Keiji Haino: Black Blues (Violent Version) [Les Disques du Soleil et de l'Acier, 2004]
No better way to kick off my Japanese Music Series than with the endlessly fascinating Keiji Haino and his 1001 faces of freedom. As I have mentioned Haino has since the beginning of the seventies released more than 150 records under a wealth of names and with numerous groups and collaborators, Japanese or not. You will read much about him on these pages in the future, because he his a truly towering figure in Japanese music with an immense scope, ranging from tornado-force metal powertrio's (Fushitsusha) through solo hurdy-gurdy recordings to frail and poetic solo voice releases. And this bare essentials solo record (also when it comes to the titles of the songs, titles that, in Haino's case, can take the form of whole incantations, conjuring up a whole universe of meaning) is a good point of entry into his discography in that it is a reasonably accessible record. Which means: If you do not think this is accessible, then you might as well forget about the whole of Keiji Haino.
If you want to imagine how John Lee Hooker would have sounded if he would have been a Rising Son, then it is more than probable that you will find out by listening to this truly gut-wrencing record. Not gut-wrenching because Haino makes a whole lot of noise with his guitar. Because the blues riffs on Black Blues (Violent Version) are pretty standard, though pretty raw even for blues riffs. It is foremost Haino's voice that either will make you feel the pain the blues is supposed to transport in the middle of your heart, or will make you decide to never ever listen to his singing again. A man and a guitar, in the end that is all that a good song requires. In this sense Black Blues (Violent Version) is an easy test to find out whether or not you will appreciate what Haino is about. Because through his particular style of singing (and I can assure you that even when he covers a song with an English text, you will never ever recognize it as such, it always remains an eastern transposition, sound rather than song) Haino proves that the voice is just one instrument among many others, having no superior position just because it is a human trait.
Here already you can mark one of the most important differences between the eastern view on the cosmos and ours. In the east every element is just one small piece in the total spectrum of nature, whereas we in the west always have a tendency to impose the human view as the superior one. Be that as it may, music always has got to come straight from the soul and if that is what the blues, as the basis of all western rock music, is supposed to be, than we must conclude that no way it was ever going to let itself be limited in time and place to the mere delta's of Northern America. The blues is universal and if one man is here to tell you just that, it is Keiji Haino. Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean' closes off this record, would have been honoured to play with Keiji Haino. I am pretty sure of that. An incredibly impressive record this is. Feel the pain!
Keiji Haino - Yaranai Ga Dekinai Ni Natte Yuku [PSF, 2006]
I do not even make a yearly count anymore as to how much records Haino manages to record and release in just twelve months time. But as can you see this one is pretty recent. His fan site translates the title of this 68-minute lament as 'Not Doing Becomes Unable to Do', whereas Haino himself translates as 'Won't Becomes Can't', which is of course almost exactly the same, but it sounds better. It is just like Black Blues no more than Haino with his voice and his guitar. But compared to the heart-piercing growl and banshee-screech of the former here his vocals are much more plaintive, though he actually intones a song structure from time to time, while his guitar soli range from heavy metal freak-outs to a nocturnal wail of free riffing.
Here you can discern another important aspect of Japanese music, namely silence. Where silence in Western music (let us make abstraction of John Cage for a moment, whose 4'33" was in fact a radical conceptual move à la Duchamp that was hardly followed up by other artists; but then everyone knows that Cage was immensely influenced by eastern thought and spirituality) is no more than, well, silence, in Japan it is an integral part of music, frequently not even separable from it. Towards the end of this set rhythm becomes more prominent, in that you can actually recognize some structures instead of the loosely built up tension that dominates the greater part of the first 40 minutes. It is only in the last ten minutes or so that Won't Becomes Can't starts climaxing towards some kind of catharsis. And then just before the end it all dwindles back to a mere lull, leaving the audience behind alone with its pain and confused emotions. But do not interpret this like an ending, a cleansing or even a resolution.
Often with Haino there is no real resolution. You can compare that principle a little bit with Derrida's famed dictum: "Il n'y a pas de hors-texte." Indeed, with Haino it seems more often than not that there is no real beginning and ending to his music (which entails that there is no real centre either). But this is not really a problem, because you just take another of his 150 records and the fascination continues where it let off, even when the styles of the two records are, at first, to your western ears, completely different. To paraphrase Derrida (again): "Il n'y a pas de différence" to Haino. It is all one big universe of sounds, where the destructuring and restructuring continually gives rise (and fall) to new ideas, feelings and a damp bundle of emotions.
As you may know I am not to big a fan of French philosophy, although for years I almost exclusively read French books. But for an understanding of Japanese music it can be often important to have some kind of knowledge of French culture. Céline, Antonin Artaud, Dérrida, Baudelaire, Mirbeau, Lautréamont, the Surrealists, Pataphysics, and many other French poets, writers, playwrights and thinkers have had an immense influence on Japanese thought about art. Because, again more often than not, music equals art in Japan, where musicians often feel the need to combine more than one medium to express their emotions, stories and theories. In Japan it is not at all curious to be at the same time a laptop musician, a video artist, a dancer and a cello player. But what is true for all Japanese that will grace the pages of Fire in the Mind in the future is that they often have adopted the more radical elements of all those styles, views and currents in art, thought and spirituality. To take just one tiny example, that I am, for the sake of brevity, putting very simple: in Japan, as you may have noticed if you have been a regular cinema buff in the last 20 years or so, concepts like cruelty, humiliation and sexual abuse can all have their inner beauty, whereas for us such things are often taboo and absolutely reviled even. It is absolutely essential to grow out of a western state of mind if you ever want to begin to understand what Japanese society, art and thus music is all about.