Listener fatigue is a modern complication, especially with modern music becoming extremely accessible through online platforms and smart-phone apps. With hip-hop and rap based music currently dominating the teenage generation, few are aware of the vast amount of abstract music genres that exist below the radar. Some of these underground genres are worth being explored, but only one has the ability to push the boundaries of what is legitimately considered music. This genre has been dubbed, “noise music.”
Noise music is a genre based on, well, noise. The sound is usually created with electronic synthesizers, contact microphones and digital audio amplifiers. When these methods are combined, the listener is met with ear-splitting noise. The noise is usually full of static and distortion, which further creates a sense of chaos upon the first listen. These deafening noises are combined through a method called “overdubbing”, which is essentially recording new sounds over a pre-recorded sound in a track, providing the artist additional elements to expand their work with as well as helping fuse the track into a better mix. What makes this genre different from others is the lack of a typical rhythm. There is no sense of flow or uniform instrumentation within the noise, it’s just sound.
Noise music originates in Europe around the beginning of the 1900s, however it was popularized and brought to the minor mainstream through the 80s and 90s by the Japanese. Because of the explosion within the country, the genre was given the nickname “Japanoise.” The undisputed king of the genre is an artist known as Merzbow, a noise musician with over 100 released works. The most influential and highly regarded noise album also belongs to him, the renowned “Pulse Demon.”
Sporting an optical illusion on it’s cover, every part of the album is unique and completely distinct from the rest of the genre. The album was also recorded entirely live, which means there is an absence of the traditional overdubbing technique. This type of live recording has made the album stand out even further, allowing fans to pay respects and give props to the artist for such hard work. Despite being released in 1996, the album still stands tall as the flag that unites the noise music fan base, however, it also stands as a symbol of surpassed boundaries and creative exploration. As for someone new to the genre however, this album may stand for something else.
The first track of the eight song album, “Woodpecker No. 1,” kicks off with an instant rush of harsh sound, leaving the ringing sound of distortion in the listener’s ear. It is heavily recommended to turn down the volume in your headphones before attacking this album head-on, as this stray from caution may cost you your hearing via burst eardrums. A new listener to noise music may instantly question how this album spans over an hour. They may also question how this sound is even listenable.
If this listener resumes with an open mind however, they may eventually get used to the independent sound the album offers. The next two tracks, “Woodpecker No. 2,” and “Spiral Blast,” contain similar but different sounds. The sounds are extreme, but at this point the listener should know and expect this. These sounds ring similar to the sharp sound of bus breaks, or maybe more of a train coming to an abrupt stop on its tracks. The sudden screeches from the synthesizers offer sounds similar to a microphone being shoved in and out of a loud pool heater. Can you tell that it’s hard to review this thing?
The fourth track, “My Station Rock,” is much like the others in the sense that it’s completely devastating to the ear drums. At this point, it is most likely wondered by listeners how they are not deaf yet. What makes this track unique from the others is its constant blare of forceful sound. There is no break from the extreme volume of audio, leaving any new listener’s brain feeling like melted fudge. “Ultra Marine Blues” is the same way, offering pulsing technic sounds that are similar to the instrument used to fill a cavity. More notably, they sound like a power saw. The whole track just has a dreadful connotation. A plus to the track however was its thunderous roars that sound similar to a voice? Although I had to take my headphones out midway through the track, hearing something similar to a human presence, and not a machine, motivated me to not quit right then and there.
“Tokyo Times Ten” begins with some kind of rhythm, providing confidence to the listener that this one may sound somewhat like music. The track begins with a beat that resembles a kick drum, however it’s only similar to it for a reason. The sound actually sounds like someone hitting the side of a car door with a pan, or maybe the top of a metal garbage can with a stick. After about eight seconds, the track turns into something similar to a distorted plane jet. After this goes on for five minutes, the listener is given a break while listening to a heart monitor flatline. This is the best part of the track, where as after this the listener is reintroduced to every sound of the industrial revolution.
It is at this point where we enter “Yellow Hyper Balls.” This track is listed at 24 minutes and 53 seconds, allowing the listener plenty of time to order a hearing aid. The track begins with that sound you hear when a school principal shakes the mic the wrong way at a pep rally, giving the entire audience a headache from the piercing sound on loud speakers. Then, after 13 minutes of a sound reminiscent of someone blowing into a microphone, the listener is introduced to the sounds of clanking metal. However this doesn’t last long, as the track comes full circle to its lost-radio static and fax machine noises. The track sounds like a computer crashing.
And finally, after a grueling hour, the track “Worms Plastic Earthbound” arrives. There is nothing new on this track that hasn’t already been talked about. To add, as this is indeed the final track of the abum, there is no confirmation that everyone that made it to this point of the album could hear.
To conclude, it is obvious why this album is respected for pushing the boundaries of music. For any listener that attacked this with an open mind, including myself, there are two results. You either love this album and have become a full blown fan of noise music, or you sincerely believe that this type of genre is unlistenable. There is no in between. I am not completely opposed to this type of music, however there is no timeline where any type of listener with similar tastes and musical interests will listen to this on a daily basis. At some points of the album, the mixture of brutal sounds were literally unbearable. These are more than just sounds; rather they are sharp, distorted audio fusions of static and white noise. There are sounds within this project that I can’t recall ever hearing before.
To provide a clear opinion, the album to any “average” listener is something terrible. The cover art gave me a headache and the “music” made me lose up-to-par hearing for at least the next two hours. Merzbow does deserve respect however, as this album serves as a representation of creativity, experimental ideas, and hard work. The fact that this album was recorded entirely live helps to explain why it is so influential to the genre. There are music fans that enjoy this music and may even listen to it to help them sleep or do homework, and there is no fault in that. The appeal of this genre to anyone other than these types of music fans is unclear. It’s not for everyone. With that being said, a full-length listen of this album is truly unforgettable.