Tagged: Russia

Uralmash

Three more cassette tapes from the Russian Spina!Rec label which arrived here 26th October 2015. Once again the cassette runs were extremely limited – average 25 copies – and are all sold out at time of writing, but digital downloads are still for sale.

Spina!RecAAA

Wozzec’s 6 (SR018) is their sixth album. I think we’ve heard all five previous instalments of their work, which up to now has been released on CD on the Intonema label….every one another piece in the jigsaw of their grand plan, which is to undertake something radically different on every album. I’ve been horrified and fascinated by their wild experiments with noise, rock, and free improvisation. Up to now, that is. Ilia Belorukov, Mikhail Ershov and Konstantin Samolovov have turned in six tracks of monotonous disco beats, with minimal electronic pulsing…each track is slightly different in terms of the speed or the timbre, but that might have been achieved by just replaying the same material at different speeds. A high-concept piece that slightly misfires, for me, and not much fun to listen to. It’s like an ultra-minimal take on Suicide without vocals, or tunes. Or a sarcastic post-modern deconstruction of Techno music. Or perhaps a homage to the time when Neu! vari-speeded a single track several times, some would say out of desperation, in order to pad out their second LP. Something of an endurance test, which if I’d heard in isolation without knowing the rest of Wozzeck’s work, I might have been put off. Admittedly, it’s a bold coup in some ways. “Minimal sound and interaction between the musicians and programmed electronics,” is how they describe it. “Will soothe you for 90 minutes”. I however am very far from being soothed.

Spina!RecBBB

SR019 is a split between Benzolnye Mertvecy and Mars-96. Don’t think I’ve heard Benzolnye Mertvecy before, but we have heard some of their members in two spin-off groups, Glina and Harlekino. What they do here is full-on energetic noise rock, characterised by heavy-handed guitar mangling, drums thumped as if with iron mallets, and obnoxious screaming…a thick, clotted, sound results, and hems the listeners into an inescapable cardboard box (or padded cell). Even on a mere six tracks here they demonstrate a good deal of versatility, e.g. performing sub-Stooges heavy riffing with evil psychedelic guitar licks, feedback-laced rock in the stoner-doom-sludge modes, or manic free-form rhythm experiments reminiscent of early Boredoms. The band has been going for ten years and the label, wishing to celebrate this culturally significant milestone, claims “the energy suppresses and oppresses”. That sentence alone encapsulates quite well their airless, crushing vibe.

Mars-96 are the guitar-bass-drums trio from Palmira, who we’ve heard on two previous split tapes from this label. Their attenuated, near-wasted approach to playing rock is an acquired taste, but they are a complete contrast to the heaviness of the Benzolnye mob, intent on expressing internalised emotions and pained feelings as they stand aghast at the horrors of modern life. Each track treads a measured path, bubbling with suffused anger and raw sensations, and paying careful attention to pre-planned discordant effects. They have been livelier on SR003, when I likened them to US New Wave and No Wave bands of the 1970s, but in many ways I kind of prefer this heavily alienated and disaffected view of theirs, as they gaze at life through the wrong end of a telescope. “Lyrical sketches, psychedelic effects, minimum of overdrive,” is the label’s apt description of this cold and lonely music.

Spina!RecCCC

SR020 is another split, and I think the first time this label has indulged in any form of collaboration with the Basque country. Normally they do it with their spiritual neighbours, the Finns. The A-side is all Russian though. Sergey Kostyrko and Kurt Liedwart turn in four tracks from the occasion of their first musical meeting in 2015. Sergey Kostyrko is the label’s other owner (along with Ilia) and he has teamed up with others at least twice on this label’s catalogue. Kurt Liedwart is the “other” big name in Russian avant-garde circles, owner of the superb Mikroton label, and performer / improviser in his own right; real name Vlad Kudryavstev, we’ve heard him on record in various collaborations and noted him in these pages. Their duets were realised using electronic instruments, minimal sequenced rhythms, controlled noise, and assorted electro-acoustic means…every piece is performed with supreme assurance, and some gorgeous warped emanations are the result. While remaining abrasive and uncomfortable, there’s still a strange compelling pull to this material, some of it even achieving a species of harmonic resolution in its non-musical drones. We could also note its very driven qualities…the sound of men making dark utterances against the world because they are compelled to it, as if under the spell of Circes or similar ancient sorceress. Superb.

