Critical Masses
Review by Ryan “Critical” Masteller
Zebra Mu Years Of Extinction 2009 – 2012 CDr (Attenuation Circuit)

Imagine, like me, like Michael Ridge (aka Zebra Mu), that music can be considered through the same philosophical lens as impressionist paintings. Easily translatable subjects are rendered by the artist to evoke space, depth, movement, light (or its lack); subjects are thus defined by the artist as particular moments, and musical interpretations provide auditory explanation of the artist’s intention. Michael Ridge establishes this outlook through noise experiments, creating his own “sound paintings” in the vein of such works as Cézanne’s Boy in Red Velvet, Monet’s The Water Lily Pond, or Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows (or, haha, Boy with Apple). His elucidations on specific themes unveil particularities, and it is up to the listener to continue down that path to discovery.

That all sounds a bit overwrought for a limited-edition CDR (50 copies), and maybe it is, but it’s not without its truths. It’s even more notable (or less, depending on how much credence one gives to the notion of the album as the true outcome of artistic endeavor or of the individual pieces themselves, but I’m going with “more” here) that Years of Extinction is a compilation of tracks collected from various releases between the years 2009 and 2012. Freed from the trappings of “overarching concept,” listeners are able to take Ridge’s specific compositions on their own without worrying about tying them all together. That’s just as well – I find it comforting to be able to focus on a single track at a time in this case.

The titles of several pieces here help with the visualizations, and they also served as my inspiration to travel down the impressionist path. “Cranking Broken Moan” promises just that, and imagination fills in the space as to what’s causing each sound to interact with the others. “Squeakily Crumbled Clattering,” “Shorted Out,” “Church Bells and Squeaking Chair,” “Rusted Trapdoor,” and “Abrasive Waters” deliver on their titles just as suggested. Other tracks aren’t so obvious, and their titles free the imagination even further, allowing it to spill over into abstract territory. “Untitled” has a static, destroyed-tape sound while “Live A” features industrial ambience and shortwave manipulations. “Vision Serpent” is two and a half minutes of angry white noise, and I’m perhaps surprisingly experiencing what it would be like to be held in the gaze of the Hypnotoad, except of course I’m mesmerized by the titular creature here.

Zebra Mu is clearly having a great time crafting these noise pieces, and Years of Extinction is as good a place to start with his catalog as any. No two tracks are the same, as each exists within its own contained sound world. There are even hints of more obvious artists like Wolf Eyes when something like “Woodland Dread” unfolds. But still, Michael Ridge’s vision of time and place is uniquely his, and his palette is ever-changing.

Vital Weekly (number 1056, week 45)
Zebra Mu Years Of Extinction 2009 – 2012 CDr (Attenuation Circuit)
Review by Frans de Ward

“Listening to this album by Zebra Mu, the musical project of Michael Ridge, made me realize that I may not have heard as much of his music; This seventeen-track release is a compilation of releases from the years mentioned in the title and are all released before; on cassettes, CDRs (3″ and business card included) and even floppy disks. I checked his website and apparently his video of a 5 pound note playing the 7″ of Abba’s ‘Money Money Money’ went viral, but there is more to be seen and it might be a glimpse into his sound world. He likes to construct stuff involving contact microphones and he likes using acoustic objects, along with a furious amount of feedback, distortion and sonic overload. Sometimes there is a bit of field recordings, such as in ‘Church Bells And Squeaking Chair’ (no prizes if you guess which field recordings), but that is quite loud. At times I was reminded of some of the good ol’ Merzbow but then in the mid to late 80s, when he cracked his acoustic sounds wide open, without sparing the guitar effects. This is quite good music, as Zebra Mu offers a certain amount of variation, providing you have some experience with the word noise of course. I like to argue though that sixty-seven minutes is perhaps a bit much to take in all at once of this, especially when pieces are bit longer and more single minded focussed on noise such as ‘Rusted Trapdoor’ (here one could guess actually). Do one half a day and you’ll be happy”.‎

Norwich Zine Fair Vol. 4 Review by Jacob Solstice
Zebra Mu Spear/Streak CDr (Quagga Curious Sounds)

“Today though he had a couple of albums he has done as Zebra Mu. I picked “Spear/Streak” up – it’s pure noise and probably too abrasive for timid ears but once you tune in to it there’s a tremendous sense of fun and giddy freedom. Occasionally identifiable sound sources turn up but for the most part it’s a head-crushing ride of nasty digital violence. Yum”.

