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LENG TCH'E

Naked City

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Negoba
PROG REVIEWER
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.

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Send comments to Negoba (BETA) | Report this review (#269447)
Posted Wednesday, March 03, 2010 | Review Permalink
Guldbamsen
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP
Site and Forum Admin
1 stars A musical rendition of your worst nightmare

Do you consider yourself avant garde? Do you like anti music? Are you a masochist? Are you in touch with the darker aspects of the human mind? If so, then climb on board - because this album has got to be one of the most revolting and uncomfortable I have ever come across.

As Negoba points out in his review, this album is about the Chinese torture method Leng Tch'e - oh yes, that old thang where you place a thousand small cuts all over your involuntary patient´s poor body. Goody - you might say, if you´re into old splatter movies and you generally tend to listen to music, that nobody else listens to. Ahem - I have a few friends who enjoy their music discordant, impenetrable and grim, but I have, on quite the number of occasions, caught them listening to Marillion´s Fugazi or Phideaux´s Doomsday Afternoon with their eyes shut and their mouths open like a slutty carport...

I am not going to say, that nobody enjoys this particular record, but if they do, you´d better run like hell or hide somewhere safe, because what this album doesn´t have in beauty - it holds in spades of pure and unadulterated evil.

It starts out slow and sluggishly, and reminds me a bit of the doomy side of Neurosis - well if they had been into barbiturates and backwards coffee. Fred Frith on the bass plays like he is dragging a 500 pound rake on his back whilst thumping away. The other guys involved enhances this image, and apart from the free form flow of this start, that points towards Zorn ´s love for the wilder side of jazz, this sounds very much like a confused sleepwalker treading through a hazy fog.

Then the madness starts, and I am not talking about madness a la Area, Gentle Giant or Koenjihyakkei, but more in the form of: Alright, place your kitty cat on the kitchen table, and I ´ll start beating the mickey out of it with my trusty pink garden shovel. 15 minutes of screaming, that truly evokes the feeling of a torture victim, whose pain is so out there - so real, that any person with a small insight into normal human empathy, will cringe and quiver in the most terrifying and ugly way. Yamatsuka Eye is the vocal contributor to this scary piece of music, although music is not really the right wording here. Sonic exorcism? Nightmare performed by sheep at the slaughterhouse?

The only time I felt the need to play this outside my first listening, was when my upstairs neighbor played Hansi Hinterseer (German shlager at its worst) at 7 o clock in the morning on a Sunday. I hit the search button and jumped straight to the torture section, and consequentially the girl has never played Hansi again... Every other time I´ve heard this album has been an atrocious experience - bordering on sickening.

One could easily come to the conclusion, that John Zorn and his fellow black riders here has been successful in conveying the true sounds of the Chinese Leng Tch'e, but does that really mean anything at all? I once made a piece of music called Broken Bicycle, which was performed by yours truly hammering my elbows into a frightened piano, but does this make for an interesting musical venture, and moreover would you want to spend your hard earned cash on such a thing?

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Send comments to Guldbamsen (BETA) | Report this review (#470013)
Posted Sunday, June 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
The Truth
COLLABORATOR
Post and Math Rock Team
3 stars In my cold hard opinion, that one and a half star overall rating this album has is way to harsh. Harsher than what most people say the album sounds like.

If anything, this album should get more than one star simply because it gets it's job done. What I mean by this is, Leng Tch'e is a type of torture that John Zorn was trying to express in music and he definitely hits the nail on the head. Zorn definitely made meaningful music and that alone, in my opinion should get him some credit.

This album is rough, long droning guitar parts that are sometimes soft but always uneasy symbolizing the small breaks in the torture sequence (the victim's were given opium to stay conscious longer). But often times this album is torturous sounding (I personally enjoy these parts) and Zorn's sax makes agonizing noises I didn't even know were possible and these are accompanied by long violent screams. But always, the droning guitar is present and it really keeps the piece flowing no matter how wild and rough it gets.

Overall, this piece is not pleasant for the casual listener (and some non-casual) but for those who look for deep, meaningful pieces of music that are adventurous in their concepts should look here. Zorn did not make a masterpiece, but he certainly did not make a one-star album.

Well played and meaningful does not a lone star album make.

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Send comments to The Truth (BETA) | Report this review (#471757)
Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'Leng Tch'e' - Naked City (7/10)

When it comes to Western definitions of music, quality is generally seen to be derived from melodies, cohesive structure, the effectiveness of harmonies, and so forth. With so much music tending to focus on melodies over anything else, the objective differences brought forth by some avant-garde artists makes for a refreshing change of pace. Most often though, the more outside music gets from the norm, the more open it is to controversy. While far from the weirdest thing I have ever heard, Naked City's 'Leng Tch'e' is indeed an album that has sparked many a heated argument, with polar opinions reaching around the board. Both the greatly supportive praise, and revolted detraction of the album has led to a certain amount of hype surrounding the album, and while my opinion of the record may tend to be more moderate than most, I can certainly see why 'Leng Tch'e' has sparked such polarity among listeners.

