were already playing noisy performances in the early 1980s. But at that period, there was no term "noise". Most musical people thought 'noise" was too snobby art. I'd already started noise, but I only did a few performances in the 80s.
What motivates you to continue your work and avoid the monotony of releasing similar sorts of albums again & again? What new things/ideas/concepts do you discover every time you make a new recording?
I have an idea of releasing as many albums as possible. So, many listeners can't recognize the sensitive change of each of my albums. For me, all albums are different. Maybe you listen to only a few albums of my recent ones. If you listened to a new album of mine every new year, you couldn't find many differences in my albums.
What sort of instruments/objects do you usually use to create noise?
Audio mixer, contact mic, filters, distortion, EMS Synthi'A', audio generator, etc.
Amongst your many releases you have also done soundtracks to many movies (usually I believe by Fuji Planning & Ian Kerkhof). How did these film-makers get interested in your noise and what sort of movies was it used for?
One day, I played my music when I went to see a video session of Fuji Planning, they got interested in my music. I think Ian Kerkof listened to my track on "Noise Forest" and he used my sound on his short film. Then he asked me to soundtrack for his next film "Deadman 2".
One of the other noisicans I interviewed in the past stated that "noise" is not really a genre of music, but a separate entity by itself - just because something is released as a CD doesn't make it music. Do you agree with that? What is the connection (if any) between "noise" and "music"?
There is no difference between Noise and Music in my work. I have no idea what you term "Music" and "Noise". It's different depending on each person. If "Noise" means uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to me.
Occasionally when performing live you invite other artists to participate, sometimes even vocalists. What sort of artists do you usually collaborate with during performing live?
I like to play with live musicians and performers who are not disturbed by my sound.
Back in 1988 you had a chance to tour the Soviet Union. What sort of a response did you get from an audience so (presumably) unprepared for what you create? Who organized the tour and what sort of experiences do your remember from that period?
It was the Amur Jazz & Experimental Music festival in Khabarovsk, in far east Russia. They only knew our name on magazines and expected hi-tech Japanese music. But we're not very bad analogue noise so they didn't understand what we did. They didn't know the category "Noise", of course. They stopped our performance after 30 minutes. We started again the next day, they asked me to play a more musical style. Fortunately, we can play music so we played a keyboard and drum duo, because they were good people.
Noise seems to have increasing following amongst fans of other extreme genres, especially death metal. According to your own words, noisicians are also often influenced by death metal (like Brutal Truth, etc.). Why do you think there is such a crossover between the two genres, even though they are so different sonically?
I'm influenced by death metal from the early '90s. My biggest influence was grind drumming. So, I started to play drums again and formed Bustmonsters and Flying Testicle. So, I liked bands with good drummers like Morbid Angel, early Napalm Death, early Carcass. Secondary, I found similar artistic taste in early Carcass, early Cadaver, etc. I liked those extreme medical/dead artworks. I also like extreme porno artworks like Gut, Dead, Meatshits, etc. For Merzbow, it's more abstract influenced as speed or grindcore, the edge guitar sound of death metal. Also, I started using lots of DOD guitar pedals. Grindcore was completely new for me. But for me death metal was like early Black Sabbath who are one of my favorites. But now I'm not interested in any death metal bands. They changed to melodic and middle rap beats. Only a few I listen to, like Autopsy.
How do you imagine the output of Merzbow in 10 or 20 years? What is there still to do that you feel you haven't done yet?
I have many ideas which are still not realized.
How would you describe your newest release on Relapse "Pulse Demon" and how do you think it differs from you earlier work?
"Pulse Demon" is not the newest. I released more than 12 CDs since, and some vinyls. So, I explain the difference between my last Relapse CD, "Venereology". "Venereology" was my first release on a death metal label. So, my target was "death metal" itself. I used more serious dead visuals than on the usual death metal albums. For me, it's like J.P. Witkin or J.G. Ballard. The rhythm in "Venereology" was a little slower than in my past releases, but more heavy. Also, the tone of "Venereology" was lots of overlevels and dirty sound. It's important to know that I made "Venereology" while drinking lots of beer. These essences are all influenced by death metal. But not musically. I liked something more extreme than the death metal rules. "Pulse Demon" is back to my usual way. I'm not targeting death metal. I'm not drunk when I recorded "Pulse Demon". It's more clear, sharp sound and more high pitched rhythm. I also used EMS Synthesizer on "Pulse Demon". The visual of "Pulse Demon" was my homage to French 70s Electro-Acoustic records as Philips Contemporary Avantgarde series. Basically, this shiny silver is the color of Heavy Metal. I mean it the way William Burroughs said it. My basic idea is I think this idea has been approached in the past by Heldon and King Crimson. "Pulse Demon" is one of 3 CDs I recorded at the same time, "Magnesia Nova" and "Electric Salad" are the others. These two releases contain more Synthesizer and music concrete sound. The title of "Pulse Demon" was influenced from a 70s Afro-UK band called Demon Fuzz. Also some song titles were takes as a parody from John Appleton's "Syntonic Menagerie" LP.
What artists/bands/noisicans would you recommend to others?
My music listening is 60% 70s progressive rock. 30% are 70s Electro-Acoustic music. I think early 70s rock and avantgarde music is all great.
"Farsa Del Buen Vivir" (from "Aqua Necromancer")
"Aqua Necromancer" (from "Aqua Necromancer")