Tagged: Russia

Musical Offering: showcase of avantgarde 20th-century formal Soviet composition in space electronics

Musical Offering

Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Oleg Buloshkin, Edward Artemiev, Musical Offering, Melodiya C60 30721 000 (recorded 1971, released 1990)

Modestly titled this collection of space-ambient electronic recordings may be but three of these pieces, all of which were composed and performed on the ANS photoelectronic synthesiser, are in fact uncommon forays into electronic-based experimentalism by composers and musicians more usually associated with formal 20th-century classical music. Alfred Schnittke (1934 – 1998) and Edison Denisov (1929 – 1996)  were pioneers in a style of 20th-century classical (orchestral, symphonic, chamber) music known as polystylism in which (as the name suggests) various styles of music past and present are juxtaposed. Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), a devout Russian Orthodox believer of Tatar descent who believes in music as a force for spiritual transcendence as a form of resistance against political oppression, has a body of work encompassing improvisation and the use of instruments, including Russian folk instruments and instruments from other cultures, in unusual combinations and ways of playing. All three ran afoul of Soviet bureaucracy at various points in their careers and all eventually left the Soviet Union / Russia in the early 1990s. Edward Artemiev is best known as the composer of various film scores for films such as Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” and “The Stalker”and various other highly regarded movies (“Siberiade”, “Burnt by the Sun”). I was not able to find very much information about Oleg Buloshkin apart from figuring out from Google that he has composed electronic and electroacoustic music works. Although Artemiev dominates the compilation by sheer length of music and Buloshkin is treated somewhat as an “infant” with his contribution shoved into first place, presumably to set the stage for the more illustrious pieces to follow, each of the six tracks has its merits and shows off the capabilities of the ANS synthesiser to good effect.

Of the shorter tracks, Buloshkin’s entry is an amorphous if brief space-ambient piece evoking the mystery and awe of infinite space with melody and a rhythm developing after the second minute. Denisov’s “Birds Singing” incorporates birdsong and other nature-based field recordings into a ghostly soundscape that conjures up images of an intergalactic zoo. Which are actual animal noises and which are generated on the ANS is hard to tell. This piece works well as library music for a film background soundtrack. Artemiev’s “Mosaic” is a sturdy if cold study of interstellar space ambient. Schnittke’s “Stream” is a reverberating metal drone texture piece that rings in your ears: by turns this is wintry, mysterious, even a bit mystical, and near its end majestic and awe-inspiring.

Of the long tracks, Gubaidulina’s “Vivente / Non Vivente (Alive and Dead)” has some difficulty with the “non vivente” part: this is a lively track that throbs and quivers with energy and zip even during its supposedly more comatose or mystical space-ambient sections. At least this is one false advertisement I don’t mind. Although this is more soundscape / sound art than actual music, the piece retains a sense of curiosity and wonder all the way through. Artemiev’s second track “Twelve Looks At The World Of Sound” is quite good too if bolder, brassier and a lot more boisterous and bombastic. Compared to Gubaidulina’s track though, I do get a sense of the sound being more forced, as if without the volume the music would turn out to be hollow inside.

As a group, these tracks demonstrate the range and capabilities of the ANS photoelectronic synthesiser in a way that they might not as separate releases. This compilation serves as an excellent introduction to the work of these composers; just visit this Youtube link and let yourself be surrounded by their sounds.

Human Extinction: a sprightly soundtrack to end our days with

Yuri Morozov

Yuri Morozov, Human Extinction, recorded in 1979 but never officially released

A tip-off from a friend about an old 1980s Soviet aerobics exercise music record called “Safari” on Youtube led me into one of the less explored realms in the labyrinthine universe that is Youtube.com: the realm of Soviet electronic music of the 1970s – 1980s. This being a world completely beyond my narrow ken, I’m in no position to say anything much about it apart from observing that one of its biggest stars, Edward Artemiev, was the composer of the soundtrack for Andrei Tarkovsky’s turgid flick “Solaris”. I probably know the Japanese Baby Sumo corner of Youtube better. One day I will probably listen to something else by Artemiev and say a few words about it here. What really beheld my attention is this unreleased album of electronic / psychedelic experimentation with elements of musique concrète by Yuri Morozov, a lesser known composer who was active in the late 1970s / early 1980s.

