Estonia's Imandra Lake have just announced an album with the title "Seemnesegu" (Seed Mix). That phrase refers, in optimistic ways, to the process of remixing. Ten of the band's tracks have been used to produce twelve new variations upon some well-loved Baltic themes. The album was prefaced last summer with a seven-inch vinyl single, but the emergence of "Seemnesegu" offers a significantly wider range of interpretations, mostly from the home studios and laptops of compatriots.
The Estonian press has already responded positively. References abound, for example, to the "most beautiful and profound feelings" selected from the band's catalog, all given new voice and new forms. Talk also transpires of various "seed-like" transformations, germinating fresh ideas, and so forth. The album's title, for obvious reasons, invites these open-armed and democratic views of collaborative enterprise. Put differently, the meaning of Imandra Lake's catalog lies equally in the hands of its authors and audiences. No stubborn claim is made by Tallinn's songwriters to a fixed, inflexible, or zealously guarded composition.
Instead the import of a song grows with each and every instance of its transformation. Meaning is extended - not lost - through metamorphosis.
Remixes are one clear and practical way in which to avoid stasis or excessive familiarity. It's also worth remembering that the very idea of a danceable remix - by way of a logical parallel - arose first in Jamaica (to please varied audiences in multiple towns) and then on US dancefloors of the '70s (to keep people upbeat in a bad economy). Modification is a skill of clear and lasting benefit.
Imandra Lake are themselves a variation, so to speak, upon another local ensemble, Pia Fraus. In other words, Rein Fuks and Eve Komp (shown above) were once members of Estonia's near-legendary post-rock collective Pia Fraus and now embody what they call "noisy shoegaze that's full of reverb, yet tranquil and deep." It's a sound they sometimes attribute to "the darker side of folk music... By that we mean it should not be listened to in haste."
Noisy shoegaze that's full of reverb, yet tranquil and deep
Any parallel with folk music is fascinating, in that it celebrates the endlessly changing, author-less workings of an oral, rustic heritage. Folk songs belong to nobody and - traditionally - are always open to direct audience influence. As with stand-up comedy, say, an oral performance will frequently change depending upon simultaneous public approval, disapproval, or indifference. Nothing is fixed and performative "seeds" are planted without end.
The shoegazing style of Imandra Lake, whilst informed by the power of folksong, is unwilling to drag that communal heritage into the limelight with any great zeal. In neither case are these musicians keen on (or confident in) song as a loud and socially pragmatic tool. Considering what decades of socialist music did to folksong in the Baltic - turning it into jingoistic, strangely imperial rant - it's hard to embrace the same, pre-modern canon of working songs and their themes of consolation without a little trepidation.
The oldest, most powerful traditions remain the hardest to celebrate: they've been mistreated so often in the past. The more they alter, therefore, the tougher it becomes to make them intransigent ideology today.
Dya: "Capsule" (Togliatti, 2013)
The first recordings by Imandra Lake were well received by the Estonian press, who called the band's sound "fragile, wistful, and somewhat personal, too. As if everything was written especially for you." The result was deemed suitable for "dancing alone in front of a mirror." Lyricism was happily viewed in terms of private enterprise of potential use to the outside world. After decades of unquestionable, loudly advocated fustian, introspective vagueness both looked and sounded blissful.
The scratchy aesthetic of Soviet DIY rock (Dya)
This avoidance of specificity - of one overt meaning - certainly informs the catalog of Dya, from Togliatti: Tat'iana Povaliaeva, Mikhail Lezin, and Vladimir Maloletkov. Not only is Togliatti, as a center of Russia's automobile industry, very sensitive to economic change, but the lo-fi garage aesthetic of Dya is also reminiscent of the socially concerned heritage of '80s rock. The big difference, however, between these first two bands is that Imandra Lake's style leans heavily towards bitter-sweet fantasy, whereas the slapdash clamor of Dya is an implicit admission of universal disorder, be it social, fiscal, or cultural.
The former band finds solace in retreat and reverie; the world of Dya is deafened by the sound of collapse. Mass implosion is - at least - a guarantor of no one, monolithic significance gaining hold.
These themes have been noticed by Dya's audiences in the past. One admirer wrote not long ago: "Do you know why I love the work of Dya? I love Lezin's galloping, garage-guitar sounds: it all recalls the scratchy aesthetic of Soviet DIY rock from 1975... [But despite those antique stylings] this is still music of the future, especially once we get sick of all this post-post-post-realism in our lives."