The B-side is a single long track by Mubles, which is the duo of Miguel A Garcia and Alvaro Matilla. Their ‘Oh Pequeno Muble’ is a 22-minute jumble of audio sources, “mixing on one plate hardly combinable ingredients” as the label press would have it. If making underground noise music is like cooking, then Mubles do indeed serve a dish that succeeds in unexpected ways, even if it is laced with elements unfit for human consumption. Several found tapes taken from radio or television jabber endlessly in tinny tones, competing to be heard among a dismal fizzing murk of electronic / laptop malarkey, along with the sustained groans of the hapless diner who is being forced to consume this muck, giving him (and us) instant indigestion and painful stomach-ache. Distortion, confusion, and formlessness are the order of the day. A hugely enjoyable sprawl of sluggish, meaningless racket.

Etudes / Epihina Slan

Ready for some more cassettes from Spina! Rec, the underground Russian label? This package of two items sent to us by Ilia Belorukov from St Petersburg and arrived 29 June 2015.

spinarec_etudes

First item is Etudes (SR015), a joint effort by both the label co-owners – Ilia Belorukov and Sergey Kostyrko who have teamed up to produce a series of analogue electronic noise-works, the basic modular synth sound and Korg Monoton being tempered with foreign radio sounds, effects pedals, and the iVCS3 app, the latter allowing any mobile device to become a virtual VCS3. I get the impression everything was recorded direct to tape without any post-production or mixing malarkey, which are for namby-pambies who can’t get it right first time. We should point out that the duo have been exceptionally prolific for this project, and in fact recorded 25 separate 14-minute pieces of crumbly noise music, each of which has been issued as an individual cassette, so with your purchase you get a short double-sided belter of solid electronic pemmican which is in fact only a small representative indication of the entire oeuvre. If so inclined, feel free to stream all 50 tracks from the bandcamp page. Every one is pretty much a punchy gem…nothing user-friendly or smooth about these lumpy sounds, which come out groaning, fizzing, burbling and squealing as if to demonstrate as many possibilities and settings in a single slice of real-time audio carpentry performed with violent furniture-hacking tools, such as the gouge or awl. Plenty to listen to on these maximal stabs. I also enjoy the generally dour tone and slightly obsessive nature, creating mental images of both unshaven Russians focussing on their work with the grim determination of an atomic scientist or medieval executioner. Each cassette in the edition also has a unique artwork, a drawing created by Alexander Korolev made while he was listening to the sessions. They didn’t just send him the tapes so he could draw at the comfort of his own drawing table, he was actually there in the studio enduring all this explosive and crazed mayhem exploding around him, and clearly his manic colourful scrawls reflect the mental torment and physical pain thereby induced. A real winner. Let’s start lobbying for the definitive 5-CD set of the Etudes sessions now…

spinarec_sr017

Second item is a split (SR017) of ambient music. Kromeshna and Ego God take up the first side with their eerie and atmospheric ‘Epihina Slan’, which is explicitly designed to conjure visions of an “ancient swamp”. I like the idea that an “ancient” swamp is somehow more appealing to these ambient musicians than a more recent one, perhaps. Nothing short of a remnant from the Pleistocene era can satisfy them, I expect. Kromeshna is Vitaly Maklakov, who also appears as Light Collapse and other aliases, and has been creating ambient drone noise for about ten years. Ego God may be a German performer who’s more in the noise area, and the pair have more recently collaborated under a conflation of both nicknames, Ego Collapse. ‘Epihina Slan’ is certainly a mesmerising and strange 30 mins, producing its main hypnotic effect with a simple pulsating loop which is punctuated by sounds from the swampy insects and other strange creatures and monsters who dwell in its muddy depths. The only trick which wears bit thin is the constant layer of “crackle” on top, a device which is overused in this genre to somehow convey the audio-equivalent of “old photographs” to the listener.

Banana Pill are Sasha and Dmitri from Finland, and the presence of Finns here continues what is now almost a tradition of Russian-Finnish collaborations on this label. We’ve heard this loveable pair before on a self-titled tape from Full Of Nothing in 2012, and they’ve also collaborated with Wozzeck to great effect on a tape for Already Dead. Their ‘Decada’ may have been produced using their treated guitar and violin method, and what results is a 30-minute drone of highly melodic proportions, the blended instruments resembling a sort of idealised version of an accordion squeeze-box with golden keys and inflated with the oxygen of Paradise. Where the ‘Epihina Slan’ is intended to pass on a mild frisson of terror and is clearly set at twilight, ‘Decada’ is unfolding under bright sunshine and may aspire to be used as the backing tape for a meditative episode.

