Creative music fiends sit around on Friday nights and replace Kevin Bacon with Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke, or Oren Ambarchi for games of six degrees of avant-separation. But since the three have played with almost every experimental artist who’s existed over the past 70 years, the game is over after one move, whether you start with John Zorn or Keith Rowe or Ikue Mori or Fennesz. Their collaborative range is herculean, which attests to the relentless creative drive of each, as well as the thrill that accompanies the special moment when they sit down together as a trio.
Tima Formosa captures a January 2009 performance at The Playhouse in Kitakyushu, Japan with Ambarchi on guitar, O’Rourke on prepared piano, and Haino on vocals, drum machine, flute, and electronics. Over the course of three pieces that stretch out to 60 minutes, the trio creates a mesmerizing and terrifying sonic structure that patiently grows and delights with its subtleties. The 25-minute opening piece is a slow-burner, gradually building and absorbing with tranquil pulses, shifting static, deep bass drops, and the clangs and scratches of O’Rourke’s prepared piano technique. What sounds like a million furious spirits dragging chains across a metal killing floor doesn’t rupture the trance as much as promote it, and when Haino’s chilling vocals enter just after the 11-minute mark, the trajectory shifts unquestionably heavenward. Even his most grotesque, tormented, and gut-wrenching screeches and screams are angelic, dreamily drifting above the vibrant landscape of dark, textured sound.
The short second piece, which for the first time features O’Rourke playing actual notes on the piano, is a perfect transitional moment between the two longer pieces, allowing the three to refresh their respective palettes before entering into the 31-minute finale. Beginning with very minimal instrumentation and Haino’s guttural hauntings, the closer is even more of a measured trek than the opener. Haino’s flute eventually replaces his voice, and O’Rourke is provided a moment to shine with descending shimmers across the keys that shift into muscular, factory work bangs. The most extreme moment of the album occurs halfway through the track, as the trio strokes (take that David Keenan!) their instruments into a wonderful frenzy upon the request of Haino’s tribal drum machine patterns. In the midst of the chaos, Ambarchi’s guitar becomes distinguishable for the first time, feedbacking and spitting alongside Haino’s vocal exorcisms. The final fade out after the fury is truly epic, and the audience somehow manages to clap despite the post-catharsis calm of Haino’s last words.
The electric jellyfish that appear on the album cover — the design courtesy of sunn 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley — visually represents Tima Formosa’s sounds quite well. The underwater weightlessness that characterizes the long journey through time toward the ultimate island destination is, despite the serene floating, alive with bright color and furious energy. Black Truffle and Kitakyusha’s Center for Contemporary Art have provided us a great service by producing and sharing this engaging and spiritual night of music by three of the best contemporary creative artists.