Memory Wave Transmission Blog
Zebra Mu Spear/Streak CDr (Quagga Curious Sounds)
Review by Ryne Barber

“Zebra Mu is a harsh noise project from Michael Ridge, owner of the Quagga Curious Sounds record label. Over the years he’s released more than 100 albums in one form or another, from splits to full-lengths, and I’ve known of the project for a long time without actually covering its releases on Memory Wave Transmission. Now, all that is about to change with Spear/Streak, a 25-minute CD-R comprised of five untitled tracks of uncompromising harsh noise. The CD-R comes in a nice package, with a yellow insert in a half-size DVD case; on the back side of the insert is typewritten text that looks like real musings on Biblical passages; there’s also a full page of typewritten text that comes from a Sunday School sermon. Finally, there’s a small insert, a photo of wedding presents (mine’s marked 7/72). It’s quite an interesting display, although I can’t put all of these things together into a coherent theme.

The tracks on this album aren’t long-form, and Zebra Mu works within shorter lengths – as short as two and a half minutes – to mid-length cuts, the longest tracks coming in at six minutes. The first, simply titled “I,” is a harsh noise blast of crunchy static and subtle alterations within the background of the track, with feedback squeals and laser-like electronics manipulations making their way into the mix about a third of the way through. Lots of noise squalls cut into the sound throughout the back half, adding some harsh punchy textures. “II” segues right in, featuring a more minimal texturing of cut-up and decaying stuttering static, a very interesting buzzing tone in the background, and lots of moaning and groaning.

“III” begins even more sparse, with what sounds like a lot of crackling contact miccing that reverberates and echoes on different surfaces, with some feedback slowly building into the mix before heavy harsh noise dominates the listener. The transition here is fantastic, and the high-pitched feedback is used sparingly so that it doesn’t become too disruptive.; plus, there’s a background rhythm that makes good use of the different pitched squalls. “IV” is the most experimental of these tracks, full of squeaks and squeals like the sound of a radio station just barely coming in; and Zebra Mu makes use of scratchy samples full of static along with manipulated dialogue from a film. Despite its less commandeering approach to harsh noise, it’s probably one of the more difficult listens on Spear/Streak, in a good way. “V” ends things on a quick, harsh note with heavy punctuated scratches of noise, syncopated and shallow. It opens up towards the end of the quick 2.5 minute track, ending with a nearly white-washed series of feedback squalls.

Anyone looking for some quality harsh noise that doesn’t adhere to strict formulaic methods will enjoy Zebra Mu’s work on Spear/Streak. It’s a release that doesn’t need to rely on heavy walls of sound; rather, Zebra Mu often allows single chains of noise room to shriek and scream, capturing interesting tones as the tracks shift naturally. Spear/Streak has a very cool package, but the harsh noise on the disc is the real attraction”.

Aural-Innovations Blog
Hal McGee & Michael Ridge Acrostics Meet CDr/Download
Review by Jerry Kranitz

“Michael Ridge is a UK based multimedia artist who joins Hal on two 30 minute sound collages. Reading the list of sound sources used by each artist is a hoot, running the gamut from heavy rainfall in a courtyard garden, Tibetan Buddhist digital chant machine, children’s sound effects cassette, cell phone conversations, Steim Cracklebox, dog squeaky toys, and the lists go on, though there’s also Korg Monotron and synthesizers.

