Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Masami Akita.
Masami Akita is a Japanese musician who started exploring the world of noise in the late 1970s. In 1981 he started to perform under the name Merzbow, and he soon became one of the iconic founders of noise music. Interested in extreme sound experiences, the subconscious, and improvisation, Akita has released over 350 albums, maintaining his reputation as the most prolific and important noise musician in the world. As the visionary of Japanoise, he made a significant contribution to the uprising of Japan’s noise scene, which is now at the center of worldwide noise art.
The name Merzbow was inspired by the famous Dadaist Kurt Schwitters’ work Merzbau, a major avant-garde piece that combined the concepts of collage, installation, and architecture. Schwitters also explored sound as a medium, and his nonsense poetry opened up a world where the word was reduced to a sonic element, and metrics and rhythm reigned supreme.
Akita was aesthetically and conceptually influenced by the Surrealists and Dadaists. He claims that his main influences didn’t come from music, as he tried to get as far as possible from classical musical composition: “I didn’t have much influence from music. I try to get away from the old musical thinking, and to create my own music.” Influenced by early electro-acoustic pioneers Pierre Henry and Luc Ferrari, Merzbow searches for the subconscious in music-making and listening, claiming that noise would be the sound that would better express those latent feelings and ideas.
Akita established his own noise music label Lowest Music & Arts in 1982, curating a number of works from several Japanese noise bands. Meanwhile, he took part in projects with Gore Beyond Necropsy, Runzelstirn & Gurglestock, Emil Beaulieu, Melt Banana, Cock ESP, Kapotte Muziek, Masonna, Asmus Tietchens, and Discordance Axis. All this activity made noise art grow tremendously in Japan, and it soon became the most important genre in the Japanese underground music scene. When asked how he understands the essence of noise art, Akita replied with a quote from Luigi Russolo’s futurist manifesto, The Art of Noises: “Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, noise was born. Today, noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men.”
In 1997, the famous Australian experimental music label Extreme released Merzbox. This was the first and most important moment for Akita’s international recognition. The set consisted of 50 CDs, spanning Merzbow’s career from 1979 to 1997. Thirty of these discs were reissues from LPs, CDs, and cassettes, while the remaining 20 came from previously unreleased albums.
Since then, Japanoise has broken the borders of the underground, taking part in a phenomena that would spread through concert halls, festivals, and galleries, becoming an alternative focus on music and sound that could combine the most bizarre crowd with the most geeky and intellectual one. Japanoise has influenced a wide range of bands, like the Boredoms, Sonic Youth, Pan Sonic, Black Dice, Kid 606, Boys Noize, and many others.
Akita’s sound has evolved over the years. His early work consisted of industrial noise music made with tape loops and conventional instruments. He appropriated and recorded environmental sounds from TV sets, vinyl records, and other unconventional sound sources. He still keeps the tape loop as a the essential medium for his work, producing lengthy, disorientating pieces. During the 90s, Akita was strongly influenced by psychedelic rock and death metal. His work became much harsher, and was generally mastered at a louder volume than usual. This was his most productive period, as he released many works through indie labels around the world, becoming recognized internationally. Since 2000, he started making concept albums, working with laptops and sampling rhythms. Eventually he went beyond the “Digital vs. analog” discussion, producing works that successfully combine analog and digital, hi-fi and lo-fi, present and past.
When Minazo, Japan’s last male southern elephant seal kept in captivity, died in 2005, the creature became an icon for his own species. Akita, as a vegan and an animal rights supporter, memorialized the creature by producing a two-volume album in his honor. Merzbow made other albums with animal noises, specifically his pet chickens.
Although sound distortion, feedback, sound synthesis, and mechanical noises are Merzbow’s trademarks, Akita recently produced a series of ambient pieces with voice samples and beats, which contrasted tremendously with Merzbow’s main features.
Rock Dream, Merzbow+Boris (2007)
13 Japanese Birds (2009)
When listening to his oeuvre, we can sense that the point is not the loudness, or the violence, or the disharmonies, but instead, a will to express the primordial rawness of a living being. Akira’s colorful noise relates the human and the machine, encouraging a dialogue between the artificial and the natural worlds.