MERZBOW/X - pelna wersja angielska
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- You've just spent three years getting this project together. Firstly, let me ask you what sort of an impact has it had on you personally?
It's one of those things that you, at times, keep looking at and wondering if you made the right decision. The enormity of it is overwhelming. That's the best way of describing it. It does make me think that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. But of course these things come at a cost.
- Can I get you to talk about this project from the point of conception to finalisation?
It all started late April '96 when I was in Tokyo and meeting with Masami Akita, talking with him about the need for a project commemorating Extreme's 10th Anniversary. This project, initially from our discussions, was to be the reissue of the Merzbow/SBOTHI collaboration which was the first LP released on Extreme. At the time it seemed like a good thing to reissue this LP on CD and make a bit of a "song and dance" about it. We wanted to say that Extreme is 10 years old and that we have been working with Merzbow for that long. Enough said. The reality was that we wanted to make it a bit more spectacular, so we started talking about releasing possibly a six CD set, which quickly became a 10 CD set. Masami was making a list of appropriate recordings to reissue. My thoughts at the time were to call it not the Merzbox, but Lowest Music and Arts, which represented the very early stage of his music career. This seemed to just grow in a topsy-turvy manner based on Masami's suggestions on what he wanted to include. On the other hand, I'm giving him suggestions about what I felt should be included - albums that I felt were important enough to be reissued, because they were special. We started throwing all these titles and numbers at each other until we came to the point where we couldn't really capture the essence of Merzbow with anything less than 50 CDs. That's how the number 50 came about. Looking back, it took until October 1996 to actually say that "we are going to do a project that has 50 CDs in it!" That was our first step since my initial meeting with Masami. So it took a while for just the idea to become clear. From the time of deciding that we were going to commit to this, there were suggestions of this being a boxed set and how exactly are we going to go about doing it. Do we just throw 50 CDs in a box and say "that's that"!? It seemed apparent that there's more to Merzbow than just the music. He's a very talented writer who's very much involved in Japanese fetish culture. He has also does his own artwork for many of his recordings - past and present. So, there's this multi-faceted person who just can't be singularly represented. All of a sudden there are things like books and T-shirts which came into the equation. We even thought about including baseball caps but fortunately that one fell by the wayside! As we kept working on it, it became apparent that we needed to do a CD-Rom as well. A multimedia form which could embrace the visual, textual and musical aspects of Merzbow all in one package. This last edition, i.e., the CD-ROM, actually added a great deal of effort...Extreme, not ever having released a CD-ROM was entering into this unknown territory. Many of the things we were doing were outside our own normal scope of just releasing musical CD's. Combined with that, was our ambition not just to do any CD-ROM or book, but something that was considered significant and worthy of being called an Extreme release. We made it tough on ourselves but in hindsight we wouldn't have done it any other way. Everything we do has to be the best we can do within our resources. The problem was that the Merzbox was at the time, a little bit outside our resources which is one of the reasons why it's taken this long to finish.
- What do you think is the secret behind Masami's infinite energy levels?
It's a cultural difference that you can only understand if you are Japanese. The work ethic he brings to his artistic form is something that is not unusual when applied to what is considered typically to be work. Yet when applied to the artistic form be it visual, musical or written, it's considered that no one should be that productive. I think he defies that boundary by saying "I didn't know that there was this preconception that you couldn't do it. I just do it."
- What's your personal attraction to someone like Masami Akita?
It's just these raw talents that he has. This amazing musician that just keeps on creating. He doesn't stop to think or ponder, doesn't need to contemplate about what he is doing, whether it's good or bad. He's just out there as they say. It's totally amazing. Every time he releases a new title, it's totally different and new. That's what I find so amazing on a personal level.
- How do you feel this will be received by the listeners, who are ultimately your own critics?
Obviously the intention is for it to be received in a positive manner, instead of people just saying "It's OK". Not some sort of ambivalence. I want it to be completely embraced and enjoyed by people. That's what I want and expect. I will be disappointed when invariably people say it's no good, or that there is something wrong about it, only because it is so personal now for me. It's so much a part of me after all this time, as well as being a part of Merzbow, that I do feel so strongly about it and believe that it is such a great piece of work.
- Can you tell us about the range of materials on this 50 CD release?