Fast Forward Through The Gates

Another four cassette tapes from Spina!Rec kindly sent to us by Sergey Kostyrko (the co-founder of the label) from Izotova in Russia. Said parcel arrived 21 April 2015. We last had one sent here in December 2014. Considering how small the editions here, I (and you, listener) need to be quick off the mark if a physical copy is wanted to sit on your shelves. At time of writing, all 25 copies of each title are sold out. Even my copies are marked “Edition 2”.

spinarecs_begluck

Sergey Kostyrko plays on the first item, Beginner’s Luck (SR010) along with Rutger Zuydervelt, the famed Dutch king of enigmatic electronic bloops and uncertain murmurings. A live recording in two parts from the Fulldozer Festival in St-Petersburg, where the duo wowed the crowd in 2014. The label seem especially proud of the all-analogue production chain that created the finished product – originally performed on analogue synths, and mastered direct from magnetic tape. Even the mastering unit had valve tubes. The music itself is a gloomy and bleak episode of alienating grey moans, sometimes punctuated with tuneful static messages beamed to us from the Planet Zohar. While tentative and inconclusive, these statements have an unusually beautiful hue to contrast with their blank starkness.

spinarecs_addz

ADDZ (SR012) by ADDZ is a much livelier electronic album which demonstrates its commitment to binary code (or to numbers, at any rate) by emphatically printing bold numerical characters on its cover. It’s certainly the one to grab if you like beats and rhythms, albeit said beats are presented in a minimal and clinical manner. The duo of Alexander Zaitsev and Dmitriy Dubov are specialists in “intelligent electronics”, if that means anything to you; to me it means they feel entitled to behave like robots equipped with stethoscopes. I liked the clean sound of their productions, but the melodies are barely there, each tune seems unfinished, and there’s a general sense of purposelessness to their twittering sequences that is unsatisfying. Imagine a Depeche Mode backing track being carved on the face of the Moon by astronauts using hand-held lasers, who give up trying after 25 mins.

spinarecs_jelena

SR011 with its gorgeous blue cover art is a split item. The duo of Jelena Glazova & Grigorij Avrorin came about when Jelena (visiting from Riga) appeared at the Fulldozer Festival and got involved in creating some form of accompaniment for Grigorij’s minimal synth solos. Six tracks of disconcerting bleak industrial noise were the result, music which I find impressive for its near-complete lack of humanity, unpredictable moments, and highly Spartan arrangements filled with weird gaps. I’d like to think the pair found their way to this unique, unrepeatable place through purely intuitive methods. Their grim sonic pronouncements would make ideal background music for a visit to an urban “development”, of which there seem to be a lot in London just now; it’s the sound of claustrophobia and blocked pathways. It’s rather rare to find women involved in this genre of music, so Jelena’s imaginative approach is most welcome; she comes to it from a background in visual art and poetry.

Bisamratta offers a single track, ‘Beregu’, on his side of the split, some 28 minutes of advanced guitar ambient drone. Vladimir Luchansky is one of the burgeoning Novosibirsk crowd who clearly pits himself against the “stupid happy Techno music” which currently entertains Russia’s youth (he would probably see it as a blight), and instead frequents the many seedy cabaret bars in that city in search of alternative sounds. He ain’t no Robert Fripp on the strength of this recording, but his effects-laden guitar music quickly drops down to reach the ice-cold temperatures that are required for Spina!Recs admissibility. The sustained near-magnetic humming drone is undercut later on with puzzling field recording additions of speaking voices, radio samples, water effects, and solar winds from outer space. It almost becomes the soundtrack to a Russian cosmonaut sci-fi movie of the 1960s.

spinarecs_mars

SR016 is another split. Smola, a duo from St-Petersburg, appear on side A with ‘Burning Bamboo’ – a spectacular 18 minute performance of mesmerising acid-space-rock that in fact contains three separate tracks used to “hammer” the audience into submission at a live set. Lovely stuff; I’d happily face that mallet any day of the week. You’ll be glad to learn the spirit of Hawkwind lives on in this convincing update on early 1970s festival rock, taken by way of the usual suspects – e.g. The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and even Spacemen 3 who continue to cast a long shadow. They temper their hypnotic and heavy guitar-drummy numbing rhythms with shouty punk vocals and, most enticingly, their mean use of the wah-wah pedal. Not heard retro-rock as straightforward as this since the glory days of High-Rise and Mainliner did it in Tokyo…great!

