Asides from Keith Rowe and fully independent of him, Masayuki Takayanagi was the first guitarist to use the table-top guitar, thereby instigating a purely incomprehensible noise. The Japanese priest of noise, Keiji Haino, Otomo Yoshihide and Merzbow all went to his "school."
For Weasel Walter, drummer and mastermind of the Flying Luttenbachers, this was cause enough to dedicate an entire CD to him.
No, one doesn't have to say much about this. This is highly dynamic no-compromise noise, packed in an aesthetic that ostensibly plays with cliches of violence and has O'Rourke as "Lycanthrovampyr." It rocks, uncontrolled and still on the dot. Weasel Walter's bottomless black calculation proves right.
We also need not mince words about O'Rourke, the Todd Rundgren of our epoche, or about Fred Longberg-Holm, the inspired cellist, who has played with everyone, from Peter Brotzmann to Anthony Coleman.
What else? The CD presents two sessions, one from 1996, one from 2000; there are a few overdubs (on the session from 2000) and O'Rourke plays Kevin Drumms' guitar (on the session from 1996). The cover art, the liner notes and the mix are from Weasel Walter. And don't get the idea to bother the group with interview inquiries.
Weasel Walter/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Jim O'Rourke
Tribute to Masayuki Takayanagi
For the better part of the 50s and 60s, Masayuki "Jojo" Takayanagi was among Japan's best-respected jazz guitarists. But it wasn't until his experiments with tabletop guitar led him down the seductive path of sonic experimentation that he became the stuff of legend. By the 1980s, Takayanagi had changed his song entirely, abandoning the comfort of structure for the cathartic joy of noise, his work paving the way for the likes of future innovators like Merzbow, K.K. Null and Bill Horith.
Given the nature of his most influential recordings, Takayanagi has never been high on the list for tribute album candidates. Then again, Weasel Walter, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jim O'Rourke (who perform here under the names Necrodevourer, Sado-Immolator, and Lycanthrovampire, respectively) have never been the types to let trivialities like convention or reason stand in their way.
Paying tribute to noise music poses a lot of the same difficulties as writing about it. With no set of rules by which to play, how does one know if something is right or wrong, good or bad? Rather than attempting to recreate actual performances of Takayanagi (a move whose blasphemy would be akin to attempting to cover John Coltrane, every last note of each and every improvisation intact), Walter & Co. use the tribute concept as a platform for original music, attempting to recreate the moods and feelings often catalyzed by Takayanagi's work. The goal here is not to emulate but to understand, and then to apply this understanding to the application of one's craft.
So if writing about music really is like dancing about architecture, does that mean that writing about noise music is like dancing about smoldering piles of rubble? Tribute to Masayuki Takayanagi is the sound of music crumbling apart, crashing to the ground, tearing itself apart from the inside.
The album opens with "For Jojo/Freebasing Styrofoam," a 30+ minute-long improvisation recorded live at a small Chicago club in 1996. The first fifteen minutes are utterly relentless. O'Rourke borrows Kevin Drumm's tabletop guitar, using it to create layer upon layer of noise. Lonberg-Holm tears spastically at his cello like an epileptic at a Japanese cartoon convention. Walter wails on his drums the way you know he would on every Flying Luttenbachers record were he not held back by structure. The piece quiets down briefly around the 14-minute mark, as Lonberg-Holm presents a new theme for the group to tear to shreds. It slows down again two-thirds of the way through, allowing O'Rourke a solo, wherein he masterfully molds feedback in much the same way he might mold a melody on one of his more commercial albums. Walter and Longberg-Holm come back in slowly, adding to the noise, until the movement is back where it began.
It's a stunning piece of music (provided you can look past the near-absence of musical qualities), but always the perfectionist, Walter was not pleased. "If anything," reads his well-thought-out liner notes, "the performance came out more conventionally 'musical' and less 'extreme' than I think I originally had in mind."
The tracks that follow were recorded four years later. The charmingly titled "Endless Corridor of Roasted Babies" and "Give Me Head 'Til You're Dead" serve as "For Jojo: Take Two." The guitars crackle and feed back, the drumming is spastic and angry, the cello is frenetic and high-pitched, the structure is minimal. To an ear other than Walter's, there isn't much-- aside from the crispness of a studio recording and a few switches in instrumentation-- to distinguish the new tracks from the old. But it's interesting to hear the group approach the same idea a few different times. It helps the listener to understand the music in much the same way that the recently unearthed reject tracks included on Blue Note's recent Van Gelder re-releases do.
Twice, however, the trio takes a slightly different direction. "Slitted Tit" features Walter solo and sounds like a guitar self-destructing, while "Triumph of Death," Tribute's closing number, presents a vastly different sonic landscape: a long drone built from heavily filtered feedback that washes in an out like the sea. It's calming; almost unbearably so, given the chaos it follows. As one is lulled by the piece, one half-expects the tide of static to be interrupted at any moment by a barrage of screeching sonic noise. But it never comes. The trio rides out the album on these calm waves, proving that noise needn't always call for earplugs and gritted teeth.
So does Tribute to Masayuki Takayanagi live up to its name? That's debatable. The gruesome track titles and the over-the-top aliases suggest that these guys have taken their fair share of liberties with the work. And given Walter's tendency for Kaufman-esque trickery and the relative obscurity of the figure at hand (not to mention the next-to-nonexistant nature of his recordings), I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the whole thing is a hoax. But does it even matter? When it comes down to it, Walter and company have created an hour or so of exciting music (read: relentless noise). And prank or not, it's just the sort of thing Takayanagi would have whole-heartedly approved of.
-David M. Pecoraro, November 29th, 2001