Review: Keiji Haino and Phil Minton

Keiji Haino
Cafe Oto, February 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston.
Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved

Keiji Haino and Phil Minton
(Cafe Oto Wednesday 29th February, 2012, the second of Haino’s two-night residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Last year’s concert by the Japanese noise guitarist, Keiji Haino with Peter Brötzmann at Café Oto (reviewed HERE) had left an indelible impression, with its creative flow and sheer visceral impact, and the keen anticipation of Haino’s return visit to Café Oto was amply rewarded.

Haino, who has recorded on over 100 albums since the 70s, has a cult following, and is primarily associated with his extreme treatment of the guitar and physical performance style.  The guitar, he has said, “is a weapon to express myself”, although it is also said that he sees himself as a vocalist.

After a much-praised opening night with drummer Steve Noble, the second night of Haino’s residency was to be devoted to a rare, solo vocal performance, a prospect that had the ring of the unpredictable. Not entirely, it should be added, as he’d briefly taken to ‘the microphone with an unassailable gutteral attack’ in his opening set last year, and the news from Glasgow, home to an earlier vocals-only concert was that it had been ‘astonishing’.

To have the master vocalist, Phil Minton, on the same bill to open the evening with a short solo set, was clever programming, and their complementary styles made for a full-on, radical vocal experience. Although Minton and Haino did not perform together, the beauty of this bill lay in the contrasting landscapes of their musical visions. Minton’s broad gamut of vocabulary and allusions has an intimate scale and a finely-honed attention to detail, whereas Haino works on an irrefutably epic scale, bordering on the overwhelming. Ear plugs were on offer at the door (seriously!).

There were many aspects which linked their performances, visual as well as aural, not least the ways their mouths and bodies contorted in the throes of unconventional articulation. Watching each of them as they covered a vast canvas of sound and emotion, it was impossible not to make links between their anguished and angered vocality and the suffering expressed in Picasso’s painting, ‘Guernica’, or Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes and crucifixions.

Minton remained seated throughout his set, immersed in giving expression to the the non-verbal mapping of individual incidents, linking many layers of experience. In contrast, Haino, at first moving imperceptibly and barely audible, ultimately discharged a passionate, raw energy in fevered tussles as though gripped by the invisible demons of Japanese traditional ghost stories.

Phil Minton
Cafe Oto, February 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston.
Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved 

Minton’s stomach, throat and face stretched and strained, as he extruded hisses, screeches, ticks and hums, interspersed with mere whispers and the carefree freedom of bird calls. Porcine snuffles and snorts, and animal utterances suggested marsupial territoriality and human frailty, conveying echoes of a deep, unspoken sorrow.

Following on after a short break, the diminutive Haino, in signature black glasses, flowing hair and darkest grey attire pushed his vocals to the sonic limits in an extended, spine-chilling and mesmeric performance. Close up to the mike in a subdued spotlight, Haino’s micro movements in tandem with spatial echoes, faint whiffs and whistles gave way to rumbling, feline growls. The emerging tiger signified the onset of a storm. A burst of feedback interceded, yet a sense of the stripped down tension of Noh theatre was always present. Haino sampled distorted half words and half songs to intensify the layers of darkening, aural beauty.

There were punctuation points – a monastic, choral highlight, an eerie bagpipe drone, the uncomfortable memory of a dental drill – and spots of virtual silence. The dense pulse of a mechanical rap beat built up to the roar of an army of dinosaurs – primeval, cathartic, elemental. Haino threw himself to the floor, acting out an abstract battle with unseen forces as his extreme and distorted voicings flooded the room, rendering the audience transfixed.

On a fittingly dramatic endnote Haino wheeled around the audience to walk out of the auditorium and disappear in to the night – not a theatrical gesture, but the only way to conclude this unique, all-consuming performance.


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