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Richard Pinhas/Merzbow/Wolf Eyes – Victoriaville Mai 2011

Les Disques Victo

The meeting of five titans of noise and experimental music onstage at the Victoriaville Festival in May 2011 was an occasion for a well-formed on the hoof composition from the five performers involved: Richard Pinahs of Heldon fame; Merzbow; and Wolf Eyes. While the latter have frequently been lauded as being in the same league as Throbbing Gristle, their albums and live shows have been sometimes less than impressive, and often failed to actually live up to the expectations heaped upon them at the time of the music press’ rekindling of interest in all matters noisy and oblique over the last decade or so.

However, all that is changed here. It’s not particularly easy to determine who is playing what in the lineup – and it probably wasn’t often much more possible at the live show itself unless visual clues were offered, given that each musician gets an electronics credit. John Olson‘s saxophone is easily discernible, scrawling reedily or even with melodic lines in mind; Richard Pinhas’ guitar makes itself known prominently in due course; and Nathan Young provides the voices which float eerily among the gathering clouds of detritus which swell up in the opening ten minutes of the set. By fifteen minutes or so, the squittering synthesis and an emergent implied rhythm appear, bringing with them a howling whirl of tense, nervous pressure as the threat of a migrane yet to come builds in the collective head of the audience. It seems superfluous to observe here that the volume really needs to be ramped up for this recording – not because it’s particularly quiet, but to aid the appreciation of the depth of sonic assault which is about to be let loose.

And it is Pinhas’ guitar which set the first rods of tension loose, firing up the loops and string whirrs as something bulky stirs at the bottom end; the saxophone develops in improv directions laid out beyond the borders of free jazz; and that enveloping electronic sussurus is doubtless partly Masami Akita‘s responsibility. But whoever’s doing what, they’re all doing it pretty much together: rumbling, intoning, occasionally hissing and wheezing into a scream of FX; and the part which sounds like a telephone ringing works particularly well for home listening too. But what remains impressive throughout is the restraint which all the players retain, a sure sign of dedicated improvisers at work and not impatient to let loose sonic hell on earth (though more of that particular inferno later), and parts are actually relaxing enough in their own noisy way – how many of the audience took a chance on lying down to listen to the show at the time? It certainly would have suited the dreamlike atmosphere of the middle section well enough.

However, once the final third or so starts to build, those reclining would have been advised to get to their feet, as the wall of spluttering, snarling, shuddering sound which slams out of the speakers is almost physical in its intensity – and this is where the live show is going to have been way more intense than any recording could be. Still, it’s big enough on record to brutalise the ears briefly and shake surrounding objects out of place; as the descent down the heaving slopes of noise begins on a crest of rolling echoes and harmonious glides, the sense of having climbed some sort of audio mountain on the part of the five players is evident. The surprisingly uplifting climax comes in planes of brightly-coloured nascent psychedelic electronica with Pinhas’ sounds at the forefront, bringing an overwhelming lightening of tone to proceedings. Which is a welcome – almost heartwarmingly so – and unusual way to end this sort of collaboration in itself, and one which sets the level of this particular improvisation to the highest grade.

Just in case anyone missed the conflagrational possibilities of shock and fury which this lineup offers, the encore provides nearly ten further minutes of multi-layered noise grind, with bleeps and viscerally-dealt digitalia battling for sonic dominance over  frantic saxophonic protestations – the equivalent of the rock encore with feet up on the monitors and wailing feedback, in fact. It’s a scalding way to end a show and an album, and so much the better for being kept sharply to the ear-bashing, gut-rumbling point.

-Linus Tossio-

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