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Naked City - Leng Tch'e CD (album) cover


Naked City



2.73 | 26 ratings

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1 stars Slice Me Up With 1000 Tiny Knives

Leng T'che is the name for a Chinese torture method where the victim is slowly cut to death slice by slice. Often drugs were given to prolong the agony. The practice was banned in 1905, but that hasn't stopped those with morbid fascinations from fantasizing about the gruesome practice to this day. John Zorn's Naked City, in their attempt to plumb the deepest depths of human experience as motivation for their art-making, produced an album of the same name that at 31 min 38 seconds may be the longest musical experience ever recorded. For the avant artist perhaps it seemed like a genius idea, to musically recreate the ultimate form of torture one can imagine. For the listener, I think the main motivations are the same morbid fascination that draws one's attention to crash scenes or other gore, and a desire (sometimes genuine, sometimes for show) to find the most "out there" music possible.

The piece is based on a feedback / sludge metal ethic that is actually pretty common in the true post metal genre. For the first half of the piece, the artists (Zorn, guitarist Bill Frisell, Henry Cow leader Fred Frith on bass, drummer Joey Barron, and Keyboardist Wayne Horvitz) explore a noisy, free-form doom soundscape that is somewhat interesting and occasionally emotionally provocative. Dragging through the mud, behind the beat drumming over sludge guitars continue for almost 15 minutes. It's not bad, but it's certainly long.

And then the screaming begins. Not punk or metal screams, not squeals, screaming. As in trying to replicate what one might do as an arm was being sliced off. Vocalist Yamatsuka Eye does succeed in creating some horrific sounds that do make me feel like I'm a witness to the torture scene. However, the screaming goes on for 15 minutes. During the time Eye tries to "explore" different horrific vocalizations and eventually it gets stupid and almost comical. There is a section where it sounds as if he's saying "Ow, ow, ow, ow" almost as if he's just hit his funny bone or stubbed his toe. Watching the video of the performance solidifies that the piece has gone terribly wrong. Whatever possible artistic merit could have been existed in the sadistic idea in the first place gets lost in the ridiculous length and lack of variation.

As most on PA know, I have a pretty high tolerance for challenging music (or I would have never attempted this album in the first place). I enjoy music with screaming if it's done at the right time, in the right musical setting. And though I suppose this setting is correct, this piece takes beating a dead horse to a mind numbing excess. So as I do not infrequently when dealing with ultra-chaotic avant garde music, I'm calling BS on this one. This is self- indulgence. This is being extreme to be extreme with minimal actual merit. This is awful.

I think it would be very difficult to get 99.9% of the population to even make it to the 15:50 mark (exactly half way through the piece) when the screaming begins. The remaining few are unlikely to make it to 20 minute mark where things start getting comical. When a piece of music has become an endurance test, it takes on a very special distinction in the history of recorded sound. Like many of the worst films, there comes a small inclination to like it just because it is so ridiculous. I was tempted to say "Well they succeeded in their goal. That was 30 minutes of torture." But to deny this piece of work its well earned 1 star rating would be unfair. Novelty value only.

Negoba | 1/5 |


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