Galya Chikiss, Siberia (November 2011)
A couple of days ago, a charming yet melancholy EP appeared from the St. Petersburg home of Galya Chikiss, long recognized and celebrated on these pages. She had mentioned on her blog the family's acquisition this year of an old Soviet electronic organ, for which room was somehow found at home. Experiments were conducted with the once-fashionable sounds and ambience of that instrument; various impromptu adventures, in turn, led to some new recordings: "Organic Compound." They can now be downloaded for free from a range of locations.
This same organ harks back in some way to Chikiss' earliest EPs from several years ago. When her solo output first began to appear, she was working within the deliberately antique, resonant spaces of a deconsecrated northern church - using a piano that was once employed in some classic Soviet pop songs. Nostalgia was thus given a spatial mode of expression: sounds redolent of prior decades were now voiced as if they came from places far away, too.
Some new material, as promised, played one morning on an electronic organ
In other words, discernible echo - captured beneath vaulted ceilings - and ambient hiss both helped to place the music of a half-forgotten lyricism in vaguely-defined evanescing locations. Fading memories did so audibly.
"Organic Compound" attempts something similar: flecked with the occasional click or bump of domestic activity, Chikiss' newly acquired instrument speaks of old-school sentimentality. To Western ears this organ may even recall the music of rural chapels or provincial, post-war movie theaters. Little, yet stubborn desires - still recognizable after decades - emerge from faraway places, replete with the hiss of cheap media formats. Unfocused artwork also helps to underscore the mood.
There is, therefore, a certain logic to Chikiss' newly-discovered enthusiasm for the work of Omsk instrumentalist Andrei Mitroshin (Milky Toad), who makes constant use of very similar tools: dusty, ailing keyboards, plenty of white noise, and what results is the soundtrack to a quietly pitied past.
A related form of sonic trickery is found in the equally recent and underfunded recordings from Moscow's Kompakt-Katya (aka Katya Zaitseva). As we mentioned on the last visit to her small catalog, this performer's toolkit contains nothing more than a tiny organ, a Stylophone, drumbox, and reels of magnetic tape. With that modest arsenal she continues to pen small tributes to Tarkovsky's film "Mirror" (Zerkalo, 1975) and the older Czech classic, "Daisies" (Sedmikrásky, 1966). Old films still inspire new noises - from an audible distance.
I spend my time on the bedroom floor making stuff
It's worth remembering that in order to weave a narrative of both physical absence and ardent feeling, our artiste often places her drum machine in different rooms (for different tracks). The very sound of her existence and/or enterprise is thus made simultaneously real and removed. In the same way, her new EP begins with a composition entitled "In the Field" (V pole), itself a wordplay upon the use of both rural spaces and field recordings. We hear - somewhere in the rustle of middle distance! - the sounds of two people talking and, fainter still, some birdsong. Neither is at all clear.
Equally muffled dialog is faintly evident in the second track: "In the Salon" (V komnate). The nine minutes, thirty-one seconds occupied by this retreating noise are given the collective title of "Made in Russia" (Sdelano v Rossii). Despite their miniature scale, these instrumentals hope to address some very widespread, if not "national" issues, which begs the question: what exactly are they? Where, within this appealing and unfocused abstraction, is something resembling specificity?
Kompakt-Katya's artwork, shown above, helps us by involving a similar physical gesture to her last release. A young figure adopts a fetal or huddled pose, hiding themselves from public view. Placed side by side with the three new instrumentals, that image concerns - just as before - selfhood that's shielded from scrutiny. An individual hopes for shelter (visually) because the likelihood of consequential self-expression is vanishing so fast (outdoors and/or audibly). Minimal expressions thus hope to escape major processes, since the latter are clearly more imposing and intrusive.
Perception, observation, and a simplicity of form
At this point we turn to neighboring lands. Alexei De Bronhe is a musician and filmmaker from Minsk: he has just published seven wispy instrumentals through the Belarusian label Foundamental. They are designed as the soundtrack to a "short, minimalist, B&W feature" called "Dance, Dance, Dance." Both that film and these fragile sounds from De Bronhe aim to operate "without needless words or color." Understatement - again bolstered by lo-fi imagery - is offered as a fitting response to contemporary experience.