Why this never saw the light of day, I could spend my days guessing: titles like “Aria Demona”, “Katastrophy” and “Agoniya” as well as the overall album title are certainly contrary to the official optimism prescribed by Socialist Realism tenets of the period but there could have been more prosaic reasons (lack of public interest, lack of money) for the album being shelved. Perhaps even the music might have been a reason: all instrumental and all done on synthesiser, the whole work is very cheerful and quite a hoot to listen to. This is the kind of light-hearted, cheeky and trippy soundtrack that would interest Creelpone into giving it the release it deserves. (I might even consider working on that.) No matter how hard Morozov tried dressing up this music in more drab garb – “Mysteria Erosa” and “Bitva Brontosavrov” hint at more earnest intentions behind the recording – this lively music simply will not obey its creator.

Try as he might – and Morozov does try hard throughout the whole recording – his sounds simply refuse to accept the morose program foisted on them though in later tracks they compromise a bit by turning into long extended drones. Some genuinely moody and far-reaching music is the result though some of the more flighty, high-spirited tones in the sound palette get impatient and insist on stamping their feet and bolting out through the stable door at the first chance. Even “Agoniya”, long drawn-out though it is, doesn’t sound as bleak and anguished as its name asserts.

I simply can’t see this music as a soundtrack for the demise of the human species. On the other hand, if we’re all doomed, we may as well go out on a high note (in spite of all the pain and destruction we caused to ourselves) rather than shuffle off our collective mortal coil, heads downcast, in single file. The children who followed the Pied Piper out of Hamelin and into a cave, never to be seen again, never heard such sprightly music as this.

The album can be heard at this Youtube link.

Library Music

Andrey Popovskiy

Andrey Popovskiy
Rotonda
RUSSIA INTONEMA int012 CD (2014)

This is the debut solo album by Andrey Popovskiy and was recorded at a performance given in the rotunda of the Mayakovsky Library in St. Petersburg. This venue was chosen for the special acoustics it provides, amplifying, as it does, even the smallest sounds and imparting a very long reverberation. Prior to the recording, the artist researched the space in order to fully understand the responses that would be gained from the building.

My first listen flagged up the extensive use of silence, to the extent that at times I wondered if my system was working. I cannot say whether this, or Popovskiy’s use of small-scale sounds, are part of his natural armoury, or whether it was developed especially for this venue, but this approach forms the bedrock of the piece, accompanied by the “listener’s sound perception”. Instrumentation used involves lap steel guitar, electronics and objects. Anybody expecting country and techno (now there’s a thought), step back disappointed, put away your ‘kerchiefs, cowboy boots and Milky Bar Kid badges.

There is a short video online of part of the concert, although as the performer and instrumentation are mostly hidden by a bannister its use for clues is pretty limited, but I suspect the objects are being used to prepare the lap steel guitar (à la John Cage). Obviously, in such a reverberant space care has to be taken, as too much information could easily lead to an unholy mess. Not a chance of that happening here, with most sounds being allowed to work their course before the next arrives. Unfortunately, I feel this approach fails. The most interesting moments are where sounds are allowed to mingle, approximately the last seven minutes, leaving the rest to be the sonic equivalent of trainspotting. I am sure there is adventure, mischief and drama, for some, through undertaking it in this way. However, maybe the recording should be heard mostly as a means of documenting how certain objects sound in this space. Short clicks and footsteps are distributed amongst longer electronic induced whistles and hums. A short period of more intense (in decibels) action, itself separated between bursts, acts as a counterpoint to the minimalist fare that surrounds it.

