A Very Fluid Movement: Gultskra Artikler, Mårble, Ajokki, and Wet Straw

Ajokki (Krasnoyarsk): "III EP" (2016)

The term "Ajokki" has a special significance for people in some isolated areas of Russia. In particular, it connects a number of factories from the late Soviet period with Finnish heavy industry. "Ajokki Oy," to use the full designation, was a Finnish concern that collaborated with Russian transportation plants in order to produce superior buses––just before global markets made such neighborly collaborations irrelevant in 1991. In fact, Ajokki Oy itself was purchased by Sweden's Volvo several years ago.  Any remaining models from that partnership today, for example the buses built together with Russia's KamAZ factories in Tatarstan, are considered "objects of provincial pride––even now!" 

Ajokki buses are objects of provincial pride––even now!

The relevance of this admittedly obscure information is found in discussions of the Siberian one-man project Ajokki, based in Krasnoyarsk. Both his avatar (see right) and EP artwork thus far (above) have been taken from the livery of local buses. The man behind these snow-blown or rusty images is Alexander Pustynsky, who until recently was one half of the electronic duo Eholow in the same city.

One of Eholow's final releases––discussed previously on FFM––was called "Shagonar." The Siberian press designated that album a "sort of nomadic or 'road' recording. What's important here is not any concrete itinerary [along that route], but the process of traveling itself." Either by chance or design, a key metaphor of movement persists. Shagonar itself seemed well suited to this symbolism, being a southern Siberian town in the Tuva Republic––just north of the Mongolian border.

Moscow's Colta.Ru has spoken in times gone by about Eholow's "yearning for something that's frustratingly vague." By contrast, Ajokki––again an instrumental enterprise––has been lauded in the same publication for "delicate, resonant, and meditative music." What led to these presumed emphases in a wholly wordless discography, even if other press outlets still like to speak of the transition from Eholow to Ajokki in terms of some thematic "railway lines"? The key to that abstraction lies, perhaps, in more vagaries.

Listeners and observers of Ajokki have come to agree upon various metaphors of searching or polite, ongoing experimentation, just as Russian music journalists did in the 1960s, for example. Imprecise talk of performers "in search" of some abstract goal was everywhere after Stalin's death. Romance needed a lexicon of progressing, yet not finding. Movement was everything; acquisition was conclusive and therefore nothing. Cloudiness kept meager romance alive. 

Ajokki (Alexander Pustynsky)

Hence the following, related phrasing with regard to the newest––and third––EP from Ajokki, titled only with a Roman numeral. "Pleasingly intricate, polymetric designs are gracefully intertwined with a melodic simplicity. We hear the sound of bells ringing, together with crisscrossing percussion. Here and there a sample is discerned, somewhere deep in the mix. The synth lines are romantically sustained... In a word, this is the perfect music––à la Boards of Canada––for watching your children play on the seashore. They frolic in the surf against the backdrop of a setting sun. Everything is captured on elegantly flecked, sepia film stock." 

Everything is captured on elegantly flecked, sepia film stock (Ajokki)

In entirely subjective terms, a vocabulary of retrospective yearning and starry-eyed aspiration takes shape. As a result, the value of a present moment fades––slowly, but consistently. As Nabokov once declared: "One is always at home in one's past...” One's thoughts gravitate regularly towards that past, while the future promises little. The here and now are hardly noticed. In the same way, Eholow have written about "the sort of gentle melancholy that stirs somewhere within us all whenever we stare from the window of a train." Comfort is found in poignancy––as one gazes with affection upon another, flickering place or time. Sadness allows for the strange bliss of surrender––of knowing that nothing can be done. 

A similar dolefulness is audible with the emergence of two new tapes, also from Siberia––by Wet Straw and Mårble. Both of those relatively new projects operate through the Hair Del label in Novosibirsk and, in part, Saint Petersburg. Against the backdrop of a previous FFM article regarding other Siberian outlets like Klammklang or the Shalash (Шалаш) label (also in Novosibirsk), it appears as if there's a bona fide DIY renaissance in Central Russia of late.

