A European Union organization called "Culture and Creativity" recently published an article on the vitally important Foundamental Network from Minsk in Belarus. The three leading lights behind Foundamental were interviewed together: composer Viktor Kamenetsky, lawyer Julia Koviasina, and Pavel Niakhayeu, better known to FFM as Pavel Ambiont.
Niakhayeu began by expressing his general dissatisfaction with state support for the arts in Belarus––yet he also voiced simultaneous thanks for minimal state censorship. Koviasina concurred, adding that consequential arts funding––of the kind needed for complete independence––would only ever transpire if one knew a state deputy, or happened to actually be one.
The sound of a state of being––something lasting as long as you like (Apex Sphere)
Some of those melancholy views of a modern social fabric within Foundamental are transferred this week to a new release from the Belarus Force Carriers label, itself managed by Niakhayeu––as an extension of his recognized expertise in industrial techno. On this occasion the newest techno publication is by a Foundamental friend and colleague, a gentleman known to local aficionados either as Sfourds or S4DS––perhaps even as Alexei Usinovich. He is now airing seven instrumentals under the stage-name of Apex Sphere. These tracks, as shown above, are accompanied by a strikingly dour, monochrome image of post-Soviet industry. The home of socialist production does not look healthy in 2017.
Despite any audiovisual drama associated with these tracks, Usinovich himself maintains a stony silence across all social networks. A Facebook page contains only some heavily pixelated portraits and amateur footage of rare club performances. Niakhayeu even jokes that Force Carriers itself will remain an "ultra-obscure" representative of East European techno. Whenever Usinovich does actually post online, it tends either to be ethnographic footage of obscure Asian instruments in situ––or some humbling data from NASA and other space labs concerning the daunting scale of the universe. Other places and distant potentials predominate. Desire constantly look elsewhere. (A less meager collection of images would be here––or here.)
In a word, Apex Sphere's thundering techno may be visually situated in a very specific Belarusian environment, but its author is keen to seek some equally pushy and regulated patterns far from home. Whatever the connections may be between ethnomusicology, astronomy, and post-Soviet industry, they remain unspoken––in both senses of the word. They are both instrumental and undiscussed.
A very rare photograph of Apex Sphere at work
Only if we look back to 2014 and an Apex Sphere interview with Foundamental do we find something resembling verbal context. That same conversation includes a key noun from Usinovich; he talks of an artistic "state" (sostoyanie). Put differently, he holds that this techno project is designed to given audible shapes to "a certain atmosphere or state of being. My techno tracks may not show any discernible 'composition,' but they do include the most important thing of all. That's a state of being, something lasting as long as you like."
In response to the dead end of ostensible, local production, Apex Sphere is inviting a consideration of other, equally industrial or industrious processes that have endured much longer––such as faith and/or the fabric of the cosmos. Grand themes are spun from the relatively minor scale of regional misery.
Techno for people who feel constrained in the valleys of existence (Sal Solaris)
And that brings us to a new Russian techno compilation LP––"Konfabulation"––from NEN Records, based in Rostov-na-Donu. Any discussion of dark techno together with that southern city is likely to include Ivan Napreenko and Konstantin Mezer, the two figures behind Sal Solaris. A recent album from these gentlemen, entitled "Thresholds," made the same speculative connections as Apex Sphere between unsuccessful earthbound effort and something better in the stars.
Sal Solaris lead us from talk of actual factories to elemental, if not universal forces. An ailing steelworks is, for example, likened to an aging body––but its material breakdown only prompts a more positive metaphor, taken from physics. "In order to pass from one low point [in life] to another, we need a breakthrough [across a threshold]. In the same manner, a burning match increases energy, so that regents may cross a threshold––and then roll freely onwards." Given these metaphors, it's hard not to imagine a link with "Iskra" (Spark), the newspaper of revolutionary ideas founded by Lenin in 1900. Its activity was not long––a mere five years––but the transgressive concepts therein changed the world.
The end of one body might prompt another, healthier "state of being." Sal Solaris often turn real-world experience into an equally quotidian, yet more hopeful mystery: "Our album attempts to ask what it means to be a 'burning match' in [fundamental] human situations. How, for example, may we cross a mountain pass, when it is covered with clouds? 'Thresholds' can be considered a box of matches––or perhaps an experimental map of [precious] 'mountain passes' for those who feel constrained in the valleys of existence."
Sal Solaris (Konstantin Mezer [R] and Ivan Napreenko)
Sal Solaris have now curated a new audio compilation, called "Konfabulation." It is dedicated to the memory of a colleague who passed away during the editorial process. That loss colors the album with an especially sad irony––since contributors were originally asked to pen material on the theme of human memory "and its abstractions." The resulting instrumentals have been tagged as techno, "devotional," and even "dead body." Material industry––as a finite body––is placed beside faith and the workings thereof. The body is outpaced by a spiritual state.
"Konfabulation is made from hallucinatory recollections––from a memory of things that never existed. In specific instances that might constitute a mental disorder, though collective memory always includes an element of fiction. In the crucible of shared memories, a fact can become a feeling––while a human being can become history. 'Konfabulation' is a feverish, collectively woven fabric. It is spun from both joy and grief, using leaden beats and guttural sounds. Together they both make sense of the past and give meaning to the future."
A memory of things that never existed (Konfabulation)
That adjective "guttural" is typically applied in Russian to a hacking cough or some grinding, faltering machinery. Something in the sounds of widespread breakdown allows for a consideration of superior, even otherworldly alternatives. Failure again is tied to the possibility of renewal.
