Merzbow, the stage name of Japanese musician Masami Akita, is one of the most famous noise artists in the world, inasmuch as a noise artist can be considered “famous.” Since 1979, Merzbow has released dozens of recordings spanning hundreds of hours — Wikipedia puts his studio album count at 296. This is a lot to get a handle on, even for noise enthusiasts, but 2019 has been very good for curious listeners: There are now two different podcasts devoted exclusively to exploring his music, released within a few weeks of each other.
The first podcast, Immerzbox, debuted on January 16. The hosts, a guy who goes by the pseudonym txt and his friend Erik Highter, jokingly decided to trudge through all 50 CDs of Merzbow’s Merzbox collection, consisting of recordings spanning 1979 to 1997, and plan to dedicate one episode to each disc. On February 5, the podcast Merzcast was released by Greh Holger, a noise musician and owner of the Chondritic Sound record label. Every week, he invites guests to his home to listen to and then contagiously discuss their love for a favorite Merzbow record. There’s a lot to choose from, given the breadth of Merzbow’s discography; this year alone, he’s already released eight recordings.
The internet contains almost everything we can imagine, so it stands to reason that there may as well be two podcasts dedicated to the same extremely prolific obscure musician. Immerzbox and Merzcast are aware of each other — how could they not be? — and think a collaboration might be fun. But is there an audience for so much Merzbow content? You might be surprised. The Outline spoke with the hosts from both Merzbow podcasts to find out.
What made you guys decide to start your respective podcasts?
txt (co-host of Immerzbox): I remembered ages ago that someone had done a blog where they attempted to review the Merzbox disc by disc. They went through half of it and just abandoned it. I was joking about doing the same thing “tweet by tweet,” and my friend said, “You should make it into a podcast, coward.” He’s a big fan of the podcast The Worst Idea of All Time, where they watch the same movie every week for a year. I thought it would be fun and then I brought in Erik because I knew he would be down for it.
Erik Highter (co-host of Immerzbox): When he reached out to me he was like, “Hey, so I had this idea and I thought you’d be the only person that would want to do it.” And I was like, “That’s such a horrible idea. Of course I'm in.”
Greh Holger (host of Merzcast): A couple years ago at Amoeba Records, I bought Merzbow’s Oersted CD and was just like, “man, I should really be listening to more Merzbow.” So over the next year I've been slowly grabbing stuff and I'd go out to a show or I’d go out with friends and it would be like, “'dude, I've been listening to this Merzbow disc.’ ‘Oh I’ve never heard that one. What are your favorites?’” We would just start talking about it and then it hit me: “Oh, we should do a podcast and talk to different people about Merzbow discs because everyone has a different relationship with him and it’s one of those things where everyone can hear something different.”
Greh, based on your podcast I know you are a longtime fan of Merzbow. Txt and Erik, were you guys fans of Merzbow before you started your project?
txt: I don’t think I would necessarily call myself a fan of his. But I'm interested in anybody that does something like that for so long, especially an artist that can do 400 releases or whatever he’s up to now.
EH: I appreciated him and what he represented and the doors he opened up for millions of other noise artists to follow, but it’s hard to tackle an artist like that. How do you really become a fan and appreciate this, because 90 percent of it you can’t hear. Can you track down one of the four cassettes he put out? Or do you have a way to play that five-inch single? Nobody can be a completist. It’s not like, “Oh yea, I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin and I have all ten of their records.” That’s not even like three months for Merzbow.
Do you think podcasts like this could exist with any other artist or do you think Merzbow is unique in that regard?
GH: There’s probably like 30 Grateful Dead podcasts. People go crazy for that band and there’s probably plenty of people talking about that stuff. They have a huge discography, not counting albums but live shows and all that for people to dig into.
Did you all have any specific audience in mind when you started or since you've been doing this podcast?
txt: We thought that like 50 people would listen to this.
