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Metal Machine Music, subtitled *The Amine β Ring, is the fifth solo album by American rock musician Lou Reed. It was originally released as a double album by RCA Records in 1975. A departure from the rest of Reed's catalog, Metal Machine Music is considered to be a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of modulated feedback and guitar effects, mixed at varying speeds by Reed. In the album's liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre. The album cost Reed credibility in the music industry while simultaneously opening the door for his later, more experimental material. Historically, Metal Machine Music is considered a forerunner of industrial music, noise rock, and contemporary sound art.
In 2010, Reed, Ulrich Krieger, and Sarth Calhoun collaborated to tour, playing free improvisation inspired by the album, as Metal Machine Trio. That same year, Reed announced his plans to re-release Metal Machine Music in remastered form.
- 2 Critical reception
- 3 Performance
- 4 Track listing
- 5 References
- 6 Citations
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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According to Reed (despite the original liner notes), the album entirely consists of guitar feedback played at different speeds. The two guitars were tuned in unusual ways and played with different reverblevels. He would then place the guitars in front of their amplifiers, and the feedback from the very large amps would vibrate the strings—the guitars were, effectively, playing themselves. He recorded the work on a four-track tape recorder in his New York apartment, mixing the four tracks for stereo. In its original form, each track occupied one side of an LP record and was listed with a runtime of 16 minutes and 1 second, although the actual runtimes vary. The runtime for the fourth side was listed on the label as the symbol for infinity, because it ended in a locked groove, causing the last 1.8 seconds of music to repeat endlessly. The rare 8-track tape version has no silence in between programs, so that it plays continuously without gaps on most players. A quadraphonic disk was also released by RCA.
A major influence on Reed's recording was the mid-1960s drone music work of La Monte Young's Theater of Eternal Music (whose members included John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise and Marian Zazeela). Both Cale and Maclise were also members of the Velvet Underground (Maclise left before the group began recording). The Theater of Eternal Music's discordant sustained notes and loud amplification had influenced Cale's subsequent contribution to the Velvet Underground in his use of both discordance and feedback. Recent releases of works by Cale and Conrad from the mid-sixties, such as Cale's Inside the Dream Syndicate series (The Dream Syndicate being the alternative name given by Cale and Conrad to their collective work with Young) testify to the influence this important mid-sixties experimental work had on Reed ten years later.
In an interview with rock journalist Lester Bangs, Reed claimed that he had intentionally placed sonic allusions to classical works such as Beethoven's Eroica and Pastoral Symphonies in the distortion, and that he had attempted to have the album released on RCA's Red Seal classical label; it is not clear if he was being serious, although he repeated the latter claim in a 2007 interview.
On its release, it was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine as sounding like "the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator" and as displeasing to experience as "a night in a bus terminal". In the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide, critic Billy Altman said it was "a two-disc set consisting of nothing more than ear-wrecking electronic sludge, guaranteed to clear any room of humans in record time." (This aspect of the album is mentioned in the Bruce Sterling short story "Dori Bangs".) The first issue of the seminal New York zine Punk placed Reed and the album on its inaugural 1976 issue, presaging the advent of both punk and the discordance of the New York No Wave scene. To quote critic Victor Bockris, Reed's recording can be understood as "the ultimate conceptual punk album and the progenitor of New York punk rock." The album was ranked number two in the 1991 book The Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell. The book expresses sympathy for legendary record cutting engineer Bob Ludwig for having to listen to the album in its entirety. (In fact, according to the liner notes of the 2000 reissue of the album, Ludwig was "totally into what Lou was doing" and compared the work to that of avant-garde classical composers Iannis Xenakisand Karlheinz Stockhausen.) Robert Christgau, who gave the album a "C+" rating, indicating an album that is "a not disreputable performance, most likely a failed experiment or a pleasant piece of hackwork", referred to the release as Reed's "answer to Environments" and said it had "certainly raised consciousness in both the journalistic and business communities" and was not "totally unlistenable", though he admitted for white noise he would rather listen to "Sister Ray". In 2005, Q magazine included the album in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists", and it ranked number four in Q's fifty worst albums of all time list. It was again featured in Q magazine in December 2010 for the "Top Ten Career Suicides" list, where it came eighth overall. The Trouser Press Record Guide referred to it as "four sides of unlistenable oscillator noise," parenthetically calling that assessment "a description, not a value judgment."
Probably the most sympathetic appraisal of Metal Machine Music was given by rock critic Lester Bangs, who wrote that "as classical music it adds nothing to a genre that may well be depleted. As rock 'n' roll it's interesting garage electronic rock 'n' roll. As a statement it's great, as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity—a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity, but integrity nevertheless." Bangs later wrote a tongue-in-cheek article on Metal Machine Music titled "The Greatest Album Ever Made", in which he judged it "the greatest record ever made in the history of the human eardrum."
Despite the intensive criticism (or perhaps because of the exposure it generated), Metal Machine Music reportedly sold 100,000 copies in the US according to the liner notes of the Buddah Records CD issue. The original edition was withdrawn within three weeks of its release.
Lou Reed didn't perform Metal Machine Music on stage until March 2002, when he collaborated with an avant-garde classical ensemble at the MaerzMusik festival in Berlin, Germany. The 10-member group Zeitkratzer performed the original album with Reed in a new arrangement featuring classical string, wind, piano, and accordion. A few years later, he formed a band named the Metal Machine Trio as a noise rock/experimental side project.
- Side one
- "Metal Machine Music, Part 1" – 16:10
- Side two
- "Metal Machine Music, Part 2" – 15:53
- Side three
- "Metal Machine Music, Part 3" – 16:13
- Side four
- "Metal Machine Music, Part 4" – 15:55
On the original vinyl release, timings for sides 1–3 were stated as "16:01", while the 4th side read "16:01 or ∞", as the last groove on the LP was a continuous loop. On CD, this locked groove was imitated for the final 2:22 of the track, fading out at the end.