Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hototogisu - Spooked Summer

In october 1936 Roger Caillois published a short essay called "Le complexe de Midi" ("The Noon Complex") in the surrealist magazine Minotaure. In the essay, Caillois explores the mythological meaning given to the noon hour in premodern societies, arguing that not midnight but midday is the original witching hour. "In ancient Greece, noon was in fact the hour of transition, marking the boundary between the reign of the Uranian and of the infernal Gods. But noon is also the time when shade is at a low point, and thus when the exposed soul is most vulnerable to dangers of all kinds. For similar reasons, noon is generally the hour when the dead make their appearance - they who cast no shadow. On the most elementary level, these are the reasons noon is preordained to witness the apparitions of ghosts. (...) The sun's burning heat is unforgiving at this suffocating time of day. Heatstroke, sunstroke, cerebral fever, and their attendant mental and physical ailments offered sufficient prove of demonic activity to persude people that they existed".

Noon relates to the day as the midsummer relates to the year. Thus, it should come as no surprise that summer is a haunted season, that summer can lay as much claim to being 'the season of the witch' as autumn or winter. At Midsummer Day, the premodern peasantry of Europe lit bonfires, walked in a procession around their fields with torches, and rolled a burning wheel down the hillside, all to exorcize the demons of the summer solstice. Sir James Frazer in 'The Golden Bough': " [A medieval writer] tells us that boys burned bones and filth of various kinds to make a foul smoke, and the smoke drove away certain noxious dragons which at this time, exited by the summer heat, copulated in the air and poisoned the wells and rivers by dropping their seed in them (...)". Summer is spooked!

And it is this that brings us, dear reader, to Hototogisu's latest release, "Spooked Summer".

Hototogisu is the nom de plume of the collaborations of the immensely prolific Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, Total, Pure) and Marcia Bassett (Double Leopards, Zaimph, GHQ). "Hototogisu" is the Japanese word for cuckoo, a bird which apparently in Japanese culture is a symbol of the netherworld - an infernal bird, a spook with wings.

"Spooked Summer" is a Midsummer's Day noon hour sun of dissonant drones, blistering guitar distortion, feverish feedback, fiery freeform noise; a heatwave of sound; contemporary sun blindness music. Though beautific and hypnotising, the sound is also harsh, burning it's way though the listener's nervous system, causing hyperthermia as the mind absorbs more and more of the music's sweltering heat.

"But Valter!" I hear some of you say, "You are overdoing the references to the noon's sun for rhetorical reasons". To these readers, I'd like to point out that the image of the sun plays an important role in Matthew Bower's releases. The name of one of his bands - Sunroof! - contains the name of that heavenly body. The fifth track on Skullflower's "Form Destroyer" is called "Solar Anus"; and that band released a 7" called "Rotten Sun". Another Hototogisu release is actually called "Ghosts From The Sun" - the name could well be a direct reference to the noon complex. What's more, Matthew Bower himself refers to his music as burning light. In an interview in Wire 249 (november 2004), he said that his music sounds like having a blinding light shone in your face, and continued: "...we're channeling this intense bright light sound, all shot through with waves and sinuous ribbons. (...) White light angels flared across the retinas of my tightly shut eyes as I flayed the bass". And is it not likely that these white light angels are the very ghostly apparitions that haunt noon-time?

Hototogisu's summer is spooked, haunted, visited by apparitions of the dead, possessed by a host of hideous sun demons. However, Hototogisu's summer is apparently so disquieting that some music journalists reviewing Hototogisu feel they must dispel that uneasiness, dry clean the music, erase all stains, all lipstick traces of transgression. In their reviews, saccharine blissfulness is stressed an the expense of the fearful aspects of the music. In a review of Hototogisu & Prurient collaboration "Snail On A Razor" in Wire 274 (december 2006), Tony Herrington writes: "Unless I'm misreading something in the Hototogisu DNA, this [the Hototogisu & Prurient collaboration] strikes me as a weird hookup, philosophically speaking, because [Prurient mainman] Fernow's roaring noise sounds like some kind of sex-deathwish fulfilment fantasy, whereas Hototogisu music vibrates in multiple frequency patterns that articulates the sheer fucking elation of sensing the blood rushing through your veins more than any other music around right now, with the possible exception of Matthew Bower's solo Skullflower project". Well, we all should be glad that Herrington is no forensic scientist, because he completely bungles his crime scene investigation and DNA profiling analysis. The double helix of sex and death has been one of the main features of Bower's music ever since he started to record in the mid-to-late 1980's. Even a little superficial research into the imagery employed by Bower and his public statements would have pointed out the intimate embrace of eroticism and death in his work. Hototogisu and Skullflower are what the The Theater of Eternal Music might have sounded like if not Pandit Pran Nath but Georges Bataille, philosopher of evil, had been their guru.