De Bronhe, born in 1985, has worked on visual storytelling since his childhood, beginning with DIY comics and then moving into the more rigorous framework of an arts education. He is, in fact, currently busy with specialized studies in both film and TV direction. Passing through these degrees of expertise, so to speak, he has established a small filmography of five shorts.
He likes to talk of his audiovisual work with recourse to an overarching theory of "cinemalism" - a combination of cinematic and minimalist emphases. The core factors therein are "perception, observation, and a simplicity of form." Those same three criteria certainly make sense when applied to the new work by Chikiss and Kompakt-Katya. Validating our parallel further, De Bronhe declares his intention to evoke, either with music or moving imagery, "spatial 'segments' that capture the emotional scope of reality."
Spatial 'segments' that capture the emotional scope of reality
Put differently, affective experience is most convincingly translated into spatial terms. Big emotions require grand gestures: a timid heart occupies a tiny space. Desire, as a trajectory for those same feelings, is persuasively depicted as something either proximal or distal. Grand sensations travel far (and loudly!); small sentiments remain close to home.
And, in a similar manner, "the emotional state of one's surroundings" can also, says De Bronhe, be expressed in terms of "depth or volume. Drama and symbolism are to be avoided [in favor of] precision and compositional simplicity." Sounds are positioned along imagined coordinates of distance, depth, and volume in order to vivify the playing field of heartfelt action. The scope of romance is mapped out with noise and pictures, resonating both near and far, in and out of focus. This credo is extended to De Bronhe's own enterprise known as Byzond Pictures.
Were we looking for even more direct connections between sonic lyricism and its spatial equivalent, we might turn to Moscow instrumentalist "Remotely." His new downtempo compositions, replete with the static crackle of background enterprise, have been published on the Oddot netlabel. Dedicated to extreme forms of remove, the release is called "Lightyear" (as a compound noun). It comes with a tiny text. After some editing, what transpires might read: "With shadows [turned?] to the light, inspired both by an endless universe and forgotten feelings, these tunes lead [listeners] to lands far from ordinary life. [Those places are evoked by] elements of post-rock and a[n overall] dreamy atmosphere, [together with] bright glitches and hazy soundscapes."
Bright glitches and hazy soundscapes
This audible evocation of other places is just as appealing for the Oddot staff. They describe the generic or stylistic preferences of their output as follows. Once again, certain sounds are linked to certain places; vague noises evoke vaguely-imagined locations (the ones furthest away): "Our music is influenced by the crystalline air, dark fog, warm oceans, cold forests, lo-fi, dreams, chillwave, witches, shoegaze, memoradelia, the tropics, glo-fi and post-whatever..."
The artwork for the Remotely EP then suggests yet another way in which imprecise (in this case olfactory) experience might lead to an imagination of other, better locations.
It's as if lyricism benefits from a lack of clarity and an abundance of lo-fi, background noise. Put differently, subjectivity hides from any specific, rationally discernible location and imagines itself elsewhere. In this way, private, minimal activity stresses the fact that its author is barely present. A refusal to make loud, clear statements in the here and now implies a yearning to be somewhere else. Somewhere better.
For this reason, it seems, Remotely (aka Semen Shaulik) recently posted some advice from a friend online: "Dasha reckons I should upload my sh*ttiest tracks this evening. That way at least somebody will hear them. If that's the case, I can tell you there's going to be loads more material in the same vein!" These brief phrases can be found together with some badly-spelled paragraphs in which Shaulik describes (or merely quotes) the recent suffering of locals in a very cruel town. Physical beatings and God's possible existence emerge as simultaneous themes in some rambling complaints about life in Moscow's sadder neighborhoods.
Surrounding actuality in all these recordings from Remotely, De Bronhe, Kompakt-Katya, and Galya Chikiss is intrusive: the hiss, buzz, and crackle of pushy reality serves a double purpose. It both underscores the "smallness" of these artists' lyric voices and a concomitant desire to either imagine or simply be somewhere else. The louder that surrounding clamor, the further desire will travel in order to escape it. Nothing says this more clearly than some artwork Shaulik is considering for his next instrumentals.