Music

Richard Pinhas and Merzbow: Keio Line

Pinhas and Merzbow title their first studio collaboration after the railway that took them from Tokyo to their studio in the suburbs, and Keio Line ends up becoming an album about traveling, like it or not.


Richard Pinhas and Merzbow

Keio Line

Label: Cuneiform
UK Release Date: 2008-09-29
US Release Date: 2008-09-30
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

The Keio Line is an electric railway that runs from Tokyo's city section to its western suburbs. There resides the Peace Music Studio, where French avant-garde guitarist Richard Pinhas and Japanese noisemaker Masami Akita (Merzbow) undertook their very first studio collaboration. The musicians rode on the line several times together, traveling between the suburbs and the buzzing centralized hub of Tokyo's Shinjuku station. They recorded their material over two days in October of 2007; Pinhas then brought the tapes back with him to his studio in Paris and mixed the proceedings with a little help from his friends. He called the experience “magic” when he documented it months later, a piece of music and a recording process existing “in a dreamland space between Tokyo and Paris” that clearly won him over.

As it happens, the Keio Line in Tokyo provides a convenient metaphor by which to interpret the album that shares its namesake. Keio Line is L-O-N-G long -- 110 minutes of ambience spanning two discs -- and the lack of dynamism in the music makes the ride feel even longer. Its spiritual proximity to travel somewhat exonerates it from requiring a narrative structure, which is good, because it doesn't have one. The musicians simply played their material live ("at the extremities of our living forces and pulsations," reflected Pinhas), perhaps improvising in accordance with the electricity that shot through them and what each of them felt was happening to the other. There's certainly an audible give-and-take here, as the music oscillates between Pinhas's howling electric guitar and Merzbow's suctioning, crumbling sounds over extended stretches of time. It's like staring out of a train window, watching the scenery transform from one type to another at several points, in noticeable but inconsequential ways.

Granted, Cuneiform seems to be marketing Keio Line as a 'sensations' album that could care less about form and narrative. The packaging proclaims that the sounds it houses are "violent, soothing, noisy [and] hypnotic", a set of polarities that the musicians probably felt during recording and which they hoped to call forth in us. But the peaks just aren’t high enough and the valleys not low enough for a suite of this magnitude, so the music floats in a strange liminal space between two given poles without ever reaching any one of them. This is where the artists' pedigrees and proclivities become an issue. They’re titanic figures in their respective scenes who have tried to stay contemporary as their careers pass the 30-year mark: Pinhas just finished collaborating with über-hip Wolf Eyes, and Merzbow continues to produce records almost as fast as his labels can release them. But the guitars sound as pointedly dated as the "art-rock" term Pinhas's band Heldon exemplified in the '70s, and Merzbow's vacuum-cleaner-at-the-end-of-the-world noise is no longer fresh after so many albums of it.

The players' dullish inputs and the music's sense of in-betweenness create an aggregate effect that's both boring and surreal, like a transatlantic plane flight where the surroundings are overly familiar but you don't really know where you are. I can't be sure whether the musicians simply place more value on this particular experience than I do, or whether they felt something transcendently special aboard the Keio Line that I've largely been denied while commuting on the Metro-North. In either case, Pinhas and Merzbow probably got more out of their collaboration than we may get out of listening to it, and if the musicians really did reach a higher level during those fateful trips in 2007, the record's sheer length and relative uniformity squelches that message before it can come through to our end. Travel has inspired a lot of wonderful music (Chessie, for example, has built an entire career around the goal of making railroads sound cerebral and meditative), but Keio Line doesn't do much beyond revealing its most mundane incarnation, reinforcing the fact that when it comes to compulsory traveling, most of us would gladly skip the journey and shoot right to the destination.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image