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Enkidu - Hasselt

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Artist: Enkidu

Album: Hasselt

Label: Turtles' Dream

Review date: Mar. 28, 2004

What a strange and fascinating recording this is. Enkidu is the name for the trio of Chie Mukai (erhu, drums, and percussion, in addition to singing and dancing), Seichi Yamamoto (guitar, flute, vocals, and electronics), and Eric Cordier (hurdy-gurdy and electronics). Together they have a bizarre and baffling pedigree. Muhai has long been associated with the dark Japanese neo-psychedelic scene; she’s worked with Masayoshi Urabe, Jutok Kaneko, and the Hallelujahs, and her dour emotionalism might reasonably be likened to that of kindred spirit Keiji Haino. Yamamoto is, of course, one of the key mischief makers in The Boredoms. And Eric Cordier, who has worked in sound manipulation among other areas, is actually said to have introduced both Jim O’Rourke and Haino to the hurdy-gurdy, the insanely textural medieval drone instrument.

The music itself is a freely improvised, hour-long drone that is heavy with portent and somber ritualistic overtones. The sound ebbs and flows, coalesces and disperses; and while it’s generally rather restrained, it is laced with an ominous feeling that something could erupt at any moment. Sometimes the drones are thick and robust, pregnant with the sound within sound, and other times the instruments are stretched out thin and fragile, wafting on the gentlest of brush strokes or prepared strings. It is rich with detail and layering, whether bathed in echoes or up-close and grainy.

Muhai’s deep vocal ruminations evoke ritualism most of all, suspended amid rough scratching and twanging guitar chords. Midway through the performance, the piece opens up to reveal a layer of subtle squeaks below the ringing drones that precede. And elsewhere there is some fractious noise and sonic chaos, not too surprising given the players. These sections aren’t quite as convincing as the drones, but one is glad that the variation exists.

Like early AMM or Fushitsusha, this is resolutely long-form music, dedicated to the relentless exploration of the granular, microscopic properties of sound. For anyone who has ever been shattered by a solo Haino performance, or fallen slowly in love with the epic Phil Niblock (whose Touch Works are not a bad point of reference here) or Tony Conrad, this is for you. Beautiful and disturbing in equal measure.

By Jason Bivins

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