But Young, an idiosyncratic perfectionist, refused to release any of the recordings made during the early '60s, and has since recorded only sporadic small editions of his later music. By the mid-'90s, Conrad, realizing that "Young wanted me to die without hearing my music," undertook a laborious four-CD re-creation of the Dream Syndicate sound, as well as unearthing an archival recording from 1965 whose release Young attempted to block. The disputed authorship of the droning layers of viola, violin, voice and percussion running through Day of Niagara became a cause célèbre in avant-rock and new-music chat rooms, and Young put up a million-page rant on the Internet defending his claim. The collateral brouhaha is significant mostly for allowing us the opportunity to experience Conrad's version of this music live.
Merzbow and Boredoms are the two most famous entities to emerge from the enormous and unlikely Japanese noise scene. There are lots of theories as to why Japan should have such an affinity for noise, ranging from genetics to Hiroshima to sudden dietary changes, but for whatever reason, in the immediate wake of punk rock there sprang up an entire subculture of raucous minimalists who finally wed the songless mixture of mulched electronic rhythms, overdriven hardware, musique concrète collage aesthetics and tinnitus-inducing feedback with rock & roll performance vernacular. Through the endorsement of Sonic Youth and John Zorn, Boredoms, whose thrashy patchwork of cartoon punk and abrasive electronics was couched in theatrically extravagant stage presence (and graphic-design presentation), garnered an enormous buzz and a now-unimaginable contract with Warner Reprise. Well, things didn't work out, and Boredoms, saved from household-name status, veered improbably into trippy danceable prog-rock pedal fests -- entirely credible, and endearing to a generation of remix-crazy club kids, but far from their chaotic roots. Live, however, they've been known to regress, so their L.A. performance might still require earplugs.
Merzbow, whose stage name derives from the one-man movement of Dada collagist and sound artist Kurt Schwitters, has also mellowed his sound in recent years -- but there's always been a thin line (about 70 decibels, I'd say) between the densest noise and the most serene ambient drone. Merzbow's output is ridiculously prolific -- in 2000 he released the 50-CD Merzbox, which traced his 20-year arc from cassette-culture cut-and-paste explorations to late-'80s noise god to '90s avant-garde institution. In spite of his recent penchant for psychedelic flourishes and less-than-gut-rattling sonic bombardment, Masami Akita has kept one foot in the purist noise camp, and if his performance as Merzbow proves less visceral, his collaboration with Soho artist Russell Haswell as Satan's Tornade is guaranteed hardcore.
The kind of legitimacy accorded to academically supported noisy composers like Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Phil Niblock and Rhys Chatham has consistently eluded the noise musicians in the art world and popular culture, in spite of the latter gang's equally elaborate if historically less secure genealogy, far vaster discography of important work, and immeasurably more vital presence in the world. In the first two cases, you can do research on your own time. For proof of the last, ATP provides an unprecedented opportunity to experience the difference for yourself.LA
Destroy All Monsters plays at UCLA's Royce Hall, Merzbow and Boredoms at Ackerman Grand Ballroom, and Tony Conrad at Kerckhoff Hall, Saturday, March 16.