This week sees the release of a debut album - "A Billion Yellow Birds" - by the excellent Minsk outfit known as Mox (i.e., "Moss"). That project, as we've mentioned before, is part of the Belarus art collective Solntsetsvety, which has acted as a central location for creative activities over two decades. The Solntsetsvety webpages, for example, are a fine - and disorderly - testament to local literary, visual, and musical efforts.
Given these wide-ranging adventures, the line-up of various bands within Solntsetsvety can vary, and this is indeed the case with Mox, who are currently no more than a duo. The band's guitarist and songsmith goes by the name of Stereochuvak (aka Anton Krivulia). He now works with a drummer and percussionist who operates even further from clarity, in that he offers us no name whatsoever.
Seclusion has certain artistic benefits, though, as we'll explain.
The Moscow press, announcing this release in muted tones, today declares that Mox maintains its/their roots in the late Soviet traditions of performance art: "At concerts staged by Mox, the venue comes alive with the hissing sounds of old TVs and radio sets. The public is expected to help out by bringing their own machinery, thus increasing the general hubbub."
At concerts staged by Mox, the stage comes alive with the hissing sounds of old TVs and radio sets
This clamorous background - itself a form of "hiding" - is also significant.
Stereochuvak has recently added to this initial sketch of how (and why) Mox perform. "The situation in Moscow and Minsk is currently the same. There are loads of bands that rehearse in basements - for which they pay loads of cash, too. They've no idea what real, live concerts are. Instead we've got a host of 'underground outsiders.' They record everything on their own, upload their work online - whilst downloading and listening to music in the same way. It's as if the entire world has hidden away... in anticipation of some social or informational breakthrough."
Mox are about to play some concerts, both in Moscow (as part of the Sreda Gorbacheva series) and St Petersburg, with the band Sablia (above). On these rare occasions, poets and musicians from urban basements come briefly to the surface.
Stereochuvak adds: "In Mox we try to work on the boundary between design and music, combining them in the context of current events. Nowadays people from the underground can find opportunities to influence pop-culture in some fashion, and that's great! I really like the changes that have occurred in the last few years - and the fact that years of overproduced songwriting have come to an end."
Lof-fi freedoms rise to the surface: "Nowadays I can record a guitar inside an airplane - or vocals on the roof of my apartment building. And then, when I'm done, it'll all be heard by somebody in Thailand or Oklahoma. Those people will write to me, saying: 'Hey, dude! Your guitar makes a really cool noise!"
This role of noise, hubbub, and hissing TVs is important, as already suggested. Many of these songs were captured - at least vocally - in various outdoor locations, using a dictaphone. Both ambient noises and the buzz of the dictaphone's own internal machinery find their way onto the album. These degrees of interference are then amplified using a snare drum, which is connected to a guitar, such that the drum's metallic wires vibrate with each strummed chord, producing a tinny, buzzing noise that the band has christened "acoustic fuzz."
This merger of artistic intent and one's clamorous surroundings is nicely shown by an embedding of the Mox logo (above) in shots of the noisy outdoors (below), plus another "layer" of graphic filigree. The line blurs between fore-, middle-, and background. The tracks we offer here show what that sounds like; the CD's title track even includes places where the audio drops out altogether.
The songs were all heavily influenced by the verse of Alexander Vvedenskii, an important figure in Russia's "trans-rational" poetry of the early 20th century. In a heartlessly pragmatic and goal-driven social system, his texts - known in Russian as zaum - remained deliberately vague and/or senseless. In a nation where "social benefit" was expressed through the rationale of arrests and execution, nonsense seemed the most humane form of expression.
One idea behind zaum - at least implicitly - held that victims could not be created, i.e., named, if words meant nothing particular themselves. Vagueness became a thing of beauty and a means of safety.
Creating a modern equivalent with sounds beyond the dictionary, the members of Mox work hard to fashion their layers of acoustic fuzz. Putting sounds back into the world saves these artists from the kind of exclusionary, greedy practices that, in years gone by, left countless songwriters in basements, where they were obliged to suffer "overproduced" music on national media.
Much of the music on the CD has been dealt with in deliberately lossy ways, such as audio transfers from tape to tape, each time gaining more hiss - and losing clarity. Our audible, quotidian contexts - the sounds of life in general - start to swamp the text of a given song.
Those fuzzy sounds, increasing with each transfer, are those of the entire world in which we live. Individuality starts to float in audible, ambient waves.
Taking, perhaps not surprisingly, a leaf from the book of Phil Spector, Stereochuvak says that the early Motown sound was - and remains - "amorphous, airy, and transparent. It still conjures some real audio-hallucinations. The listener completes those sonic pictures with private associations, drawn from his subconscious."
An explanation of this process - or its related worldview - has just been published in great detail, thanks to an valuable interview that Krivulia gave to Aleksandr Gorbachev. In that conversation, which also documents the development of post-Soviet music in Minsk, Krivulia refers again to Spector, this time as a "god of lo-fi recording."
Here he draws more parallels between the fuzz of lo-fi and the equally hazy, unrestricted patterns of creativity in Solntsetsvety: "What that collective does today could be likened to a cloud of flickering light. Or a vague clot of some description, lying at the bottom of a lake... It's reminiscent of a fog that you can either enter or exit."
What Solntsetsvety does today could be likened to a cloud of flickering light... It's reminiscent of a fog that you can either enter or exit
It's a realm where human voices and nature are on a level footing - thanks to the kind of cheap tools we see below.
It's hard to imagine a freer, fairer metaphor for inclusiveness than Krivulia's flickering cloud. And, if these new songs are designed to express that spirit aloud, then they should indeed include all the peripheral fuzz and hissing of social spaces. Everybody and everything finds a place for expression.
Krivulia/Stereochuvak also remarked in that same interview: "[Thanks to these techniques] we're able to free ourselves from any form of dependence. We're also free from any strict imagery or fixed lineups. In the context of our shared lives today - which themselves are always changing! - that flexibility is a means of survival. A constant means of survival."
Vvedenskii would have approved.