Mars-96 have three lengthy tracks…the work of this combo is described by the label as “thoughtful melodies are turning into chaotic massacre in the end”. I found their highly disjunctive guitar-bass-drum stylings a little irksome to begin with, but thought that its abiding air of studied futility is bound to appeal to diehards who enjoyed listening to Vibing Up The Senile Man in 1978. However, once they liven up and find the “groove”, they start to resemble 1974-period King Crimson in terms of malevolent guitar violence and remorseless repetitions, which is not a bad place to be. While Mars-96’s performances are somewhat haphazard, it’s possible to discern their intentions and glimpse the tricky zone they’re trying to push themselves into, and the listener will urge them to complete the journey.

Neblagopol

Four cassettes on the Spina!Rec label sent from the Russian home of Ilya Belorukov…all arrived 5th December 2014…

padla

Padla Bear Outfit play and sing some lively alienated psychedelic rock songs on Sunday Morning Tapes (SR007), heavily in debt to Spacemen 3, in particular Spacemen 3 playing that Red Krayola hit ‘Transparent Radiation’, to which the opening cut here bears an uncanny resemblance…the trio of Pisarev, Samolov and Morozov evince that same mode of studied and poised icy-cool indifference in their performances, as though they were past caring about anything and can barely summon enough spirit in their numbed frames to start hacking away at their guitars. Matters improve on this retro fuzz-fest however when they start leaning on their FX pedals and the whole mess becomes swamped in distortion, delay, echo, reverb, and anything else that transforms guitars into a godless acid-fried noise. At this point it becomes clearer that the band may also be harbouring an ambition to emulate Les Rallizes Denudes, the Japanese black-leather brigade who turned the garage-rock mode inside out and projected in their music a vision of pure strung-out wastedness. To their credit, these plucky rockers keep thrashing and strumming and howling their way well past the limits of decency and good taste. “A combination of brutal and tender feelings” is the quality savoured by Alexander Gorbachev, the magazine writer who’s a major fan of PBO. The title refers to the first track on the first Velvet Underground LP, whereas the cover painting looks like something that Ghost would have snapped up in a minute.

ilia bel

SR009 is a split tape. On side one (I have to assume, as neither side I marked on the tape) we hear the duo of Ilia Belourkov and Lauri Hyvärinen playing four tracks that were recorded in Helsinki some two years ago now. It’s improvised noise, made with saxophone, electric guitar, and amplified objects, and it projects that particular form of abrasiveness and cold despair that the Russians (and the Finns) do so well. If hearing English improv is like taking a bath in 5 gallons of lukewarm tea, this tape is like being washed in ice-cold water and scrubbed with wire wool. The guitarist Lauri has been active since around 2009 and has performed in lots of bands, projects, and collaborations, including Neue Haas Grotesk – a promising sounding synth-guitar-drum noise band. Here the duo describe themselves as “a creative unit dedicated to acoustic improv with the involvement of small electronic devices.” A splendid instance of bitter, abstracted, cold music.

One side two of this split Alexey Sysoev and Denis Sorokin provide the “electronic” half of the act, using amplified objects, the no-input mixing desk, electronics, and manipulation of signals using MaxMSP. Their tracks were recorded at the Teni Zvuka Festival in St Petersburg in June 2014. I’ve rarely heard such tentative and incompetent fumbling…the results are shabby, disorganised, and virtually unlistenable, but at least the sound they make is repulsive in an original way. My guess is these guys have some serious “issues” they want to work out of their system, using incoherent electronic noise as therapy for their fractured minds. I’m hoping to develop more of a taste for this one over time.

kaka and wozzeck

SR006 is another split. We kick off with some fruity noise malarkey from Kakaokamkami and Wozzeck, another Helsinki-Saint-Petersburg meeting of talents. We’ve been enjoying Wozzeck’s missives on the Intonema label for some time now, each release different to the last as they cheerfully violate one musical taboo after another in their quest to seal their reputations as the most “extreme” band in Russia today. For the three tracks on their side of the tape, they may have reined in some of their heavier demons to assist in the general bonhomie, and the results are a totally hopped-up gumbo of futuristic disco-electronic music moving in about sixteen directions at once…the synths and guitars are just having the times of their lives in this loopy festival of madness. If you want more from the Finnish half of the act, seek out their 2010 CDR Snowballs on Jozik Records.

