Monday, January 25, 2010

Globally warmed by Boris and Merzbow

Having spent time on this blog both with Japanese drone trio Boris (15th October, 2009) and with experimental noise artist, Merzbow (aka Masami Akita) (28th October 2009), also from Japan, I thought it was worth spending a little more time now looking at what these incredibly inventive musicians are able to do when you put them in a recording studio together.

Boris with Merzbow have produced a few recordings together but, for me, one of the most interesting and absorbing is their single-track, hour-and-a-bit epic, Sun baked snow cave. It’s music that comes to you from a very different place, and that touches you in a very different way, from much of what you might be used to. Just as the music of the last couple of days, from Sam Cooke and Dusty Springfield, seems to grow from within, the music of Sun baked snow cave seems to be speaking to you from all around you, as if it is the Earth itself creating its haunted, breath-taking sounds.

At first, that earth is a lonely, barren place where, for over 15 minutes you hear just random, forlorn, lone notes, plucked out of the emptiness, on an acoustic guitar, graced with nothing other than occasional ebbs and flows of distorted noise, like a dormant sea tossing in its sleep.

But soon the acoustic sounds begin to give way to longer electronic notes, still lonely and empty, underpinned by Boris’s trademark drones. It conjures up incredible images of an old, tired Earth, empty and molten, where stark winds blow nothing across nothing.

Slowly, almost without you noticing it, new layers are added to the sound – like when those forlorn, solitary notes transform into screeching, wailing electronics; and when you begin to hear unfathomably lonely howls echoing around you, as if the sun baked snow cave is a grave to thousands upon thousands of the ghosts of creatures annihilated in the planet’s demise.

The darkness and the heaviness slowly dissipate, and the drone gives way to the sound of a quietly foaming, fading sea, with solo guitar notes once again plucking themselves out of the nothingness, nostalgic, elegiac, bidding everything farewell.

This is music that is very much written by the paragraph, rather than by the sentence. You have to hear it, and absorb it, in its totality, and with absolutely nothing else to do while you listen to it. It is music that will surely say different things to different people, and the sense of world’s end that seems to me to fill its every moment might not be what you would hear in it. The album sleeve itself, indeed, includes four lines that seem to hint at something rather less apocalyptic:

The roar of a (gigantic) wheel as it turns uncontrollably.
I vaguely recall it in a warm snow cave.
A boom like a chorus of thousands of cicadas heard under the sun.
Such a stories desire to be born.

Whether these lines are meant to convey the eternal authority and force of nature, or to pay tribute to its memory, the music that they inspire and reflect is a phenomenal experience. Sun baked snow cave is a place for reflection, a place where the intimate and the universal come together – a place where you are reminded yet again of the endless range of stories that music has to tell, and of the endless range of ways in which it can tell them.

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