Minimalist Improvisation and Unmusic from Vilnius: The Con-Vpilation

A few days ago, we looked at a collection of new idm and ambient works from Lithuania; in a sense, that text painted only half the picture of recent events, because another collective recording has also appeared from Vilnius, on this occasion via Madrid. In other words, the Spanish netabel CONV has published a double album of contemporary classical, avant garde and - once again - ambient performers from Lithuania. The thirteen contributions have a collective running time of almost two hours. 

If we were looking for a sense of joint effort among all these works, it would make sense perhaps to begin with CONV's own mission statement, since they chose the pieces on display. From the snow-free streets of Madrid we're informed that the label is "focused mainly on experimental sound art. Our aim is to promote independent releases by artists from all over the world - the kind of performers who create and process sounds in unconventional ways."

Performers who create and process sounds in unconventional ways

The seven specific terms used to distill the essence of that unconventionality are: experimental electronics, electroacoustics, minimalism, phonography, improvisation, sound art, and - perhaps most importantly - unmusic.

Little by little these tracks help to systematize what might otherwise appear to be the Spanish label's love of unadulterated, disorderly abstraction. We focus here upon the second of the two albums, which opens with a instrumental from the Vilinius collective known as Twentytwentyone.

The Lithuanian press has been keen to advertise the appeal of their "unmusic" in similarly contrary, yet admiring terms. "Twentytwentyone aren’t your average chamber quartet. Firstly, the instruments they use are laptops. Secondly, they interpret (or reinterpret!) compositions written in a non-musical manner..."

Twentytwentyone aren’t your average chamber quartet

The resulting performances are referred to "curious audiovisual hybrids," “concerts as exhibitions,” or “cinema as a concert.” These melanges, overseen by bandleader Artūras Bumšteinas, thus investigate electroacoustic states that lie somewhere between narrative progression and stasis, volume and silence. 

Bumšteinas himself works between Vilnius and Warsaw, but some Twentytwentyone collaborators have taken part from London, too. The ensemble's shared music, therefore, expresses some kind of multidirectional field of creativity that simply endures, rather than a traditional touring collective, moving from town to town in order to play.

This quiet form of detente, it seems, continues to grow in size and significance, as Bumšteinas' work alone now extends to collaborations in Germany, Poland, and other locations. Digital influence is easier to move than a minivan.

Some related evocations of an enduring state, again as a social metaphor, appear in the music of (Ričardas) Skardas, whose professional and critical breakthrough came in 2003 with the release of his "Neocron" album. Journalists at the time defined his recordings as "spacious, luminous and amazingly deep" or, elsewhere, "introspective minimal soundscapes." From the outset Skardas was known as a figure who shuns publicity, preferring nocturnal studio work to live performances. Even today, a dearth of promotional images speaks to that same shyness. 

Introspective minimal soundscapes

For a man who actively builds soundscapes from scratch, he's not very keen to populate them with people. The quiet consistency of a paysage is evidently more appealing than any human enterprise. Immutability, put differently, has more attraction than novelty. Consequently a dilemma results in that we're dealing with conscious effort designed to evoke that which simply is.

Cue the enigmatic smile.

The Lithuanian press captured the tension between these opposites not long ago: they defined Skardas' compositions as "quiet, yet loud; hidden, yet visible." Such abstractions, however, run the risk of sounding risible, no matter their earnest intentions, so it's wiser, perhaps, to stay within the realm of metaphor.

Skardas' music, if we observe that caution, has been spoken of in terms of various "ambient reefs," as a sonic representation of widespread, yet indiscernible(!) growth underwater. That oceanic expression might be paraphrased as some sort of evolution within stasis, perhaps... and so we lapse once again into dubious aphorisms.

An exit from this awkwardness comes, thankfully, in the work of Gintas K (whose last name is Kraptavicius). With an established catalog of industrial compositions to his name, Kraptavicius (below, right) has long been interested in these same limits of expressibility. More specifically, he has worked with what some have termed a "post-Fluxus" viewpoint, i.e., with the uses of indeterminacy.

Where logic ends, chance begins - including the random noises that lie beyond language. Hence, no doubt, the rubber duck - for no reason whatsoever.

For Kraptavicius, this interest in randomness, rather than order, leads to celebrations of vagueness and chance. Fittingly enough, therefore, the CONV compilation also includes a tribute to John Cage's "4.33." The 1960's spirit of the Fluxus movement, reappearing more than forty years later, is still fueling a celebratory attitude towards Lady Luck or the paradoxes of endless, pointless difference.

