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Kikuri with Buttercup Metal Polish and Tom Tlalim

cover imageMasami Akita and Keiji Haino's collaborative project played the last concert of their three date tour of Europe in Geneva. Luckily I was in the city for a conference and could go see them (and had packed my earplugs in preparation). It was a memorable evening as they put on a monstrously powerful show that resulted in an epileptic fit, impromptu karaoke, a bottle in my face, and a sudden end to the concert and the tour.

15 July, Geneva, Switzerland

Buttercup Metal Polish are a pair of Swiss drummers who mix a Melvins-esque stomp with more emphasis on free improvisation rather than just a pummelling rhythm. They were joined this evening by Israel’s Tom Tlalim who fleshed out their drum-only sound with his electronic gurgling. The trio worked very well for their half hour set; grinding beats broke away into fragmented explosions of manic drumming, all the while drones and electronic noise from Tlalim creating a vivid background for the drummers’ spirited performance.

After a short period of rearrangement to accommodate Akita and Haino’s set, the two elder statesmen of extreme Japanese music strode onto the stage. Taking things slowly, Akita held back while Haino released small bursts of notes from a flute like birdsong from some strange new species. As Akita started to increase the volume and the power coming from his brace of laptops, Haino moved to vocals. Deep throat singing being run through huge amounts of reverb sounded as alien as the pure noise being produced by the machines. The intensity of the performance kept increasing, obviously having a very real effect on one person in front of me who had a seizure and passed out (I must say the Swiss gig-goers were very quick to help him and he regained consciousness after a very short while, seeming to be OK which was good).

cover   imageFrom my perch at the side of the stage, it was evident that these two men worked in very different ways. Akita’s body of work as Merzbow is the epitome of chaos. There is little rhyme and no reason to what he does, for best and for worst it is noise at its purest. Yet in the flesh he is the essence of calm, looking more like he was working on a puzzle and not causing the audience’s insides to melt from the sounds he was generating. Haino on the other hand has produced a canon that appears chaotic on the surface yet is far more calculated when investigated further. On stage he is a furious creature, never keeping still and changing instruments constantly like a child with far too many toys to play with. Throughout the evening he used his voice, flute, drums, drum machine, three air synths, a mystery stringed instrument (acoustic and seemingly non-existent in the annals of stringed instruments online and definitely not something I’ve encountered on my travels before) and, of course, guitar.

Watching Haino play guitar is liking watching the weather, it is a complex system that has some sort of order but it is mostly impossible to predict what will happen next. It is possible to make a rough prediction but the focus of Haino’s playing can shift considerably instantly. Playing a lovely old Gibson SG through four Fender amps made a sound that cut through Akita’s mighty din (overpowering the PA); unlike a lot of modern guitarists Haino boosts the middle frequencies rather than the low end, ensuring that it hurts the listener. The only thing to be done when faced by such a passionate and sincere musical performance is to embrace it as much as possible, to try and connect with whatever it is that Haino is broadcasting.

cover   imageUnfortunately I felt an all too physical connection with Haino at the end of the night. The Kikuri performance had reached the two hour mark and looked like it might go all night (I had already missed the last bus to France, where my hotel was located, and was facing a long walk home). Akita had relocated to behind the drum kit where he proved to be not only a competent drummer but a bloody excellent one and Haino was singing and accompanying himself on the mystery stringed instrument mentioned earlier. During this quiet and evocative segment, a member of the audience clambered onto the stage and began to sing along through one of the other microphones. As neither Haino nor Akita made any indication that they noticed the man, let alone disapproved, this guy kept on singing. It was both inspiring to see someone so gripped by the music that he could not help but join in and also a little annoying that he thought that such a wonderful sound needed his input.

At some point Haino decided that this was not how it should go and jumped up screaming and pushing the intruder before staff removed him from the stage. Haino was visibly enraged as he turned to Akita screaming and pointing his finger, shaking, at the unwanted guest. Akita shrugged his shoulders in a “Hey, I thought it was OK” motion and the crowd seemed unsure as to what would happen next. What did happen next was that a water bottle sailed from the back of the room and hit Haino in the back. Quickly Haino went from angry to nuclear, picking up the bottle and throwing it full force at whatever was closest and didn’t belong to him. Unfortunately the closest thing from that vantage point was my face.

Haino and Akita quickly left the stage, leaving me a bewildered as to whether Haino had really bottled me or not. The lights stayed off and the amps buzzed loudly for a few minutes before it was certain that this concert was well and truly over as the sound engineers took apart the equipment. It was frustrating to leave the venue at this point, Kikuri were more than the sum of their parts and seemed like they were intending to play all night. To have that cut short (and getting a belt in the face) because an unauthorised someone got on stage was exasperating. However, what happened, happened and I walked out into the warm night and started the long walk to France, contemplating the evening’s entertainment.


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As a violinist, Eyvind Kang has played with the likes of Sun City Girls, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs 3, Laurie Anderson and many others. As a composer, Kang has carved out a unique position for himself, releasing a series of studio albums drawing on his concept of the NADE (a concept which I won't attempt to explain here, mostly because I don't understand it). The albums combined elements of disparate ethnic music forms with esoteric spiritual ideas, and sudden, unexpected transitions into fully-formed pop songs or long passages of pastoral ambience. I've liked most of his work that I've heard so far (especially 2000's The Story of Iceland), but it appears that Kang has outdone himself with Virginal Co-ordinates, a beautiful recording of an ambitious live performance staged in Italy last year. Kang composes and conducts a 16 piece ensemble—called the Playground—augmented by himself on violin and several guest musicians, including Mike Patton on voice and electronics, Michael White (former Sun Ra Arkestra violinist) and Tim Young on electric guitar. I suppose the inclusion of Mike Patton is the only reason this album has surfaced on Ipecac Recordings, seeing as it's otherwise entirely different from the label's usual output. It's quite an impressive work, split up into ten movements of varying lengths, each gently joined to the next with gossamer instrumental threads. The title of the work evokes images of untouched glacial expanses, secluded valleys and mountains untouched and unadulterated by the progress of man—Virginal Co-ordinates in which the mind and spirit are free to find connections with nature beyond those limited ideas inculcated in us by the artificial strictures of society. The album artwork is pure white, the color of virginity, with a white cobra in the center, appearing poised to strike. The cobra is a perfect symbol for the current of hidden menace that runs through much of the music. There is a spiritual yearning throughout, but it is often joined by vibrating undercurrents of dread. "I am the Dead" transforms into a full-blow orchestral pop song with echoes of Brian Wilson, but its lyrics presage the death and rebirth rituals of the Bardo Todol. Mike Patton's voice lends an ethereal beauty to certain passages, and Walter Zianetti steals the show with his acoustic guitar solo on "Taksim." Elements of Spanish guitar, Indian raga, tonal Oriental scales, film soundtracks and American pastoral symphonies all weave their way into Kang's work, culminating in the majesty of the title track, a magnificent, shape-shifting wall of orchestral noise in which musical phrases from earlier movements are recycled and juxtaposed to hypnotic effect. At 73 minutes, Virginal Co-ordinates is never boring, which is something that cannot often be said for works of modern composition. In fact, its appeal goes well beyond the usual modern classical crowd, and I imagine it would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the transformative and magical possibilities of music. 


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