Merzbow – Vibractance (E(r)ostrate) 1998
Here is another review from Adam. I agree with him. An extraordinary album. Cheers Adam.
Vibractance is the most unusual Merzbow album from 1990 onwards that I know. Needless to say, there’s heaps of albums from that period (too) that I haven’t heard, so there may be more albums that are as different from the big majority of his output as this one.
This was actually one of the very first Merzbows I got, back in early 2000 I think. Back then I had only heard maybe 5 of his CDs. I remember I sent cash to the label that released it [E(r)ostrate, a small French label that’s now defunct I believe], well hidden in an envelope – this was a time way before Paypal and I remember ordering quite a few CDs like this (not having a credit card of my own). Not that I miss this payment method (once or twice my money got lost in the post), but looking back it had its special atmosphere, especially as it was part of my discovering noise – mainly Merzbow, I admit. But enough rambling: you might ask, how is this album different? Well, it’s a lot less noisy and a lot more subtle. There’s more of a composed feel to it and there are a lot of differences in volume and the kinds of sounds. I know Merzbow has some laptop albums that are more varied than his ‘90s work (especially his mid ‘90s stuff), but this one is different from them, not the least because it’s analogue.
It starts with a droning sound (which returns a couple times in the piece) and I suggest you listen to this album either on headphones or really loud on speakers or else you won’t hear the subtle sound events happening in the background here and there. In a couple minutes things get noisier and from then on it’s a ride through sounds varying in volume, harshness, dimension and atmosphere. There’s a strong electroacoustic feel to the album: if you know classic electroacoustic music created in state-funded electronic music labs (often within universities) in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you’ll recognize its influence on Vibractance. Somewhere I have read someone saying electroacoustic music is “cinema for the ears” (I think it was Keith Rowe of AMM) and, in a way, this applies to this album as well. It’s got a peculiar atmosphere that I haven’t experienced with other Merzbow albums (yet). The defining quality isn’t harshness but an almost playful variety on a larger scale than what we are used to from Merzbow. Most likely it’s still unlistenable to those not into more radical experimental music, but hopefully you get what I’m saying.
If anyone can suggest other Merzbows that are this different from the rest, I’d love to hear from them. I heard the Decomposition double CD that came with a limited number of Merzboxes is similar – anyone heard that one?