I/Dex is the pseudonym of Vitali Harmash, a splendid musician from the Belarusian town of Novopolotsk. As we've noted before, the history of Novopolotsk is neither long nor happy. It speaks directly to some dramatic failings in the "development" of twentieth-century Europe. Founded only the late 1950s, the town would very quickly encounter considerable trouble. During the construction of local factories, it was discovered that radiation and dangerous gases were affecting not only the workforce, but also the regional schools. Nonetheless, building continued, and Novopolotsk developed side by side with some markedly unnatural processes.
The music of Mr. Harmash has always been written with at least tangential connections to that background; metaphors of ecological harmony pervade his catalog. Those same two strains (a negative, prior context and positive text) certainly interwove on a recent EP called "Mind Like Water." It came with the following interpretation of his abstract, ambient compositions: "Listening to music like this is like being inside a complex, intelligent 'healing machine' that scans and examines every piece of you. It examines your mind, soul, body - and all the other components of a human being that only it can see."
Listening to music like this is like being inside a complex, intelligent 'healing machine'
Invasive though such ideas may sound, Harmash perceived that interaction between machine and host as productive. They worked in harmony: "This same machine uses sounds to palpate and locate every dysfunctional, sore, tired, worn out, and dislocated fragment or detail of you. It melts away the tensions, fills the voids, and clears the energy channels. It cleans and restores all corrugated regions; it emits a series of regenerating micro-impulses, cooling down or warming up whenever necessary. It heals like sonic acupuncture with a mild, yet precise and concentrated neuro-stimulation."
The text concluded with an invitation: "Are you ready for an ambient-glitch therapy session?" And now, in a related vein, we have the newest I/Dex recordings, released via the wonderful Minsk collective Foundamental: "Arc." This hushed, understated album comes with no more than a couple of sentences in Russian, describing "seven meditative compositions, written in the [complimentary] styles of minimal ambient and glitch." Against an ambient backdrop, the barely audible sounds of glitch endure: the noise of unpredictable, broken, and therefore profoundly human patterns.
An ambient-glitch therapy session
They stand in unison - and productively - next to some other instrumentals that have just appeared, involving the additional efforts of Pavel Ambiont, I'Dex's colleague and compatriot. We offer both of those works here. More specifically, they come from a recent exhibition of Belarusian experimental music that was held in Poland. Organized with the support and enthusiasm of staff members at Foundamental, the event was called "Opening the Doors." It hoped to advocate - and demonstrate - a "unique clash of different musical genres and cultures." A dynamic and fruitful interaction.
Other electronic releases this week are much less optimistic. Take, for example, some fresh material from the ODDOT label. The first comes from Summer of Haze, a Tambov project named after a US porn actress born in the early '70s. Desire and lust are, from the outset, standing face to face. Happiness has a difficult time freeing itself from decadence and other indicators of "slippage." After all, the actress in question scribes a similarly sad trajectory with her career, having long since become a professional wrestler...
In flight from dead weight - and related mental or emotional states - the imagery surrounding Summer of Haze continues to focus heavily on marijuana. Imagination is working very hard indeed to find something or somewhere better. Occasionally a little help is needed in order to drop out.
The staff at ODDOT credit these sounds of vanishing to an "unknown hypnagogic pop king... The music is mystical and sexual at the same time." An inability to isolate spiritual from fleshy experience is handed over to hypnagogic soundscapes, floating between sleep and waking. A state of limbo ensues; in the newest Summer of Haze release, this unfocused aesthetic develops further. ODDOT tells us to expect "infinite skylines, full of warm memoradelia, and a generally ineffable atmosphere..." Memory and psychedelia give each other a helping hand, suggesting that the future is viewed with a degree of anxiety. That nervousness will only grow in the other material from the same label.
The soundtrack to infinite skylines, full of warm memoradelia
The Moscow project called Haapa also has new work on display, designed to evoke (or even create) "islands of happiness.... This [again] is a perfect combination of memoradelia and next-level beats." Once more there's a penchant for retrospection, together with a few illegal substances - fueling morally suspect thoughts. One of the tracks here - arguably Haapa's calling card - is entitled "Sensual Zurbagan." It certainly has its admirers on Soundcloud, who speak loudly in favor of its lo-fi, dragged-out soundscape: "So spacey! Incredible sounds. They penetrate deep into my mind!"
Even that fan's vocabulary recalls the screenplays of underfunded science fiction from prior decades. The sounds of ailing media, full of tape wobble, are mirrored by the approving remarks of its audience. Both suggest or advocate a slow process of vanishing. There's a big difference, however, between escapism and expiration.
So what of "Zurbagan"? That exotic-sounding neologism refers to a mythical city in the works of Russian/Polish fantasy writer, Aleksandr Grin, who was very popular in the years following the Revolution. He would become a classic of children's literature and - by the 1990s - Zurbagan was even the subject of a nationally famous Russian pop song. Haapa's track subjects this dreamy tradition to some very adult and "physical" pressures.
Pleasure slips slowly into motifs of submission or collapse, even. Together they plot a descent (en route to witch-house!) that's significantly accelerated by ODDOT label-mate KVLTIK. Also based in Moscow, this young man describes for us the romance of wistful flight... but that presumed escape leads only to a dead end. KVLTIK's EP, called Okean (The Ocean), is framed as follows:
"Huge and deep in sound, full of a solitude that's both good and great..." An air of Victorian spirituality hangs initially over the proceedings; it's then colored by some motifs of failure - taking us much further towards implicit death. "This music is an ode to a strange ocean, made from the frozen cosmos. Each of us can choose his own path. Some take the simplest road of all; others opt for a more ambitious trajectory... but in the end we're all living in a state of eternal loneliness."
Sounds full of a solitude that's both good and great...
This grand pessimism finds admirers - and some dubious puns - on Soundcloud. "Damn good work. Congrats!"; "Hellishly good!"; "This is some weird, spooky sh*t. I love it."
The distance from ecological harmony to existential despair has been traveled very quickly indeed. It's all a matter of how far one is willing to look into the intricate, impersonal workings of nature. As the artwork to KVLTIK's new material shows most eloquently, what appears to be a realm of innocent investigation may in fact be the edge of something larger, colder, and decidedly "spooky."