Album Review: Merzbow – “Takahe Collage” Part 3

Merzbow - "Takahe Collage"
Merzbow – “Takahe Collage”

Grand Owl Habitat

This third and final installment of posts about Merzbow’s “Takahe Collage” focuses on the closing track, the mere 12 minute “Grand Owl Habitat.”

Probably the least active and cluttered of the album, “Grand Owl Habitat” takes a clearly sectionalized approach that even may vaguely (in some ways) resemble ABA form. Or, if it can’t quite be thought of as ABA form (and really it can’t, but hear me out) there is at the very least elements that appear and disappear at intervals making it sound as if the spaces without the pitched, more focused sounds form a point of recurring repose against spaces that contain those sounds and therefore stand as a contrast.

Just as with the previous tracks there is introductory material here as the underlying beat is generated. The first section of the song, that which lacks the presence of pitch material for the most part, continues for the first minute. Following that is the entrance of some of the erratic pitch material and sound envelope manipulations.

The main thing, as far as this song is concerned, is that each time the more focused, pitched sounds enter they do so with an increased intensity with each recurrence. Meanwhile the sections of the song that alternate with these increasingly active sounds remain fixed. The stasis is fixed in sound and in tempo. No alterations whatsoever are made to the initial underlying beat that is generated at the beginning of the track.

From 2:06 to about 2:18 there is a drastic shift in texture that marks a new section, where everything is stripped away, save for the underlying structure. We have seen this many times before in the previous tracks, where there is a frequent stripping away and subsequent re-building of material to create motion through the song from beginning to end. There are even some interesting rhythmic moments in “Grand Owl Habitat” that can be heard when a lot of that material is stripped away. For example, at about the 6:40 mark there is a sort of polyrhythmic effect going on with two of the layers just before a screeching sound of a free-jazz saxophone bleat begins to dominate the texture. That sound, as it happens, will remain throughout the remainder of the track.

What I think may be most notable, other than the drastic ebbs in texture through this track, is the way that Merzbow manages to bring the piece to a close. As a composer it is absolutely crucial for one to know their compositional language inside and out, for that is how you learn to phrase your material and, more importantly, how to begin and end a piece. Essentially, when the material that you are using is created via a hierarchy that doesn’t included strictly pitched material, how does one go about cadencing, or closing the piece?

The way that Merzbow answers that question here appears at the 10:52 mark where suddenly that underlying rhythm is taken away. In an instant only the focused, more or less pitched material is left and seems to float above the surface. But without that underlying structure it is only a matter of time before they are not able to sustain themselves anymore and about a minute later they begin to fade out. This, in my opinion, makes for a truly satisfying end to not only this track, but to the entire album.

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