Brolis is the stage-name of a young man from Vilnius, Lithuania. He writes brief, structurally brittle instrumentals, operating between glitch-hop and the natural, stumbling rhythms of a field recording. Beats may cohere and then persist for a couple of minutes, but only against the backdrop of hiss, tape wobble, and other forms of ambient hubbub. One admirer at Soundcloud, for example, embedded a simple and telling question in a Brolis track very recently: "Ritmo Kovos?" That phrase refers to a well-known Lithuanian hip-hop collective. The invitation to perform with RK and its gifted craftsmen raises an intriguing issue. To what degree have these tracks been written in the traditional sense (of turntablist wizardry, suitable for Ritmo Kovos), or are they reflections of patterns captured and edited from the natural world?
The mathematics of new age, ambient, and classical structures
Since Brolis refrains from any textual statements of his own, the outlook behind thesе tunes is better guessed from materials gathered in his name. What, put differently, does he post and promote? He recently drew enthusiastically upon a quote from Chicago performer Jamal Moss: "Mathematics is the body of sound [i.e., reliable, not sonic?] knowledge centered on such concepts as quantity, music, structure, space, and change – and also the academic discipline that studies them. Mathematics is the first stage of this concept on the academic disciplines of classic house, rhythmic noise, industrial jazz, acid house, ragtime electronics, new age, ambient and classical structures."
Significance, in other words, is tied to the ordering or frequency of semantically loaded "blocks" of data: chords, words, syllables, morphemes, etc. The question remains, though, of whether the mathematical principles that dictate their meaningful repetition are authored or simply given by nature. Are music and its beats or cadences written or borrowed (i.e., copied) from outside? The crackling, endlessly interrupted compositions of Brolis, full of the outside world's white noise, make that question hard to answer.
Digging a little deeper into these issues of agency is the Latvian audiovisual artist, Jelena Glazova. Based in Riga, she has recently used drone instrumentals - together with text - in order to ponder how sound and speech give lasting meaning to one's location. These monotone compositions anchor individuals in concrete places, at least fleetingly: they are temporary and mobile soundscapes, generators of a mood that's replicable in other situations. More specifically, some of the drones audible in this post have been broadcast within one of Glazova's installations by an octophonic sound system: two speakers are located in each corner of a square room. They are then used to confuse a listener's awareness of where any noise originates.
Where sounds and their significance come from becomes moot. In Glazova's own words, "the sound rotates around the room. It ricochets from one corner to another, constantly on the move. The spectator is invited to 'see' the borders of the room with their ears." The elusive meaning of a space is more sought than it is actively created by any visitor.
The sound rotates around the room. It ricochets from one corner to another
These ideas were applied to a show at the end of last year, called "A Man Enters a Grey Cube." That title alone helps us somewhat: the space in which Glazova's sounds operate is, from the outset, defined as colorless and vague. Once within that grey realm, the visitor has two options: he either listens to itinerant sounds that emanate from shifting corners or is invited (below) to employ specific words, thus actively describing and therefore stabilizing the nature of his location. The former is a passive experience; the latter is more positive, perhaps a freely chosen search for meaning with a fixed vocabulary. Glazova, just as Brolis, ponders semantic origin and whether its made by us - or simply and inexpertly found, somehow.
Using again the installation image below, we can see the status of textual declamation - of language - is undermined not only by shifting sound-sources. The printing of text on glass also allows other, competing visual significances to shine through from behind. Language is suspended in midair, cluttered by other ostensible events over which it has no control. Words become transparent to the point of weightlessness.
This evocation by Glazova of imprecise, imagined, and often quiet places is mirrored elsewhere this week. Consider the Novosibirsk instrumentalist known as Speck (aka Nikita Bondarev). One of his most recent recordings was published by the Siberian collective Echotourist and was called "Harmonia." The staff at Echotourist declared those compositions to be spun from "noise and musical particles." The same folks liked to tag the result as "minimalist neoclassical." Somewhere within the glitch, blips, and squeaks of minimalist rustling lay the stricter forms of classical enterprise.
