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Friday, March 11, 2022

Keiji Haino - My lord Music, I most humbly beg your indulgence in the hope that you will do me the honour of permitting this seed called Keiji Haino to be planted within you (Purple Trap / Black Editions, 2022) *****

By Stuart Broomer

There’s are spiritual traditions involving musical components that reach back to the paleolithic and involve trance and possession - psychic transformation - to achieve spiritual knowledge, routes as apt to suggest the furies as mystic calm, and they have persisted to the present in Gnawa healing ceremonies, Tuvan throat singing and Tibetan Buddhist rituals. Dimensions of such traditions have also sublimated through global musical practices, many of which have come to inform free jazz, which in its early years could pass rapidly from “style” to ecstatic chaos or trance. Can anyone imagine that Coltrane’s Om or Kulu Sé Mama or Albert Ayler’s Bells represents a “style” of music? Likely neither those who hate them or those who love them might deploy the term in complete comfort, “style” suggesting lifestyle complement, audio decor.

Similarly, there are rich traditions in Japanese spirituality of excess and embrace of the forbidden, embodied to a degree in the figure of Ikkyū, fifteenth-century monk and a crucial figure in Zen Buddhism - poet, drunk and libertine who late in life reluctantly became the abbot of a monastery. Illumination or expression is the issue, not form. You can catch it in some of the music of Yoko Ono or Otomo Yoshihide, but it comes through strongest in the diverse musical practices of Keiji Haino. It’s apparent in his vocals, in his guitar playing and it’s apparent, in another dimension, in his hurdy-gurdy playing, as heard here on My lord Music… in a nine-part, 67-minute performance (each track shares that prayer-like title) recorded April 7, 2019 at Zebulon in Los Angeles as part of Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s curated by Mika Yoshitake, the performance produced by Black Editions and the Blum & Poe Gallery. This also marks the rebirth of Haino’s Purple Trap label.

The hurdy-gurdy is one of humanity’s great sonic inventions, a relative of the violin in which a hand-crank/bow can play all the strings at once continuously, rather like the tamboura player in an Indian ensemble continuously plucks drone strings. As well as drone strings, the hurdy-gurdy has melody strings on which one can finger melodies, and it may also include sympathetic resonating strings. The continuous roar/ whine of the drone strings may suggest the great tranquil continuum of meadow or forest or a certain menacing madness. Whichever it is, it’s intense, and in Haino’s art the two may go hand-in-hand.

What’s miraculous about his performance here is how brilliantly he explores and exploits the instrument’s largely untapped expressive potential, including even chromatic movement of the drone strings in segments A 3 and A 4, though trying to sort out Haino’s techniques on so complex and unusual an instrument, including likely preparations, may be folly. Some of the music’s special power derives from the interaction of the melody strings and the drone strings. The gritty wail of the drone strings creates subtle beat patterns amongst the pitches of the individual strings as the pressure of the bow makes slight distinctions in pitch. The melody strings pick up on this complex resonance, interacting with it and subtly changing the sonic texture of the melody string. The effect blurs the sound of the melody string and it may sound like anything from a violin string (which it essentially is) to a high-pitched human voice to an air-raid or police siren. At times, as on the longer episode B2, it definitely sounds like there is a human voice present as well, but the overall sound also suggests the specific wail of a bagpipe. The chipping percussive highs of C1 are another distinctive kind of sonic event, as are the mysterious whistling voices of C2, suggesting the calls of mythological furies. D2 generates a richly calm conclusion.

Throughout there’s a remarkable range of textures as well as a radical musical vision wedded to the hurdy-gurdy’s special possibilities. It’s another fine instance of improvised music finding unknown dimension in an intense exploration of a largely neglected, vernacular instrument.