EH: It was about our friends. We figured we would annoy our friends and guilt them into listening to it.
txt: We thought that people in on the joke who know us from social media would get it and that would be about it. There’s a whole bunch of people who listen though... We just hit one thousand downloads on our first four episodes. It’s crazy.
GH: I figured it would just be Merzbow fans. There has been a little bit of people poking fun at it and I get it; maybe no one thought that it was necessary and two popping up at the same time is funny. It’s not for those people, it’s fine. It’s for people who want to explore this stuff and do it with us.
Merzcast is obvious. But, txt and Erik, how did you all come up with the name Immerzbox?
EH: That’s pretty much the only thing I came up with to do with this. The premise was all his, the name was 100 percent a bad pun on my part.
txt: It was so terrible that we had to do it.
Do you think your appreciation for Merzbow has grown since you started doing your respective podcasts?
txt: Oh yeah.
EH: No question. Hugely.
GH: Sitting and taking notes and very actively listening to noise music has been really fun. We put music on as a sort of soundtrack sometimes, a background thing that is there to set a mood but not necessarily be a main focal point. And when I started listening to noise I feel like I listened to it actively and directly a lot more and I’m doing that again and it’s actually really exciting.
Have you all considered doing a collaboration between Merzcast and Immerzbox?
txt: I would love to do an episode where we talk about one of Merzbow’s collaborative works as we do a collaborative episode. We can do all fifty episodes of ours and not necessarily have Greh crossover. He’ll probably dip into Merzbox era stuff at some point, but...
EH: But there’s 200 records from that era that are not in the box. So it’s entirely possible that we’re talking about recordings that could have been made on the same day.
GH: Yeah, maybe doing a disc that’s in the Merzbox or just picking a mutual favorite or have those guys on to talk about a non-Merzbox disc they like. What they're doing is cool. It’s an interesting journey and way to approach it. I think they thought it was a funny idea, and I thought mine was a funny idea too. Let’s listen to this and talk about it. Certainly it has humor in it, it’s listening to noise music and talking about it. If you take it too seriously there’s going to be a problem.
txt: I truly hope that if anything comes out of this that we inspire other really stupid Merzbow-inspired things.
EH: I hope somebody does a podcast about about the Merzcar.
How do you feel about there being two Merzbow podcasts?
GH: Oh, it’s definitely a little ridiculous. Immerzbox has a definitive end of the project, at least as far as their mission statement: They are going to listen to this 50-CD boxset. Our goal is to listen to any Merzbow disc that we want. It’s funny that we are both happening at the same time. But there’s been some recent reissues. Relapse [Records] is reissuing Venereology. Pulse Demon got reissued last year and sold out like immediately. Noisembryo got reissued on Hospital [Productions]. There were two shows, a show in L.A. and New York. Merzbow is back in the collective consciousness of noise fans and extreme underground music fans. If it was five years ago it would have been stranger than it is right now.
So do you think the internet needs even more Merzbow podcasts?
EH: I mean, ideally, everyone should have a Merzbow podcast.
txt: He has enough albums that everyone could have their own that talks about one album.
Erik and txt, do you guys think you’ll make it through all fifty discs?
Both, in unison: Yes.
EH: If you had asked us after the first episode, I don’t know if I would have said yes. But after doing it a bunch and realizing the conversations we were really having about music and sound, I’m always interested in what txt’s take is, and what utterly different thing the next Merzbow disc is going to be.
Greh, do you see an end in sight here or do you plan on covering as many albums as you can?
GH: I plan to have as many guests as possible. I’ll have repeat guests if need be. There's really nothing stopping us but the number of Merzbow discs, and there’s a lot of those. There are a couple that I own that I’m not looking forward to doing because they aren’t my favorites, but maybe someone can change my mind or maybe sitting and listening to it focused and noticing the nuances in it will give me a new appreciation for it. It’s not just about sitting down and talking about it. I like listening to these things and discovering new aspects to them and actively thinking about what I appreciate about them and what makes them unique. It’s really fun. It’s just a fun thing to do.