Naked City – Leng Tch’e
Naked City is an experimental jazz outfit that included an all-star cast of alto saxophonist John Zorn, guitarist Bill Frisell, base guitarist Fred Firth, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, drummer Joey Baron, and occasional vocalist Yamatsuka Eye of The Boredoms. Active from 1988 through 1993, Naked City (along with its sister group Painkiller) was influenced by grindcore, sludge metal, noise music, and avant-garde jazz that frequently incorporated jump-cut composition with thrashy jazz tracks juxtaposed with standards, showtunes, and dub. These led to occasionally hilarious results that were grimly contrasted by graphic sex and violence; the cover to the self-titled debut showed the aftermath of a mob hit, and Heretic was created as a score for a French BDSM film.
Leng Tch’e is not hilarious. The album is named after the Chinese method of execution also known as the “death by a thousand cuts” or “slow slicing”, in which the condemned is given opium and then slowly sliced, amputated, and stabbed until dead. The album artwork is a photograph of the last known victim of leng tch’e with a look of ecstasy upon his face following amputation of the arms, flaying of the chest, and immediate destruction of the knees. The notes include a paragraph by Georges Bataille, in which he describes the “ecstatic and intolerable” image of pain associated with leng tch’e, ruminating on what Marquis de Sade would have thought in the “perfect contraries [of] divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror.”
In contrast to previous albums, Leng Tch’e almost entirely forsakes anything remotely close to jazz composition (avant-garde or otherwise) for sludge and drone metal. According to the liner notes, the album was written in five measures and stretched to fill thirty minutes of run-time. Although the grindcore-jazz of “Fuck the Facts”, “Speedball”, and “Torture Garden” had prominently featured down-tuned guitars for their sub-thirty second run-time, Leng Tch’e makes them the main element for the entire composition. Zorn’s alto saxophone does not appear until roughly halfway through the album, in which they are paired with Eye’s orgasmic screams of pain and pleasure. Zorn’s saxophone rivals black metal shrieks in their harrow, raising ever higher in pitch and frequency as Eye’s screams become ever more common and loud. Eventually, Eye’s scream change to animalistic grunts and groans, eventually fading along with Zorn into two more minutes of guitar burn.
Leng Tch’e is an exceptional example of sludge and drone metal whose existential human horror provides a foil to the supernatural creepiness of acts such as Vøid or Sunn O))). In Leng Tch’e, the horror comes from not only from experiencing the mindset of a victim of “death by a thousand cuts” but also in knowing that every scream is the result of action by another human being. With Sunn O))), you can rest knowing that the winterdemons are folkloric entities born into misanthropy. With Leng Tch’e, the pain and erotic ecstasy is that brought by another human with their own histories, desires, and memories just like you. That combination of histories, desires, and memories has led them to commit this state-sanctioned torture, and they will know you like no man has before.
1. Leng Tch’e – (31:35)