Throughout his 40+ year career, French guitarist Richard Pinhas has studied philosophy with Gilles Deleuze (having the foresight to tape his lectures), has written extensively about Nietzsche, collaborated with sci-fi writers Maurice G. Dantec and Philip K. Dick, led the pioneering French electronic rock group Heldon (often compared with Tangerine Dream and Fripp & Eno), and released dozens more solo albums and collaborations since Heldon disbanded. His artistic pursuits have been informed by his work on philosophy and science-fiction in ways both implicit and explicit. Like Fripp, Pinhas learned to channel his guitar playing through multiple delay units to produce a sound rooted in repetition and texture while still remaining grounded in virtuosity and ‘rock n’ roll’ attitude. With his group Heldon, he carved out a space in France for electronic music, his sustained guitar wailing repetitive riffs over churning synths, and often driving drum tracks.
Earlier this year Pinhas released two new albums on Cuneiform Records, one in collaboration with Tatsuyo Yoshida, one of Japan’s most impressive drummers, and the other with Australian Noise musician Oren Ambarchi.
At the Festival Internationale Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (or just “Victo”) this past May I had the honor of witnessing a truly exceptional quartet featuring Pinhas alongside Masami Akita (Merzbow), Keiji Haino, and Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins). Ambrachi and Keiji Haino have also collaborated together in recent years, and initially Ambarchi was meant to join as their fifth for the Victo performance. Unfortunately he couldn’t be there Friday, though he performed instead as part of a trio with Haino and Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley on Saturday night. O’Malley and Ambarchi, on bass and drums respectively, turned out to be a remarkably adept rhythm section for Haino’s guitar antics, but even that power trio couldn’t top the earlier quartet for sheer force of sound. Pinhas’s recordings capture the energy of his live performances, though I wouldn’t pass up a chance to witness him perform live, especially with such collaborators.
Richard Pinhas & Oren Ambarchi – Tikkun
Tikkun olam is a Jewish concept that means ‘repairing the world,’ and speaks to our shared responsibility as members of the human community. Tiqqun, in French, is also the name of an extra-academic philosophic journal rooted in neo-communitarian politics of the far left. Here Pinhas and Ambarchi seem to purposefully use the English transliteration of Tikkun, perhaps to distance themselves from associations with the anarcho-philosophers. Nonetheless, considering Pinhas’ philosophical lineage and the high profile of Tiqqun, I can’t help but think about the relationship between the two.
This first recorded collaboration between the duo is rooted in twin lead guitars against a backdrop of noise and drum loops. Unlike his “Devolution Trilogy” which has focused on the degradation of contemporary society, this album focusing on our collective responsibility to repair the world. Though this is advertised as their first collaboration as a duo, there are two things that need to be cleared up: 1) In fact Ambarchi has appeared on Pinhas’s recordings in the past, including on 2013’s Desolation Row, the first part of the Devolution Trilogy. 2) Despite being described as a duo, to emphasize the dual guitars and the collaboration between Pinhas and Ambarchi, Tikkun features an incredible collection of four guest musicians, namely Masami Akita, Joe Talia, Eric Borelva, and Duncan Pinhas.
Tikkun is stylistically quite different from the angry, blistering noise of the Devolution Triology, but is still intense and noisy. Despite being labeled a studio album, I get the impression that the raw material was culled from live improvisations and edited down into their current form. Tikkun opens with “Washington, D.C. – T4V1,” and what begins as a whining guitar and synth builds to a noisy and psychedelic apex, particularly when the multiple drummers join in. The rapport between Pinhas and Ambarchi is strong, their styles complimentary despite their differences. Ambarchi seems to push Pinhas to the noisiest aspects of his playing, while the more melodic aspects of Pinhas’s technique suggest a rarely seen aspect of Ambarchi’s guitar playing. The 30 minute excursion makes the second track seem concise at only 13 minutes. “Tokyo – T4V2” begins with a swell of guitar feedback, energy already high and it’s not long before a drum beat appears. That beat anchors the entire track while the two guitars scream back and forth trading obliterated riffs over a background of textured noise loops. And such amazing guitar tones all around. “San Francisco – T2V2” is the third and final track, but at nearly half and hour long it’s something a slow burner. Building more gradually, quiet oscillations serve as a rhythmic pulse over which high frequency feedback swells and synthesizers cautiously make themselves known.
Also included is a live recording of the duo Live at Instants Chavires, one of Paris most important venues for experimental music, recorded on October 29, 2013. The physical release is accompanied by a DVD of the entire concert, and offers further insight into these top class improvisers at work. Their music itself may not be able to repair the world (Pinhas assures me it’s still “always rock n roll”), but the relationship of openness and respect displayed between them and the art they’re capable of producing certainly serves as an example of where to begin.
Richard Pinhas & Yoshida Tatsuya – Welcome in the Void
Welcome in The Void with Yoshida Tatsuya is the second chapter in Pinhas’s “Devolution Trilogy” begun with 2013’s Desolation Row (the Bob Dylan reference perfectly in keeping with Pinhas’s love of the ‘60s). Hopefully 2015 will see the release of the final chapter of Pinhas’s sonic protest against neoliberalism and austerity politics.
Pinhas’s style seems find an expression of Deleuze’s concept of “difference and repetition” in utilizing multiple delay units. No two repetitions can be exactly alike, if only for the fact that they are in different positions in the sequence over time. Still, Pinhas uses the multiple layers of delay to weave a unique tone and style of playing that sounds like little else, utilizing the subtle changes in repetition to make his guitar function as a very different sort of instrument. The addition of Yoshida grounds the music with his unpredictable and propulsive playing. In addition to his successful duo Ruins, Yoshida plays in a variety of other progressive groups, and is probably one of the few drummers who can claim to have produced truly great solo albums.
From its first bar Welcome In the Void is already more sinister sounding. Only four minutes long, “Part One – Intro” introduces the main ideas that will be deconstructed throughout the hour-long balance of the album. Yoshida’s drumming is mixed loud, front and center, with the guitars and synths struggling to keep up. The descending sweeps signaling an inevitable decline. At over an hour in length, “Part Two – Core Trax” begins slowly, quietly, and the propulsive drum beat is no where to be heard as Pinhas constructs delicate harmonies that by the sixth minute are undeniably beautiful. Surely this cannot last, and before long distorted guitars crescendo into the mix, the two modes engaged in a tug of war before, at the tenth minute, Yoshida reemerges with a strong beat and the two never look back. We are accustomed to the drummer as the backbone of a group, yet Yoshida is doing much more than keeping time. His busy playing is in deep conversation with Pinhas, and the two have much to say. After an extended terrain of guitar noise, hand drumming dances around an unsteady hi-hat rhythm. A flat sounding snare hit enters with much more kick than the bass drum, and Pinhas’s guitar struggles to keep up as the synthesizer undulates. Pinhas’s high cries again cause Yoshida to deterritorialize, though it isn’t long before the drum finds new shape. The final quarter is a gradual slow down, sounding almost defeated until a bit of catharsis comes in the last 2 minutes. One can’t help but be swept up by the duo’s interplay, and although the record can be exhausting it is well worth giving into. (Joseph Sannicandro)