It starts from what could be known as the very first Merzbow release. This predates the formation of the name Merzbow itself. In 1979 he did a recording called OM Electrique which was essentially an electronic recording. It has never been released to date. I can't describe how fantastic it is, but it needs to be experienced. About 1980 he starts off with recordings such as Metal Acoustic Music, and it is of a somewhat primitive nature. It's almost like he had to go back to a different kind of instrumentation and gain different skills. Over the next eighteen years he has been constantly evolving using different instruments, but if you listen to what he is doing, there is a shape, a compositional form, essentially a difference in what he is doing. It all has a strong identity of Merzbow about it. The musician himself has really changed over the years. I feel that there are something like seven different aspects to Merzbow's music that come out in these recordings, different moods or expressions. People when they say all Merzbow's material sounds the same should listen to the Merzbox, and in a 'mere' 50 CDs realise just how different he can be. It is incredibly important that people do get a chance to listen to it.
- What are these seven different aspects that you mentioned just now? Can you possibly break them down for us?
The first really is the tape loop stage. Then this is followed by an electronic phase with tape loops. Next comes the instruments be it guitar or drum kit. This followed by the full electronic sound that has evolved over the years. This includes use of tape loops and different instrumentation. Then there is the pure electronic sound, followed by chaos sound recordings that are often associated with Masami, found sounds akin to any object being an instrument in itself. These are some of the different aspects best defined by the instrumentation. The compositional form that exists throughout is something that says that it's never going to be the same no matter what instrument he uses. He has an ability to express this chaos, but he is managing the chaos and creating noise music.
- Jumping ahead a little, how will you go about promoting the Merzbox?
We always felt that the strongest promotion was by word of mouth. When those who have prepaid receive theirs, what they say about it will be sufficient on its own to make it sell. Mind you, we're not sitting back and just hoping that this happens. We are heading to several countries including Germany, France, USA, Spain and Tokyo to name a few to promote the Merzbox. We want as many people in each place to know about this and get the chance to hear it. We are hoping to have Masami perform live in some of these cities as well, which will be an added bonus in itself.
- Would there have been, in hindsight, any aspect of the Merzbox which you might have dispensed with?
I don't think I would have cut out anything. I believe it's pretty important as a total package. We have involved a lot of very talented people in developing the Merzbox, and I am incredibly grateful for their efforts in this. There is no doubt that all of the parts come together. There is a Merzdallion, CD-ROM, T-shirt, stickers, book, postcards, posters. I think all these things have to be seen as part of the Merzbox, and when you do see them nothing is superfluous. It would seem crazy not to have done all these things, only because Masami has so much to say, and in so many different mediums.
- Are you still keen on the idea of CD-ROMs, having just done your first one?
No, not at all. I don't think that they are the future at all. They haven't proved themselves in this current life. They are effective for the games industry. Pornography has certainly always embraced new technology, so this medium is good for that. Personally, I feel there is no real generic function for them. They have been a means for people understanding the interface and exploration of the digital media, and this expertise will be far better applied when all these broadband widths are available, when the Internet becomes more interactive. I'm talking about datacasting also.
- Will your own life, as label owner ever be the same after this?
I hope not. I really hope that what becomes of the Merzbox in terms of its life once it has been released is something that significantly shifts people's expectations of what Extreme is about and does. More importantly who Merzbow is and what he does. I hope it makes a positive impact all around.
- Has it changed your own focus in terms of how things should be done from the label's perspective?
It has, primarily because I've put so much time into this project. I have realised that the running of the label and all the day to day aspects of it, like the promotional, distribution etc just takes up such an incredible amount of time in itself. On top of this as you can imagine there was the Merzbox. As a label, what we are hoping and planning for, is that we want to deal more in the creative side of things, meaning dealing with the artist themselves. Developing the artwork, and looking after the mastering also. Marketing and publicity will be looked after by the Extreme Europe, which of course frees us up to be more involved in the creative side. That had to happen because of the Merzbox itself. There wasn't the time available to do it justice, let alone the other extreme projects which are evolving. In that sense it really has changed how we do things at Extreme. It has defined our roles more clearly.
- What has the feedback been like for you in regards to the Merzbox?