It's hard to disagree. Even last year, Moscow's Afisha magazine was already documenting a healthy deviation from tape's long-standing associations with Russia's hardcore, drone, and noise scenes... Today, cassette labels such as Full of NothingHyperboloid and Klammklang have jumpstarted a brand-new movement. Almost all of their tapes sell out."

As for Mårble, they––like Eholow––are a duo, whose members are not widely advertised: Space Holiday Rocks (Anton Glebov) and Mikhail Gavrilov (Misha Sultan). They have previously collaborated in outfits such as FPRF. One of their earlier Hair Del tapes was called "Two Women and a Tiger" (2014). It was sketched by way of some baroque gestures "in the direction of tropical coasts along southern oceans, where familiar yet dreamy sounds dwell."

Mårble (Space Holiday Rocks & Misha Sultan): "Kobra" (2016)

Ideals remain far from home––way beyond the saddening windows of a Siberian train, even. They are spoken of as something familiar. Local reality never manages to look better than reverie; and so daydreams continue. The borderline dance-floor structures of Wet Straw's glo-fi and Mårble's glitchy techno promise both a vicarious experience of some great escape and an insistent reminder it'll probably never happen. These new and woozy-sounding cassettes romanticize the past, consider some vague unfocused future, and disengage from the present. They're nowhere in particular.

Once again some fitting words come from the pages of Afisha. "Cassette culture is, in some regard, the art of incompletion. It embodies something living, something warm. There's a special feeling when the tape comes to an end and you ponder what you've heard––in silence––as you slowly turn the cassette over. In an age when everything's designed to make us hasty consumers, cassettes slow the world down. They leave you sufficient space to think––and that's worth a great deal." 

Cassettes slow the world down... 

Both of the new Hair Del recordings are hand-designed and celebrate––on one hand––scrapbooked snippets from old magazines and––on the other––a multitude of imaginary, perhaps tropical beasts à la  Matisse. Those same naive representations of a child's fantastic jungle decorate the Mårble cassette (above), called "Kobra." An equally distant––or wholly fictionalized––locale inspires the Wet Straw tape, entitled "Miami." Florida, as a central venue for 1980s primetime storytelling, has long been important to glo-fi publications as a city that's fetishized––by way of insufficient media. In other words, fluttering cassette tapes and low-res TV screens only helped to make Miami look gaudy, unfocused, and therefore exotic thirty years ago. The most flamboyant fashions were broadcast with the least impressive technology. 

One of the Mårble tracks on "Kobra" is dedicated to the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc caves in France––where prehistoric drawings of sparring mammals, seasonal hunting, and sexual rituals adorn uneven stone walls. The distant past speaks once more of something foggy, even shamanistic. The magic of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc comes precisely from the fact it's a long way from Novosibirsk––and equally ambiguous in purpose. Magic always benefits from fiction, not fact. According to a reverse logic, total and/or objective knowledge of the drawings' cultural significance(s) would erase all romance in a moment. 

Gultskra Artikler is yet another project from Siberia––more specifically from the Novosibirsk native Alexey Devyanin, who is much better known to Moscow audiences as Pixelord or––of late––Computer Graphics. Adopting one of those alter-egos––Gultskra Artikler––he has just released a new album through Britain's Opal Tapes: "Industria."

Wet Straw (Denis Smirnov, "Duny"): "Miami" (2016)

Devyanin's last recording with the same stage-name was called "Eco Lan"––and published on the other side of the ocean, by Astral Plane in Los Angeles. Four sparse and glitchy instrumentals were framed as "the sound of green, washed-out computer light, late-night television, and degraded microchips. This is a pleasing, albeit slightly unnerving, soundscape of warm organic drones and percolating blips."