A trademark characteristic of Hal’s audio art is day-in-the-life conversations from work, phone and out and about on the town. I like the oddly rhythmic crackling pattern that sounds like rain pouring in the living room and lays the foundation for pretty much everything else that occurs for the first portion of the set. We have a mishmash of conversational ephemera, plus electronic tones, squalls and general playfulness. At times the electronics sound like a gaggle of chattering robots, and at others like a lo-fi Jazz jam. The juxtaposition of elements is always fun, like when an old saucy Blues song crackles on the turntable, sometimes slowed to a drag, while Hal engages in chitchat and an ensemble of percussion, sounds and voices engage in a raucously free-wheeling jam. A chanting Native American shaman accompanies a succession of voices, an electronic kazoo and other sundry sounds, before being replaced by first a somber keyboard melody and then what sounds like a toy piano, both of which keep company with a similar chain of audio events. I really dig the toy piano and squeaky toy jam. The incessant high pitched tone accompanied by choppy noise patterns and breathy horn is unsettling and intriguing. Overall a fun assemblage of audio parts and pieces”.

Raised by Gypsies Blog
Zebra Mu / Prairie-Litière: Split C40 (Autistic Campaign)
Review by Joshua Macala

“This is my first time hearing both ZEBRA MU and PRAIRIE-LITIÈRE but being that they are on a cassette from a label that has put out cassettes by Nundata and Roadside Picnic I’m fairly confident it will be good before I even listen to it.

Side A is ZEBRA MU, which is an excellent name since so few artists have names that begin with the letter Z, and it hits you like a flurry of distortion. Throughout this distortion there are clanks and rattles of pots and pans and silverware and all that I can think is that someone is having a lot of fun destroying their kitchen. If I was in the habit of creating bad genre names (and I might be to some people, who knows) then for sure I would call this one “kitchencore” even though my very typing it right now fills me with instant regret and embarrassment After some sounds of records scratching this side ends with the sounds of an amp being plugged into, but most of the movement seems to take place in the original tornado at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

On the flip side we have PRAIRIE-LITIÈRE who seemingly replace the distortion of ZEBRA MU with sharp feedback. There are plenty of high pitched frequencies that I think even our neighborhood dogs could sense from so far away. They can go back and forth- these high pitched sounds- and they can just as easily come crashing down, sounding like a broken pinball machine. For the first half of this (or almost that much time into it) I have the feeling that at any moment we’re going to switch over into a hardcore song ala Nora or someone like that but we never do. By the end, the highly pitched melodies become so back and forth that they sound more like sonar or some sort of whale sounds than anything else.

It is distinctively hard to like an artist such as PRAIRIE-LITIÈRE if your initial response to the music is going to be “Ow, my ears!” and as such this is not for the faint of heart, but I have certainly heard louder and sharper noises that have even made me cringe (I didn’t even turn the volume down on this one, so it’s mild by my standards which are probably way off from your standards though) And I’m also just loving what ZEBRA MU is doing on their side and so this is just a great way to be introduced to one or two artists you might not know and be given the chance to get to know them and possibly grow to love them as I have”.

Zebra Mu Pluck Scrape Vibrate C12 (Park Bench Records)
Review by Sam Hunt

“Zebra Mu is a project that has gone through a number of stylistic experiments, but has always kept its heart firmly within a frenetic style of harsh noise, as displayed on this offering.

If the sort of frantic, erratic harsh noise is what you seek within the field, Zebra Mu is a masterful project to explore. Of course, years of seasoned creativity add to the mix, and Michael Ridge (the man behind Zebra Mu) knows his craft, experimenting with instrumentation regularly, this time adding a springboard, a violin bow, chains and a hacksaw to the arsenal, along with circuit-bent pedals.

The tape is a C12 with one track on each side, the first offering entitled “Repeating Violent Misuse”, which encapsulates the aforementioned Zebra Mu style, overlapping and flying between furious crumbles, screeches and squeals, and gradually fluctuating in scope, from the familiar schizophrenia to reverberating industrial-like chaos, and eventually to slugging crawls of low-end noise.

Side B‘s track, “Disintegrated Shackle”, is the more restrained cousin of the first track, creating blasts of intermittent, unstable noise, which create pictures of insane mental outbursts being pushed back inside someone’s head, occasionally breaking free and subsequently being punished, before repeating the cycle enough times until the subject either suffers a full mental collapse, hospitalisation or both.