Personally, I do not think the recording helps. It sounds like there is a barrier between the listener and the space, giving the impression that you are once removed from the setting. Considering the importance of the environment to the performance, there is an overall lack of depth and involvement. My overall feeling that you had to be there, was in part confirmed by the video, although even here I found my enthusiasm draining away from me after a few minutes. There were moments where I suspect sound from elsewhere in the building escaped into the space. One of these, at the beginning, resembled a distant Russian choir, although focusing on it reveals dialogue. These, I think, are the things that should have been exploited more and used to build up a more interesting piece. One which involved the whole building on a level above that of the acoustic it supplies.

Russian Brutalism

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Wozzeck
Act IV

RUSSIA OPPOSING MUSIC OPM013 CD (2012)

Young Russians (previously known to me only via their interview in The Sound Projector issue 21), headed by Ilia Belorukov with a fresh approach to the by now well known if not well-worn grindcore tropes, here mastered by James Plotkin (equally well known to many by now I should think, and quite rightly, too). The unorthodox addition of synthesiser and saxophone to the traditional elements should do much to endear the project to those susceptible to this kind of thing. And a worthwhile piece of brutalism it is too.

It is an unusual album of saxophone-hybrid avant-garde metal which periodically put me variously (and perhaps predictably), in mind of Borbetomagus, Hawkwind and Elliot Sharp’s Carbon on first listen. Plenty of riffage and screamo vocals (not always upfront – sometimes very effectively used as you would an instrumental pad morphing into a saxophone part), as you would expect.

No little evidence of technology (live processing and editing I suspect, plus lots of production, no doubt), on the sprawling single track on this album, but not to such a psychotic extreme as a contemporary like Genghis Tron, say. In fact, this single 39-minute track is surprisingly effective device with a coursing dynamic, space to breathe and some very capable group improvisation dovetailed in. I like to imagine this is a recorded document of a live session but there’s no written evidence on the sleeve to support this impression.

In its quieter moments, Act IV reminds me of (and here I’m showing my age), Gong, Cardiacs, and briefly, even the modulated Roland Chorused guitars of early period The Cure. Somewhat predictably, I feel like pointing out that Lightning Bolt have a lot to answer for when I listen this music (although its authors may not agree). There’s the ever-present grumbling of a multi-effected bass guitar, and the drummer is feral – capable of all the required polyrhythmic tricks one minute and relying on pure power the next – although not as fightening or potentially dangerous as Brian Chippendale or the guy from the Japanese duo FINAL EXIT. I’m making the comparison stylistically and/or philosophically; not literally – the incarnation of Wozzeck here are a four-piece not a duo. They are, in fact, the aforementioned Ilia Belorukov on voice, electronics and alto sax; bassist Mikhail Ershov; guitarist Pavel Medvedev and on drums, Alexey Zabelin.

So, to Act IV itself. Kicking off with strangulated feedback then an explosion of blastbeats, Act IV sets out its blackened and twitching stall without delay. After a short while, screamed vocals cloud over a sudden slackening of pace as digital feedback raises questions (of mortality?) no-one is prepared to answer. Residual traces of processing give way to the entrance of the saxophone at four minutes in. From here on in, the music takes on an aura of relentless, progressive grind allowing all four instrumentalists to shoot off on their own separate internal voyages. By nine and a half minutes, the bluster is replaced by a brooding ambience. Hissing fog tones and rumbling bass coalesce before a sudden and violent return to blast. Hidden in the midst of a typical blitzkrieg at thirteen and a half minutes is one of the brief Gong-like asides – a contrast as captivating and unhinged as any. At around 22 minutes, there is a protracted fatal collapse of all previously well-wrought metal architecture; the digital distortion produced as all the inputs blast into the red left in the final mix, until relief, reprise and reconnection with the melodic thrust of fifteen minutes previous, and then without warning everyone bar the bassist drops out. A bass chord is languorously explored while phantoms of electronics waft here and there. Serpentine long tones that might once have been an electric piano move in and out of focus while the drummer gradually recovers from whatever blow to the head rendered him unconscious in the first place, and turns his attention to his impressive collection of cymbals. From here the Robert Smith-like guitar flange kicks in to ominous and eerie effect. Tom-toms are chucked down a liftshaft and/or reverbed to sound like they are being played in the next town and a ring modulated buzz encourages over-amped guitar (tinges of Alex Lifeson if he was ever capable of becoming truly deranged), finally, to take over for the last three and a half minutes of the session.

