Michel Henritzi - Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism (w.m.o/recordings CD-R)
Michel Henritzi is a multi instrumentalist from France best known for his work in the Dustbreeders as well as running the (defunct?) A Bruit Secret label. Now in 2007, he seems to have devised at least a clever way to generate some additional publicty by releasing the "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" CD-R on Mattin's w.m.o/r label, also available for a free download via Mattin's website. The title is an implicit reference to Cornelius Cardew's 1974 book "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism", and is also the name of the 4-panel essay Henritzi penned to accompany the release. The essay has been subject to much criticism for a wide array of reasons, from quote attribution to flawed logic to lousy grammar (the text reads like it was written in English, translated to French, and finally back again to English using an online translating service). Are the criticisms valid? To a degree, yes. When you write something as flagrantly attention-seeking as Henritzi has, you've got to expect backlash in copious quantities. But on the other hand, do I really think Henritzi meant the essay to serve as the be-all end-all word on improvisation as we've come to know it? No. Maybe it's just me but I find it hard to look at "Imperialism" and not think it was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek and that maybe some of us are getting too hot and bothered over nothing. But I guess that's besides the point. Like I said, Henritzi's made some points of contention and allegations in the essay that people were obviously not going to agree with from the get-go, so let the battle commence I spose. I myself thought it was going downhill from the Gavin Bryars quote on, but check out the essay yourself here and see what you think. I also encourage you to read the topic on the I Hate Music board to garner some additional insight.
Aside from that, I understand "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" also comes with some music too. Four tracks, in fact, with Henritzi collaborating with a different artist on each one. "Improvisation" sees him working with Hibari Music's Shin'ichi Isohata, "Feedback" pairs him with the Dead C's Bruce Russell, "Independance" is with Mattin and "Action Directe" features Tokyo improvisor Taku Unami. The catch is that the collaborations all occur seperate from one another, with the artists recording their pieces and sending them off to Henritzi, who had already recorded four pieces of his own. Then he paired four of them together with each one playing in a different headphone/speaker channel, cut them off around the 10-minute mark, and that was that. I guess this has to do with Henritzi's search for a "true" improvised collaboration, being that it's pretty hard to get a feel for what the other guy's playing if he's playing it on another continent. That said though, the tracks manage to hang together pretty well. The rockiest of all is probably "Improvisation", with Isohata's acoustic Gibson Johnny Smith 1965 (!) scampering rounds across the song's terrain and only the occasional arm-bending static and sound snatch rising up from Henritzi's turntable. I'd actually pay good money to hear Isohata playing solo though. In terms of ear-burning intensity, "Feedback" with Bruce Russell takes the cake as both men turn to the guitar to sculpt a veritable tundra of eye-watering noise and, well, feedback. I have to believe that Russell was given some instruction as to what to record, or else there's some kind of mind-meld taking place the likes of which the World Weekly News should be notified. I believe it's Henritzi playing a very hypnotic, droning hum that would be quite pleasing on its own but Russell refuses to relinquish the stranglehold he's got on his amplifier and wrenches out shrill, wavering tones that are strong enough to pull the fluid offa your brain. The album's strongest track is definitely "Independance" with Mattin - Henritzi mans the hammer, electric saw and acoustic guitar on end his to diabolical means while Mattin roasts a guitar over on his end. The track is amazingly brutal, not in the ultra-harsh way that "Feedback" was but just in terms of aggressive panache. Sounds like Maurizio Bianchi jamming with Merzbow of all things. I can't figure out how the sounds produced came from the few instruments I named, but that's what the booklet says. Who am I to question? "Action Directe" with Taku Unami is most certainly an homage to Masayuki Takayanagi (well the entire album is dedicated to him and Derek Bailey) but plays out more like one of the Japanese guitarist's "gradually projection" pieces instead. Henritzi fiddles with the input jack to an amplifier (I assume) while Unami spits out the occasional digital droplet with his laptop until midway through when an ominous droning ripple joins the fray. Sounds to me more like something you'd hear at the ErstQuake festival, which isn't the first thing I think of when I hear "directe" but still an enjoyable listen nonetheless.
Similar to Mattin's "Proletarian of Noise", I'm sure "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" won't get its fair shake from listeners who feel like the title and essay alone have done enough damage, or who feel that it's just a desperate publicity stunt for an album that wouldn't have been worth listening to if it went by any other name. Personally I prefer to keep the two seperate, as I may not have cared much for the essay but the music within at least was interesting enough to me. I encourage you to hear the music first, read the essay second, and form your own conclusions last.