Those references to pale green monitors and the green hues of the natural world did not appear by chance. In an apparent quotation from Devyanin himself, The Astral Plane then said that "Eco Lan" was explicitly designed to “explore the ecological aesthetics of both the internet and computers. It plays with notification sounds, natural voices, and lo-fi arpeggios.” The early years of the web have long inspired Devyanin's music––all the way from rudimentary hardware to very pixelated graphics and the arpeggios of first-generation computer games.  

Let's see where things go... (Gultskra Artikler)

This newest Gultskra Artikler LP, "Industria," extends that investigation of ideal, audible networks. "I found some new ways of processing sound so that it displays the rhythmic structures of various 'primal beats'–– as though they were played by machines. It's as if those same machines were exploring percussive patterns made by primitive humans––and then trying to imitate them. Imagine a ritual ceremony taking place in a factory; the machines are dancing in a circle. They're playing basic, but meditative beats. The whole thing is so unreal!" Where, in this mechanized setting, is there room for an "art of incompletion"––of movement per se, rather than proud stasis?

In some recent interviews, Devyanin has spoken with appreciation about Moscow's allegedly organic networking opportunities. A singular desire to leave Novosibirsk for Moscow becomes a wealth of possibilities or potentials in the capital; one becomes many. Drive becomes surrender. "The club life here is really good these days. There are plenty of festivals and new DJs––plus all the crowds, too. I think it's a great time for electronic music in Russia… I used to say [rather condescendingly] that 'Moscow's still growing'––or that 'we have to improve' [our domestic options]. Nowadays, however, I feel the city's so big that sometimes we have too many club events! People even can't decide where to go..."

A faith in the present comes only through acquiescence.

Gultskra Artikler (Novosibirsk/Moscow): "Industria" (2016)

Whenever an absent past and equally distant future offer little more than consolation, Aleksey Devyanin's language recalls the thought of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, best known for his concept of "flow"––the creative state when an individual is "completely involved in an activity for its own sake." Devyanin declares, in the same manner: "I like things the way they are.  Let them develop, let's see where things go... What happens next is the most interesting part."

Even though Alexey Devyanin has grown out of his early, romantic––and entirely retrospective––fascination with '90s arcade games and chip-tune arpeggios, a philosophical overlap endures with the looping gaze(s) of MårbleWet Straw, and Ajokki. Gultskra Artikler's connection to those other three Siberian projects could be clarified through the "flow." It occurs when a musical passage––in the metaphorical sense––becomes more important than any morbid state of achievement. Csikszentmihalyi offers an instructive example from the world of mountaineering. What's more valuable: the process of ascent/ascending or the "conquering" of a peak? Do mountaineers yearn more for the rock face or for an ultimate altitude?

The ego falls away. Time flies (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Csikszentmihalyi begins: “The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.”

Success is not viewed by MårbleWet StrawAjokki, and Gultskra Artikler in terms of self-aggrandizement. Quite the opposite; modesty is fostered by a successful entrance into some process bigger than oneself. The greater the flow, the smaller the ego––as we see with Gultskra Artikler's/Alexey Devyanin's gratitude for Moscow's bewildering lifestyle. Hence the ongoing metaphors of trains, roads, and "fluid" trajectories; put differently, these same performers view themselves as willing passengers, not as self-assured pilots.

The muffled sounds of their tape music also instills a related sense of distance––of removing oneself from arrogance or assertiveness. A celebration of imprecision and/or abstraction is only possible with a surrender of focus, authorial clarity, and general supervision (in various senses).

A few closing words from Csikszentmihalyi are especially a propos. “Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.” A fundamentally apolitical, inclusive, and humbling worldview takes center stage. These are sounds offered by Siberian natives who willfully mask their identity, voluntarily live far from major cities, or (in the middle of Moscow) invent virtually anonymous alter-egos. A hands-off aesthetic responds to a meddling status quo. 

Alexey Devyanin, better known as Pixelord

Audio

Wet Straw – Gangster on Speed
Ajokki – Kassette
Mårble – Listiki
Wet Straw – South Smugglers
Ajokki – Utro
Mårble – Young Power (Tikriaeht Edit)

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