So if Hototogisu's summer is haunted, what is the spook's identity? Whose ghost haunts the album? Thinking about this post, I discovered that one cannot write anymore about albums whose title begins with an adjective and ends with 'summer' without calling up the wraiths of the Beach Boys from the timeless hereafter of sun, surf and cars, as presented on their bestselling compilation album "Endless Summer". The symbolic weight of that album's title became even greater when it was appropriated by Fennesz for his brilliant 2001 glitchtronica tribute to Brian Wilson and his messengers. Perhaps Brian Wilson himself is the ghost that haunts the summer- isn't he some kind of Lazarus, one who came back from the dead, a revenant? Was it solar fire that destroyed his mind?

Perhaps the adjective 'spooked' relates to 'endless' in the same way Hototogisu relates to the Beach Boys. 'Endless' means 'unlimited in time', which is a denial of boundaries, of death. On the other hand, the word 'spook' points towards tresholds, to the Beyond, towards those who died. But the relationship of Hototogisu to the Beach Boys is more ambiguous than this bipolar structure, as both are fused together by the blazing heat of the word 'summer', becoming indeterminate and disoriented by the summer solstice sun.

Hototogisu is brilliant!

Post scripta
  • The essay " The Noon Complex" is reproduced in "The Edge of Surrealism. A Roger Caillois Reader";
  • Isn't the Frazer quote pure Cthulhu mythos?;
  • More information on Japanese cuckoo symbolism here;
  • Released as a cd-r, 'Spooked Summer' appears to be universally sold out - meaning that this review is in a way useless, having lost it's function in the economics of culture. To say that this review is so useless so as to become a Bataillan expenditure of opinions would be going a little too far, though: I know this white-hot album is still burning a hole in some internet forums, so you may be able to hunt it out;
  • Direct Waves has some great out of print Skullflower albums for download (here);
  • Here is a link to an interview with Hototogisu.


Dominic said...

Seems like the obverse of BM's obsession with frost-bitten grimness: Blessed Realms (of the Sun Demons)?

valter said...

An interesting thought! I had been thinking that Sunn 0))) is in a sense an inversion of Hototogisu's music, sub-bass versus high-tone screech, doom darkness versus blinding light. I find the idea of a Stephen O'Malley / Matthew Bower collaboration fascinating.

TheZovietDada said...

I was quite suspect of the press's latching on to comparing H.G. to black metal. "Green" obviously was BM influenced through and through, but other work like Chimärendämmerung seemed another beast entirely. perhaps BM-ish, but coming from somewhere else. yet from that interview I can see that MB is quite a listener himself. it totally is "white metal."

not sure about the SOMA/MB collaboration though, Scott McKeating of Brainwashed/Dusted once accurately put like this: "Hototogisu skillfully use a dab of metal’s grandeur and mood without all the pomposity (Hello there, Sunn O)))))" I don't agree with his pejorative take on Sunn O))) (I think they're one of the greatest present bands no doubt) but I still think there's a sort of regal, monolithic aspect to Sunn O))), an brooding stillness. it may not combine well with Hototogisu, it's like warfare, or the chaotic aspects of nature. like there are many demons fighting for the fore. Sunn O))) seems to have one demon residing per song.

I dunno, maybe it would have a great tension to it that would make it incredible. Without any doubt though it would have more balls to it than KTL's weeeeeaaaak laptop noise crap.


valter said...

I can see why you have doubts about a SOMA/Bower collaboration - but on the other hand, it could be an excercise in the beauty of contrasts - subbass contrasting with screech, darkness with light, the monolithic with the seething manifold. It would be difficult to pull off succesfully, though.

I don't agree with your disapproval of KTL; even though I haven't heard KTL2 yet, I found the first cd engrossing.