There was a time, not all that long ago, when pure excess and overkill were enough by themselves to get your name in the books. This definitely applies when it comes to noncommercial music, where a fair number of both the people in the audience and the creators themselves are mostly interested in seeing how far they can go for its own sake. After a while, however, the road to excess no longer leads to the palace of wisdom (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), but into a cul-de-sac where one-upsmanship is more important than real creativity.
It’s hard to find a better embodiment of this sort of thing than Masonna, the stage name for musician and clothing boutique owner Yamazaki Maso. He leapt—quite literally—to prominence in underground circles with his live performances, where Yamazaki would throw himself across the stage with fearsome disregard for his own safety and pump an ear-punishing flamethrower of feedback and stomp-box processed noise through the sound system. Some of these concerts didn’t last more than a few seconds: he’d come on stage, pulverize the audience, and walk off.
And then there were his records, which embodied the same principle except for as much as an hour at a time. Mademoiselle Anne Sanglante, one of the first issued through Alchemy Records in Japan (run by fellow ear-killer Jojo Hiroshige of the equally monolithic Hijokaidan), was the first one I ran into personally, back when I was myself following the excess-above-all-other-things philosophy in music. With the liner notes in Japanese, which I didn’t read at the time, and information about such artists hard to come by in general, I had to guess: I’d only picked up the disc based on the fact that Merzbow’s Rainbow Electronics had been offered through Alchemy as well. Rainbow Electronics had been harsh enough to begin with, but Mademoiselle was beyond belief—the sort of record that ought to come with a warning label about speaker damage. (Some did.)
There were other Masonna records—a dozen or more total—but despite some minor differences they were virtually indistinguishable from each other, probably by design. They all consisted of the same unbroken blocks of noise, divided arbitrarily into different tracks for the sake of convenience, and with titles that had no real bearing on the material either. Not that this sort of thing lent itself to any kind of interpretation or discussion—the mere fact that it was being done, and that it had an audience of any size at all, was supposed to be reason enough for its existence. There wasn’t even any attempt to tie the final result into any kind of aesthetic or political stance, but in a way that would only have made things worse. It’s not exactly profound to create a bunch of feedback and give it a name that vaguely criticizes post-industrial society when a) a hundred other people have already done it and b) it wasn’t all that clever to begin with anyway. So maybe noise for noise’s sake isn’t the worst thing.
It wouldn’t be, if it also weren’t for the fact that other people were doing more with the concept than simply beating an audience over the head. Merzbow often gets mentioned in the same breath as Masonna, but the two couldn’t be more dissimilar. Merzbow uses noise to create something new, and identifies it with a number of distinct aesthetic (e.g., erotic decadence) and even political stances (anti-vivisection, pro-vegetarianism, etc.) without being embarrassing; Masonna just dumps the whole thing in your lap and lets you take it or leave it. The attack itself was what mattered, and that wasn’t something that needed a philosophy. The only thing Masonna was about was making a noise, nothing more—although there were hints of some sardonic humor in the whole thing, however obscure. Mademoiselle Anne Sanglante lists its first 30 tracks as “Bonus Track”; the title track is dead last, runs a mere six seconds, and sounds exactly like everything else. Ha, ha.
The attack-in-itself as being the main thing probably explains why Masonna was more or less shelved when Yamazaki couldn’t do the stage performance as much anymore. Without the visual shtick to back it up, the records are just curiosities. He’s since turned to projects like Christine 23 Onna, with a ‘60s-acid-synth and Hammond-organ vibe—interesting in itself even if nothing like what came before, and with no sign of the former overkill-or-be-overkilled mentality. Maybe, again, it’s for the best. As someone else once said when discussing the ephemerality of Sex Pistols, the apocalypse is only coming once. It’s not as if we need that many different soundtracks for it.
Other Lives Of The Mind