Act IV rewards repeated listens, packed as it is with unhinged sonic artefacts; fast moving and restless. There’s been a long list of on trend noise/screamo (if that’s the correct genre appellation – apologies if I’ve got that wrong), bands come up for air in the last few years; Rolo Tomassi, Charlottefield and Bo Ningen spring to mind – perhaps Wozzeck are on their way to joining that list. James Plotkin’s involvement can be seen as an endorsement in a way. Whether that was their intention or whether the opportunity to work with Plotkin was just too good to miss remains a mystery. Either way, I’m glad they did.

Ilia Belorukov
Opposing Music

The Angelic Conversation

Time to get our fangs into some more cassette tapes. There are times of the day when only a small-run independent tape can satisfy a man’s urges. Can a man who doesn’t own a tape deck truly be called a man, I ask myself 1. Ilya Belorukov is a Russian fellow who we spoke to for TSP issue #21, and he’s pretty much waging a one-man campaign for free music, extreme metal, drone and avant-garde jazz in Saint Petersburg, often doing so in the space of a single album. Actually it’s not really a one-man effort when he has friends like the members of Wozzeck behind him. Wozzeck appear on side one of this split tape (ALREADY DEAD TAPES AD057) which we got on 11 December 2012. In fact for ‘Puhdas Ruoka’ they teamed up with the Finnish duo Banana Pill and the four-man team made a lovely sound together in Helsinki in the spring of 2011. What may begin as abrasive texturised abstractery resolves itself into quite a heavenly and mystical episode. Angelic choirs, I would say, worthy of inclusion as soundtrack music for certain cinematic moments of Tarkovsky. Many dream of achieving this degree of perfect and translucent blending of their combined sound, where the individual contributions just melt into a cosmic share of ever-giving plenty, surrendering their identities willingly. Just 40 copies of this artefact confirm it as something of a hidden gem.

Flip it over to hear the Coaxil side, which contains two pieces, ‘Gulf Of Izmir’ and ‘Mzee’ and represents quite a different burst of digital malarkey. It’s more in the zone of strident avant-garde Techno than dreamy droning. Synths and sequencers and rhythm boxes spit out slightly addled phrases and half-formed patterns, occasionally interrupted by the voice of a chanting female mystic issuing a terse and enigmatic sentence. The overall sound seems so stripped-down that I assumed it was the work of a single synthesist, and was a tad surprised to learn that Coaxil are a threesome of Russians who have been doing it in Saint Petersburg since about 2009, often joined by their singer and a fifth member who does live mixes of visual material for their multi-media shows. On a chilly Russian night at 2 AM, fortified by strong vodka and surrounded by enthused clubbers hopefully wearing fur coats, I expect the Coaxil experience is truly memorable – especially if amplified and accompanied by fast-moving visuals on a big screen. On this cassette tape though, it comes over a bit limp and constrained. The itchy restlessness of their scatter-shot music may appeal, but unlike the flip side of this split their pieces don’t feel “performed” enough for me, and I harbour some doubts as to how much the team are able to successfully control or direct their equipment in their favour.

