Distortion as Alienation: Jelena Glazova, Xlleb, Higanbana, and Airto

Jelena Glazova (Riga)

Jelena Glazova is an audiovisual artist based in Riga. In her own - and more specific - words, we learn that her experimentation operates across the overlapping realms of "image, poetic text, experimental sound, and art installations." From the outset, she expresses a preference for harsh noise and drones that are "usually constructed from processed vocals." Somewhere within quotidian speech lie some ineffable, often unnerving emphases.  

"I'm interested both in [aspects of] perception and the possibility of different readings applied to the same work. I search for perceptual switches that might emerge from a juxtaposition of media forms... I am also preoccupied with the issue of physicality and an individual's physical [self-]identification within both public and private spaces. For that reason, I often use myself as a material source." Selfhood becomes a testing ground for some social truths. Mediated subjectivity displays the splintered workings of a surrounding domain. The tool typically used to bridge those realms - speech - suffers audibly as a result.

The deconstruction of vocal elements as a form of 'unpronounced speech'

"As a conceptual artist, I use my voice as a generator, radically altering and manipulating it with the help of digital processing." Glazova then utters a key statement: "I consider the deconstruction of vocal elements a way of expressing 'unpronounced speech.'"

The last time we looked at her dossier, Jelena Glazova was building an installation that included an octophonic sound system: two speakers were located in each corner of a square room. They were then used to confuse a listener's awareness of where any noise originates. Utterances emerged from everywhere - and yet nowhere. In Glazova's own terms, "the sound rotated 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.

Jelena Glazova performing in The Hague at Studio Loos (2013)

Glazova's newest works have been granted some intriguing interpretations by Western observers. "Experimental noise art, drone music, and other forms - whatever you might call them - can unquestionably be an acquired taste. Lacking the normal 'landmarks' of harmonic and rhythmic structure, they raise questions about just what makes form – and accordingly, listeners can be lost in a unpleasantly formless mass." Amid those disorienting patterns - and given the doubts we've heard with regard to speech - truth is given more to the instinctual body than to language. "Sound connects with the deepest recesses of our instinctual brain and makes literal, physical contact with our bodies, rumbling right into our guts. Here, Jelena's ideas about Eastern philosophy, poetry, and drone traditions become both audible and physical."

Sound connects with the deepest recesses of our instinctual brain

Glazova connects these experiments both to dadaism and futurism: something within "irrational, senseless" sensation, so to speak, appeals as a forward-looking, even futural philosophy. Tomorrow is best approached silently and spontaneously - in anticipation of considerable strangeness. 

A kindred interest in unspoken, strange truths colors the work of Dubtea, aka Nikita Technov from Moscow. Over the last six years he has established himself as a sound engineer and, simultaneously, exercised the same skill-set within a musical realm. A potted bio on the website of netlabel MNMN merely lists some of Technov's workplace achievements - and then briefly expresses his desire to develop a rich "studio sound" in the modest confines of an apartment. Within this relative silence, he quotes only one significant text in full - a famous lyrical text by nineteenth-century Russian poet, Fedor Tyutchev. The same material has recently been recorded by Bjork, but for Moscow's readers it is much more familiar in the context of Tarkovsky's 1979 mystical feature film, "Stalker."

Airto (aka Dubtea/Nikita Technov): "Two Rooms " (2013)

It reads - in the translation used by Bjork - as follows: "I love your eyes, my dear/ Their splendid sparkling fire/ When suddenly you raise them so/ To cast a swift embracing glance.../ Like lightning flashing in the sky/ But there's a charm that is greater still/ When my love's eyes are lowered/ When all is fired by passion's kiss/ And through the downcast lashes/ I see the dull flame of desire."

Much can be learned about the MNMN netlabel simply by looking at its homepage. Framing the single - and welcoming - noun of "Vkhod" (Entrance) is a wonderfully idiosyncratic collage. First of all, we notice a range of animals both real and imagined: deer, reindeer, beavers, horses, elephants, leopards... plus mechanical chickens. That vigorous movement beyond the limits of nature is also reflected historically and geographically. Photographs both old and new, monochrome and color, are playfully juxtaposed from unrelated times and places.

The end of this story was simple. It was always the same

And then, as a final disorderly gesture, some of these fantastic symbols of creative zeal are taken either from animated cinema or haphazardly composed of incongruous elements. The logo's right-hand margin, for example, is made of a gentleman in stately attire… who is sporting the large head of a wooden rabbit.

