With the best will in the world, the sight of three individuals standing in a row behind a stew of wires and gadgets is not the most compelling visual experience. Yet when those three individuals happen to be at the cutting edge of underground noise-electronica its worth paying attention to the sound they create. On stage, they were, from left to right, John Wiese, Pete Swanson and Liz Harris. John Wiese is a mainstay of the LA scene and occasional member of Sunn 0))), Pete Swanson was one half of the sublime Yellow Swans duo while Liz Harris is the artist still currently known as Grouper.
They performed a single improvised piece for around half an hour which developed into a dense mass of impenetrable noise before gradually evolving into something gentler. A babble of jumbled voices added a human dimension and when Liz Harris took up a microphone I thought she was going to add her otherworldly vocals to the mix but sadly that didn't happen.
Wiese and Swanson looked to be just passing through as they were dressed in chunky outdoor gear while Harris in black t-shirt and legging looked in a sportier mood. She'd been active beforehand too as the visuals displayed on the monitors were all her own work, a piece called 'Mirror Hall' which featured an organic kaleidoscopic flux and digital rainfall. This added a welcome counterbalance and distraction to the sound collage the threesome concoct.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they never reach the transcendent peaks they have achieved as artists in their own right but they set the tone for a fascinating evening of what the Netmage programme describes as "a sonic cloud of weird-impro-psycho-noise" combining "vernacular and hybrid" elements .
Netmage takes place in the heart of Bologna in the splendid setting of the city's Palazzo Re Enzo. The medieval arches and towers and faded renaissance murals are in marked contrast to the now-ness of the music being showcased.
Next on the bill were America's great white hopes of drone -Emeralds- whose recent releases show such great promise. These three young guys from Cleveland go about their business efficiently but in fairly uncharismatic fashion and the live performance doesn't really add much more than you get on record.
This criticism cannot be levelled at the evening's main attraction - the enigma that is Tokyo's Keiji Haino ( Keiji Haino).
There are no words to adequately describe the brilliance of this show. I only know that I felt immensely privileged to witness an artist who, in his mid 50s, is still pushing the boundaries of how we define music and performance art.
For nigh on two hours he switched between tortured vocals, frenzied guitar abuse and contorted blasts of electronic noise. With the bank of huge speakers, the amplification was deliberately pitched to hit the pain barrier; not since a mid 70s encounter with Hawkwind have my ears burned so much at the end of a concert. At one point the screech of his voice was of such an acute pitch it made me reel with shock.
Despite the aural mayhem he conjured up, Haino, wordless and in sunglasses throughout, remained impassive and seemingly without emotion. Only the jerky movements and the tossing of his mane of long greying hair gave any hint of his state of mind.
There were no catchy rhythms, no words to sing along with, no songs at all in the accepted sense of the word - there wasn't even space to applaud. Yet for its shear intensity and for its uncompromising assault on the senses I would rank this as one of the best performances I've ever seen. I don't expect to see its like again this side of the grave.
This rough video hardly does him justice but gives something of the flavour of the show: