Friday, July 21, 2017

Infinity again: On Fushitsusha's radical songmaking

It is very possible that tonight's Fushitsusha performance at Pioneer Works — co-presented by Blank Forms, and part of a highly impressive series of gigs going down as part of the Grand Ole Opera exhibit; I caught Black Pus there a couple weeks back — is still in progress. (I left before the end not because I was disappointed, not remotely so, but because I felt I had simply taken in as much musical/aesthetic information as I could for one night.) Which is apt, because there is what I would call a forever quality to the group's music, a sense that no matter how long one of their pieces actually lasts — and from what I heard, that could be anywhere from under 5 minutes to upwards of 20 — you can sort of sink into to the vibe or aura of it, get lost, roam around, disengage your brain and just exist within it. The time that you, and the musicians, spend with the piece may begin, end, but there's a sense that the idea or the substance of it was somehow there before, and will continue after.

Maybe this trio — leader Keiji Haino on whatever the hell he feels like playing at a given moment, along with current collaborators Morishige Yasumune on bass and Ryosuke Kiyasu on drums — conceptualized some of these pieces at earlier shows (possibly even at last night's concert at the same venue, billed as "Silent," whereas tonight's was called "Heavy") or rehearsals; maybe they'll pick them up again in the future. But each time they would begin a new piece, and I probably heard them play about seven or eight, it felt instantly sound, logical, focused in its way and delivered with direction and intent and some kind of form, though usually not any kind of conventional one. That form could take the shape of a sort of rubato vamp — as a friend of mine, Khanate and Blind Idiot God drummer Tim Wyskida, pointed out during a mid-show chat, the band often explores a "third" rhythmic space between strict metric time and fully free time — where Kiyasu would play a repeated series of figures (say, two massive thumps on the floor tom followed by one snare hit, a cymbal crash and four snare / hi-hat / bass drum accents) and Haino and Yasumune would sort of conjure a charred, convulsive field of sound over top. (One long piece in this vein at tonight's show felt massive and infinite, like the last rock band on earth hammering their instruments into oblivion atop some post-apocalyptic slag heap; probably not coincidentally, it also sounded a lot like the Melvins, and reminded me of the time I saw Haino and them play alternating sets as part of a film-score event back in '06.) Or it could manifest as a sort of negative-space anti-rock boogie, featuring Haino on almost jazzy clean-toned guitar, as sparse and scrappy as the aforementioned piece had been world-swallowing and epic. Or a hushed ghost blues featuring Haino on plaintive harmonica and spooky, pillowy toned vocals, like the result of some sort of supernatural after-hours session at Sun Studios. Or a brief, glorious, driving crunch-rock groove detour, over almost as soon as it began.

Or some other pattern or approach or sonic zone that Haino saw fit to engage with. He conferred with the other musicians often, both between and during pieces, sometimes whispering instructions into their ears, sometimes using hand signals — a swelling, both-hands-to-the-sky-motion; what looked like numbers traced in the air; "come-on" gestures that seemed to call for an intense response of some kind; or what seemed like rhythmic patterns being dictated; Ben Ratliff's discussion of Haino as a master of gesture ("It is about gesture: a scream, or a silence, or a sudden lunge, which says all there is to know at that moment") in a recent 4Columns essay seems apt here. The other musicians watched him intently and however dense or abstract the music got, they never seemed to be functioning in a state of abandon. Their movements and responses seemed ritualistic and highly deliberate, like physical mantras designed to help Haino and the music as a whole reach that place of ecstatic forever-ness. And again, that ecstasy was not always loud, overdriven, violent. Sometimes it was nimble, shadowy, delicate, with Kiyasu on brushes and Yasumune playing sparse sprinklings of notes. The contrasts and transitions were extremely shrewd, making this concert of ostensibly improvised music feel like a masterfully paced recital.

In some ways, Fushitsusha's method seems to render obsolete the composed vs. improvised question because to my ears they seem to be plucking songs out of the air — brutal ones, gossamer ones, epics, miniatures, etc. — and animating and inhabiting them through some secret group method that could just as easily be the product of meticulous rehearsal (as in drilling, repetition) as it could be the result of simply highly attentive jamming among musicians who know one another's reflexes and desires, just as they know the will and intent of their collective project. Which is, to my ears at least, to make something clear and defined each time out, a new song but also an eternal and inevitable one. We don't have the terminology for this method of music-making, or at least I'm not aware of any suitable words, but really all it is, is devoted band-ism, the construction of not just a group sound but a group way of existing. With Fushitsusha, the results of this practice are extremely varied; what's consistent is the sense of concentration and sincerity, spiked with an alluring and magical X factor, which is Haino's palpable rock-star aura, not just the borderline-iconic silver mane and shades but the possessed intensity and (again with the Sun Studios line of thinking) sort of diva-ish, just-shy-of-a-tantrum fury of his movements, musical phrases and wild vocal emanations.

You put all this together and you get a sort of wonderful paradox: a band that seems to be pushing past the limits of genre, of temporal constraints (again, they very well may still be playing down there in Red Hook, close to four hours after they began), of the way music — or performance of any kind — conventionally happens in front of an audience, while at the same time enacting the basic, primal ritual of rock-and-roll showmanship. Maybe it's just that we've been so dulled to the mystery, the potential, the infinity of the latter that we need to receive our songs in new, unfamiliar forms. So they can feel like forever again. And Fushitsusha's creations, in whatever guise, certainly do feel that way – and will hence.


I'm aware that this group, in its various incarnations, has a vast discography stretching back something like 40 years. But though I know bits and pieces of Haino's recorded work, I'm hardly an expert in this sector of his back catalog. I welcome any recommendations re: great Fushitsusha albums in the comments: I'm genuinely curious to know if any recording could really bottle this band's lightning.

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