Early-twentieth-century German artist Kurt Schwitters cobbled together an architectural phantasmagoria, dubbed the Merzbau, in his Hanover apartment. It was the defining achievement of the style he called Merz: “Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz.”
On the New Yorker blog, Sasha Frere-Jones plots a trajectory from Schwitters’ Merzbau to Japanese noise musician Merzbow to Justin Bieber. The connection? Machines. Schwitters calls machines "abstractions of the human spirit.” Masami Akita (aka Merzbow) turns that idea into music by cranking up amplifiers without any audio inputs and letting the devices make their own noise. Bieber lets the voice of a different machine speak for him: the PR and music industry machine that runs his career.
Like many child stars, Bieber must invoke romance but avoid sensuality, which makes him the exact inverse of Masami Akita, who has used explicit sexual imagery since the start of his career. But the two are linked by a faith in their respective machines: Akita believes that his circuits and software will, with some urging, bring something out of themselves that reflects the human better than the human can. Bieber, like many pop listeners, is equally comfortable entrusting his career and his public person to a squad of professionals. Both reflect a diminishment of the self and an ability to accept a lesser agency in the face of what works. (What would Bieber’s songs sound like without Auto-Tune?) What works for Masami Akita is amplification, and the many outcomes when amplification is doubled and trebled. What works for Bieber is tracking and then carefully pitching to every living demographic, insofar as the data allows.