Two Teachers, Shoulder to Shoulder: Anton Maskeliade and Valotihkuu

Very hands on. Anton Maskeliade (Moscow): "O" (Dec. 2016)

If there's one word that might––perhaps––explain the stagecraft of Moscow's Anton Maskeliade for new or future audiences, it would be "motion." Even his official website avoids all long-winded descriptions of an impressive solo career––in favor of a single, similarly pithy concept: "What if music were controlled by motion?" The question is answered with Leap Motion technology, both live and in the studio, as Maskeliade gesticulates, hands sometimes far above his head, in order to scribe sounds in the air. Manual patterns––drawn in the middle of nothing––are transformed into ambient and glitchy soundscapes. Maskeliade appears more a sculptor than a composer, making rare physical contact with his tools.

Seen by many as a modern-day Leon Theremin, Maskeliade (aka Anton Sergeev) continues to add new prizes and performances to his CV each year. His has already graced England's Glastonbury, Germany's Fusion, and Slovakia's Pohoda festivals. Perhaps not surprisingly, those renowned venues have also led to a fine range of stage-sharing opportunities. Glastonbury alone would generate a lengthy list of enviable support gigs with Moderat, Mouse on Mars, Matthew Herbert, Emika, The Herbaliser, The Glitch Mob, Dub FX, and––last but not least––Moritz Von Oswald.

Our students build their compositions shoulder to shoulder, supporting one another––both inside and outside the classroom (Glinka)

Maskeliade's newest LP is simply entitled "O": nine fractured, staccato narratives that the musician himself qualifies as "ephemeral, emotional––and entirely heartfelt." The challenging vagueness of those three adjectives is lessened with a quick consideration of Maskeliade's primary audience away from the stage. Despite his young age, he has already dedicated considerable time and effort to a couple of pedagogical projects. He wants not only to perform, but also to teach. Gestures made in the air are sometimes made in front of a blackboard; both are––quite literally––spectacular. They show

One of those teacherly projects is called "Maskeliade Street Studio." Designed for the open air, the so-called studio describes itself thus: "The microphone and instruments are first placed in the middle of the street. Everyone is welcome to approach them. They can strum, sing, yell, or squeak whatever they like. And so we all create live musical patterns in which every passer-by is now a performer." The key concept is inclusiveness––itself a good lesson to be learned in Moscow, which––as we know––does not believe in tears. 

Anton Maskeliade teaching at the new Glinka school in Moscow

The other––and arguably more important––pedagogical undertaking has been Maskeliade's role as a bona fide teacher in the new Moscow music and technology school called Glinka. Anton Sergeev teaches introductory classes in Ableton Live for anybody who wants to "attain a high level of proficiency––whilst getting a real jolt of inspiration!" 

Glinka espouses the same values as the Street Studio: it wants to be both inclusive and supportive. "We offer the opportunity for dialog, collaborations, and experimental creativity between both established musicians and newcomers. We find students with lots of ideas––and then connect them with folks who've plenty of ability! We connect people who want something to those who can actually do something... Our students build their musical compositions shoulder to shoulder, supporting one another––both inside and outside the classroom." 

Glinka was opened in the capital thanks to the foundational efforts of Andrei Roshchevkin and Dmitry Panov, themselves aided by the Moscow Coding School.

A DIY attitude was established from Day One––and the students' ages currently run from fifteen to forty. Anything's possible and everyone is welcome. One Moscow magazine explained further why Glinka is a necessary institution today, in 2017. "There's a certain paradox at work [in today's entertainment]. Russia's best-known musicians rarely have a proper education [in their background]. The musicians who do have that training tend to be unknown––and will, as a result, often stop writing altogether. They simply can't cope with today's pressures. There's obviously something wrong in all that..."

The search for a corrective begins beyond the purview of anything mainstream: "There are entire substrata in modern Russian music, made of [gifted] individuals who are currently known only to a small coterie of fans and/or specialists. That all needs to be rectified. Most people today have no understanding of what a musical education could be..."

The key words in Glinka's educational and cultural plans would appear to be collaboration and mutual support––both enacted shoulder to shoulder.

Live at the FFM Festival in Los Angeles last month

Not long ago, Anton Maskeliade posted a sociology article linking musical style to an artist's probable lifespan––causally. Using data from the period 1950-2015, the study held that the "most popular" age at which popular musicians die is 56 years. The general conclusion was not jolly, whether one spoke of impoverished jazz and blues artists from 1910-1930 or "self-destructive" champions of punk and black metal in later decades. No overarching rationale was given for the link between physical sounds and physical demise, but several could be easily conjectured. Poverty, performance anxiety, legal hassles, homelessness...

