Genius does not happen by accident. Combining two caustic elements together with the intent of creating something that is both destructive and beautiful requires special attention and care. Merzbow’s claim to fame hinges on the fringes of music’s tedious labels, often found categorized in the “noise” section of your local record store. However, to reduce Merzbow to either noise or experimental lacks the insight and perspective when trying to understand his entire body of work. Currently in his fourth decade of being one of modern music’s most formidable composer this side of John Cage and Karl Stockhausen, Merzbow’s gift relies on his ability to merge both high and low art. Sometimes his attempts produce perfection, other times his attempt at perfection falls flat on its face. Yet, a composer who takes risks, especially with his second collaboration, Gensho, with fellow Japanese hardcore noise act Boris, yields ideas later imitated, and often better than the original.
Taking a page out of the Flaming Lips’ attempt to play two records together simultaneously necessitates patience of a saint. Played separate from each other, both records could stand on their own (see the beautiful My Bloody Valentine cover “Sometimes”). Both Merzbow and Boris’s fully succeed at mixing the entirety of avant-garde music’s brief history. Their venture finds them embracing every dissonant note and semi-tone made by garden variety instruments and samplers. Feedback meet dentist’s drill. Downtuned guitars meet field recordings from the bowels of Tokyo’s sewer systems. This is music made exclusively for musicians who want you to know how subversive they are. Prior knowledge of avant-garde music and culture is required. Like James Joyce’s Ulysses, unless you are James Joyce and the elite intelligentsia he ran with, you are most likely not going to understand either artist’s modus operandi.
“Heavy Rain” is what endeared fans to Boris’s music in the first place. Lush textures flirting with atonality, bleeding pitches and vocals that are both grating and gravelly. Whereas Merzbow’s “Prelude to a Broken Arm” embraces cacophony, creating venomous notes possessing no antidote. Noise for noise’s sake is like a worm eating its own tail. And where Merzbow and Boris fail in its contrived sonic pastiches is in the need to stitch each other’s music together like a failed post-op. “Vomitself” is the soundtrack to a padded room or an isolation chamber. Couple it with Merzbow’s “Prelude to a Broken Arm” and the listener is invited into a room aptly titled “The Masturbatorium”.
In the time it takes one to watch Gandhi, Boris and Merzbow forces their listeners to sustain this full-frontal assault with apology. However, here is where avant garde music consumes itself. Not having the luxury of having both vinyl records — a beautiful layout well worth purchasing for the album’s visual artistry — I played their recordings together on two separate laptops. After four synching false starts, the effort, more tedious than painful, demanded uninterrupted concentration. And in the ADHD age, this was a task just as remarkable and dangerous as climbing Mt. Everest.
The realization that what was being asked of me and potential future listeners of Gensho is laughable. Audiophiles everywhere will embrace the delightful thrill of its beginning, because all ideas in their nascent stage are reverentially sacred. The determination to remain focused comes without any real reward. At the end of my first listen (yes, I listened to it multiple times, masochistically speaking), I generated homicidal visions and the eagerness to never listen to another goddamned experimental artist ever again.
Part II: I played both records separately. This time, I dimmed the lights, turned on every device that made noise and finally realized both record’s intent: we, too, are part of the experience in the sense that the sounds made by both bands disparately reflect the countless noises and glitches and beeps that fill our unsilenced lives. My advice is to pollute their records by performing along with them. For one, the time passes by more favorably. Secondly, time no longer exists. Endurance is its chief requirement. Fans of Merzbow and Boris, I implore you to record your own version of Gensho and make them listen to it. Remix it, deconstruct it, destroy it.