Zebra Mu is incapable of disappointing, and while only limited to thirty copies, Pluck Scrape Vibrate is still available as of today. Pick it up while you can”.

Drowned in Sound
Zebra Mu Gig Review: Diskette Eikette Presents A Night of Noise, Drone and Floppy Disks, The Grosvenor, London
October 2012

Zebra Mu, also known as Norwich-based sound artist Michael Ridge, cuts a far less striking figure as he gets up in front of the small but growing audience. However, once he has taken a seat at what looks like an operating table for consumer electronics, he quickly shows demonstrates that you don’t need to make much of an entrance when you have the power to melt minds, fry faces and annihilate eardrums at the tips of your fingers.

Ridge sets about concocting a soundscape that brings to mind a million digital seagulls being flamethrowered to death, before piling on bassy burps and the electronic apocalypse version of scratching, using nothing but the circuit-based detritus that lays before him. As the ears in the room begin to grow accustomed to the shock and awe, Ridge takes a handful of the chain that’s hanging about his neck and begins to grind it into his table of tricks. The dude now has a digital death metal band in the palm of his hand, and builds his brouhaha into a wall of noise that almost renders rational thought irrelevant. It’s not an easy listen by any means, but fuck me its invigorating.

Yeah I Know It Sucks Blog
Various Artists: Now That’s What I Call Retro-Futurism Vol.3
October 2012

From Norfolk (UK?) we hear noise hero Zebra Mu with an excellent track of pure retro-futurism. The artist delivers a interesting track that is full of surprising elements that keeps the listener on its toes. Definitely good to know that this artist also released a full album Diskette Etikette Rekords, so check it out!

Dead Formats Blog
Zebra Mu: Experiment and Destroy CDr (Smell the Stench)
Review by Demian Johnston
March 2012

This new work from the U.K.’s Zebra Mu is like listening to noise in school. The way he is able to move around his pedal board and instruments is inspiring. Listening to this is making me think that Zebra Mu should maybe only do DVDs from now on because I would watch how he did all this every single day. It’s very good harsh, circuit bent, junk noise and I love it. You can almost feel the way this sounds due to the textures alone. The packaging is pretty rough. The last cd I reviewed of his was pretty well designed where this seems like a totally afterthought. Nonexistant typography and collages that have no composition or contrast so everything just sort of washes out in a dull gray tone. I want more from the packaging with something that sounds this good. There is nothing wrong with dressing up before you go to a symphony and there is nothing wrong with the symphony dressing up before it destroys your ears.

Dead Formats Blog
Zebra Mu: Live Malfunctions 3″CDr (Not on Label)
Review by Demian Johnston
February 2012

This is one 13 min live performance by Michael Ridge under the moniker, Zebra Mu. Being a live piece you get that one thing I really love in noise which is listening to an artist really creating on the fly. There are always ways you can practice making noise but each time is totally different. Sometimes you nail it and other times it just falls flat. It’s hard to nail down what goes right or wrong but it’s pretty obvious to all involved. In this case Zebra Mu has a generally great set. The beginning is good with subtle drones and sparse shots of noise from a contact mic’d springboard and a violin bow. It kinda fall apart a little after that. I get the sense that he may have lost a little focus or something because you start getting these moments where you really hear the pedals. By that I mean you hear a sound and think “delay pedal, delay but with the feedback turned up, now the feedback has turned down…” and it gets a little obvious. You can almost identify the brand of delay pedal (I think it is a line 6 but I am not entirely sure). Right after that though it really kicks in and the majority of the track is this awesome swirling wall of noise that is constantly evolving and changing. It’s pretty great ending. I am definitely interested in hearing more from this UK artist. Packaging is simple but very nicely done. Good cover art with a color photo from a live performance inside. I have to say that this is an atrist who understands kerning. That is refreshing. Limited to 26 copies.

