Heavy Buys // John Zorn/Mike Patton/Ikue Mori—Hemophiliac

Welcome to Heavy Buys, a new feature on the blog where we discuss in detail some recent physical music purchases we’ve made, whether it’s a small-time purchase to round out one’s collection, or a debt-inducing splurge. Vinyl, CDs, and even cassettes are all possible topics here. As long as its physical media, it’s fair game. I’m going to start off this inaugural article by talking about what is probably the most expensive purchase I’ve made yet—Hemophiliac: a collaborative John Zorn project released on Tzadik. I’m not going to give a real number, but believe me, it set me back a little. (But then again, I’m basically a corporate slave, so that price is pretty relative.)

But, fuck, is it amazing. For those who don’t know, Hemophiliac is a side-project featuring Zorn, Japanese avant-garde artist Ikue Mori, and Mike Patton. Yes, that Mike Patton. This album is a limited release, a double album with only 2500 copies made. And considering that this came out over a decade ago, it’s fair to say that there aren’t many copies left. Like all of Zorn’s releases, though, it comes with some pretty cool, (albeit minimalist) packaging. The outer sleeve sports what I believe to be blood samples (hence the name Hemophiliac—duh), while the inner case shows off a few pictures of the band members (and a couple great snaps of Mike Patton being his usual awesome, weird, self). The outer sleeve is autographed by all three members, too, which is cool if autographed CDs are your thing. I can’t really say its something I particularly look for, but it’s nonetheless a fun addition to it all.

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I do have one complaint with the packaging, though: the plastic nubs that keep the CD securely in place don’t exactly do their job. This really isn’t a big deal—it’s more annoying than a serious issue—and I’m pretty sure it’s not the maker’s fault; rather, it’s probably more a result of wear-and-tear. (This whole package came in a like-new condition, though, so I don’t know.) What Hemophiliac exactly is sonically, though, is another matter altogether. The best way to word it would be free improvisation, with Zorn handling saxophone (and some vocals), Mori on electronics/drums, and Patton on vocals (and some electronics), but that description is a bit inchoate, and, for me, doesn’t properly say what this album is about.

Part of that issue stems from the term “free improvisation.” The band did a fantastic album of actual free improv as a part of Zorn’s month-long 50th Birthday Celebration (which I highly recommend if any of this sounds interesting to you), but this seems like it could’ve been more composed and had more forethought put into it. (Seriously, though I can’t recommend that 50th Birthday Celebration album more; it’s easily on my top ten albums ever, and may only be replaced by the release I’m talking about now.) Perhaps a freeform sound collage is a better way to make sense of this project. Ikue Mori and Mike Patton’s electronic work creates an interesting base of sounds, and then its only added upon with Zorn’s saxophone and Patton’s vocals.

If you’re expecting normal performances from anyone, though, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Mike Patton utilizes every tool in his vocal swiss army knife, from screeching to blathering to snorting to coughing to blowing raspberries to, if I’m correct, even burping during parts of Hemophiliac. Patton’s work with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, to me, doesn’t even sound close to his performance here. If you’re familiar with Zorn’s contributions, on the other hand, you won’t find too much of a surprise here; he essentially does what Patton does, and tries to create every sound possible using only an alto sax (something he sort of did in his infamous Classic Guide to Strategy).

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All in all, this is a great album, and worth listening to if you can find it online. I’d say go out and buy it, but, again, it’s not really in high supply. You’ll probably be spending upwards of seventy-five bucks if you desperately want a copy, and there’s no guarantee on quality. The 50th Birthday Celebration disc that I previously mentioned is readily available, though (it’s Volume 6 of the Celebration Series, by the way), and absolutely worth it if you’re fan of avant-garde/experimental music and free improvisation.

I can’t say that everyone will like Hemophiliac. It isn’t exactly the easiest thing to digest—aside from its challenging sound, it also contains over two hours of music—and the album in question isn’t particularly easy to acquire. But if you’re a fan of music that’s just plain weird, or of the aforementioned artists, you’ll find this worth your time.