Abstract Worlds: Ewan Limb, Filatique, Moonscape, and Phil Anker

Filatique (Filat Astakhov): "Neither Drums, Nor Horns" (2014)

Filatique is a new moniker for a project already familiar to us. It comes from the streets of Yekaterinburg, which in turn are home to Filat Astakhov, better known to FFM as Phlbeats. The reason for this change in designation has just been offered online. "Filatique represents a new page in the creative biography of a deceased romantic. It's an attempt to step back from the [abstract] beats of which he's rather tired. Filatique is a cocktail of the gentlest feelings and a warm jazzy sound, together with elements of instrumental hip-hop. Just press 'Play."

When the game is over, the king and the pawn go into the same box (Irvin Yalom)

There's a slight contradiction here in that a "deceased romantic" nonetheless continues into a second project with a lasting fondness for antique jazz recordings. Interestingly enough, and in the same vein, our artist recently posted a recommendation for the 1965 Soviet comedy "Pass the Complaints Book" (Дайте жалобную книгу). Astakhov was especially impressed by its understated jazz or lounge soundtrack - as a "reflection of fashion back then." Jazz continues to inspire a jaded dreamer - while the film itself is full of support for youthful ideals. 

Written during the Thaw, "Pass the Complaints Book" concerns a Moscow restaurant operated by rude and condescending staff. A young journalist, after a bad dining experience, decides to publish a critical article and raise awareness of such bad behavior around town. The unpredictably of jazz and a callow heart overcome both cynicism and bureaucracy, because the journalist falls - amazingly - in love with the restuaurant's manager, whilst helping her build a newer, more welcoming business. Romance and metaphorical harmony win the day. The soundtrack in the cafe quite literally changes overnight.

A related worldview is borrowed by Astakhov for his Filatique project from Stanford psychiatrist Irvin Yalom. His chosen English phrase (originating, it seems, in an Italian proverb) relates to our enduring fear of death. Yalom's quotation holds that any worldly desire for material power or "permanent" social status will be erased the moment we pass away. "When the game is over, the king and the pawn go into the same box." Hence, by implication, there's a suggestion that life not be taken so seriously. Compassion - between kings and pawns - is perhaps a better goal than cash.

 

Filatique, previously known as Phlbeats (Yekaterinburg)

Yalom's call to downscale arrogance in the name of parity - and therefore companionship -  can bridge any jarring difference between Astakhov's two projects. After all, Phlbeats' prior releases would frequently employ tags such as "#romantique, #ekaterinburg, #snezhinsk, #music, #video, #jazz, #instrumental, #photography, #cinema, #reading, #sport, #love, #love, #love." That closing repetition was obviously important, prior to the invention of Filatique. It remains so. 

Another young Russian performer with two identities and wintertime compositions to announce is Saint Petersburg's Daniil Aleksandrov, aka both Moonscape and Idiosync. His newest recordings come to us - as before - from the 56 Stuff label, a famously quirky and witty organization in his hometown. 

An insatiable desire to plow through junk and musical cluelessness

When we first encountered Aleksandrov's work, in the earliest period of FFM, he made the following observation: "The experimental element of my music is sometimes an involuntary one: I'm driven by an insatiable desire to somehow plow through junk and musical cluelessness: they're everywhere today! In the same spirit, I really want the public to listen to whatever I do - from start to finish." There's a small-scale doggedness here that reflects the enduring romance of Filatique and Phlbeats. Both men also cast a glance back to the Soviet past for inspiration; in stories like "Pass the Complaints Book," a tiny relationship between two strangers can overcome Moscow's mercantile rudeness. That may not be true today. 

Much of Idiosync's catalog (if we take one of Daniil's projects) has toyed endlessly with preexisting or archival sounds from the Soviet heritage of music-making. Sampling from the grand catalog - and scale - of Soviet enterprise, he sometimes hopes to focus upon detached fragments of a larger whole: put differently, lonely notes speak of a nation. Old stories of individual desire are remembered against the backdrop of socialist grandeur. Aleksandrov juxtaposes private and (woefully) public melodies in order that the values of an erstwhile culture might be recalled (or re-imagined).

The 56Stuff staff paraphrase their artist: "Daniil is not so much interested in remixing individual works as in creating new sounds [from old ones]; this happens at the intersection of a modern style and the now-forgotten heritage of Soviet culture." There's a modern lesson to be learned from old narratives and noises. Gentle lyrics persist deep in the industrial clamor of prior decades.

D. Aleksandrov (St. Petersburg) aka both Moonscape & Idiosync

Glitchy fragments of those songs might be used to restructure a modern worldview from the rubble of grandeur - or rebuild a failed social harmony. Perhaps social ideals can be salvaged from the irate and insistent rhetoric of socialism. Ryazanov's comedy certainly thought so, almost fifty years ago.

A slightly older, philosophically related LP from Aleksandrov was called "Extrapolation" and also released on 56Stuff. The artist himself noted at the time: “This album is the result of a long process of searching, listening, and sampling... from a vast amount of audio material. Everything I used was both recorded and released in the Soviet Union. That country ceased to exist more than twenty years ago, but its heritage still resonates with the majority of its erstwhile citizens. [Despite any lasting importance and fondness, though] almost nothing from those years is ever used for further [future] developments... From a technological point alone, this [forgotten treasure-trove] can be exciting. The sounds on my new album were largely recorded on domestic Soviet equipment. Those tools help to add some unique kinds of distortion... not to mention other peculiarities!" The best social soundtracks were penned at home, albeit long ago.

