CODA: a work of beauty, melancholy and sorrow as noise drone teams with progressive rock and experimentation

Richard Pinhas / Merzbow, CODA, France, Bam Balam, BBRP 095 vinyl LP (2022)

I confess I haven’t been listening to very much of Merzbow’s offerings over the past several years so this collaboration with French guitarist / electronics experimentalist Richard Pinhas comes as a welcome invitation to find out if the Japanese noise music pioneer is still going strong with the high-pressure water hose treatment or (gasp!) might be mellowing somewhat. Good news is that Merzbow still loves turning on the high-intensity blasts and if anything has further refined the way he uses noise so that listening to his music is like listening to rock being sandblasted into a replica of Michelangelo’s David in real time. Wisely though Pinhas allows Merzbow to do what he does best – flattening everyone with his noise blast weapons – and performs his music around Merzbow’s zingers, adding nuance and atmosphere to them. Incidentally “CODA”, released by French label Bam Balam last year, is not the first occasion Merzbow and Pinhas have worked together; they previously collaborated with Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins) back in 2016 on the album “Process and Reality”, released on the Cuneiform Records label.

The first “CODA” track is a beautiful and sometimes very melancholy work thanks to the way Pinhas embellishes Merzbow’s output with long droning ambient synth melodies that strongly contrast in tone and mood with the other man’s continuous noise attacks. Though working in parallel, Pinhas and Merzbow do not fight each other for attention but concentrate on keeping up a steady and continuous output of synth and noise drone. The result can be spellbinding in its epic wonder and beauty even as Merzbow keeps spraying grit and Pinhas spreads soaring keyboard melody and ambience around the pulsing noise and electronic effects. The track ends up being a wonder of trance-like cosmic space prog experimentation.

On the second and last track, Pinhas and Merzbow are joined by Oren Ambarchi on guitar and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, with the resulting music being even more complex, powerful in style and volume, and highly intense as sonorous acoustic strings float easily and serenely alongside those powerful noise showers, which are sometimes stuttering, and sometimes on full-on unwavering blast. The music is at once orchestral in sound and scope as it develops and becomes ever more intense and layered to the point of being overwhelming in its sonic range.

Altogether the two tracks that make up “CODA” are incredible pieces of music to experience, as they make their plea to listeners to be mindful of the impact of their behaviour and actions on the natural environment, and to become better stewards of planet Earth’s resources. There is much melancholy and sorrow in the music, but at the same time it urges us to look beyond our own narrow experiences and outlook, and to range far and wide to find help and solutions to problems shared with others.