First hearing about the album earlier today regarding what some people considered to be among 'the worst albums ever created', I was interested in hearing what these heated opinions were all about, perhaps out of the same morbid curiosity that fueled the making of this album. As some may know already, 'Leng Tch'e' refers to a Chinese method of torture and execution that I will leave to the reader to look up; suffice to say, it does not sound like the sort of thing you would want to bring up at a dinner party, lest you want to put the guests off their meals indefinitely. The music Naked City has created here really reflects the concept of slow, painful torture through abrasive and doomy guitar textures, set to a slowly, but steadily building level of intensity that flows through the half-hour track. For someone looking for the finer points of music, there aren't any here; no melodies, or much in the way of musical arrangement. Instead, John Zorn and his crew have crafted a dark soundtrack only with some minimalistic drum work, brooding guitar distortion, and some strained saxophones that burst in as the piece hits its climax.

From that description alone, it is easy to see why so many people may be averted to the sound of this album. This is challenging music, but it is not necessarily complex in its orchestration. There are not many, if any subtle nuances to the album's arrangement. Instead, one cannot appreciate 'Leng Tch'e' through conventional standards of musical enjoyment, but instead approach it by concentrating on the meticulous way in which the guitar feedback is used to create unsettling textures. Above all, the focus of 'Leng Tche' is to create atmosphere, and if that was what Zorn set out to do here, than he damn well accomplished it.

The vibe of torture and pain makes for an uneasy listen, and things are made even more off-putting by the vocals that emerge about half way through this album. Overtop the ambient guitar sludge and ominous drums, an ear-piercing scream lets loose. This isn't the sort of scream one might typically associate with doom metal, metal, or music in general. This is the sort of scream that exemplifies fear and duress, and it becomes an integral part of the musical experience for the second half of the album. While not musical in any way, the screams add tonnes to the fearful atmosphere of the album, and it adds alot to the imagery one could probably conjure in their minds while listening to the album. The vocals do start to wear thin after fifteen minutes; it is clear that the screamer tries to change up his act as the final half streches on, but his short vocal experiments don't always work, and sometimes sound like a simian howling for bananas rather than a human being executed. The album's short length is perfect for an album like this; were it any longer, the album's rather simplistic and primal nature would have robbed the best of it, and worn thin. 'Leng Tch'e' is not the sort of album that would have done well at any normal album length. It is fairly low on ideas, but the ideas that are here are extended and developed to just the right length, although any more would have taken it to the level of boredom, which the album does teeter on at points.

So there you have it; Naked City's 'Leng Tch'e', an album rightfully disdained by many, and even coming from someone who enjoys the album, it is easy to see why. The incredibly dark subject matter and abrasive content is not the sort of thing that will appeal to everyone; in fact, even alot of progressive music fans won't find much to appreciate here. All the same, 'Leng Tch'e' is an album with a wealth of haunting atmosphere to it, and although difficult to recommend to many outside of the noise or drone music communities, it has left a positive impression on me.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#478493)
Posted Friday, July 08, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Painful, abrasive stuff here. A musical companion to the torture by a thousand knives that is a notorious blemish on Chinese history, and the pain that Naked City associates with it in this 'song' is extreme. Beginning as a drone doom piece that evolves with some dynamic drum work, with feedback driven guitar and bass lines - which run through the whole 31 minute piece, then leading at its exact middle point to screams, of pain and agony, which depending on how solid your appreichiations for avant-grade are, are either in a league of their own, or the reason to turn the song off right then and there and abandon the CD to the dusty corner. It's first and foremost an endurance test, which for some, myself partially included makes it lose some of its potential. It's also quite a simplistic idea, and indeed if it had been any longer I doubt I would treat it with the positivity I do. But be warned, it is not enjoyable, but it is original. So if you're looking for something extreme that you don't intend to play often, but occasionally will indulge in the challenge, this may be for you. If not, stay away.

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Send comments to Renkls (BETA) | Report this review (#531725)
Posted Saturday, September 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Ouchies. Concept album taken to its pessimistic and painful extreme. Does that mean it's not good? Well, if you like avant-garde (and I do mean, the really experimental and conceptual stuff), then no, it is actually quite a good single song album. The problem is, the concept is torture. And you'd have to expect that it follows through as being an auditory torture as well as a being one on a conceptual basis. If you accept the album on those uncompromising terms, you might find that the piece follows through indelibly. If you can't meet it halfway, then there's no possible way you'll get to the real tortures half way through. I'm not sure how this really constitutes prog, except for the length, and the distinct three part progression, of feedback riddled guitar to drums, to a SCREAMING saxophone. Oh, and of course the screams that begin halfway. Not for everyone. Not for most people. Only for fans of Naked City, and those who actually like to see how far the musical extremes can be pushed. Because it gets pushed pretty far here.

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Send comments to Smegcake! (BETA) | Report this review (#572686)
Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | Review Permalink

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