Thursday, August 7, 2008

Merzbow vs. Nordvargr - Partikel (2004)

When the likes of Masami Akita (MAZK, SUNN) and Henrik Nordvargr Björkk (FOLKSTORM, TOROIDH and MZ.412) get together, you know that you're in for something really special. This Japanese-Norwegian collaboration brings together two of the world's most well-respected Noise artists on possibly the only record label capable of carrying it all off.

The cover art is superb. Blacks, whites and greys framed in a desolate Icelandic wilderness of rocky outcrops, bloody feathers and half-buried ribcages. The three tracks on this release, amounting to a total of over 56 minutes, are based on mutual respect and understanding. Akita and Björkk have created a tapestry of sound each inspired by the other. Based on Albert Einstein's Luxon Theory, 'Tardyon Storm' opens up like a burst vein gently spraying blood across an operating table. It's very steady and controlled, too, with gull-like squeals, pulsating atmospherics and the sound of passing transmitters being thrown into the mix. More whistling bird samples emerge from the shadows like the dawn after a nuclear holocaust. The cautious, nervous activity soon joined by the pitter-patter of tiny electronic feet and the kind of metallic creak you get when there is a wheel missing on your shopping trolley. The hubbub of whistles and cheeps increase as a slow, booming sound like a distant B52 bomber is heard groaning its way above the ambient-infested skies of light Noise. Eleven minutes in and the track begins to increase in both tempo and volume, becoming a bass-march through the shimmering marshlands of spitting plug sockets and broken power cables. This leads to some great moments of rhythmic intensity, before the atmosphere becomes pretty oppressive and completely shatters Einstein's Theory altogether by losing control and sending out a series of speeding lightning bolts between Far North and Far East like a gift from Thor to his Samurai comrades. The steady beat soon returns, however, and the watery trickles in the background sound like melting ice. This is a little similar to Kraftwerk's 'Elektro Kardiogramm', but without the heavy dub beat and accompanying breathing exercises. Minutes later the track is concluded with the (very) odd backward voice sample, adding a Lynchian effect to the stifling commotion in general.

'Kyoufu-O', Japanese for 'terror', hits out like a heavyweight jab to the kidneys. It's a cacophony of bouncing beats and the rattling of dissonant electronic pitches, fused together with as much care and consideration as Dustin Hoffman's dentist in 'Marathon Man'. After six minutes the beats begin to distort, bending like steel girders under the weight of a collapsing World Trade Centre before escalating into a shrill imitation of 'Driller Killer' and jagged shards of electronic fallout. It's like a gravitational free-for-all at a ten-pin bowling alley, with nothing but the driving beats to twist and shape this formless mass into some kind of coherent direction. Meanwhile, like an advert for Co-Proxamol, a sustained squealing and desperate scraping resemble somebody attempting to clean out the bottom of a dustbin with one of Uri Geller's spoons. Halfway through the track and my ears feel like they're going to spontaneously combust and throw lashes of hot wax all over the keyboard. But then there's a two-second pause in the proceedings and a slight change in direction. Unfortunately for my eardrums, albeit necessary in my quest for tonal aestheticism, the style of the track becomes even more high-pitched and I'm caught between the grey twilight zone of pleasure and pain. This must be Akita's influence. Only he can induce such punishment and thoughts of British P.O.W.'s incarcerated in Japanese camps begin to flash through my mind as though they were being broadcast as part of the final cinematic biography of a drowning man. Towards the end of this brutal odyssey, Merzbow and Nordvargr seem to achieve that certain pitch which always leaves me feeling rather nauseous (I'd last discovered it on a Coil track). In this case, however, it was being transmitted through my right ear and then travelling on down into my stomach. Quite a strange experience, in fact, but certainly revealing in terms of the actual short-term effects that systematic Noise can have on the listener.

Finally, 'Tachyon Paradox' - a mere seven minutes - makes its appearence and carries on in much the same vein. At least primarily. One momentary screech gives way to a pitted heartbeat of sound and a calm, humming ambience. This is followed by disjointed bursts of fizzing power, grinding swathes of explosive electronics and whirling frequencies, slowly returning to the decidedly more Ambient beginnings of the first track. It becomes increasingly hollow and minimalist, too, before a rising wind and slow metallic dragging bring the album to a comparatively beautiful end. There are some incredibly 'difficult' periods on this album, but all credit to Merzbow and Nordvargr for allowing us to put ourselves through this mangle of sound in the first place. The way the album is structured tends to ease you into the harsher parts that make up 'Kyoufu-O', but like a dedicated sports instructor or someone guiding you through a bad trip it also brings you down slowly so that you can safely emerge into the silence at the other end. I'd be very interested to see what other people make of this recording, it's quite an experience.

Review taken from S Y N T H E S I S.

01 - Tardyon Storm
02 - Kyoufu-O
03 - Tachyon Paradox


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