The erhu is a Japanese traditional violin. Played upright with its base resting on the thigh, it has a more sinuous sound, thanks to the increased distance between the strings and the fretboard. Chie Mukai uses it in a most untraditional way, producing dark drones. L'Énergie de l'Existence culls two live recordings from September 7 and 8, 2002 in Tokyo. Mukai, who also plays drums and sings, is accompanied by Rinji Fukuoka on cello, piano, and drums. The music is freely improvised, drone-based, ritualistic. Often it evokes Fushitsusha, without the excessive pathos. Occasionally dark and tumultuous, these duets are nevertheless serene when compared to Keiji Haino's emotional outbreaks. The first of these two untitled pieces starts with drums (Mukai) and piano (Fukuoka), the latter being played directly from the strings. Then the musicians move to cello and erhu for a stunning segment of inspired drones. Mukai eventually adds her voice to the mix, singing what sounds like a religious incantation before moving back to the drums. It took 48 minutes but it felt like 15. The second piece is born out of a different atmosphere. Drums and cello provide most of the music, but the bass drum pounds an insistent beat, almost Native American in spirit, so the drone becomes instead a hypnotic pulse shrouded in bowed cello. Overstretched passages are built into the concept of this kind of music. If you are willing to accept them and lose yourself in them, L'Énergie de l'Existence provides a revitalizing experience.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture