Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hototogisu - "Prayer Rug Exorcism"

"The vision the eye records is always impoverished and uncertain. Imagination fills it out with the treasures of memory and knowledge, with all that is put at its disposal by experience, culture, and history, not to mention what the imagination itself may invent or dream. So the imagination is never at a loss when it comes to making something rich and compelling out of a subject that might almost seem an absence of all life and significance." - Roger Caillois, The Writing of Stones, 1966

Hototogisu's album "Prayer Rug Exorcism" presents that band's Free guitar noise at it's most brutal and relentless. The four parts that comprise the album were recorded live in 2005 at four different venues: The Black Chapel in Leeds; CCA in Glasgow; Holy Trinity Church in Leeds, and Brudenell Social Club in Leeds in 2005. That the tracks were recorded live had in effect on the production quality: "Prayer Rug Exorcism" is as lo-fi as a Black Metal album.

However brutal the noise may be, it is also quite abstract, dispensing with recognizable musical structures, dispensing with conventional meaning. In a sense, the album's noise is as inaccessible as a stone, as impenetrable to the mind as a rock. "Stones have no vocabulary", wrote Roger Caillois in his brilliant 1966 book "The Writing of Stones": a book which consists of lyrical texts about the stones Caillois had been collecting since he first put his hands on a labradorite in 1952. In exceedingly beautiful passages, Caillois describes the colors, lines, surfaces, textures, shapes and forms of agates, onyx, jasper and other stones: solidified geological violence, "...more destructive and brutal than the weak force of humans". Of course, Hototogisu's noise is fast-rushing, frenetic even, far from solidified. But if one could freeze-frame Hototogisu's fast-rushing noise, the result might well be the audio equivalent of the black minerals Caillois describes.

The album's title is a rich metaphor, and indeed the music is as sinister as a fundamentalist Islamic take on the 1973 horror film The Exorcist: "The movie starts with an elderly Pakistani imam who studies early-Islamic writings in the Iraqi city of Mosul. After talking to a local, higher-ranking cleric, he then travels to a spot where a strange statue of a pre-Islamic deity stands. He sees an ominous-looking American soldier nearby, and two dogs fighting. Meanwhile a young imam at a fundamentalist madrassa, begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness." The title led me to explore disquieting YouTube video's of djinnis being exorcised by imams (here and here and here), and mindbending examples of Pakistani ("Lollywood") horrorfilm (here and here).

It also led me to ponder at length the meaning of the word 'exorcism' in the title. 'Exorcism' at first seemed an inappropriate title for this sinister album. Aren't exorcisms entirely on the right-handed side of religion, on the side of the law and taboo, on the side of punishment? Nonetheless, Bataille wrote that laws are only created in order to transgress them - if so, are exorcisms only staged to perform an ecstatic possession by demons? Or does the title refer to a cleansing of the type Coil have talked about in their 2001 interview with Dutch VPRO Radio - noise music which is so intense that it cleanses the listener of the banalities of everyday existence?

The music itself as well as the title pointed me to Cammell and Roeg's 1970 film Performance, in which Mick Jagger plays Turner, a decadent hippie pop star who holds court in a crumbling London mansion rich in Islamic rugs. In a crucial scene in this hallucinatory film, a photograph of Jorge Luis Borges flashes in a shattered looking glass as the camera takes us on a tracking shot which follows a bullet penetrating Turner's skull. The psychedelic violence, rich in literary connotations, of that cinematographic moment corresponds exactly to 'Prayer Rug Exorcism'.

Browsing through "The Writing of Stones", I was reminded how Caillois employed a Surrealized structuralism - or better: a structuralized Surrealism - as a method to explore correspondences between stones on the one hand and mythology and metaphysics on the other. And this led me back to the first mythological association that the album called forth: Islamic exorcism. I was caught up in an intellectual feedback loop, and I started to hear a squealing, screeching, ringing noise of feedback in my mind's ear ... brutal and relentless.

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