"Konfabulation" leads directly into another new Sal Solaris release, this time a dedicated LP from Napreenko and Konstantin Mezer entitled "Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies." The phrase harks directly back to a similarly titled story by Australian writer Greg Egan, whose oeuvre is sometimes classified as supernatural horror. The tale in question is interpreted by Sal Solaris thus: "'Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies' describes our world after an unnamed apocalyptic event. The Earth is divided into autonomous zones, ruled by 'Attractors'. People within range of an attractor are swiftly enslaved by an alien worldview or faith, ranging from ‘liberal Judaism' to 'anti-intellectual hedonism'. The only way to stay free of the Attractors is to travel along the edge of their force fields––and to never stand still."
Fantasy is quickly tied to local fact: "Is the rejection of a fixed belief itself a sophisticated form of faith? Is self-identification a hopeless trap? Are fruitless wandering and a resulting 'loss of everything' then a logical consequence of refusing that process of identification? Is there perhaps another, 'loftier level' of both language and consciousness, somewhere beyond the duality of stable systems––or a simple rejection of them?"
Binary opposites (membership/exclusion, East/West, etc) are cast in a negative light. They prove to be reductionist and suitable only for post-apocalyptic fiction. Hence, perhaps, the hopeful discussion of some third, "higher" option––of an existence that neither joins nor rejects massed forms of collective enterprise.
Just as Apex Sphere finds hope in distant phenomena––in unfamiliarity and the cosmically uncanny––so Sal Solaris give audible voice to heavy industry by pushing its insistent sounds to a limit. The endlessly repetitive loops of industrial techno become, eventually, something mantric––evoking immaterial or spiritual states, even. "Sal Solaris continue to orchestrate a lonely escape from generic limits... Even if one can always feel the [worrying] presence of a Techno-Attractor nearby. There are four-to-the-floor beats, a hammering EDM bass, and flashes of metallic light."
Together they symbolize a "refusal to choose. A refusal. A refusal." The noun is repeated three times.
The magic of the sequencer (Alexey Volkov)
Another of the Konfabulation contributors is Alexey Volkov, an equally taciturn soul who is originally from St. Petersburg, yet now lives in Berlin and often publishes through the French label Planete Rouge. Here we find "skulking slabs of industrial-inspired techno." Volkov's corpus is allegedly fueled by a stubbornly "throbbing groove, run through with the dissonant clangs of this genre's cold, machinic heritage."
Talk of various "cogs and wheels" endures, together with "cumulative atmospherics" that usher in a "beguiling anti-climax." The perseverance of techno––changing desire into grim drive––grants only fleeting relief. In a related fashion, therefore, Volkov's views of society can be rather severe. There's little cause for joy outside the studio. "There are two ways to influence the behavior of another person. Manipulation or inspiration." Folks need to be forced––either physically or with the persuasive power of spectacle.
In a rare but recent interview, Alexey Volkov complains that "many of the great EBM bands nowadays use trance leads and other vulgar bullshit. This kills the magic of the sequencer." Anything resembling a "rebellious punk or late '70s industrial spirit" can be hard to find in 2017. Generic convention or habit again plays the role of a modern Attractor. Hence the need to escape from binary oppositions and instead stay in stylistic or philosophical motion. Volkov left Russia in 2013: "I'm happy that I did so. I felt increasing pressure regarding my political views."
Stylistic movements adopted literal forms.
Again like Sal Solaris, Alexey Volkov stresses the creative importance of a sequencer; he celebrates a tool that's used to question the working of systems––by sounding systematic. Regimentation is best queried with regimented sounds, used almost ad absurdum. "Moments of improvisation [on stage] are important, but it is equally important to understand their limitation. I think a composition's structural basis should be established before you play anything live. The sequences should already be finished, in my opinion. Other formal issues––such as percussion––are more manageable in the moment. First [I need to build] the magic––and then I can consider everything else."
Put differently, Volkov considers the magic of his discography to be something repetitive. An exit from dead-end industry comes from sounding industrial. It's hard not to recognize a modern reworking of Marx's famous contention that: "Merely qualitative differences––beyond a certain point––pass into qualitative changes." Recurrence, sooner or later, is potentially tied to revolution.
A gentle melancholy and air of detachment (Cadeu)
Another solo northern artist with related concerns this month is Cadeu, aka Konstantin Kazhev from Petrozavodsk––and now resident in Saint Petersburg. His side-project called R U, designed together with hometown resident Nata Rudman, has previously been described as a joint enterprise "full of questions about oneself and society. Questions about life and death... and how tightly they are interwoven." Kazhev's PR materials then maintained that societal or existential truths would only arise through doubt and experimentation. They needed first to be tested. In other words, actuality is more convoluted than whatever normal experience might suggest. As with Apex Sphere, so Cadeu is concerned with the links between a workday and the (confusing!) patterns by which life continues to work.
Following these conundrums, the newest Cadeu album is now out and called, with equally mystery, "de." One Russian webzine speaks of its "melodic fragments, hanging in the air. This LP is a sonic collage, full of images and reverb that both float and metamorphose... This music isn't really meant for the dance floor. Instead listeners will discover a gentle melancholy and air of detachment."
The artist's label––Hyperboloid in Moscow––uses exactly the same language, entirely by coincidence. "Emotional, yet detached. These are epic sounds produced in a huge, empty space where everybody is [inexorably] alone––as in the feeds of today's social media." And then Moscow's The Village declares "de" to be "post-dance music, a new kind of found sound." In which case, Russian listeners interpret these staccato, glitchy instrumentals as contemporary field recordings. They're the remnants of an erstwhile narrative, of a defunct story.
Their glitchy fabric is full of silence––in anticipation of another's interjection. Put differently, the sound of failure on "de" leaves a gap for superior interjections. Cadeu's broken structures––punctuated by absolutely nothing––usher in whatever lies beyond the last, desperate repetition of a well-intentioned, yet exhausted industry. They may be post-dance, but they're also post-material––in the absence of a healthy body.