‘Metal Machine Music’: Two Sides of the Coin

I have to humbly admit to have never heard Lou Reed’s two-disc blast of aggressive guitar noise, Metal Machine Music, until only two days ago. The album was always hard to get, after its release in 1975, and NO-ONE I knew had it, which is unsurprising, given how unpleasant it is, making the like of Throbbing Gristle sound like The Carpenters in comparison. A friend sent me a burn of Zeitkratzer’s transcription of the 'piece’ (if we can call it that), in which I found a much more mollified sound, brutal as it is, but the sheer audacity of Reed’s original has sent me to the keyboard to try to make sense of Reed’s achievement here.

Reed’s Metal Machine Music and its demonic overtones produce in me that disturbingly queasy auditory state that I can only compare to some of La Monte Young’s sine wave compositions, or perhaps experiencing My Bloody Valentine’s live stuff, i.e. a shrieking nausea, where you start to 'hear things’, and just want to remove yourself from these events. Such material would be a sublime torture method, I would think. Of course, it can all be explained by acoustical and phenomenal theory, but, by Christ, it is so disturbing to experience this, unless you are some sort of a 'head in the bass bin’ nut job (and there are such people!). ’ The recent film, ’ The Sound of Metal’, gives full credence to this notion.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.