Unrelenting in its aural assault, Li Jianhong’s “San Sheng Shi” shows the power of the guitar solo. The piece itself is a testament to the physicality of music. Li Jianhong can attest to this: he recorded this gargantuan effort in a hot room in the summertime and got heatstroke a little later. Recovering from his heatstroke he listened to it and ultimately thought it was excellent, releasing it and naming it after “San Sheng Shi” after a story about the after-life, for he too was given a chance after the album was finished.
Yes San Sheng Shi make its artist suffer and the product speaks for itself. Loudly, ridiculously, unbelievably loud, almost cosmic in force the piece is a thing of true untamed beauty. Few artists ever get close to this level of perfection with a guitar solo. Typically a guitar solo is a code word for ‘indulgent’ yet every moment with this piece feels completely earned. Nor is there a great deal of complexity in terms of his methods: sustain, feedback, delay. Available to everyone, only Li Jianhong managed to make these rudimentary effects into something truly astral in scope.
With the piece Li Jianhong explores the power of the loud and quiet. Elements of the sound at times appear to almost rest in order to reveal the incredibly sound lower register structure that gives the piece form. In fact it is Li Jianhong’s attention to detail that keeps the song surprisingly focused. For all the chaos that he unleashes (and there is more than most musicians would ever be able to do in their wildest dreams) he remains committed to giving the piece a beating heart.
Noise certainly would be one way to classify this album though a not entirely accurate one. Psychedelic and noise have often lived in the same circles, with the words used interchangeably. On “San Sheng Shi” Li Jianhong shows how similar the two worlds really are. By peeling away his dense fields of feedback Li Jianhong shows a great emotional depth. Underneath these siren calls, the shrieks and the wails, there is a sense of doom that permeates the piece giving it a sense of tragedy. The violence the guitar inflicts upon itself is merely a distraction for the inevitability of its untimely demise. Particularly true in the last moments of the piece, which reveals the narrative that guided it throughout its many sounds, it feels akin to the end of Finnegans Wake where the true beauty and plot are revealed.
Volume with this album is a must as Li Jianhong gives the listener absolutely no choice. The advisable thing to do in approaching this album is to begin with the quietest possible setting as Li Jianhong wastes no time throwing the listener into the maelstrom. Once the piece starts in earnest around the two minute mark there is no turning back, Li Jianhong unleashes a sound far larger than himself or indeed anyone.
Fortunately Li Jianhong’s work goes beyond the merely musical: his goal is to explore greater sounds and greater communities. He has since released many other albums that explore the mixture of psychedelic noise and drone with little evidence of stopping. A prolific artist he has also founded and worked in many bands, manages record labels for similarly minded bands, and helps organize concerts in Hangzhou, China.
Li Jianhong’s “San Sheng Shi” shows the depth of noise and cacophony. It is a beautiful, all-encompassing experience.