New structures - and styles - therefore existed: they just needed to be defined by discerning ears. The ability to unearth and display nature's complex intricacy became a kind of classical gesture: an extraction of mathematical, audible patterns from ubiquitous hiss and hubbub. Structure was slowly made manifest.
Noise and musical particles
Readers of this site may also recall that Speck previously released some recordings in southern Russia through the Krasnodar netlabel FUSElab called "You [Are] Still Alone." Those compositions, just as we see with Glazova and Brolis, blended ambient and drone layers with almost sparkling distortion, as if the places conjured by such gentle sounds - in which we're allegedly "alone" - are somehow "excessive." In realms where evident horizons become blurred or distances vague, logical and/or physical trajectories seem frustratingly pointless. That loss of effable clarity takes audible shape.
The active "application" of meaning to one's environment - with speech or sloganeering - is here losing out to the need to simply listen. It's time to look up - and shut up.
Speech is surrendering to sound: authorial rhythms are fading away, replaced by the wisdom of quiet attention. FUSElab, in fact, spoke about Speck's "profound and touching sonic textures, straight from the Siberian taiga." The world's largest biome stood in for somewhere even greater - in the middle of which "we are all" supposedly destined to experience solitude, even isolation. Authorial, "independent" creation starts here to look delusional. Modesty is a better option - once again, as suggested by FUSElab: "Can you imagine becoming a tiny dot... in the middle of a huge, leveled landscape?"
Speck/Bondarev is today presenting the Russian public with some suitably hushed and understated instrumentals, "Piano Nights 2." These short works have been published on a popular download site for free, where they are already gathering a range of comments. Two issues have quickly come to the fore: brevity and incompletion. There's no pretension here towards confident statement. One listener remarks:
These are five tiny snippets: taken together they barely last ten minutes
"What is there to say? These are five tiny snippets: taken together they barely last ten minutes. A chance listener will find here the charm of a broken toy: it has neither functional value, nor any clear-cut aesthetic worth... In all these compositions there's a discernible air of incompletion." That same spirit of humbling open-endedness endures in the many landscape photographs uploaded by Bondarev on a regular basis. Instead of self-congratulatory portraits, we're offered empty landscapes, often obscured by dense forest, darkness, or heavy cloud. Fixed locations and/or horizons are often hard to ascertain.
An ominous landscape, typical within the galleries of Speck
A second listener has written: "Speck is well known to us as the creator of melancholy, atmospheric works. He remains true to that cause in these new compositions. The author clearly knows how to fashion a mood, but I can't understand the [short] length of these piano works. What was the goal here? To simply offer sketches? If that's the case, then why publish them? Did Speck want to leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction, using instrumentals that end too soon - even after an atmospheric ambience has been established? All of sudden these tracks just stop!"
What was the goal here? To simply offer sketches?
The intention is to avoid the arrogance of authorial, conclusive statement. In a world where we're "all alone," the desire to establish final, socially consequential claims would be pure vanity. Brevity and inclusiveness are, by extension of the same logic, closer to truth. For that reason we might close with the briefest note of all, concerning an Estonian musician who prefers to remain absolutely silent. The figure of HAdSOME gives no clue to his location or name, save the fact he's living and/or working in Tallinn. He employs most social networking tools, but avoids all textual statement.
The only place he makes recourse to language is by means of a quoted poem in Estonian. It begins with a reference to some distant time, when "I was still in my infancy, learning from mistakes. Yet that was not tedious..." The text then continues with an elegiac sketch of "golden memories, knowledge, and wisdom." One's youth, full of errors, is a time of greater insight into the world. Put differently, mistakes are the sine qua non of learning; wisdom involves wavering confidence - and an openness to other, quieter truths.
As one HAdSOME listener says at Soundcloud: "Weird... but I like it!" Oddity is a guarantor of other meanings, which will only be found if one falls quiet and then surrenders the pushy need to designate - with loud, stable, or confident speech. In which case, creativity involves a keen ear for the "mathematics" of a preexisting system, one that lies outside the front door - in places where we're "all alone" and speech does precious little.