I heard about Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” and that it was one of the worst albums ever on several websites, and that the maker himself did not ever even listen to the whole thing in one sitting, so I decided it would be proper to challenge myself to listen to the entire album. I wasn’t really aware of how crazy that idea would be.
It was a bit scary to press the play button. (I would have preferred to throw the needle on the vinyl but alas, that’s not possible right now)
Here’s my log of what happened during this hour-long auditory torture session:
1: It’s noisy guitar feedback loops at different frequencies. Kind of cool. Kind of boring.
2: This is going to be hard. It’s so repetitive.
3: Gosh this is weird. There’s way more variety than I originally anticipated. It’s like he suddenly threw in a bunch of random stuff, which I’m very thankful for, if things stay on this track it might not be so hard to get through the whole thing
4: Really strange and quiet sounding. Weirdness. I just thought of robots.
5: Thought I heard a national anthem for a few seconds. There’s this really grating noise that just won’t stop, above the variety of all the other loops. MAKE IT STOP
6: Horrible tinnitus and helicopter sounds. A bit of insanity and old video game connotations. I just heard one snippet of jazz piano. Then nothing. Then another piece.
7: I need some water. I don’t even know what to this of this music… no, it’s noise I guess. I don’t know what it is.
8: OWW THIS INFERNAL BEEPING. Almost got to song quality before fading into oblivion. There’s the Apache overhead again.
9: [Walk to get a bite of celery. Bump into the counter] I can’t make any remarks right now. Brain not functional. A monocled minimalist head with a top hat pops into my head. [The dog runs by from around a corner] AHH I’M SCARED [someone walks in the room and I internally scream]
10: I just hallucinated the dog or some face behind the kitchen table then he ran from the left to right, far away from my hallucination. I can’t tell which was scarier. My nerves are pretty messed up.
12: damn that was a creepy out of place sound. And the cursor on my computer–NO THERE”S SCREAMING IN THE ALBUM, STOP!! the sounds of bombs exploding and a man laughing.
13: I thought the tea kettle just looked at me.
14: This reminds me of Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner. This record is way more interesting than I originally expected. It got quite pleasant for ten seconds, much more minimalistic.
15: crap I’m only 25.25% done with this. I have no idea what will happen. I hope my sanity stays intact.
16: Calm down, don’t get nervous. It’s OK. NO STOP SCREAMING
17: Crap, an ad happened which was just as scary as this messed up screaming sound. If the beginning of this album was this insane I would have probably stopped immediately. I’m compulsively checking the minutes to when this will end. I really expected to have more thoughts. This seems more to work like that middle school story about the dystopian society that nullifies smart people’s thoughts so everyone has the same net intelligence level. It’s like the noise is merging into my thoughts.
19: How can there be so much variety in something that’s simply just noise? Finally the torturing animal/screaming sounds are done. Or are they? Heard a few bright moments of an actual guitar solo. I feel a little more sane than before. What would happen if they played this in Guantanamo Bay?
20: I hear tinnitus again. Not from me. Things in the corner of my eyes are jumping slightly, creating a marginally jarring effect. A particularly cacophanous ephemeral clang arises. That’s old news I guess, the sounds are always changing and they’re not worth explaining too heavily.
23: Longest stretch without checking the time so far. 🙂 Woah, it almost went quiet. That was a relief. Why didn’t Lou Reed hear the damn thing? It’s not THAT bad. I guess he was more afraid than me? Or just wanted to guarantee the safety of his brain? Why would you make something and not listen to it? I hear my own compositions 50-200 times for God’s sake. There was just a very pleasant little riff. This would be surprisingly good musical inspiration for an EXTREMELY subtle-eared musician. Cool patterns can occasionally be plucked out of the chaos.
25: Thought I saw a phantom after I opened my eyes after keeping them closed a while. Not afraid though. My brain seems to be in a sense accepting this ruckus as normal except when something like that morse code sound happens.
26: I really want to do something fun. This is making everything else seem better. It must be rock bottom in the record world.
27: Why did I sign up for this? But it’s too late to stop now. Even the screaming and terrible morse code sounds are beginning to feel normal somehow. I wonder if I’ll keep hearing this crap in my head until I go to bed. I wonder what I’ll dream about.
