Prichet: Fifteen Quiet Compositions from a Place between Snow and Sky

This week in the northern city of Petrozavodsk, a musical project called "Prichet" will be unveiled before a local audience. To what, though, does "Prichet" refer? That brief noun has various meanings, each linking daily and divine experience. They all center around a core notion of "parish" or some related place of worship. Put differently, "prichet" designates the activity of various individuals, all drawn together in a shared and equal appreciation of lofty, if not spiritual goals.

At the risk of straining that introductory logic, we might add that the basic parallel invited here is between faith and creativity. Worship and creative enterprise are brought together. The cause of these bold synonymies is a compilation album that assembles a wide range of musicians and songwriters from the Karelia region.

As a musical form of "prichet."

...an enduring ethnic factor unifies works by respected Karelian musicians and ensembles

The Center for Cultural Initiatives in Petrozavodsk has defined the album as follows: "'Prichet' is a unique cross-section of modern Karelian culture. Running through all these compositions is a common thread: an enduring ethnic factor unifies works by respected Karelian musicians and ensembles. These performers compose in varied, yet relevant styles. Here they all come together in a conceptually unified album."

Quite a few of these outfits have little or no presence online, a fact that seems attributable to a couple of factors: financial constraints (being negative in nature!) and a commitment to pre-modern performance (which could be positive). In any case, if readers so wish, contact can most easily be established through the Center for Cultural Initiatives - who kindly offered us a copy of the recording.

"Prichet" is made of fifteen tracks, which in total run for 76 minutes. Readers of this site will find a logical entrance into the CD's workings through a couple of artists in particular, since they've been discussed here on several occasions.

First of them is Cycle Hiccups (aka Aleksandr Velikoselskii, shown below). The last time we touched upon his recordings, he had been involved in a digital reworking of whale songs from the White Sea. In that project, his music was used to accompany a series of "live, looping, and improvisational vocals." This free-wheeling aesthetic now starts to take on a grander significance, as we'll see.

Applying those structural patterns to an evocation of the White Sea and its large residents, we said the following a few months ago. "The combination of looping repetition with metaphors of maritime depth from Velikoselskii almost gives these recordings a mantric intent. The more insistent the repetitions, the greater that sense of immersion. What results is a musical form of sonar, perhaps..."

Those blue, watery expanses have here become green: what links the electronic and acoustic works on "Prichet" - the modern and the ancient - is a clear bond with the land. Either in their titles or execution, the works on this CD are all very much designed to reflect motionless, flat forests in an area where Russia turns silently into Finland. Where geographic limits fade, thanks to fog, snow, and a complete lack of human presence.

So what of the second familiar name here, Yarga Sound System? When we last visited the outfit, they were busy adding the soundtrack to an old, silent film. That movie, in fact, included the first footage ever shot in the Russian arctic. Here, again, the musicians tried to match their soundscape with a landscape.

More specifically, we remarked that the members of YSS had "provided what the local press called a 'cosmic space of sound.' That space extended beyond the cinematic images - beyond anything evident."

Outlying snow became outer space.

In other words, a visible realm became suggestive of something invisible. Thoughts of white, windswept geography led to musings on ineffable domains. Here - as with the double entendre of "Prichet" - music and faith overlap once more. Both the White Sea and the Karelian forests help to bridge the distance between them.

Speaking of how their music enhanced that noiseless film (of how ubiquitous sound expanded the limits of the screen), Yarga Sound System remarked: "We wanted to add a new kind of sound and produce a certain overtone... to show what happens 'behind the scenes.'"

And beyond.

We wanted to add a new kind of sound...

Representative of these ideas among the other colleagues on show are the members of Olemba. This large collective sings material in both Finnish and Russian, together with occasional forays into Karelian dialects. Merging things in both geographic and generic terms, they strive for a unity across styles by mixing Russian folklore with jazz, psychedelic, and even Goa trance traditions.

Specific geographic realms are evoked - only in order to then be erased or superseded. 

This is no offhand or churlish disrespect for generic purity. The participants in Olemba claim that the unique "world created by our music stands firm - and is free of any contradictions." Somewhere beyond - or prior to! - the narrow, restrictive genres of modern performance is a greater harmony. 

The same approach to songwriting has also won Olemba multiple prizes, both in Russia and Scandinavia.

In terms of prestige or renown, perhaps the most widely-recognized participant of this project is Viktoriia Sergeenko, included here both as a solo artiste and on a second track with her colleague, Evgenii Malakhov. Sergeenko (below) is already a well-known composer in the north.

Born into a musical family, she would eventually reach a lofty realm in 2000 when granted membership into the Russian Composers' Union. Sergeenko, as with the other artists discussed here, works across a wide range of styles - all the way from lyrical to choral compositions, from classical to rock and jazz. In other words, irrespective of one's stature, wide-ranging experimentation persists in Petrozavodsk and, it seems, Karelia as a whole.

If we were looking for one of these fifteen bands or artists to provide a closing, overaching statement, we might well opt for the ensemble known as Sattuma. In essence a family enterprise, Sattuma's six members are capable of playing twenty different instruments. All that they do, either individually or en masse, is channeled into a broad view of stylistic combination and related philosophical unities.

In their own words: "Our music operates as an interweaving of bright, beautiful melodies and languages. It includes unique combinations of instruments both familiar and rare. We play in a lively manner, embodying both the 'minor' and 'major' aspects of Karelian life. And, finally, we perform 'distant,' half-forgotten melodies and songs in a modern way."

...We perform 'distant,' half-forgotten melodies and songs

As with the artists mentioned so far, Sattuma is an endeavor that's born of a concrete region yet aims to look beyond those enclosed spaces; in fact, it's the landscape itself that prompts that extension from reality into reverie.

"When the Petrozavodsk ensemble Sattuma plays, listeners are transported to Karelia. This is a region where the fir tress, radiant at dawn, recall the verse of [Finnish epic] the Kalevala. The multicolored flowers of meadows beyond Lake Onega likewise recall the rich, sung traditions of a landscape that gave us the [folk verse known as] Kantelatar." 

The Kalevala is a lengthy Finnish narrative of the 19th century, born of oral folklore, that intertwines a creation myth with tales of local craftsmen. In fact many of the stories within the Kalevala concern the invocation of magic powers in order to gain a craft; skills of social benefit are valued so highly, characters pass through all manner of fantastic challenges in order, say, to become a boatbuilder. Physical labor and magical realms overlap - they either come from or create each other; the relationship is both cyclical and mutual. 

In enduring respect of these hard-won, cherished traditions and their ability to reach beyond anything tangible, "Prichet" crafts a bridge between live performance and the ineffable. Fifteen musical projects are brought together in a specific place, in order to muse upon universal values evoked by that location. 

Karelia may have endured tough times since the end of the Soviet Union, due to a lack of local development and related investment. If we cast our eyes back before the twentieth century, though, we can see that the region has in fact been contested by neighboring nations since the thirteenth century. Something extremely valuable has filled these hushed places with the roar of battle on many occasions. As relief from the clash and conflict of human enterprise, local artists now foster a preference for quiet, pensive songwriting that takes a lot from the idea of "prichet" in antique Christian ritual. 

In a region where dim sunlight weakens any evident line between snow and sky, that religious inclination is somehow fitting.  

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