Candy-wrapper eyebrows and a flutter of lashes. Your body resonates with the hush of hungry wolves (Anton Maskeliade)

That same depressing article brings us back to Maskeliade. The most dejected, perhaps fatalistic track on his newest LP is dedicated precisely to this theme of civic indifference. With both prosaic and poetic texts read aloud in Russian, simultaneously, the closing number on "O" is called "Saratov." In translation it would include the following possible lines:

"See how empty you are inside. Candy-wrapper eyebrows and fluttering lashes. Your body resonates with the hush of hungry wolves; your hollow bones resonate––noiselessly––through full lips. My interest is limited to a cascade of boiling milk––to the moist eyes of the masses and their leader. Your veins and mouth fill with their spittle. There's a renewed, suntanned, and disgusting simplicity."  The role of a teacher is to challenge that same, "renewed" reductionism, generation after generation.

These references to a social disconnect, to parental failure, and even to biological damage multiply. In fact, "Saratov" sets the tone even with its opening line: "So many people have died at the hands of children." Good teachers of various harmonies are needed––now more than ever: better parents and pedagogues are needed, since they share the same aim.

They both stand between their children and absolutely nothing. 

Such melancholy might tend one towards nostalgia and thoughts of civic security under socialism; Maskeliade often performs with Soviet animation on an LED backdrop. One of Russia's most interesting exponents of a nostalgic glo-fi aesthetic has been Valotihkuu, otherwise known as Denis Davydov, who lives in the industrial city of Cherepovets on the banks of the Sheksna River. With a new release this season, however, he has again moved beyond the historical framework of the 1980s that once provided him with the VHS and C60 tools needed to foster any glo-fi fuzziness.

Instead, Valotihkuu's publications have moved slowly since 2011 from civic nostalgia to the sounds of nature and then, as with Anton Maskeliade, into considerations of nothingness. For Maskeliade emptiness is more likely to emerge in negative assessments of social interaction; for Valotihkuu it symbolizes some promising escape to an equally boundless, yet positive realm. Nothing is really good, as it were.

Selfless, decentered patterns. Valotihkuu: "In a Garden" (Summer 2016)

Six months ago, the Valotihkuu mini-album called "In a Garden" was said to be "imbued with a sweet morning breeze that wanders among a garden's hedges and rosebuds." Any resulting sounds were not designed to make a strident or lasting statement: "After all, you'll soon be unable to remember a breeze. As if it never existed in the first place.... but we've managed to capture it for you. Imagine if you could hold a breeze in a bottle––and then let it drift through your rooms on cozy winter evenings, while some foreign, furious wind blows outside! The gardens and meadows would always be with you...!"

The first thing you learn in life is you're a fool. The last thing you learn in life is you're the same fool (Ray Bradbury, 1957)

Motifs of transience also shape the newest Valotihkuu album––"Lost in the Beautiful Noise"––a gorgeously looping and melancholy missive to open spaces. The track-listing reads: "In Slow Motion"; "An Attempt to Fly"; "Moments in Silence"; "A Rising Wind"; "Disappear"; "Farewell, My Cold Sea"; and "The Ships that Will Never Return." The enduring charm of some unpeopled––and peaceful––expanse is also clear in Valotihkuu's visual use of islands, be they Icelandic or Pacific. Island life or isolation is to be understood as solitude, as peace and productive quiet. Volcanos––a regular image in Davydov's artwork––perhaps rid land masses of the masses and then allow nature to go about its noiseless work instead. In a dialectical fashion.

So how to make sense of nothing much? Where's the pedagogical direction or incentive within shapeless winds, open seas, and silence? Positive Valotihkuu reviews––especially those quoted by Denis Davydov himself––have liked to draw parallels between life in Cherepovets and one particular work of American literature: Ray Bradbury's 1957 novel, "Dandelion Wine."

The story's hero––Douglas––hopes the richness of summertime can be partially captured within a small, hermetically sealed space. He hopes to keep one season locked away, to preserve it from the violence of time's passage. The contents of that jar or bottle, however, will always remain the merest hint of what lies beyond them. The true, botanical, and seasonal fulness of summer has no home; it's everywhere and nowhere in particular. Neither time nor tide have an address.

The best lessons in these recordings, perhaps, transpire in their avoidance of cupidity. Free of dubious fidelity to any one idea or one location, they instead try very hard to mean very little. They support modesty and inclusion. They take a single lesson plan into the street, online, or––better still––out to sea, where arrogance and insistence very quickly evaporate. These recordings from Valotihkuu and Anton Maskeliade both hope to teach the value of noiseless acceptance.

Valotihkuu (Cherepovets): "Lost in the Beautiful Noise


Valotihkuu – Farewell, My Cold Sea
Anton Maskeliade – Shiny (ft. Rave Smith)
Valotihkuu – The Ships That Will Never Return

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