Dya's Tat'iana Povaliaeva and Mikhail Lezin
The most appealing aspects of reality, even from the depths of the Soviet experiment, are small, mobile, and wantonly distant from stately praxis. The best sounds of the socialist canon were those that fled or spurned the looming scale of imperial, unchanging chutzpah. In other words, minorism and homespun metamorphosis would outlast immobility, long after 1991 rolled around. As another listener wrote of Dya: "The vocals are pretty quiet - in fact, you can't hear them very well at all." No claims are made to pomp or permanence.
A third and related opinion is found without particular effort: "This is really remarkable psychedelia, I reckon." The miniature, typically homeless patterns of folk performance - living nowhere and belonging to nobody - become a modern equivalent amid the angular, rusting shapes of car factories in 2013.
Symbolic, abstract considerations of destiny
Any such flights from authorship, stability, and fixed meaning could suggest a rather passive, even fatalistic worldview - and such issues do arise in the equally new material from Voronezh rock band Obe-Rek. Founded in 2004, the group now has closer professional ties to Moscow and declares its recent catalog to be "a reboot of classic Russian rock, together with a dash of modernity." Some of those corrective measures have come through collaborations with Moscow's alt-metal stalwarts, Slot. In fact when Slot's front-woman, Nookie, recently worked with Obe-Rek on a video shoot, she defined one core theme of the band's portfolio as a "beautiful feeling of fatedness" - or "doom" even. A rejection of agency leads to the foregrounding of fate, destiny, and other forces.
Obe-Rek's vocalist Denis Mikhailov speaks - in related terms - of "symbolic, abstract considerations of destiny [in our lyrics]... We mean the vanity of existence; the complete insignificance of anything artificial."
In other interviews Mikhailov has talked about the overwhelming "superficiality of human existence, both its masks and [deceptive] social roles: they emerge within habit, workday repetition, and general routine. But somewhere therein lies a certain profundity, something dark and secretive. [It emerges through] creative inspiration, love, faith, the experience of human finiteness, or mortality."
Harmony amid those worries can potentially be found in what Mikhailov calls the "conflict between growing urbanization (as a divorce from nature) and our inborn, archetypal striving towards nature." And here the botanical motifs reappear from Imandra Lake. In the very same way, Mikhailov in his most recently published poem declares: "Every artist is, on occasion, [metaphorically!] pregnant. He bears within himself a ripening harvest." A social art form finds "fruition" in public, diverse forms of delivery: it benefits from dissemination and diverging opinions amid multiple audience members.
Inspiration as a 'ripening fruit'
A lack of one fixed significance or interpretation is cause for celebration. Vagueness is insurance against dogma and related forms of headstrong insistence.
Hence the occasional desire not only to foster remixes of different tracks - as with Imandra Lake - but also to remake entire periods of history. Nostalgia and kitsch become healthy forms of play upon the fossilized meaning(s) of the past. They transform history's presumed significance into something productively imprecise. All of which helps to explain the nostalgia of acts such as Inna Pivars. Those two words refer not only to a respected Latvian singer and actress; they also designate the Moscow-based band in which she plays "indie or garage rock with elements of baroque psychedelia, all taken from 1960s' French pop."
Obe-Rek's Denis Mikhailov and local fans of "a beautiful fatedness"
Despite that small and even self-deprecating scale, Pivars has performed in some of Moscow's most popular and profitable musicals. Backed by her male colleagues, known en masse as "The Tsoys," she now has a four-track EP to announce: "The Girl on a Paper Boat." Some indication of Pivars' semantically productive nostalgia(s) can be ascertained from one recent review in the Russian press. Games played upon archetypes and cultural assumptions of the past lead to a melange of "wonderfully dark garage pop - in the best European traditions - together with baroque pop-psychedelia. This is the spirit of late-'60s songwriting... together with modern garage or indie-rock."
As Oscar Wilde once said: 'To define is to limit'
In a word: the upshot of this kaleidoscopic view of a canon is nothing in particular, in the best possible sense. The same ambiguousness is - hopefully! - equally manifest in the audience. One recent interview asked Pivars' band members to define their typical listener. "We have a hard time with that. As Oscar Wilde once said: 'To define is to limit.' For that same reason we keep our doors open to everybody and everything"
Limitation and pigeonholing are best avoided by sidestepping specificity: endlessly refashioned historical periods, constant remixes, and spiraling psychedelia all help to keep meaning(s) multiple. And, should one fall victim to a burdensome, though "beautiful sense of fatedness," then - say Obe-Rek - nothing helps more than time spent maximally far from "growing urbanism." Nature's baroque patterns are the best example of a decentered, fruitful, endlessly metamorphosing - and therefore meaningless - industry.
Just ask the people on Tolgliatti's factory floors.
Inna Pivars, live with The Tsoys (2013)