Review By Joe Murray (Posset)
Zebra Mu / Kapali Carsi: Split CDr (Blue Spectrum Tapes)

A lovely split disc that’s delving into loads of moods, textures and techniques. Things start with Kapali Carsi and a pretty nifty acoustic guitar improvisation…all Skull Mask scratchy and crimped like arthritic fingers. So far so good. The next couple of humps are attributed to ‘body/mic/random objects’ and gradual thumbling and moaning seep out the speakers. It’s all pretty quiet at first and then builds in intensity and complexity. Things never reach the throat shredding levels of Yol but the bubbling fleshy percussion (a ribcage getting thumped with a rubber hose perhaps?) give this some real blubbery propulsion. The short unamplified electric bass solo is like a charcoal sketch bodged drunkenly by some deranged street artist. Zebra Mu use pedals, tapes, electronics and empty crisp packets to make a lurching, crunchy noise piece that reminds me of the anti-social chunder produced by late 80’s noisenicks Salad Speech. About 10mins in, the noise blasts start to really sting, then turn dubby until it’s all chucked into the mixer and you’re lost in a black corridor of ‘HuHhHhWiiiiiHjkkkkkKKKKklllm’ until a rocket ship lift-off takes over for a bit and at the 27 minute mark…it clicks off. Phew.

The Wire #331 – Size Matters
Zebra Mu: Extinction Volume 4 C24 (Quagga Curious Sounds)
Review by Byron Coley
September 2011


Musique Machine
Zebra Mu / Horsing: Split C22 (Hoarse)
June 2011

Here’s a sparky little split tape from Horsing and Zebra Mu, presented in garish blues tones. A blue cassette, and a blue cover with some kind of “battle montage” of various varieties of Godzilla: a mini-Godzilla, a standard Godzilla, a robot Godzilla and a cosmic-uber-Godzilla. What this has to do with the sounds within is unclear; though the Horsing side is dedicated to Yukiko Okada, who the internet tells me was a teen pop star in Japan – but I can’t find any links to Godzilla. (Okada was so revered, that her suicide in 1986 – slashing her wrists and then, two hours later, jumping off a seven-storey building – led to a wave of copycat deaths.)

The first side is indeed the Horsing side, and its a noisy affair – though not especially abrasive. It starts with some borrowed screaming, before a strained keyboard and more borrowed speech come in. It then jolts in to a harsh stereo split with chaotic skree coming through each channel; with a distorted J-pop song emerging from the noise – I could presume its Yukiko Okada, but I have no way of checking. After some heavily distorted bass rumblings, and another jolt to clipping electronic sounds, the rest of the tape is more or less a static wash of noise. All of the compositional, timbral and sound-field movement is thus essentially contained in those first few minutes. Though, saying this, the tape does come to a close with some “gaps” of feedback, and another long, indiscernible sample from a film or tv programme; before another quick passage of the static. This static wash is a rushing surge of treble, with submerged elements lurking beneath; it doesn’t have the textural detail of a good HNW track – its more just simple blinding noise.

The Zebra Mu side is quite a different proposition – its all movement. To some extent, my reaction to the track could simply be a result of Mr. Mu listing his set-up on the inlay – contact mic, sandpaper, plastic bags, two distortion pedals and a delay pedal. This kind of minimal set-up leads my brain to ask how far it is being stretched, how much the restraint is being overcome. The list also provokes a visualisation of the performance. This all makes for a very enjoyable listen. There’s a physicality to the piece – possibly informed by that visualisation; a genuine sense of real time improvisation. (Though there’s no clear indication that its either a construction or a one-take improvisation.) Now, a lot of noise recordings are improvised, but here Zebra Mu really does exude a sense of exploring his set-up – really “playing” it; though as I said, my reaction could simply reflect my brain acting on the list of gear, and thinking in this certain way. But there are parallels to be drawn between this track and the logic and method of free improv. There’s the same constant exploration and refusal to languish in one “place”. So whilst, in some senses, there’s quite a limited palette of sounds, these sounds are pushed and pulled into a very colourful display: chopping bass rumbles, slicing feedback, spitting, crackling noise. There’s an incredible array of textures brought forth; and they do feel properly visceral and abrasive. Where the Horsing side has a general sense of saturation with no texture, Zebra Mu is ceaselessly interesting and moving. It would be hyperbolic to suggest that Zebra Mu is the John Butcher of noise, or that this is a master-class in noise textures; but you get the idea…
Martin P

