Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Merzbow's Noise

We are slaves to analogy. Every sound we hear evokes a reaction and association. Every image reminds us of a time and place; and if it doesn't, we imagine one. Breaking stimuli into its constituents doesn't do us any good: pure colors remind us of representative objects (the blue sky, the green grass), pure tones are reminiscent of various electronic devices, and pure rhythms occur naturally in the machinery that surrounds us. In an attempt to expand our sonic palette, Russolo introduces us to a variety of ignored noises. Yet his list of "roars", "whistles" and "screeches" still suffers from analogical bondage: all these noises are implicitly categorized by their origin. Even when we're confronted by an unfamiliar noise, if we listen closely we recreate it into something familiar (people often hear voices where there are none). Merzbow makes these kind of sounds, these cracklings, mumblings and loud whispers. But if "noise is the unconsciousness of music" in the same way "pornography is the unconsciousness of sex", he has yet to accomplish his goal. Listening to "Minus Zero" from "Red Magnesia Pink", I can still hear structure and reminders of life: broken radios, irregular rhythms, guttural screams, armor penetrating bullets, lasers, explosions, fans, engines, hairdryers and children's conversations. I have yet to experience "being-for-itself" as Sartre would have it. Unfortunately, Merzbow seems unaware of this issue. He initially "tried to quit using any instruments which were related to, or were played by, the human body", in an attempt to sever any connections the noises might incite. But at the same time he's rooted in the subjective interpretations of Dadaism and even gives his own analogies: "The sound of Merzbow is like Orgone energy — the color of shiny silver." Perhaps, in an effort to escape familiarity, after twenty years of experimentation he has created one more familiar sound? If the goal of noise is the "obliteration" of identity, as Simon Reynolds puts it, then the climax of Merzbow's noise is not found in its duration, but afterwards — in the silence. It's only in this silence, the un-created non-sound, that we are emancipated from analogy and forced to come to terms with our unconnected self.


Jason LaPorte said...

Existing without analogy, however, seems to be a cold existance indeed. The analogy is where poetry comes from (because that's really what poetry is), and where understanding derives (since I can only communicate to others if I analogize my existence to theirs).

I suppose I can understand the pursuit: art is all about showing someone something they never realized before. I can't help but think this is doomed to failure; which is, however, art in and of itself.

(For example, Minus Zero brings distinct memories of rampaging around the first level of Bungie's Marathon Infinity, "Ne Cede Malis." Dark, and you don't know what lies beyond the darkness. Or, in my case, even if you do, since you were playing it as a child, it scares the heck out of you anyway.)

"...in the silence. It's only in this silence, the un-created non-sound, that we are emancipated from analogy and forced to come to terms with our unconnected self."

And I'm afraid that even silence bears meaning for me. As you know, Kyle, silence isn't the absence of sound, just as canvas isn't the absence of paint. It's just another sound, another color, another tool for the creative.

Kyle said...

"without analogy, however, seems to be a cold existance" It does seem that way :) But every Buddhist in the midst of meditation would disagree. Though we are slaves to analogy, I'd say it's a good master. I wasn't arguing for emancipation, just clarifying the means.

"...silence isn't the absence of sound... It's just another sound, another color..." Silence is stillness; so it is the absence of sound. But apart from absolute zero and death we can't have pure silence, so when I use the word I'm thinking of a relative stillness. It is a sort of "canvas", but more in the sense of the darkness from closing your eyes is a "canvas". It's not that a physical manfiestation is missing, it's a space to dream and confront yourself.

"...even silence bears meaning for me." While I was being a bit dramatic near the end, it would be more accurate to say silence is the possibility of emancipation. Like I said, we still hear sounds where there are none.