Japan pt 3


THIS IS THIS: Keiji Haino

Keiji Haino is an artist from Japan about whom practically nothing is known. Buy all of his records right now.

A true giant for our times, Keiji Haino (KH) wisely avoids many conventional routes of publicity, and refuses point-blank to play the record company game. Instead he expresses himself 200-percent through his music, and through his very deliberately crafted image. Black is the colour of his soul, and is used at all times: CD sleeves and labels are printed black on black, he only dresses in black leather or cotton, he is never photographed without his jet-black shades. At a live performance I was privileged to see, he insisted on blacking out all the house lights to create as near as possible the ideal environment for his sunless soul to thrive. When the great Patty Waters sung ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair’ on her 1966 ESP album (ESP-1025), she was anticipating the rise of Keiji Haino with her extended free-form wails of ‘BLAAAAAAAAACCCK!!!’

He is an androgynous alien, a leaping black stick insect. This was the impression I took home after the Disobey concert in 1994, from which my head continued to buzz for a full 48 hours. I have never been the same since. His percussion piece (for which the total darkness was required) began to resemble a black magic ritual; his movements were sudden and strange as he leaped from cymbal to cymbal. Absolute silence had been demanded of the audience. We all managed to comply – except for one or two, who considered their trivial blather more important than the astounding rite being performed before us. They were the cause of his sudden termination of the piece and his angry departure – and he had given them warning with a pointed clang from his biggest cymbal. I can only apologise for the UK audience – we are misguided philistines!

The guitar piece from that same concert was about the most unbelievable performance I have witnessed. It is surely impossible for a force of this power to be pouring out of one person. It is a ritual purging, the cleansing of unholy elements with a spiritual blast from a water-cannon. It is a celestial radio receiver tuning in to a noise that we have been hearing all our lives. Never until now has anyone dared to give it expression. It is a noise known since the dawn of time, heard by dinosaurs, feared by primitive man, and now brought into a unwilling 20th-century world to confront. KH makes all other music appear to be merely descriptive of experience. If classical music attempts to sing about the grandeur of the mountain, KH is the mountain.

I claim KH as a personal spiritual mentor, his CDs and performances have, for me, served as maps to uncharted regions of the soul. A recent release, in part describing him as a ‘Guide-Y Man’ seems to confirm this. A spooky rumour once crossed the desk – that KH wears the clothes of his dead mother. He has been playing music since the 1970s, yet appears to be ageless. If you ever see him live, you will believe he was born in the roaring centre of the Hiroshima blast.

This much is factual: the following CDs are available, all of them of intense interest.
As solo records:

Execration that Accept to Acknowledge
The Book of “Eternity Set Aflame”
Byron Coley at Forced Exposure has done much to spread the gospel of KH; he published some excellent record reviews in the last issue and I heard that an entire issue devoted to KH was planned. These CDs are put together from some exceptional performances. Execration is a 41 minutes continual piece. KH gasps for air in between screeches as he rides the waves of feedback, hanging ten on his ‘axe’. Eternity Set Aflame is three pieces. The second is the sound of 200 massed bagpipes at the top of a Scottish Cromlech at midnight by the sea. Glissando waves of abstract melodies vie for position, growing increasingly strange as you pass forward into the centre of this globe of doom. When you arrive the very fabric of your being is warmed by an incandescent ball of energy. On the third track, a characteristically scorching guitar attack, KH’s body is his own tape-edit machine, easily changing the direction of the massive sound with each sweep of his mitt. But the first track remains an unbeatable masterpiece here; the foghorn sirens blown through factory chimneys while whirlpools of tidal waves crash around Keiji’s feet and he stands invincible, taming the elements. It is simply not possible to play this music on a guitar.

A Challenge To Fate
A personal favourite, chiefly for the contrasting range of unbearable emotions it conjures. ‘My Only Friend’ should reduce you to tears. What a keening, haunting, plaintive ululation issues from his throat, as he plays a simple guitar figure that has dropped from Heaven. The first, second and third ‘Darkness’ pieces are terrifying, deep elemental gruntings and screeches, a patient strapped to his mattress suffering foul nightmares in the dark. We find here his lyrics and song titles – purest poetry that makes a haiku look cluttered – translated into English, providing a rare hint of some of the content that informs KH’s work. Battles with the elements, wrestling with his cursed fate, his doomed friendships. ‘Swimming In the Midest of Stalking fate | It Has No Form | It is Not A Joy | Like that.’ I also love the stark sleeve note for this item: ‘Utilizing no overdubbing. This is this.’

The 21st Century Hard-Y Guide-Y Man
Another astounding masterpiece. KH is the Emperor of Drone – the endless stream of sound that evokes a taste of eternity. At Disobey, he wailed dorian intervals over a long drone, for which my guess is he used a ‘continuum’, a rotating rosin wheel on a string, which he fed thro’ pedal effects – for me the drone connected him to another Visionary Genius, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. For Hard-Y Guide-Y, KH delivers a network of intense sonic bombardment akin to a bed of needles performing mad acupuncture on your brain to release dark thoughts. That this surgery is realised through these antiquated acoustic instruments defies belief – you realise it in those moments of punctuation when he pauses from grinding the hurdy-gurdy handle. But for the last track, he dares to feed it though his secret arsenal of effects pedals. You will die when you hear this! So make your will first.

And with the trio Fushitsusha, in which KH plays guitar with bassist and drummer whose names are not known to me at this time:

Allegorical Misunderstanding
The Caution Appears
Purple Trap
Both Caution and Pathetique deliver the classic Fushitsusha goods; loud, distorted, colossal exploding improvs extended to infinity. You can get an excellent taster of this on the third Tokyo Flashbacks sampler. Caution has some interesting edits – three short sections of less than a minute each, are slotted in between the longer improvisations. Allegorical is on John Zorn’s label; the trio in quieter, more reflective and mysterious magic mode. ‘Magic I-X’ are ten shortish pieces that work to bizarre stop-start, staccato dynamics. Purple Trap,also titled ‘The Wound that was given birth to must be bigger than the wound that gave birth’ is not brilliantly recorded (quite a bit of amp fuzz and background audience chattering), and some of the songs are a bit slow in getting started – but one of the best performances overall. ‘Beauty So Great that one can still go insane’ is the most intoxicating slow-moving journey up the River Styx – I’m glad that Keiji was playing Charon on this occasion! We have Disobey to thank for this concert, once again – the great UK appearance at Brixton Canterbury Arms (of all places!), where once again an unforgettable image resulted. Having finished a blistering two-hour performance, KH unstrapped his guitar and tried to make his theatrical exit through the fire doors. They were locked. Thwarted, he simply flopped down in the corner with his head to one side – all energy spent, transformed from a flailing maniac into a lifeless china doll.