Magicore Music Blog
Zebra Mu: Lavatorial Hardware Bondage (Love Torture Records)
November 2010

An early release from the fantastic label Love Torture Records. Zebra Mu accomplishes very aggressive, diverse noise through the use of various analogue equipment including circuit bent toys and self built instruments/devices. Its great to see someone making aggressive noise thats harsh without sounding like half the Harsh Noise artists out there. Alot of noise sounds like regurgitated crap from the last person. This album does not. Check it out, its FREE after all!

Zebra Mu: Odd-Toed Ungulate Superorder C10 (Crumbling Peak Records)
Number 736
Week 25
June 2010

Normally I would leave such noise odds to the capable and mysterious hands of Jliat, but there is something captivating about this. First of all, its very short. Three tracks that span about ten minutes. Zebra Mu (not to be confused with the other Zebra reviewed recently here) is Michael Ridge on circuit bent and custom electronics, pedals and junk metal. The whole thing was recorded on a Tascam 4-track PortaStudio and Sony TCM 150 cassette recorder. The cover is a plain xerox on red paper. Now if that doesn’t sound 80s to you, I am lost. The music is also very 80s noise inspired. Low fidelity, brutal noise, acoustic sounds blown up to the top and brutal in your face. But as said, this is short, and therefore to the point. That’s what I thought was particular attractive about this release. If it would have been longer, say over thirty minutes, a lot of its power would be lost. (FdW)

Italian Newspaper Review
Collaboration: An Experimental Music Compilation (Tiger Claw Records)

Italian Newspaper Review

Missive 237
Zebra Mu / Endometrium Cuntplow / Clitoris Less Cunt: Split 3″CDr (Love Torture Records)
August 2009
Singled Out

Described by as a ‘circuit bending project’ Zebra Mu is the brainchild and creative noise alter ego of British sonic experimentalist Michael Ridge, here found gracing the grooves of this particular releases with three slabs of seriously distorted and fractured frequency manipulating, ’closely shaved mane’ is pushed to such high end sounds that it literally deteriorates in a white hot mass of fragmented goo that for the best part is barely audible to the human ear – though we must add here that our cat was seen to bolt at speed down the garden in a blur. ’well fed’ on the other hand is so violent and up front you fear your speakers will melt under the weight of the extreme attrition pouring through the monitors as the aural carnage of imploding swathes of skree and powered electronic brutality seek to exact their inhume primitive trepanning exercise upon your very personage. Those thinking of seeking solace with the parting ’human food pellets’ ought to consider their options, agreed its only a mere 91 seconds in length – though its more than enough time to reduce your listening space to rubble with its scalding onslaught.

Viva Fate Blog
Zebra Mu: Feeble 3″CDr (Side A Records)
June 2010

Zebra Mu is a one man project, utilizing various instruments and non-instrumental methods in order to create his noise. On Feeble he serves up 6 tracks and just over 15 minutes of awesome noise. Also worthy of note is that this is the first release by Side-A Records.

The first track, Drill Part, mixes some flat out harsh noise with denser layers, sounding like ruptured beats. Not really falling into the rhythmic noise area but keeping it varied and interesting. Whilst being harsh it showcases a fantastic control over the elements used in construction.

Stamping Down is a harsher affair. Though it has an unfortunately muddy final mix, like a Masonna cassette that you accidentaly put through the wash. It may be the intentional but I don’t really think it works that well.

Challenged is a little ditty of rumble and hiss, there’s not much variation but the short run time means that it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. This is followed instantly by Never Know, imagine a low rent Grindhouse movie about chain fighting (Stick with me here) that you find on VHS. The VHS is mangled but still has certain sections that you can watch. In a nutshell that’s Never Know, sleazy, murky and rough around the edges. Just the way it should be. The fractured speech samples add a great oppressive atmosphere to the track.