Much is possible, little is excluded - and there's not a word in sight. The same emphases of expansive sound art instead of restrictive speech color Dubtea's new side-project, Airto. "These are sonic textures and mises-en-scène mixed together with rhythmic percussion." Their leaning towards drone, devoid of any linguistic narrative, may be clarified by a Russian expression at the top of Technov's account on Vkontakte. In translation it reads: "The end of this story was simple. It was always the same." 

Evgeny Barsukov of Higanbana (Togliatti)

That quote actually comes from the Zen-like Russian animation project, "Ezhi and Petruchio." The same series in rich in aphorisms that subvert the primacy of language: "Not all things need to be designated by their names. On a certain level, you can get by without names altogether."

An even more dramatic statement emerges this month from the new Higanbana enterprise in the industrial city of Togliatti, fronted by Evgeny Barsukov. Defined in simple terms as a "noise musical project," Higanbana appears to date from December last year - and is therefore a very new reaction to a timeless dilemma: does contemporary experience find better expression in hopeful harmonies or in massive discord?  Barsukov currently heads his social networking account with a phrase in Russian: "The epoch of international jazz is coming." That wording comes from a song by Aquarium, yet in the context of this atonal roaring, anything international and/or "improvisational" is probably more likely to bring chaos than calm. 

On a certain level, you can get by without names altogether

The search for a philosophical anchor is transferred, on occasion, to a Russian web portal for which Mr. Barsukov voices his approval. Called "Suitcase" (Chemodan), it starts to introduce itself as follows: "Our life leads us heaven knows where..." That sense of growing disorder is, hopefully, countered by gathering various expressions of wit and consoling wisdom in one place. "We will put different books, records, cassettes, and discs into this [imaginary] suitcase. We will include all kinds of paintings and photographs here, both artistic and documentary materials. Our suitcase has room for everything."

Law and cultural order continue to seek a rare and fragile home.

Amid these extremes, we discover the new recordings by the band known as Хлеб, from the city of Orel, situated about two hundred miles south of Moscow. That same noun, simply meaning "bread," is transcribed a little strangely in some locations as "xlleb."

A somehow disconcerting harvest: "Xlleb" (Хлеб, Orel)

This project's third album, "More" (The Sea), is introduced in a wittily offhand manner. "The members of the band decided to eat a little onion pie and listen to some music. Instead they ended up recording an album." A snippet from a recent interview is then appended: "We're living through a period of cultural transition when almost nobody believes in the reasons for which culture emerged in the first place. It seems to us that a huge civilizational project has failed. After all, it's well known that humans themselves gave rise to the phenomenon of genocide..."

It's as if we've lost the key to a door that was supposed to reveal everything

A more mystical tone then transpires: "It's as if we've lost the key to a door that was supposed to reveal everything - or [at least] to open some never-ending room. Or perhaps we've dismissed everything, having - apparently - run up against a dead end. That same door, by the way, only seems to appear to us when the keys are [deep] in our pocket..." In search of some valid verities, the musicians include - among their influences - "two guitars, a mouth organ, a radio, and many sheets of paper." To that we can add the bizarre verse of "trans-rational" poet Velimir Khlebnikov.

One of the group's collaborators defines his own worldview with a quote taken from Dostoevsky's "White Nights" (1848). That story, grounded in the pain of an unrequited passion, leaves amour and its benefits at a tantalizing distance. A young woman offers support and sympathy to our hero - but not love. "God sent you to me. What would have happened to me if you had not been with me now? How disinterested you are! How truly you care for me! When I am married we will be great friends, more than just brother and sister; I shall care almost as I do for him...."

Cast adrift in a modern ocean, these artists from RigaOrel, Moscow, and Togliatti evoke contemporary experience in terms of distorted, formless communication. Or, conversely, they turn to classic literature merely in order to voice a frustratingly insistent sense of disconnect.

A safe harbor remains out of reach. 

Xlleb: "More" (The Sea, 2013)


Higanbana – Devastation Magic, Apr. 2013
Higanbana – Natural Symphony, May 2013
Xlleb – Rybalka (Fishing Trip)
Jelena Glazova – Stockholm, Jan. 12, 2013 (Snippet)
Jelena Glazova – Tallinn, August 10, 2012
Xlleb – Utro (Morning)

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