Essential New Music: Keiji Haino’s “My Lord Music, I Most

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Count on Keiji Haino to turn the task of naming an album into an act of myth-making that would cause Muddy Waters to blush. The silver-maned dark lord of Japanese creative music has never been one to do things halfway, and this album, which was recorded in concert three years ago in Los Angeles, turns out to be two epics in one. You’ve got that title, which turns out to be the album’s sole expenditure of linguistic effort. And then you have 64 minutes of music, divided into nine movements and performed almost entirely on hurdy-gurdy. 

Some might suppose that more than an hour of one man playing a hurdy-gurdy would be a long, hard slog. Given the inherent limits of a hand-cranked, key-operated stringed instrument most associated with antique European folk and liturgical music, they may be forgiven their error, but they would still be wrong. Haino has been playing the thing for more than a quarter century, long enough to not only master it, but bend it to his formidable will. There’s nothing retro about the way he handles it, nor does it seem like a compromise for him to lay his guitar, electronics and percussion aside. The hurdy-gurdy operates like a cross between a violin and a synthesizer, capable of simultaneously broadcasting a consciousness-stymying drone and a writhing, spell-casting melodic line. 

Traditionally, the instrument is used to accompany singers or other instruments, but on the rare occasions that Haino opens his mouth across this double LP’s four sides, it’s to wordlessly croon with highly uncharacteristic reserve. The aim throughout is using the hurdy-gurdy’s raw-yet-supple tone to induce a state of spiritual ecstasy, and Haino hits his target dead on.

—Bill Meyer

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