Lax sets out like the current “in” wave of drone from the US. Murky rumbles and weirdo samples building in intensity. Like watching the chain fighting VHS on slow rewind. A much darker and more introspective track that any that have come before. Juddering along and decaying. A fantastic use of samples once again. Finally we have Into Then, opening with slow drumming echoing around the confines of your head. The darker atmosphere is maintained until sudden blasts of noise rupture the tension. The drumming begins to build, becoming more aggressive. A feeling not unlike some more Industrial based works. Ending upon fading vocals, whispering words twist around each other.

Feeble is a good release. It showcases multiple sides to Zebra Mu, there’s the mild falter with Stamping Down, but besides that there’s no real faults. The mixture of dark ambient, industrial and noise is well utilized and even in such an oversaturated genre still manages to sound fresh. I’d advise picking this up, as far as I know it’s a pretty limited release.

Stapesaw Zine Issue 1
Zebra Mu: Merzbau C5 (Quagga Curious Sounds)
June 2010

Easily one of my favourites in the noise underground, Zebra Mu’s latest personal release through his own label, Quagga Curious Sounds, is a very brief C5 tape entitled “Merzbau,” named after the famous work by Kurt Schwitters and also an anagram of Zebra Mu (it took me a while to realise too), consisting of a two-and-half-minute or so track on each side of the tape.
Those familiar with Zebra Mu will also be familiar with the harshness and brutality that he usually conjures up, but “Merzbau” is a huge step away from harsh noise, and even noise in general, preferring a more straight up experimental sound.
Side A’s track, “Dragged Across a Concrete Floor,” would most certainly be terrifying in the right setting. The predominant sound is what sounds like very manipulated and chopped up backwards speech, like the backwards messages from 80s metal albums, juxtaposed with wind-like sounds and scrapes. While maintaining the backwards speech throughout, the track builds in intensity and terror, becoming really enshrouding and oppressive without never needing to be harsh. A very well composed piece.
Side B’s track, “Church Bells and Squeaky Chairs,” is clearly just what the title says. The sound of church bells and passing traffic constantly plays throughout, and the squeak of most likely multiple chairs sounds out schizophrenically but regularly. Even though this may sound quite unimaginative and dull at first, the arrhythmic manipulation of the sublime sound of church bells is really quite capturing, and the passing traffic adds a sort of earthliness to it. Added with the non-sequitur of the squeaky chairs, the track almost has sort of a modest, surreal sense of fascination.
Despite being quite a sharp veer away from “usual” Zebra Mu, “Merzbau” is a solid exploration of straightforward experimentalism and sound art, and something that keeps Zebra Mu all the more interesting and fresh.
Rating: 8/10

Heathen Harvest
Zebra Mu / Grim Kirby / Kinky Cinch: 3-Way Split CDr (Noise Park Activities)
August 2009

This cd is a split between noise/glitch/breakcore artists Grim Kirby, Zebra MU and Kinky Cinch. Like others in their extended genre landscape they all have quite a catalogue of releases behind them. This however is their only collaboration to date. Pity. It would be intriguing to hear what they could come up with if their collaboration would be developed further. This is certainly good enough to trigger my fantasies.

Judging from both cover and track titles I was not initially sure what to expect. I had never heard of any of the artists before, and there is certainly something very new rave about the whole design. I was probably expecting electroclash or dreary disco or something. I couldn’t have been further from the truth as my ears are instantly invaded by electronic glitchy noise music. I am glad to discover that it is one of the more interesting noise records in my collection. Noise can be tedious when listened to on album, but such is not the case with this release. It’s maniacal and never boring.

In fact, this CD is as eclectic as its cover would imply. A rainbow colored explosion of jagged edges, hamburgers with eyes, pills, lego, toy instruments and a certain dosage of dope. Even the twisted, shattered, pornography is present – in some strange way. The opening is a strange mix between glitch and dark ambient, with a certain touch of extreme noise, and this is the style you can expect from the rest of the cd as well. However it is still consistent enought not to sound like a split. The textures have oviously taken a great deal of time and dedication to create, and every second, from the get go to the finish is saturated with atmosphere. A rare thing for a release as hard as this. The production value is excellent, and the tracks are seamlessly mixed together and the ensuing weirdness is evidently and obviously intended. The entire recording is like one long track, in a good way. The tracks do however vary greatly in length, from just about a minute to over twelve minutes, but this lends to the general atmosphere of rogue unpredictability.