On the other side, the trio Harlekino which comprises more members from Benzolnye Mertvecy – we heard another of their spin-offs, Glina, the last time we received a crop of these Spina Recs. Very groovy they are too, in a menacing and spooked-out way…their smoky, jazz-inflected brand of stoner rock is shot through with unusual elements, such as evil muttered vocals and wailing synths that sound totally possessed by evil spirits. Lovely sound, and it’s intriguing to watch them lumber around the seedy back streets like a washed-up private detective, but I keep waiting for the moment when they kick things up a notch and stop cruising in neutral.

savyach

Lastly we have the oddball item Svyashennaya Govyadina (SR008) which I think is credited to Nazoilivye Bliznecy, a project which may or may not be a meld of two other Russian bands, Benzolnye Mertvecy and Studiya Neosoznannoi Muzyki. Apparently it’s a big deal for a band from Saint-Petersburg to play with another one from Tomsk. When they met up in the Spina studios, this joyous racket resulted – an indescribable mix of free rock, free noise, free jazz, scattered liberally throughout with gibbering voices and insane saxophone howls. It’s almost as good as if the first Amon Düül band of commune-hippies had managed to join forces with an unknown New York free jazz combo, and then persuaded ESP-Disk to record them for an album that went on to sell three copies. A truly maximal noise, messy and splurgy…this freakeroonie manages to stay on two feet even when everyone at the party is reeling drunk, and despite all the lumbering and thrashing from the rhythm section, the tunes don’t get stuck in the slough of despond. Needless to say that despair is only a heartbeat away, however, despite all the frenetic attempts at jumping in the air and rejoicing…those manic grunts and howls thinly conceal the bitter grimace of sorrow. Even so, this is the sort of collective mad whoopery which Feeding Tube should investigate, rather than those posey clowns from Moscow AWOTT.

The Wedding of Idiots: an introduction into the work of a major Soviet rock music performer

wedding

Yuri Morozov, The Wedding of Idiots / Svad’ba Kretinov, recorded 1974 – 1976, released 1977?

We first met Morozov last month with his electronic albums “The Inexplicable” and “Human Extinction”, both recorded in the late 1970s but never enjoying official public release in his native Soviet Union. Little did we know at the time that these two recordings were but the tip of a real (and not just proverbial) iceberg of a mass of work from 1971 right up to the time of his death (February 2006) with some, but not all, of the later albums of his last decade apparently being collections or re-recordings of earlier work. Morozov’s musical interests spanned almost the entire spectrum of pop and rock during this period but his inspirations appear to be grounded in the late 1960s psychedelic rock and folk scenes that dominated the music underground in the West. Morozov worked as both musician and studio all-rounder (sound engineering, production) in a recording studio in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and his own home studio which he built himself, and played with several musicians and bands which later became famous in their own right in the Russian-language pop and rock music sphere.

Anyone wanting an introduction into the vast corpus of music created by Morozov should try listening to “The Wedding of Idiots” which he recorded in the mid-70s and whose cover art was designed by his wife Nina Morozova. The whole album spans the gamut of styles from arty psychedelic rock (Amon Duul II quickly comes to mind) to Slavic folk and, at the end, some ambient and melodic electronic experimentation. Certainly when you first start playing it, the work does sound much like Amon Duul II at their most surrealistic pastoral (“Konformist” and “Ne Znayu, za chto”) and then at their most madcap early 70s  “Yeti”-era psychedelic (“Kretin”); if anything, the songs sound even more like AD2 than the German band itself, which might be some compliment to Morozov – there’s playfulness galore and light-hearted experimentation that would take AD2’s collective breath away. Indeed, Morozov achieves with this album what AD2 failed to do with some of their later releases: highly catchy little pop and rock mini-classics with a bleached acid psychedelic sound and plenty of unusual cosmic noises and effects with little bombast.

The highlight of the album comes with the last track which starts off fairly conventionally with solo piano melody and high-pitched deranged singing but in its last half becomes completely unmoored and floats off into the far reaches of space with a cabaret recording and outer-space effects.

I admit I know nothing about the Russian-language rock music scene of the past 50 years or so but I can well believe this album made it into Russia’s top 50 classic rock recordings of all time because there is class all over it. Try it here at this Youtube link and judge for yourself!

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.