Some of it has been very positive. People saying things like "You guys, this is a crazy thing to do." I like that sort of response. It is crazy and way way outside our comfort zone. I also have people ask "Why?". Because they hate what Masami does, and think it really is absolutely stupid that Masami wants to release a 50 CD box of his music, let alone do everything else that comes with it. I think it's a bipolar response, and that is because of what Merzbow does, which is primarily noise music. A lot of people either don't like or don't understand it and can't appreciate it for what it is.
- What is the value in a recording like this? When you sit back and analyse what has been, was there any meaning to it all?
I believe it defines an innovator in noise music. There is no one like Masami. There are people who deal in noise music but there is no other Merzbow. With the Merzbox, we are making a statement about how special the musician is. I think those other than the devoted Merzbow fans will finally take some notice. In terms of a meaning, it proves some musicians defy boundaries of what a musician should do. How many musicians are allowed to do 200 albums, and are considered good while they are doing these? How many musicians can create a career out of just noise music. Regardless of what I think about Merzbow, there is something something special about him. The Merzbox certainly captures this.
- What does Masami think about it all. I assume his level of enthusiasm is about as strong as your own?
Masami is still amazed by it all. He totally respects that it has taken longer than it should have, and has been extremely supportive. Like everyone else, he now just wants to see it out there, and is wanting to be judged by it, as it is very much about both him and Extreme. He's really keen to have people give him feedback about it, good or bad. He really does want to be acknowledged for this, yet within him there is always this very modest person. I don't think he's looking for any grand claims as such, but I'm sure he'll be very happy for people to tell him just how they feel about such a project.
- Is there such a thing as a typical Merzbow listener? How would you profile them?
That's difficult. Really, someone who has had a chance to listen to a wide variety of music over the years. They are people who want to be challenged, and find being challenged a positive experience. Merzbow's music is something you can enjoy, once you have embraced the fact that it is noise music. Then it is a highly enjoyable listening experience.
- What has been your aim and goal in all this? Has it changed in the last three years?
The focus has been to elevate Merzbow primarily, and obviously to raise the importance of Extreme in what we do, in releasing innovative music. That hasn't changed at all for us. What has changed is the scale of what we want to do. Originally my thoughts were that it would go out there into the big world, to those dedicated Merzbow fans and that would be enough, But now I want to change the scale of it, in terms of recognition. That is to go way beyond just Merzbow. Perhaps it's right to say, beyond the music.
- When it's all over, will you take some time off?
No, I don't think so. I can't see this project ever really being over until the last box has been sold. I feel it has to be something that I continue with until the last one goes out. Even after the last one has gone. It does pose opportunities for us to do other elaborate projects, but definitely not on this scale.
- At any time, was there any considerations given over to Merzbow's fans re the material that might see the light of day, in terms of reissues?
Fans didn't have any choice in the selections. That wasn't in the public forum at all. There was another person though who originally introduced me to Masami Akita many years back. I worked with him to release the Merzbow / SBOTHI collaboration. He ended up writing a piece on Merzbow and SBOTHI for Arts Australia, so this is how I basically came to know Masami. I felt that if we were going to do something that was representative of that original release, then he should rightly have some involvement in the selections. There were all up three of us, but I deferred to Masami, who I felt knew what was best.
- Have you visually documented this exercise. It would make for some interesting viewing.
There have been some documentary parts in terms of the live performances, but that's all. A documentary is too much hard work, too much time and money. It's all too difficult. With all the faxes which I've kept over the years, it wouldn't be too hard to reconstruct all those events that shaped the final outcome. Some fine moments have been lost to history, but that is to be expected. It's better to be judged by the final product. Now that the Merzbox is complete, however, the possibility of doing a documentary is attractive.
- How has this project affected you personally?
It has been one great big sacrifice. It cost time, effort and a hell of a lot of money. It has actually changed the way I think about money in the context of what we do. If I had to think about buying a house for myself, or doing a Merzbox then oddly enough I would go with the Merzbox again.
- I'm still amazed at the enormity of this. Lesser people would have given up long ago. Your dedication to the label and the Merzbox is something that is incredibly admirable.
This stems from my own nature, if I say I'm going to do it, well then I will. Sometimes that is a flaw, but more often than not that's a strength. I said we were going to do a Merzbox, and we did it. Even though it took far longer than it ever should have. I really didn't know what I was in for at the time. I feel that with all the efforts of the people involved that this is the best outcome we could have achieved. I just want to thank all the people involved in this, and there are such a lot of people involved.
As usual, thanks for your time Roger.