She is a noise album by Mike Patton and Masami Akita (also known as Merzbow). It was released on September 14th, 1999 on Patton’s own label, Ipecac, after being recorded at Yellowknife Studios in Tokyo in 1997. It is 36 minutes and 6 seconds long and is the only release by Maldoror (they have performed some live shows).
The name ‘Maldoror’ is borrowed from the title of a poetic novel by the French surrealist Lautréamont, Les Chants de Maldoror. The grand poem was an early experiment in surrealism that had a big influence on later practitioners of the genre like Andre Breton and Max Ernst. Both the strange titles and the experimentalism of the music here are a testament to this inspiration from surrealist art. The sound of Maldoror is somewhere between improvised noise and structured, composed efforts.
The duo was formed when Patton had some days off while touring in Australia with Faith No More. At that time he was very interested in Japanese noise music and therefore contacted Akita whose 200 records as Merzbow make him one of the world’s most prolific and well-known noise artists. The two performed some improvised shows together in Australia and later met up in Tokyo for a recording.
Patton later arranged those recordings at his own Vulcan Studios in San Francisco, adding overdubs and samples. The album is made up of 12 short tracks and one longer final track.
The first track is a rollick through some kind of Looney Tunes sound archive, an offbeat and zany start to the album.
Twitch of the Death Nerve
A harsh electronic crescendo is followed by industrial sounds and a screaming Mike Patton.
Featured here are sounds like the T.A.R.D.I.S, layered and foreboding vocals from Patton, watery sound effects and a noise like an air raid siren.
Boutique of 7 Taboos
Noir sound effects that create the soundscape of a sewer, complete with Patton’s breathing anxiously like a rodent, give way to a noise explosion and a large gong-like roar before Patton draws this short track to a finish with his malevolent chuckling.
Wailing electronics, feedback and white noise is followed by a repetitive sequence of tones and a cataclysm that sounds like a collection of malfunctioning R2-D2s.
Baby Powder on Peach Fuzz
A percussive start with a single, unforgiving beat is joined by Patton’s characteristic grunting. This is the most rhythmic track of the album.
The title track is an eerie landscape of sound which feels like an abandoned sewer or warehouse. Patton ethereal sing-screams. At the end is the sound of a girl laughing—the She of the title?
Cherry Blossom Inferno
A destructive opening to this track that sounds like a shed being wrecked by a juggernaut opens to Patton vocalising in distress like a baby.
The Conqueror Worm
Here Patton’s vocals are rhythmic and rise in intensity. The title is a reference to American gothic poet Edgar Allen Poe’s 1843 work on the tragedy of human life tending towards death.
Bubble Bath and a Valium
A breathy Patton is muffled and creates sounds somewhere between sexual and snoring. His impression of a deranged person rooting amongst trash is followed by a final explosion of noise courtesy of Akita.
The White Tears of the Maggot
Sirens and whistles are added to what sounds like music sampled from an ice cream van. The title continues the invertebrate theme of The Conqueror Worm.
This track is more rhythmic, almost EDM-like at points; its title is, perhaps relatedly, clearly erotic.
Lullaby (She Who Must Be Obeyed)
The final track on She is much longer than all the rest and more ambient, drone-like than the others. Muted, bass sounds create a submarine soundscape with occasional bleeps and bloops in a higher register. It’s unsettling—not exactly a lullaby—save for the strange strum of an arpeggiated chord on a harp at the very, very end.
Masami Akita provided electronics. Mike Patton is on vocals here, of course, but also did electronics. George Horn mastered the album at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. Adam Muñoz did digital editing at Different Fur in San Francisco.
The CD features artwork by Franz von Bayros (1866–1924), Milo Manara, Magnus, John Yates and the Zuccatosta Sisters.
Most reviews are negative. Many find the cartoon sound effects grating in particular. Kieran McCarthy at All Music slated the album, giving it a mere 1.5 out of 5; for McCarthy, there’s nothing new and exciting in this ‘experimental’ work, which is ‘disappointingly predictable’ and produces nothing that hasn’t been done better by someone else already. On Cherry Blossom Inferno Patton sounds no different to on his album Adult Themes for Voice, while Butterfly Kiss sounds like Fantomas’s similar explorations through the cartoon sound archive. McCarthy recommends the album only for dedicated collectors of the music of Patton and Akita; for newcomers and everyone else, keep away, he says.
A user of Sputnik Music, on the other hand, rates the album a more substantial 3.5 out of 5. Though they note She is not a very original album, with similarities to Patton’s solo album Adult Themes for Voice and his work with Fantomas, the reviewer nonetheless reckons that fans of Akita and Patton will be rewarded by listening to this ‘interesting’ album.