Results sway between sublime and momentarily unlistenable.
Gensho brings together two incomparable forces from Japan: One of the mightiest bands any nation has ever known, Boris, and the one-man force of Merzbow. What they’ve done on this release—presenting different discs meant to be played at the same time—has been done before, but it’s never been done with such care and beauty. The compositions are spread across two discs: On one, Boris has re-recorded several songs from its considerable oeuvre and covered My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes.” For the second, Merzbow has given us a handful of brilliant and lengthy soundscapes to serve as the bedrock for the Boris tunes. Or maybe vice-versa.
By changing the order in which you play the pieces—starting the 20-minute Merzbow number “Goloka Pt.2” several measures into Boris’s remarkable “Farewell,” or varying the volume of individual tracks (blasting the former’s “Planet of the Cows” while making the latter’s “Rainbow” barely audible) you change not only the listening experience but the overall emotional impact as well. Since the division between the styles and sounds isn’t binary—loud or quiet, melodic or dissonant—you can even layer Boris over Boris (try “Farewell” over “Heavy Rain”) or, for the more adventurous listener, Merzbow over Merzbow (introduce “Planet of the Cows” to an already-in-progress “Prelude to a Broken Arm”). Either experiment will yield results swaying between sublime and momentarily unlistenable.
The only limitations here are that of the listener’s imagination and the amount of time that can be devoted to the release, but those with the wildest imaginations will without a doubt find the time to reap the greatest rewards. The track order and volume could be varied. You could invite friends to “perform” their own juxtapositions. You could listen to others’ variations while projecting slides on the wall of a dark room. Or you could simply sit and listen to the entire record end to end to see what the experience stirs in you. But, truthfully, that could be the least rewarding.
It’s not that there isn’t magic to be found in the compositions themselves, but failing to fully engage with Gensho offers only a partial experience. To experiment with the way you listen is to fully grasp the experimental nature of the release. Choosing not to interact is fine, but there will always be a part of Gensho missing if that choice is made.
As mentioned before, what these two artistic giants have done is not entirely new. Legendary composer John Cage was fully invested in the music of chance, creating pieces that would never quite be played the same way twice because of how and when pieces were played literally came down to a roll of the dice. Whether this practice is new or not hardly matters. That it has been done with such creativity and vitality is the key here. So, here’s to Boris and to Merzbow and to those who won’t just listen to this recording passively, but will instead create their own experience. You really can’t lose if you do so.