After all, unending randomness, taken to an extreme, will rob any state of a stable center - or periphery! - and therefore approximate something widely unchanging. Impermanence will itself become permanent. Kraptavicius' own love for such inconclusive processes helps to close the gap between movement and immobility that we saw with Twentytwentyone and Skardas. It also avoids the kind of faux-Buddhist phrasing to which such opposites can so easily lead... as we found.

The allure of unnecessary notes

Kraptavicius' catalog has been recognized widely, with concerts and sound-art installations all across Europe. These events have helped to develop what he calls an aesthetic of "unnecessary notes." Hence his particular love for digital compositions, since he feels that computers help to "pull" elements of unmusic into his portfolio: machines show scant regard for compositional norms.

As he says: "Art and music without a framework are possible."

Behind the project known as Audio_Z is the artist, curator, and author shown above - Tautvydas Bajarkevičius. He, like Kraptavicius, is intrigued by degrees of discord, variegation, and chance in musical forms. The metaphors he chooses to investigate these issues, however, are a little different. Instead of things unnecessary, he speaks of fractures and fragments within normality. Here we inch our way towards chaos theory.

Some of the phrases employed to describe Bajarkevičius's music include "textured flux," "intersected fragments," and "glitchy echoes." The assumed, comforting totality of ambient sounds is shown to be full of cracks. Within consistency are all kinds of fissures, distributed without logic...

Textured flux and intersected fragments

If, therefore, we're looking for an overarching worldview to join these musicians, it would indeed involve some kind of interface between themes of movement and steadiness. Rather than turn such opposites into soothing formulae, though, our Lithuanian artists draw instead upon an absurdist tradition of the '60s and suggest that randomness and illogicality are ubiquitous.

They're just very well hidden.

As Tolstoy liked to point out, in certain famous situations.

Taking these local ideas beyond domestic borders is cellist Anton Lukoszevieze (above), who lives and works in London. His biography straddles the fields of both England and Lithuania, while his adult career involves many prestigious performances at venues in between. He has given shows in Germany, Holland, Austria, and beyond - for example in the US.

This wide experience - in spatial terms - is reflected generically, too. Lukoszevieze has worked with both filmmakers and choreographers. 

The London press has referred to him as an artist with an admirable capability to "display great understanding and sympathy across a wide range of material." Italian observers have gone further still, lauding his "astonishing range of techniques." Lukoszevieze clearly plays an important role as cultural ambassador, both for his fellow countrymen and their shared outlook upon the inconsistencies of recent history.

It seems reasonable to guess, amid those inconsistencies and an absurdist heritage, that there'd be room for comedy somewhere. And indeed there is, thanks to the unflinching parody of R&R Electronics, aka composers Rita Maciliunaite and Ruta Vitkauskaite. Tied closely to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, both women have a classical training: Maciliunaite as a mezzo-soprano and Vitkauskaite as a violinist.

A contemporary-folk-pop-rock-rap-electro-dance-theatre-post comedy musical duo

Their joint project of R&R Electronics, however, shows little respect for such conservative traditions. Their chosen self-designation makes that immediately clear. They refer to their collective efforts as a "contemporary-folk-pop-rock-rap-electro-dance-theatre-post comedy musical duo."

Their performance venues are equally random, since they openly advertise their musical services to both "weddings and other parties." In other words, they'll adopt their aesthetic to fit any event - chosen at random. 

Or not at all. Anything can happen.

In the simplest terms, the duo define their craft as "post comedy."

All of these Lithuanian composers have endeavored to reveal a small, insistent degree of activity within supposedly immobile states. We've seen, for example, descriptions of "ambient reefs" - or unnoticeable growth and evolution. Audible glitch, clicks, and cuts - the very embodiment of random growth - are then explained to us as cracks and fractures in (human) nature. Growth becomes change becomes chance...

Drawing next upon an absurdist heritage of the US, these musicians not only celebrate such inconsistency, they laugh in the face of pompous immobility with the parodic performances of R&R Electronics.

Until we reach this "post-comedic stance." What, then, happens when we stop finding randomness funny or dismissing it out of hand?

We take it very seriously indeed.


Audio_Z – Lur As Esu (Where Am I)
Anton Lukoszevieze – Marble Your Lungs With Silence
Gintas K – Nieko Toks Letas Git
Skardas – The Concert is Over

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