‘Metal Machine Music’ continued
My apologies for the brevity of the previous entry. My laptop ceased rendering the letter 'e’, for some reason.
'My Ears! My Ears’, as the Blast First label had it, to describe relative lightweights like Big Black and Sonic Youth in the late 80s. Back in 1975, Lou Reed produced a real 'art statement’ for the ears, with clear links to the the 60s New York avant garde of the Velvet Underground and LaMonte Young. Zeitkratze’s reinterpretation is more an 'art restatement’ to Reed’s 'art statement’, 'post punk’ to Reed’s 'punk’. Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham to Reed/Cale. It’s incredible to me, to see how much Metal Machine Music (MMM) prefigured the likes of Merzbow and Keiji Heino, and 'Japanese Noise’ generally. And how the analogue abrasiveness of MMM is so much more brutal than subsequent Far Eastern digital technology. Reed is closer to a Link Wray-on-Chrystal Meth methodology than the white lab coat seriousness of his Japanese descendants.
I have always thought that Reed was an incredible guitarist. Just listen to his fractured screed on 'Run, Run, Run’, 'European Son’, I Heard Her Call My Name’ and 'Sister Ray’. (All credit here to Sterling Morrison!) No-one else was doing doing anything remotely like this in 1966-8. So MMM should have come as no surprise to anyone. The surprise was Reed’s sheer punky brattishness in his desire to piss off both his label and his fans. He also donated The Jesus and Mary Chain a whole career (Never Understand, being a principle exhibit).
The Zeitkratze project, admirable as it is, sounds mannered, despite the enviable skills that the ensemble utilised to transcribe the piece (just as some have transcribed Derek Bailey, for some reason best known to themselves). The use of string instruments surely defeats Reed’s original purpose, to deconstruct the electric guitar’s sheer milquetoast mediocrity in rock music? I don’t know if it’s intentional. however, but the Germans do manage to isolate and exploit the 'Cale element’ of the VU, such as All Tomorrows Parties, Venus in Furs, Heroin and The Black Angel’s Death Song with their trained/tainted strings. (The fact that John Cale was classically trained, as opposed to Reed’s background in Pop and Tin Pan Alley, should always be remembered.)
In the end, Zeitkratze’s impressive revisiting will always ultimately fall short of Lou Reed’s transgressive masterpiece, if only for the latter’s genuinely shocking effects and after-effects. Reed invented 'noise’, at least as it is understood in rock music. And it remains 'unlistenable’, just to add to its avant gloss. I can give it maybe 15 minutes before I thought “my ears! my ears!”. Maybe only truly gonzo listeners like Lester Bangs can go the whole course, but it will inevitably remain an 'endurance course’ for the macho listener?