Music by VICE

Boris and Merzbow Bring Out the Bleakest in Each Other on Their Latest Collaborative LP

The Tokyo-based noise legend explains the conditions that spawned 'Gensho.'

by Isaiah David
Mar 15 2016, 4:50pm

Photo courtesy of the artist

On Friday March 18, the avant-metal intronauts Boris are back with their 6th full-length collaboration with Masami Akita, known by most as the prime mover of Merzbow and one of the first instrumental harsh noise artists to gain wide recognition across the globe. Starting in 2002, the funereal trio started teaming up with the electronic (de)composer for a string of records more immediate and otherworldly than anything either had recorded separately. Merzbow's piercing wheedles feel all the more earth-shaking paired with the band's shuddering bass drones, and Boris' spacey weight was given newfound electricity and alacrity when punctured by Akita's dizzied electro moans. It was as if each had found the proper electron bond for a truly volatile chemical reaction—they each started with gold and together they made something as dense and poisonous as lead.

Their new record Gensho is a newly ambitious endeavor for the collaborators. Instead of crowding their creeping collaborations into the same recordings, this new album involves two double-LP sets, each recorded separately by Boris and Merzbow, but meant to be played simultaneously on two different record players (or CD players if you get the 2xCD version). A press release suggests that you play them back at different volumes on subsequent listens in order to create a different "gensho/phenomenon" each time. On one spin you can prioritize the distended croaks and burbles of Merzbow's side, and the next you can drown in the suffocating basswork of Boris' contributions. It's like a drone-metal choose-your-own-adventure novel, and you can craft some pretty bleak narratives.

Even outside of the Zaireeka-for-freaks concept behind the record, the music's pretty compelling in its own right. Boris' set features a few newer tracks but mostly showcases re-recorded classics from their back catalog, like the mammoth "Vomitself" and the appropriately titled "Huge" from Amplifier Worship, the snarling title track of Akuma no Uta, surprisingly heavenly cover of My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes", and even a couple tracks that have received the Merzbow demolition treatment previously ("Rainbow" and "Farewell" from Rock Dream). A huge difference between these interpretations and past ones is their complete beatlessness. For such an ostentatious personality as Atsuo to sit out of his traditional role and instead focus on background percussion, electronics, and voice shows his true sense of direction and vision for the group. To make up for this, the songs are heavier than ever, with "Huge," for example, taking us back to Boris' early days of being the heaviest band in the vacuum between Earth and Sunn O))).

Merzbow's own recordings for this collaboration are completely new, making prominent use of analog synthesizers. Both the tracks' titles ("Planet of the Cows" and "Goloka," a Sanskrit name meaning "the world of cows") and a similarly thrashing suggest that these recordings are descendants of the vegan noise godhead's 2011 trilogy inspired by Vedic cows, appropriately titled Merzcow. The decapitated drones play well with Boris' crushing compositions, and used as directed, Gensho is an all-encompassing effect unlike any of the material that they've released together over the course of the last decade and a half, but even if you must ignore their recommendation and listen in order, it's still a beautifully bleak listen.

In advance of the record's release, Akita answered a few questions about the process of making the record. In our brief email exchanges, the noise icon was curiously reluctant to talk about his relationship with Boris—who he's worked with more than any other artist over his last 15 years—leaving their collaborative process shrouded in mystery for the time being, though he did answer questions about several other ongoing and upcoming collaborations, including his work with his early collaborator in Merzbow, Kiyoshi Mizutani. About as verbose—which is to say, not very—as one might expect from someone who to this day continues to release quality noise albums as often as most people get haircuts, Akita nevertheless remained authentic and illuminating in the questions he chose to answer.

Read that below along with an stream of
Gensho in advance of its March 18 release on Relapse. For best results you'll either want to open up a second copy on a separate device and hit play on both the Merzbow and Boris contributions at the same time. Or, for a facsimile open up two tabs of this post and do the same. However you choose to delve into it, it's an experience that'll level you. Maybe keep some tissues and a teddy bear handy.

Playing around with the mix on Gensho made me realize that on many of your past collaborations the sounds you make are a lot more subtle and less upfront than listeners might expect. What exactly do you feel is your role when involved in a collaboration?
Merzbow: With Sun Baked Snow Cave [a 2005 collaboration with Boris], I added more of a spontaneous feeling similar to organic sounds. This time I aimed to arrange a different vector of sound. Unlike playing live, in this studio collaboration, we thought about creating something like a third dimension of sound that is brought forth from actually being juxtaposed side-by-side, rather than just mixing each other's sounds together.

One artist both you and Boris have collaborated with independently is Keiji Haino, with whom you have a new record coming out in April (An Untroublesome Defencelessness on RareNoiseRecords). As you are both extreme straight-edge, vegan legends of Japanese underground music, I'm curious as to what your dynamic is when working with him and if it's any different from working with anyone else?
When working with Haino-san, every time there is a unique feeling of tension that will absolutely not become pre-established harmony. If it goes well, it's a miracle, but if not, it's hell. Due to these tensions the results are always polar extremes.

Certainly there are huge differences between Japanese and Western cultures, not to mention the general language barrier. Given how much you work with Western artists, it's clear that these don't pose a major obstacle to you, but does it make a difference at all?
Every artist has a different personality, and it's not necessarily the case that working with Japanese artists is easier.

A few years ago you released a boxset of duo recordings you did with Kiyoshi Mizutani in the late 80s before he left Merzbow to focus on solo work. Do you still keep in touch with him?
To me, the duo with Mizutani exists as a very special musical experience. Whenever I come across works we have recorded in the past I always contact him and send him a record or CD.

Can you tell me me a little bit about the effects that living in Tokyo has had on your life in music? Especially as you've achieved the success that you internationally I imagine your relationship to your birthplace has changed.
I was born in Tokyo but in my childhood I lived in Nagoya and Hyogo (central Honshu, west of Tokyo). However, I didn't really encounter music until the second half of the 60s back in Tokyo. I started listening to rock music in elementary school, and it was a precious experience to be able to go out to many rock concerts during the period of birth of Japanese rock. After forming a band with a friend from another school while I was in junior high school and high school in Tokyo, it led to starting improvised music. Also, I recall another aspect of Tokyo influence was listening to fanatic progressive rock music on the radio show "Beat Goes On" on the Radio Kanto station (now called Radio Japan), which had a huge effect on me.

Since I started performing internationally I no longer have a sense to create something "from Tokyo" in particular. These days I am also not interested in paying attention specifically to Tokyo as a locality or Japan as a country. The only reason I am based in Tokyo is because that's where my home, family, and animal companions happen to be.

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