Merzbow: Ikebukuro Dada
Circumvent Recordings (2002)
It’s a little odd that Merzbow references Dada in the title of this release. Sure, the early 20th Century Arts and Literature movement was all anti-establishment and anti ‘art’ just like the noise genre is anti ‘music’. However, Dada was heavily based on chance and the illogical – its practitioners gave spoken word performances based on collections of words and phrases drawn upon at random.
On Ikebukuro Dada Merzbow sounds less haphazard and more structured than ever before, entirely the opposite of the Dada’s shenanigans.
It’s not often that Merzbow ‘songs’ feel like they have a distinct beginning, middle and end. It’s rare that he takes the time to build his layers of sound rather than toy with them, and yet Merzbow seems very focused on achieving exactly this across all four of Ikebukuro Dada’s tracks. The record opens with a soft, clipped metronome effect interjected with the sound of someone running their hands through the body of a piano like a harp. With a snap, Merzbow throws in some high-pitched scree that builds in intensity until the track’s closing.
He shows more restraint on the second, and best track Ikebukuro Dada Texture, which opens with a subtle pulse, like the dense throb of outer space in a Sci-Fi movie. Rhythmic splashes of white noise fade in and out, but Merzbow keeps returning to this throb that holds the piece together like glue. I haven’t heard Merzbow do ‘quiet’ all that often, but I love it when he does, particularly here where he sounds like Wolf Eyes or Prurient on Valium. And don’t get me started on how fucking awesome the sliced and diced jazz pianos sound when they suddenly interrupt this cacophony.
Hardcore power-noise heads don’t need to fear though, there’s still plenty of face melting moments on Ikebukuro Dada, but Merzbow cleverly balances them with a much wider range of volumes and densities than I’ve heard him play with before. He also sounds so much more determined to take the listener on some sort of journey. Every click and tick and burst of sound seems carefully placed within its wider context, and it’s that calculation which seems at odds with the concept of Dadaism.
Perhaps Merzbow is attracted to Dada’s anti-war ethics, which might tie in with his whole ‘peace for animals’ schtick (proceeds from this record go to ‘Chimp Haven’ according to the cover notes) but don’t ask me where Merzbow’s penchant for Sado Masochism fits in with the whole no-war vibe. There are a number of field recordings on Ikebukuro Dada and maybe their random nature also appeals to the Dadaist title. Who the fuck knows? The title could just be a prank on Merzbow’s part, or more likely it’s absolutely irrelevant.
But whatever, go and hunt down a copy of this because it’s among his finest works.
PS: Circumvent Recordings doesn’t actually exist anymore, they’re now called Drone Works. I bought my copy on eBay, but I think you can still get a copy direct if you want it.