Sampled vocals, electronic signal errors, harsh noise, analogue sounding noise, strange beats, C64, and even busted up pieces of melody – even ambient soundscapes. You can find it all on this CD, and everything is equally exciting. I have not really heard anything I can compare this release to, and I guess you’ll just have to hear it for yourself. It’s really worth it. There isn’t much more to it. Hope to hear more like this. For a split it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve heard before.

Aural Sandpaper #4
Zebra Mu / Schadenfreude: The Good, The Bent, & The Twisted (Catch23 Recordings)
June 2009

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted an Aural Sandpaper, and I have no excuse other than there have been thrilling things like interviews with DMX that I felt were more deserving of your attention. However, as my primary goal with this blog is to use it to eventually become the Arts & Leisure editor of the Times, I figure I may as well write about music or something, like I told myself I would. And so, for your listening displeasure, today I present to you the unbearable sounds of Zebra Mu & Schadenfreude.

I’m jumping the shark a bit in terms of sheer unpalatability with Zebra Mu & Schadenfreude. My last post was about Big Black, a band that is certainly abrasive, but still uses things like melody, rhythm, meter, and other such outdated musical cliches. These dudes, on the other hand, make absolute, honest-to-God noise. Maybe it could be called sound collage, maybe it could be called abstract composition, maybe it could be called, I don’t know, something else (there’s my Washington Post audition sentence), but really, it should just be called “guys destroying shit on tape.” It’s like the audio form of Jackass, only not funny and twelve-year-olds wouldn’t like it. I like to think I have a high tolerance for extreme weirdness, and can listen to just about anything, no matter how nauseating (I plan to write about Wolf Eyes next), but Schadenfreude and especially Zebra Mu really bother me. This is maybe the only piece of music I possess that I can’t listen to. I downloaded this album last summer during a fleeting period of fascination with circuit bending, and I only now made it through the whole thing.

Circuit bending is manipulation of electronics like toys and cheap keyboards for musical purposes. It creates new, experimental sounds by using devices in a way they were not intended to be used. While circuit bending can produce results where the source sound is still recognizable, that is not how Zebra Mu & Schadenfreude do it. They are more apt to record a tape being eaten or a toy being dismantled by a screwdriver. While these sounds may have at some point been a Tickle-Me-Elmo or something, now they sound like a broken stereo being dragged by a car. The squalling white noise and grinding gears are disorienting and irritating. There are no patterns, very few recognizable melodies, and a whole lot of racket. It may remind you of your VCR fucking up your copy of Fern Gully.

What makes this album so difficult to listen to for me is the aforementioned lack of pattern. There’s no rhythm to grab hold of, so it just becomes an assaultive collection of cheap, hideous broken electronic noises. It’s impossible to follow, making it extremely difficult to focus on while listening to, and it’s too abrasive for background music. It may be beautiful to the smallest of niche audiences, but it would only annoy most listeners. It’s interesting conceptually for its repurposing of items with a fixed meaning, making it a form of evil children’s music, but it’s so headache-inducing to listen to. Which is not to say that headache induction is its ultimate goal. It’s not cruel like other super-abrasive music (again, I’m thinking of Wolf Eyes), where the performers are trying to freak people out. Zebra Mu & Schadenfreude seemingly more interested in finding out what happens when things get taken apart. This is nerdy rather than aggressive. Which kind of contradicts what I was saying about how painful to listen to this is; don’t get me wrong, it’s still painful. It’s just that the pain is more a side effect than the intended result. But, like many medications, the side effects are worse than the disease (if after taking Viagra you ejaculate blood, please consult your physician).

I must say, though, these dudes are growing on me. I’m going to listen to them side by side with Drake now.


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