30: Heard The Marriage of Figaro. Will Metal Machine Music have a positive or negative result on a composer like me? Or is it just a waste of time? [90’s cheesy film trailer voice] Only time will tell.
32: How many other people have even done this? It’s crazy people actually listen to noise on purpose, although in some bizarre way, I kind of get it. It’s absolute randomness. (* or at least something vaguely similar)
34: I’m even used to that screaming sound. It doesn’t seem super expressive anymore.
35: quietness, please get stronger. I need you. Against the backdrop of this sound my humanity feels much more concrete and beautiful in a sense. I’m a meaningful pattern compared to all this auditory chaos.
37: This is quite a while to sit down and just write. But somehow I managed to make it more than halfway through. It seems I can, at last, make a few observances: #1 I’m not going insane. #2 I was going a little insane temporarily, earlier on. #3 It will be nice when this is done but it might circulate in my head more. #4 I took a lot of B12 for brain function today and if this sound somehow messes up my brain instead of helping it, and uses the power of the B12 to make a larger impression than it otherwise would, then damn it and I would really regret this experiment.
39: Few notes of a song again. What if someone listened to this in headphones at school to drown out the teacher? It would work better than white noise.
40: Up until now, not too much of the album has actually been repeated. I have a lot of respect for this guy, because instead of looping the same noise over and over he actually put in the effort, although maybe talent isn’t required, to make something that is quite varied. Not that the average person would notice all the variety. It’s pretty subtle.
41: I’m turning the volume down slightly so my ears don’t get damaged. It seemed like a big difference at first but now it sounds about the same. This would not be the sort of thing I would consider getting tinnitus worth. Is that a sentence? Can I English?
42: Thinking about life a bit.
44: My brain’s gone pretty quiet again. I seem to be aware of everything I do and every movement I make on a much more sensitive level. It’s interesting. It really wouldn’t surprise me if some unforeseen side effects occurred from this.
48: Longest stretch without a comment. I feel pretty peaceful. Music is so subjective that I feel like a culture could consider this music. It seems to be meshing with my brain, after 30 minutes. It took 15 minutes for Trout Mask Replica to, and only a few minutes for The Shaggs. So it seems that the more noise something has the more alien to the nervous system it is. But anything will become normalized with sufficient time and effort, depending on the resistance of someone to it.
50: It’s not that I’m actually tuning the music out, but it just isn’t producing much of a response. I actually feel quite calm and happy to be writing. I wonder if I would feel that way if I wasn’t listening to any music at all, probably. Is this music? Lou says so.
52: Thankgiving’s tomorrow. That’s exciting. I’m excited about life. That rarely happens. Is the music part of why? Wow.
53: Those things you hear on TV test programs, a low sine wave followed by a high one, I just heard one in the music. Why is this called Metal Machine Music? Heavy Metal? Not check. Machines? Sorta check. Music? Not check, not really.
Metal Machine Music, combined? I guess it kind of qualifies but I probably would entitle it as “feedback: the album”
54: I don’t know what would happen to my sanity if I didn’t check the time. I think it would be 5x harder an experiment. I challenge you to try. It’s almost the only thing holding any of this together. It’s almost done! Finally!
55: Just heard a quite pleasant section. Thought I saw something billowing in the window curtain. Shouldn’t think too much about it. Probably from the heater that may have just turned on, I couldn’t hear the difference with this sound playing anyhow. I have the feeling that playing Metal Machine Music is causing a bit of split personality in me.
58: It reminds me of Purgatory. It’s so neutral that this album is like an unaffiliated place in which you can think about other things fairly. I have a slight headache. This would be a bigger issue if it had happened a while ago, now I’m almost finished.
59: How can I possibly consider this normal? It dawned on me freshly. This is truly bizarre.
61: I like when this sounds like music but I still dislike the screaming. He should have taken it off if he didn’t want people to get freaked out by this album. And the bomb sounds. And the abrupt starts and stops.
My review: 2/10. It has some interesting possible side effects from horrible to good, roll the dice if you want to. Listening to the whole thing is pretty crazy, but YOLO.