Keeping things more or less Russian, I thought fit to delve into the box of goodments kindly sent to us in September 2012 by Ivan Afanasyev from Petrozavoosk. Very coincidentally of the six tapes herein (all released on his Full Of Nothing label), one of them is a self-titled cassette by Banana Pill (FULL OF NOTHING fon31). This gives one a chance to hear their solo turn, and the two Finns Dmitri Zherbin and Sasha Kretova spread themselves out quite luxuriantly with their guitar and violin-based performances, the rich and melodic drone-music much enhanced and deepened by use of synths and some studio processing, or simply using a smidgen of digital delay. Sasha and Dmitri may be a little slow to start (like a Tunturi on a cold morning), but when they uncoil at length into the correct musical niches, they tend to occupy the space like an incandescent python. A very sleepy python. The duo also exhibit their own brand of the whimsical eccentricity and cluttering sound that has come to characterise certain strands of music from Finland, often labelled by some as “Finnish Folk” for want of a better way to pigeonhole any music made with acoustic instruments. However, there’s little aggression or grit in their spacey-vibey trance music, and even the label notes tend to emphasise the calm, sweetness and peacefulness of Banana Pill. Nothing wrong with those sentiments, but when that Pill is wafered into the more punchy-noisenik tendencies of Wozzeck as above, a more complex dosage results.

  1. This gag borrowed from Lawrence Burton.

Fundamental Mantras

The Buddhas of Moscow

We’ve had this Phurpa item on a promo CD since about June this year and then recently we were sent a vinyl edition of same (which remains sealed at time of writing). Trowo Phurnag Ceremony (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN / EDITIONS MEGO SOMA 001) is a double LP by a group of contemporary Russian singers applying themselves to the study, research and performance of an ancient form of Tibetan Buddhist ritual music. Alexei Tegin and his four men play traditional ritual horns and percussion instruments, but their most sonically astounding tour de force is the deep-bass overtone chanting, which they perform very slowly, using a limited range of notes, and forming growly and groany vowel sounds that are extremely alien to the ear. From these five mouths there issue intense reverberations which, given time, could probably grind away an entire mountain. There is no denying the spiritual depth to this music, the ritualistic effects of the chanting meditation, but at the same time it’s also quite terrifying to listen to. Tegin and his crew have been studying this area of music for about fifteen years, they also have some familiarity with ancient musics of Egypt and Iran, and the sleeve notes here provide a condensed history of this particular strain of music which belongs to the Bon tradition, an ancient pre-Buddhist religion which came from Central Asia. While not explicitly stated anywhere, one senses quite strongly that these early “ancestral cults” and “shamanic rites” are the real locus of interest for Phurpa, and they may indeed believe that something powerful and transformative was lost after the arrival of Buddhist monastic ensembles from the tenth century onwards. Further clues are provided by the quasi-mystical titles on the double LP such as ‘Conferring Empowerment and Self-Transformation’ or ‘Emanating the Retinue of the Deity’. Originally recorded in 2005 and released in Russia in 2008, this reissue is the first release on Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ imprint, and it’s also another exotic cultural ingredient in the American’s musical melting pot; hopefully his endorsement will send a few Sunn O))) fans scuttling in the direction of this very unusual release. In some ways, it’s almost the vox humana acoustic equivalent to the slow and deep guitar drones that O’Malley has made into his signature sound; and this ritualistic chanting feels closely attuned to the Sunn O))) visual aesthetic, the “cowled performances” and the photographs of hooded figures performing strange rites on their album covers.

Moving to Montana

Another vinyl release which, for me, only exists as a promo CD in a chipboard cover, is Big Shadow Montana (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS 020), an ethereal drone LP in two parts made by the team of BJ Nilsen and Stilluppsteypa. I’ve been slow to make any lasting emotional connection with the work of Icelandic experimenters Stilluppsteypa, but this monolithic mantra-like slow-spinner has enough layers of interest to warrant further delving, a task for which I sense I’ll need a pickaxe and a snow shovel. Hard to identify how this rich mix of vapour-trailing murmur-music was generated or assembled, but it seems analogue synths play a large part, spun together into a gossamer tapestry that stretches on for miles across vague terrains of whiteness. They must have done their editing with a set of miniature hairbrushes, so perfectly are the layered sounds elided like strands of silken hair. This LP is not as quietly wispy as Mirror used to be at their glacial high-point, nor as treacly as the current crop of American synth bands who are working hard to produce their personal reinterpretations of Alpha Centauri mixed with Klaus Schulze’s Cyborg. Inevitably in listening to it or writing about it, I suppose we’ll both be grasping for the usual basket of mixed metaphors that involve weather, landscapes, and empty skies. In fact, I already have. Released in April 2011. Official repro of the sleeve is here.

