Last May we considered the work of a Krasnoyarsk project known as "All Flesh Is Grass." As we then pointed out, that stage-name certainly contains a high degree of drama. Taken, in fact, from Isaiah 40:6, this stark expression of human transience has been famously employed over the decades within German classical music, English poetry, American novels, and even Norwegian dark metal. The promise of experiential options beyond anything fleshy comes with some weighty and long-standing evidence: something continues beyond the paltry limits of mortality.
The membership of All Flesh Is Grass was - and remains - minimal: Dima Arktor and Sasha Khirurg. Those musicians offered us in May a brief and striking introduction to their work: "Sasha throws [haphazard] rocks in the direction of society's consumerism. In doing so, he draws upon a full arsenal of expressive options: biting turns of phrase, memorable situations from his past, and various notes scribbled on cigarette packs. Together they form a kind of humanistic outlook - one driven by an undying need to relate the bitter truths of existence."
We're here to make you think about death - and get sad and stuff
The duo then added: "You could say that we decode human voices lost beneath the clamor of car horns - and give them a new form." This general outlook now stands behind a brand-new solo recording from Dima Arktor himself, entitled "Retreat Syndrome." It comes with a single - and disturbingly throwaway - tagline: "We're here to make you think about death - and get sad and stuff." That same overlap of mental and physical burdens is inherent in the recording's title, which comes from a Philip K. Dick story in which drug use, murder, and mental stability are terribly muddled.
As with All Flesh Is Grass, this theme of demise and death is once again located within (the failings of) commercial culture. The artwork for "Retreat Syndrome" displays a mid-century US suburban home; that image is reproduced at an extremely low resolution, as if magnified from the poorly printed pages of a local newspaper. The immediate impression is one of cynically low quality. And then, despite the tidy architecture and large automobile in the driveway, a monstrous child looms over the premises, ready to cause havoc. We're reminded of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache": "The main house a palace/ Penthouse perfection./ But what goes on?/ What to do there?/ Better pray there."
Extending these macabre themes is the Moscow outfit Mimo, which has close connections to the capital's Sloi label. As if to explain that relationship or moniker in clearer terms, albeit briefly, the project's meager website includes a couple of paragraphs, scanned from the yellowing pages of an old dictionary. One of those paragraphs documents the various meanings of the Russian preposition "mimo" (мимо) as either "by" or "past," in the sense of an object missing its target.
Individuality dissolves in the flow of the crowd
This imagery of disconnectedness was already evident in other compositions from Mimo, in ways that mirror the anti-commercial or purely anti-social sentiment of Arktor. Elsewhere we read of some sonic "journey into the heaving crater of a metropolis, where society pulses along the subway's veins like blood. Individuality dissolves in the flow of the crowd. Time breaks down like frozen matter in the form of a black tunnel - with the expectation of some light at the end..." Judging by Mimo's graphic interpretation of the Moscow subway map, the likelihood of that that light appearing in the near future must be slim indeed.
The sounds to accompany such worrying metaphors are created with Soviet synthesizers, samples from "vintage vinyl," and other antique tools or archives. These include field recordings taken from the Moscow subway itself and the sound of "dripping water from the ceiling of some abandoned, subterranean room in a Stalinist hospital." To this we can add other evocative clicks and bumps, such as the mechanism of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, rusty playground swings, steel saws, and other noises designed - in melodramatic ways - to blur the lines between life, love, and death.
On top of all this decelerated clamor, we occasionally hear the poetry of Charles Bukowski, known to many Western readers as the "laureate of American lowlife." His intoned verse is then combined with some disturbing and "experimental" aspects of Russian psychoanalysis. Civic, fiscal, and mental breakdowns happen simultaneously.
The sounds of slumbering, centuries-old forests or the last abyss [of existence]
All in all, we're informed that these noises are likely to summon two kinds of reaction, only one of which appears to be pleasant. "In the process of listening to Mimo's tracks, one can visualize either some slumbering, centuries-old forests or the final abyss [of existence]. It all depends upon one's individual point of view." And yet, despite the fact that we're given a choice between biospheres and death(!), it would also seem - according to this phrasing - that the difference between peace and eternal demise is actually small.
The levels of anxiety we've heard so far from both Krasnoyarsk and Moscow start to subside, thanks to a positive form of fatalism.
Mimo Live, 2011
And that oddity brings us briefly to some new drone/noise recordings from a virtually anonymous collective known as +C+P+B+. The musicians' location can be determined only as somewhere in Ukraine: they go to great effort in order to hide anything more specific. Other informational sources tell us merely that this is "a noise project formed in 2006. The sounds on display run from [classic?] electronic music to dark- and drone ambient. There are no limitations [upon generic liberty]. The basic idea behind these tracks is that contemplative, dark sounds and meditative waves are the answer." To what? Nervousness over our own, impending demise needs no name. The troubling breach between life and bereavement is "smoothed over" with a removal of rhythmic or structural units. Drone and ambient textures cooperate in the name of some enduring state that simply is.
Death is just an illusion
This sonic erasure of difference is then voiced in other, related terms: "All men, women, and animals are equal. Fight the ignorance with your mind. Death is just an illusion." Our Ukrainian soundscapes are fashioned with the assistance of Italian drone exponent Aktarus Aksam, who - from a very different perspective - defines his own output as "an obscure, yet relaxing sound experience." It would seem his Mediterranean moderation has worked wonders on the Slavic penchant for dolor.
In summary, then, the Arktor recordings unveil a terrible level of anxiety behind material experience, in several senses. Mimo's sounds then extend that criticism of homogenized, modern life to all facets of massed, urban existence. Once, however, these worries reach the level of universal, all-encompassing inevitability, a strange sense of calm emerges.
Fatalism has some unexpected, even uplifting benefits.
(PS: Since we wrote this text, it has transpired that the Ukrainian address of +C+P+B+ may, in fact, be a joke.)