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Richard Pinhas and Merzbow - Rhizome

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Artist: Richard Pinhas and Merzbow

Album: Rhizome

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Jul. 28, 2011

Over his career with Heldon and subsequent solo output, French prog guitar pioneer Richard Pinhas has developed Robert Fripp’s own Frippertronics technique – “instant composition” based on heavily orchestrated layered guitar loops – to heights never realized fully by Fripp himself. And Masami Akita has spent the past three decades creating often crushing, always challenging, noise compositions from “the scum that surrounds his life,” in recent years breaking form to create some surprisingly introspective works that are worlds away from, say, Music for Bondage Performance. On Rhizome, the honeymoon that started with a collaborations on Pinhas’ Metal/Crystal and 2008’s Keio Line, continues for the nebula-crossed pair.

Opening track “Rhizome 1” (one of five movements presented here with binary string subtitles that we’ll dispense with in this review) eases in with gentle undulations of multi-tracked guitar harmonies, the ebb and flow accented by Masami-san’s whirring electronics and a thumping organic rhythm that recalls the ritualistic mood of early Popol Vuh. Pinhas’s clean-toned chording at times evokes a seashore sunset; before long Akita’s crescendoing barrage suggests it may actually be the setting from the novel On the Beach. “Rhizome 2” launches with a stark, synthesized opening vamp – cue a slo-mo, panoramic shot of the underside of the Nostromo from Alien. Akita lets loose with a little of the old Merzbow blast, interrupting Pinhas’s slow-burning guitar loop with a hyperspeed (and hyper-cheap sounding) drum machine sample over a barely audible subsonic rumble. The track then mutates into a strange self-duet, as Pinhas folds a searing solo over itself into a maelstrom of echo over a stumbling drop-tuned fuzz guitar loop.

Akita sets the stage on “Rhizome 3” with a series of blaring tones, as if dialing randomly through settings on an analog synthesizer. Some of Pinhas’s most incendiary soloing, sadly, is buried under another lurching rhythm/insectoid drone halfway through; but perhaps forcing the listener to strain to hear it was the intended effect. The piece concludes with Pinhas’s guitar sculpted into a dramatic choral-sounding loop, while Akita plays foil with a primitive, thudding beat and another brief avalanche. “Rhizome 4” is highlighted by Pinhas’s Fripp-esque cross picking, set against another minimal throb from Akita, amid a growing background chatter that may or may not be processed dialogue. The closing “Rhizome Encore” ups the program’s industrial sci-fi ante and renders Pinhas’s guitar less recognizable. Metallic scraping, random tonal sweeps and laser-gun zaps and grey, monolithic drones make for an unsettling end to this live performance.

Rhizome comes with a multi-camera shot DVD of this performance (recorded live on September 24, 2010, at Washington D.C.’s La Maison Francaise), which may be of interest for the completist or gear-geek who wants to check out Akita coaxing his alien lexicon from a pair of MacBook Pros, and Pinhas intently hunched over his guitar and effects bank. It’s neat to watch for a few minutes, but not really as riveting an experience as the unaccompanied audio. This is improvised ambient music at its most strikingly visual, performed by two masters and best enjoyed without distraction, even if that means turning a blind eye to the performers themselves.

By Adam MacGregor

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