The Sea, The Sea

Coincidentally, ice and rock are photographed for the cover of The Earth In Play (QUIET WORLD FOURTEEN / FUNGAL 039), an item sent to us personally by Ian Holloway from Swansea. A collaboration with Darren Tate of Monos who provided the guitar, percussion and squeeze box music, the record was made from the piano and flute of Holloway, mixed with his recordings of the sea. You would hardly realise any of this from hearing the music, which is a serene and processed drone where such musical interludes as appear are heavily treated, minimal, ambient, and unobtrusive. Curiously divided into two tracks of five minutes and 30 minutes, it’s the album’s second track which contains the most development and evidence of patient hand-crafting; it moves along slowly from a warm and comforting tone to an atmosphere that is far less reassuring, with vague streaks of darkness appearing in the skies above, and a general air of uncertainty. Holloway reports “it took me about 8 months to get the mix how I wanted it and I’m very pleased with the end result”. Rightly so; it’s a finely-burnished piece where every nuanced sound carries weight, and means something to the overall effect. As ever, ecological sensitivity is the subtext of the work, and many of Holloway’s records exhibit this pleasingly ambivalent relationship with the environment.

The Spires of Pandemonium

Spire Hell Heap (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL 047) was released in July by Summon Thrull, who is the Seattle-based synth player Dustin Kochel who also performs as one third of Physical Demon. Their Hyperdrift CD from 2010 was a stirling example of nightmarish industrial noise, and Spire Hell Heap hits some of the same marks with its unstinting use of distortion, maltuned synths, brutal repetitions and percussive thuds, thumping and buffeting tape loops, and its peculiar air of imminent menace. However, Summon Thrull is also occasionally capable of tempering his blasts of foul weather with sweeter tones that peep through the smog and clouds like flashes of blue sky. Mostly though, he rules his domain with an iron fist and keeps his subjects oppressed under the heavy yoke of dreary noise. Despite psychedelic pastel shades of the cover art, this is a dark and grim album.

Cheezit, The Cops

Circumstantial Pestilence (MIND FLARE MEDIA MFM005) is the first CD release by Cheezface, an alter ego that conceals the name of Bryan Stancil, a man given to delivering uncompromising and confrontational near-naked live performances that involve assaulting the audience with extreme beat-based electronic noise, advancing his intentions still further with his use of a grotesque horror mask. Stancil is determined to prove that, when it comes to music software, there’s no pushing him around and he’ll willingly arm-wrestle any computer program in the house. The release comes with plenty of stinky cartoon artworks by Lou Rusconi, where he effectively remakes Breughel’s The Triumph of Death as a sick inverted Disney epic for the front cover, and gleefully spews out plenty of blood, death, fire and maggot-infested images elsewhere on the package. The track titles promise equal amounts of chaos-filled mayhem as they cheerfully rip through the usual taboos, fecal and urinary imagery to the fore, and while I didn’t find the music quite as wild or shocking as all the above might lead one to believe, there’s plenty of strong imagination on offer. The electronic sounds are ugly, sullen and grisly, the samples are sparingly used and actually quite witty with their scatological asides, the beats are programmed to deliver insane impossible tempos, and each piece keeps shifting direction and timbre with the restless energy of a school of hungry Piranha fish. 24 minutes of unkempt, ill-behaved oddness.