Kakapo, the latest recording from Japanese noise legend Merzbow, was recently released on Oaken Palace Records, a drone/psychedelic/noise label and registered charity. Owen Coggins, a trustee for the label and researcher into drone metal, explains that “each release on Oaken Palace is dedicated to a particular endangered species. So far, from ten album releases, we’ve donated more than £5,000 to environmental conservation.”
Named after an endangered species of parrot native to New Zealand, all proceeds from this 33-minute-long track go to the Kakapo Recovery Trust, which cares for those birds still remaining and works to give them a future. While there are 520 Kakapo records in the world (500 in ‘parrot-green’ standard edition vinyl, 20 sold-out black test-pressings), there are unfortunately fewer than 125 Kakapo parrots remaining, due to the combined effects of hunting, deforestation and the introduction of predators.
When considering artists to approach for this release, Merzbow – the performance moniker of Masami Akita, Tokyo’s most esteemed ‘straight edge vegan noise project’ – seemed an obvious fit. “I contacted Merzbow as I knew of his animal rights stance and previous involvement in some fundraising for other endangered species,” Owen continues, “as well as having been a fan of his unparalleled noise experiments for years. I thought he’d be a good fit with the label from both environmental and sonic standpoints, as well as being a bit of a departure into noisier territory.”
“He got back to us instantly to say he was up for doing a record. Sven [Owen’s colleague at Oaken Palace] had been hoping one of the artists would pick the Kakapo… and then when we asked Masami which species he wanted to dedicate the album to, he asked if we knew of any flightless birds on the critically endangered list! So it was a good omen that we were all on the same page.”
An extremely prolific artist, Merzbow has released over 400 recordings since 1980 alongside publishing several works of journalism and a book championing a cruelty-free vegan lifestyle. Kakapo is his first vinyl release in two years – and it’s an intense ride.
With no sense of rhythm, no identifiable melody or harmony and a tendency toward very harsh sounds, noise music can be especially hard to get into. It’s a fundamentally Weird style because it essentially obliterates all traditional generic and musical conventions, forcing you to reconsider your understanding of music itself as well as the everyday sounds you take for granted. Noise is radical, unsettling and utterly without compromise but it yields great rewards for the adventurous listener.
While the Kakapo may be the world’s heaviest parrot, Kakapo is perhaps not Merzbow’s heaviest or most inaccessible work. 1994’s Venerology album, for example, sounds like the extended 50-minute death rattle of an agonised machine: a shrieking, scraping pixelated vortex of glitching black noise, deliberately produced at a painfully high volume. Whereas to me, compared with Venerology, Kakapo is more the sounds of an operational machines exploring new functions in a kind of abstract language of its own devising.
(Noise can be especially difficult to talk about as it’s even more abstract than other music. Unless you have an in-depth technical knowledge of the experimental methods utilised, which I do not, you tend to settle for the extension of dubious mixed metaphors relating to technology. See above/below.)
Fading in: the low thrum of a rocket engine building to take-off. Sound fragments coalesce into solid pitches that zig-zag around your head-space erratically. Fuzzy humming; howls somewhere between man and machine; the same monotonous whirr.
You’re a mote of light lost in a fibre-optic cable, a scrambled and forgotten message refracted to fuck in a labyrinth of silica and plastic. You’re the Star Child beyond the infinite, tuned into the hum of a cold universe. You’re the combustion-powered buzz of metal teeth biting bark; you’re brushing, binds and bucking, serenely sawing sacred branches into dust.
For me the best music is that in which I can always hear new elements, that always rewards my dedication, no matter how much I’ve heard it. While it may be a tough sell to some, Kakapo is a half-hour journey that you’ll never hear the same way twice or for which you’ll never stop finding fresh metaphors.
You can order a copy of Kakapo directly from the label, safe in the knowledge that you’re supporting a good cause and not just filling up your abode with antiquated audio formats.
In a rare flurry of live activity, Merzbow plays four UK dates (three in London and one in Manchester) in September and October.
Wildscreen Arkive has a large selection of cute parrot images it may now be an appropriate time for you to peruse.