Prop Comedy


Japanese noisemaker Keiji Haino comes out from under the stage a few minutes before eight, fumbles to the bathroom door. The set hadn’t started, but the performance, as some anxious avant-garder hushed me so, apparently had. Lo, Haino was taking a shit. “Two minutes. What do you think he’s doing in there?” someone whispered. Oh come on! As if guys who make funny sounds on guitars don’t wash their hands like the rest of us!

Haino’s electric guitar, meanwhile, lay up against the wall backward, taunting difficult-music lovers attendant for a mindmelt. It would stay put the rest of the night; no confrontation, just comedy. Haino stuck to programmed beats, theremin-like air synths, yelps, and incantations as his fellow improvisers—John Zorn on sax, DNA’s Ikue Mori on laptop loops, Sylvie Courvoisier on (and sometimes in) piano—mocked, swagger-jacked, or flat-out antagonized him over five movements. Right away Haino threw down a simple two-chord air-synth boogie, inviting 10 minutes of relentless and uncooperative skronk and instrumental gags, until all four gave out and hovered within a quarter-step of the same note. It was the night’s most excruciatingly beautiful moment (or vice versa), save Zorn’s mouthpiece-off-sax, vibration-qua-vibration demystification bit, so obvious it actually worked.

There were three midset duets, Haino with each player separately. Mori-Haino’s percussive musings ended abruptly when Haino just snapped the mixing board off and Mori gave him the “that’s it?” look. Polar opposite, the Courvoisier-Haino duet went long and new age, the suspended chords wrapping around Haino’s Slimer impression a little too comfortably, something like a Brion knockoff.

As for the Zorn-Haino sword fight, well, at least Haino and Zorn had fun: Zorn squawked with his sax bell dug into the side of his army-fatigued leg, while Haino jumped around the room pretending to vomit. People tried to understand, but there’s nothing to get here—so visceral, so slapstick. Maybe I should have been making the track-01, Nani Nani connections, or parsing what Zorn had muttered to Haino before they started playing. But sorry, when I see a 50-year-old Japanese man with sunglasses and hair down to his ass, wearing leather pants and rolling on the floor ralphing, I think of something else.