"Fleur are from the Ukrainian resort of Odessa, but perform and promote themselves in Russian. In essence the band revolves its two vocalists/songsmiths : Elena Voinarovskaia (below, left) and Ol’ga Pulatova (right). The band – with eight members in all – weave a uniquely wistful, meditative style that they term 'cardiowave.' Frequently swathed in antique, rustic patterns by their flautist Anna Luzhetskaia, they’re infamous for an on-stage immobility, a stubborn insistence upon various forms of minimalism. This often leads to parallels with the British outfit Pram." Such were the observations we made about Fleur back in 2008.
"The group’s name is equally difficult to define, firstly because it means (the fabric) 'crepe' in Russian and is used in the phrase 'to draw a veil' over something or 'to mystify.' The band then play upon this, hinting that it might suggest 'a [constant] shroud of secretiveness.' Other theories hold it’s the French word for 'flower,' not a Russian term at all, and – by extension – perhaps a reference to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.”
With those prior notes to one side, we can move on to the fact that Fleur have now released a sixth studio album, "A Thousand Shining Angels" (Tysiacha svetlykh angelov), which can be downloaded from the voluntary pay service, Kroogi. Recorded in Odessa over the last five months, the album was produced at a deliberate distance from Moscow's technical wizardry. Neither the scale nor the quality of the new CD, however, have suffered as a result; Fleur's trademark lyricism has now been amplified by a small orchestra. "More and more musicians were invited to take part. They were all needed for the band to realize its concepts."
The total number of performers eventually ran to more than twenty, not to mention "some specially invited artists," who en masse busied themselves with close to fifty instruments - including, it seems, a wind-filled hedgehog.
The development of the CD occurred in a similar way, growing organically as time went on. "The band has never evolved according to predetermined patterns; there are so many factors in our work that predicting them becomes impossible. There are only a handful of fixed notions in all our endeavors: the music has to sound 'complete,' harmonious, emotional, and sincere, too. All other factors play nothing more than a secondary role."
This emotive, intuitive approach to "proper" music even dictates the composition of play- and track-lists. "Our songs 'appear' in large numbers whenever we write new material, but only a small percentage will become part of the band's permanent repertoire. Sometimes a song will mature slowly, over a long period. On other occasions, though, a composition will 'book a place' in the next album the moment it comes into being."
This time around, during the creation of "A Thousand Shining Angels," the group did indeed find themselves swamped by ideas; all in all, they produced a seventeen-track, 86-minute double CD. "We were drowning in studio material. The number of people who eventually took part also amazed us. Thanks to all that effort and stockpiled tape, though, we ended up with a remarkable variety of songs. The album turned out to be a very bright and dynamic affair."
We were drowning in studio material. The number of people who eventually took part also amazed us. Thanks to all that effort and stockpiled tape, though, we ended up with a remarkable variety of songs. The album turned out to be a very bright and dynamic affair.
Much of the PR material surrounding the album continues in this vein and, to be honest, the more we read, the less we learn. Banality begins to move center stage. More can be discovered about Fleur's creative methods from interviews and other, less studied observations. The one point worth taking from the promotional rhetoric is that Fleur, by staying far away from Moscow and the pressures thereof, feel more able to work on their own, semi-improvised (and less expensive!) terms. One recent interview with Pulatova (below) explains how important that outlook was - even before Fleur officially existed.
"The band came into being because I had heard some songs by Elena [Voinarovskaia] and really liked them. She showed them to me six months after we first met. I started looking for other musicians... without knowing for sure what instruments would be needed. I didn't know how we'd perform the songs, either. We started rehearsing at home [rather than in a studio] and it was only when we had a proper rhythm section that we moved to a different, technically equipped location. Because of all that, you could say that Fleur have always had a strong 'elemental' aspect to them."
In a traditionally Slavic fashion, the "seriousness" of this music displays its solemn demeanor through ties to academic expertise, either through a classical or folk heritage. Even though the Russian and Ukrainian press like to tag the band as "ethereal" or "dream pop," Fleur in actuality are a tad closer to the rock tradition than anything specifically pop-inspired. This is because Slavic rock has (for decades) turned to the size or seriousness of both orchestras and "folk craft" in order to justify its weighty import.
All members of Fleur graduated from the Odessa State Conservatory. Balancing the slow, deliberate acquisition of a music degree with talk of entertaining spontaneity can be difficult. "Even though we went to the Conservatory, neither Elena nor I thought we'd go on to play professionally. Nonetheless, the background of our colleagues in Fleur did turn out to be extremely helpful; those guys can really play! They come up with all manner of ideas - and can handle anything that I or Elena suggest."
Skill, in other words, is needed to express spontaneity; it takes training to deal with one's whims.
This delicate positioning of oneself between expertise and inspiration, skill and sensation, is thus effected in terms of education, cities - and even nations. The band's location within Ukraine has been used to keep Fleur at arm's length from any overly "canonical," conservative love for classical prestige.
Not long ago, for example, Pulatova was asked whether "Russia's rich tradition of classical music" was an influence on Fleur: "When we're working on new songs, we try to avoid anything that would remind people of classical music. That can be an effort, sometimes, in that so many of us are tied [through our education] to a conservatory background. And, by the way, we don't live in Russia. We're in Ukraine. But that's right next door, so don't worry!"
This polite retreat from a sizable neighbor does not mean that Fleur strive with ill-judged vigor towards continental European media or English-language traditions of songwriting. "When we compose new songs, we don't sit around thinking whether they should be 'traditional,' 'non-traditional,' or some motley combination. We simply express what we feel, and do so honestly. Maybe you could say that we're more European in nature, but I try not to think about such things. I try not to get hung up on formal matters..."
With all this talk of emotional, spontaneous performance, the danger of hackneyed phrasing again looms large, even though the appeal of sidestepping specificity continues to be great - be it linguistic or locational. The tension between easy categorization and the romance of difference continues, a struggle between comfortable, mainstream inclusion and the challenge of isolation.
We need only listen to what Pulatova says about local economics to understand why she would want to avoid or ignore the cold, hard reality of a major city, together with its pricey notions of normality. The "appeal" of Moscow and its promise of big money turns - in tough times - into the danger of major losses. Life in a smaller town means, thankfully, that there's less distance to fall, should things go wrong.
Pulatova was, on this very topic, recently asked whether she has ever worried about Fleur breaking up due to financial problems; she counters the significance of cash with talk of camaraderie. "First and foremost, we're a collective of kindred spirits. Those people who've come to join the band - and stayed - all understand that our music isn't exactly commercial. It's not designed for a mass audience."
First and foremost, we're a collective of kindred spirits. Those people who've come to join the band - and stayed - all understand that our music isn't exactly commercial. It's not designed for a mass audience.
This genial gaggle of like-minded individuals extends beyond the studio. "Behind the scenes, so to speak, there are lots more people who really help us, too. They do so purely and simply because they want this music to survive. We'll continue to exist, somehow. We'll exist as long as there are people who want to hear us play." The likelihood of finding such listeners is much greater among friends, in smaller cities, far from Kiev and Moscow.
And that observation brings us back to the start of this post - to the mention of "cardiowave." Not only does it describe the band's music, it also has been turned into an entire worldview by their label - bearing the same name. "The term cardiowave needs no explanation; it has no stylistic, geographical, temporal, or other ties. It's a wave coming from the heart..." An intangible consequence of material effort, it is perfectly suited to a smaller location, where asphalt gives way to greenery and straight roads start to dissolve in the landscape.
All angular, rigid shapes, and fixed goals melt away - surely the perfect address for angels, surrounded by water and the end of terra firma.