Interview by Jason Gross (December 1997)
Masami Akita (a.k.a. Merzbow) is the hardest working man in noise. Even after having dozens of releases out since the early '80's, he's now embarking on a fifty-plus CD box set, consisting of mostly unreleased material. Overkill is not a word you use lightly when talking about his output or his work itself (which has included soundtracks to bondage films, a long-time interest of his). Even the most open-minded music nut you know will still be hard-pressed to listen to more than a few minutes of this Japanese master of ear-shattering screeches, screams and howls. Forgetting about such niceties as rhythm and melody, he even goes beyond improvised music or free jazz, working with elements that bear little resemblance with what we think of as 'music.' Yet, this is something that he's explored fully and passionately for years, now gaining enough recognition to have a remix CD (with Jim O'Rourke, Panasonic and Autchre among others) and a tribute CD as well. At best he might be an acquired taste but once you give yourself up to his punishing, no-holds-barred aural environment, you'll be amazed at what he's been able to accomplish.
Enormous thanks go out to Carlos Pozo of the great angbase zine who got me thinking long and hard about Merzbow's work.
PSF: Could you talk about early influences you had before you started to record music?
I didn't have any influences. I just started to make music which I could create and it's far away from past music. Then I was influenced by some electro-acoustic things such as Pierre Henry, Luc Ferrai, etc...
PSF: You studied painting and art theory, and later you were a writer and editor- how do you think this effected your later work as a musician?
Everything combines for the works of Merzbow. I don't see them as being different and separate. I did work in a rock band then I was studying painting- I was doing it at the same time. I quit the painting because, for me, the art thing was very boring, very conventional. I was looking for a more alternative way of expressing. I was making tapes at the same time and playing music.
PSF: So music is more satisfying?
In my starting point, music and art is not seperate. I mix rock sounds and art together.
PSF: How would you describe Merzbow?
Myself, my project. When I started Merzbow, I just wanted to do something very organic. Not something hip for the commercial music industry. I tried to make my own media. I just wanted to make good music in a very different way from the usual music.
PSF: Your work has little connection with what we think of as music- melody, rhythm, chorus- was are your thoughts on this?
I like melody and rhythm and I was listening to many different types of music. But my project is in a very different way. My music is not only my reaction against other music. It's just my way.
PSF: What are you trying to communicate through your music?
My own sensation. I don't see it as something that I'm communicating. I'm not of any special opinion about this. I'm just doing my work. Of course, I need listeners to hear my work but I have no control about how they hear it.
PSF: How do you compose/create your work?
Naturally. I'm making music for pleasure. I just want to create sound which I like and most sounds that I like are at a very high level. When I have them, I just mix them together.
PSF: There are connections between extreme sex and your music that you've made- could you talk about your views on this? Do you think there's too much of a liberal or conversative attitude about this?
I think that Western society is more open than here. I've made some CD's related to bondage because it was a soundtrack for a bondage performance. Most people think my music is totally related to sexuality or especially bondage. But it's only some part of my work. I've worked with a bondage group and made that soundtrack. I'm very interested in bondage and I'm writing some books about this subject.
PSF: How do you see noise? is it a building block?
I think of it as colorful inks of an illustrator.
PSF: Your use of ambient material- drills, jack hammers, crashes- how does this compare to use of electronic sounds?
There's no comparison. I don't think it's very different because it's all just sound material. They're the same materials to me. I use all kinds of different sounds for my work. I'm using actual sounds, just recording sounds then altering it electronic devices. So then it's not very different.
PSF: With your use of tapes, are you appropriating, recontextualizing?
Tapes are just raw materials to use. When I'm using tapes, I'm just using it as music equipment. I'm always thinking like I'm mixing. Of course, I want to change the original source to something else.
PSF: What led to your use of vocals on Noise Embryo? Do you plan to use more vocals in the future with your work?
No reason for use my voice on Noise Embryo. The voice was always meant a part of sound. I've never used vocals for singing- it's just another instrument. I just used it as sound, not really vocals.
PSF: Are you part of a music scene in Japan?
I'll never be part of the music scene. The music industry in Japan is very cold and I don't think that they would accept what I'm doing. I'm playing often in Japan but here there are very few other groups that support this kind of music. All these Japanese music people are not interested in supporting creative music. I hope this would change but they're not really open for my stuff. They're very controlled.
PSF: Your recent work (Prosperity of Vice) seems more 'musical'. Is this a new direction, departure?
Not really. Each work is a new direction for me. I've been interested to do something like this before but I had no opportunity to do this. I'm very happy to realize this but it's not new for me.
PSF: Will you do more type of music like that?
Yes, I hope so.
PSF: With your film work, how do you get your work to fit into what the director is doing?
I made only videos. Basically I haven't had access of film/video media. It's always difficult to find personal meaning (with that). Sound is more personal for me.
PSF: A quote from you- 'I decided to destroy all conventional music' Do you think you've been successful?
The result is always MERZBOW- that's the important thing. When I started Merzbow, I was very opposite to conventional music and I used lots of noise but now I think the reason I use a lot of noise is because I liked this. Then I just want to use noise for my own pleasure.
PSF: How does using different equipment effect your work? Is it something that you let take over your work or does your work dictate the equipment you use?
I chose equipment specifically for each composition.
PSF: What are some favorites of your own work and what do you like about them?
Scum and the Metalverodrom double album I like. The 50 CD box set will be my favorite when that is released. 30 CD's are remix from my tapes and records. The other 20 CD's is new and unreleased material.
PSF: What's the future of Merzbow?
I have no opinion of what I want to do with my future work. I'm making new CD's, doing more projects like that. I'm always mixing my present and past to the future.
See Merzbow's favorite music
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