This is peace as perceived by a technology aficionado, a paranoiac, an environmentalist, or a space traveler

The newest LP from Moonscape, "The Future We Have All Been Waiting For," extends further this combination of forward-looking, social aspiration and a retrospective archival zeal.

“[Several years ago] I created Idiosync and began excavating a great deal of Soviet music - in search of a meaningful reality. However, that quest only led me to another, rather uncanny abstraction as I endeavored to reflect present reality through little pieces of the past. Busily trying to find meaning in the past, I actually lost touch with the present! As both became endlessly confusing, I saw no other option than to look to the future. The future is the [only] reality of which everyone is certain, whether we're talking about millions of years or mere milliseconds. Only in certainty can one find peace, and so the music on this record is peaceful..." Philosophical calm and security, as implied from the Yalom and Ryazanov references, are found in modesty, if not charity. They are felt.

Even as Idiosync's focus moves from yesterday to tomorrow, something important therefore endures. In both cases, he is seeking for affective, not material gain. These are not literal attempts to rebuild anything from the USSR(!), but instead to find some noble emotions therein. Hence immaterial, "vague," and heartfelt emphases persist. "This peace [awaiting us in the future] is one perceived by a technology aficionado, a paranoiac, an environmentalist, or a space traveler. It is our future as the vaguest abstraction.”

In search of concreteness, Aleksandrov finds peace only in another abstraction. He really wants something unreal; a performer hopes to unearth ideal virtues in a coarsely material world. After all, vague and imprecise ideals will last longer than anything tangible. An unrealized dream, in fact, will last forever.

Moonscape: "The Future We Have All Been Waiting For" (2014)

Something not dissimilar is evident in the music of Phil Anker (Sergei Smirnov), who is based in Minsk, Belarus. From time to time, he also appears under a second pseudonym of Serhio Graupe. His newest efforts have been published as "Anywhere for You."

The core themes we hear from IdiosyncMoonscapeFilatique, and Phlbeats resurface: imagined worlds (or superior, abstract states), the reemployment of old jazz samples, and sound as a means of philosophical consolation when actuality fails to please. "My new record could be characterized as the merging of several worlds. The basic goal was to create a new, original sound. This is an atmospheric LP, since it contains so many different noises. Everything is constructed in an experimental, electronic mode that includes jazzy rhythms."

A wandering, improvised passage through the past - imagined as movement through distant "worlds" - offers an improvement upon the present day. Together these so-called "sonic atmospheres" come to embody a desired lack of specificity, something reflected in the LP's artwork.

The merging of several worlds

Phil Anker explains how: "I view the cover [above] as a painting. Each person will find something different in it. Personally, I just wanted to offer my audience something unusual and mysterious. My work is never designed to fulfill any sort of [singular or pragmatic] function. It simply appears in moments that are connected to private experience. The sound appears all of a sudden and [eventually, when published] transmits my mood, concerns, or feelings. That's why I'd like to suggest people take a moment, listen to their internal self - and ponder something genuinely important. Something that'll alter their life (in the best sense of the word!). I mean something that'll influence their emotions."

Improve your emotions and alter your life; insight and epiphany are matters of the heart, not of the tangible world. This enduring stress upon affect, rather that pragmatic enterprise shows - yet again - the constantly romantic strain that, despite Filatique's "mordant" pessimism, is indeed a sine qua non for these musicians. 

Phil Anker (Sergei Smirnov), based in Minsk, Belarus

In closing, an equally fresh release from Ewan Limb is just as telling. This unlikely stage-name belongs to Erkin Makaveev, a resident of Kazan, a city still keen to celebrate its position "between Europe and Asia." Moscow's Afisha magazine recently offered a useful snapshot of the Kazan scene and included a few telling words about local music from the man himself. Makaveev's thoughts help to contextualize the October 2014 publication of his album, "Identify," which is currently being promoted by Moscow's Incompetence Records. (As readers may remember, that label is connected to ex-members of Stoned Boys, also in the capital.)  

Rough, unworked stone that's used to create abstract musical sculptures

Incompetence Records begin their promotional materials thus (in translation): "Ewan Limb's music is akin to rough, unworked stone from which our artist makes abstract musical sculptures.... 'Identify' represents a journey into a rather dark realm. It has no intention of merely 'entertaining' you. Instead it aims to hoodwink you amid countless rooms and labyrinths. It poses too many questions [for you to simply dream]. Nonetheless, enjoy your adventure... but be on your guard. Don't relax too much!" 

Afisha then reports, with an equally imprecise quotation, that Ewan views his overall aesthetic as tied to an imagined "world of virtual synths and unconventional harmonies." A suitable palette for these vagaries would be "shades of crude oil, damp earth, together with sounds of thunder, rumbling, and general clanging." Virtuality takes flight from a realm of heavy industry. Kazan, we're informed by the musician, reflects a related yearning nationwide towards wistful respite from the here and now. "Our local music scene is truly varied. We try and encompass whatever is happening around the country: anything relevant or fashionable." 

"In a word, Kazan is a great city in which to 'put down roots.' Life is both rewarding and pleasant here... It's easy to make friends [in a town of this size] or discover kindred spirits with similar interests... I'm glad that I live, make music, and personally evolve in this place." It's a fitting location for dogged romantics, dreaming almost against their will. In a city such as Kazan, keen for several centuries to promote itself as a liminal, peripheral space between two continents, an alternative to leaden actuality seems a little more likely. There's an alleged opportunity here to peer beyond the edge of rude typicality.  

Ewan Limb (Erkin Makaveev, a resident of Kazan)

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