Li Jianhong—
Mountain Fog

Released 2021 on WV Sorcerer Productions/C.F.I.
The Seth Man, February 2024ce
MOUNTAIN FOG is a mystifying album with equally mystifying packaging. For one thing, the CD is black on the otherwise always silvery underbelly. Totally black. There is none more black. It looks as though no digital information is even stored on it. But something most certainly is: two live improvisations made up on the spot in Europe in the late spring of 2018 by Chinese guitarist Li Jianhong.

An intrepid musician best known in the West as one half of VagusNerve, for over twenty years Li has been exploring opposing poles of sonic improvisation and leaving the results upon an elongated trail of solo releases on CDs, CD-Rs, downloads and cassettes as well as collaborating with likeminded free-improvisers. His work shifts between expressing either fragile environmental pieces that include birdsong, conversations or background noises as his acoustic guitar strum and pick minimalisms work into the surroundings. Or -- and this is the loud part that brings us to the album at hand -- in the form of electric guitar feedback that resounds in roaring everlasting glory for extended periods of time over two pieces.

MOUNTAIN FOG is roughly Li’s 22nd solo release and it is truly the definition of ‘artifact.’ Namely, as ‘something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of an investigative procedure.’ In the context of live performance, improvisation is nothing if not an investigative procedure but even though Li’s expressions are far more visceral than methodical, the experiment exists here as a recording for one to live through over and over. All those past moments of glimmer and glint that bookended usually live tracks by Jeff Beck, Townshend, The VU, Jimi, ‘68 Dead, Stooges are here all at once: unadulterated and without unnecessary accoutrements like vocals, choruses, verses, and so on clogging the drains of otherwise sweet, sweet, guitar feedback. Nope, all we get here is the free expression of Li, translating and interpreting the mythology of the Chinese mountains of his early days as they swirl with auspicious clouds of rolling fog into the energy of overcast mysteries that reverberate throughout the undulating mountain spirits of that ancient land. Tapping into ancestral memory and the sensations of the rural landscapes of his youth, Li channels forth an electric ocean of sonic waves that are as continuous as they are ever-changing, fractal mandalas of godheadedness resonating from guitar to amplifier to head to the beyond. His pursuit is not sheer volume (although the manipulation of feedback requires it) so much as a vast, encompassing sound. At times simple and pure energy is channeled, other times it is sustained in singularity of tone or sometimes interrupted by a series of jagged strokes that nearly drop off into silence. But at all times Li is keenly aware and listening with a sense of control, capacity, and faith that remains flexible in the face of all change. As stoic as Rock and as sensitive as mist, Li plunges throughout the known terrain of his youth and the unknown terrain of his heart with gorgeous results.

Li performed the greatly-titled “Did You See The Fireball? It Just Leapt Beyond The Wanghai Gang” (16:41) live at Umbo in Zürich, Switzerland on June 10, 2018. Lurching forth with waves of soaring, bending and buckling feedback. Soon, an assumed girth emerges that embraces the silence, swallows it, surfs upon it and then turns inside out. Startlingly, at around 3:33 it sounds like Van Halen’s “Eruption” for about three whole seconds before then refolding into itself. Halfway through, waves of sonic undulations quiver swiftly under silken folds of silence. All too soon, it fades.

Less than a week later, on June 16, 2018, Li recorded “Mountain Fog” live at the now defunct Le Pied de Nez in Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans, France. The last show of the tour, Li was relaxed and as evidenced by the sonic proceedings, in fine form for what he turned in was over half an hour of psychedelic extemporization to blow thy mind. Forever. Accompanied by Wang Ziheng halfway through on public saxophone and self-made wind instrument, at once that distinct smell of heated, burning dust on the overwrought tubes of amplifiers emanates from the opening of this titular piece. Sensitive to his geographic surroundings, Li expresses various climes and settings from his childhood, channeling them through guitar and amp, putting forth punishing brushstrokes against a canvas of silence. In furtherance of that fine arts analogy, at approximately 22 minutes Li’s guitar is like a gently dipped brush of watercolor paint into water that spreads its colour in one sudden and violent instance upon the once clear water -- now quietly exploding under the surface like Siamese fighting fish mating then coiling like heated smoke and distributed sonicly throughout audiospace as evenly and randomly as stars in the sky, raining in the mountain...and the fog.

Just as it ends, the absence of the whoosh and click of booted foot on stepped on volume switch to kill the volume à la Lou Reed’s cutthroat finale on “I Heard Her Call My Name” makes my mind split open.


Purchase here.

Selective Discography

San Sheng Shi (2008) aRCHIVE
Classic Of The Mountains And Seas (2009) P.S.F.
1969 (2012) Buh
Wanghai Gang (2020) Utech
Ferns (2020) Ramble