Kubikmaggi (L-R): I. Varfolomeev, K. Marokkanskaya, M. Roudenko, and I. Rips
Saint Petersburg's Kubikmaggi remain one of the most remarkable ensembles we've documented, combining academic rigor, dizzying bravado, and a fruitful, enduring connection to the performative traditions of a prior generation. Put differently, the band's lineage has been well documented, but their creative trajectory is much harder to describe or predict. The group is fronted by pianist and vocalist Ksenya Marokkanskaya (nee Fedorova), the daughter of Petersburg rock legend, Leonid Fedorov. Equally important are her colleagues, Max Roudenko (bass, melodica, samples), Il'ya Varfolomeev (drums, flute), and sound engineer Ivan (John) Rips.
The musicians currently use a suitably baroque text with which to introduce or frame themselves for newcomers; it lacks any logical structure, since the members of Kubikmaggi blame shifting time signatures for their inability to count the days or dates of a common biography. What results is a celebration of endurance and spiraling "elaboration," rather than any biography punctuated with sales figures.
Self-deprecating humor and an irony that melts into grotesquery
With their ongoing commitment to "musical terrorism and jazz-punk," the band declare their entire catalog to be colored both with "self-deprecating humor and an irony that melts into grotesquery." In a world of linear - and subsequently tedious - pop music, these unpredictable twists and turns will leave "nine of every ten listeners smiling (while five of them have no idea what's happening)." Between those two groups is an overlapping set that takes pleasure in its own bewilderment; the same people will prove to be increasingly important across today's releases.
The newest expression of this self-mocking, wayward wizardry is the album "Suites," released this week. Just as the LP is given over to five lengthy and ornate improvisations, so the artwork shows a piano fitting - with difficulty! - into the limited dimensions of Norway's Ocean Sound studio, where the songs were committed to tape. Standard structures harbor these works with difficulty - leading, perhaps, to the high levels of irony and self-deprecation in Kubikmaggi's discography.
Cerebral showmanship and a knowing smile coincide; a sense of daring and creeping self-doubt manifest themselves at the same time.
One reason for that interplay or competition is, perhaps, the fact that Kubikmaggi understand their limited appeal to primetime media. On occasion, a genuine display of anger transpires, regarding precisely that situation. Why, in a word, do commercial media outlets show little or no patience for experimentation? Equally worrying and offensive is the media's feeble commitment to local creativity, given that Western stars so often bump young, domestic performers out of radio playlists.
Recently Marokkanskaya wrote a few pointed sentences on the subject: "Having just glanced through our local portals and magazines, I can see the complete s***hole in which we live. There are no publications or radio stations in this country supporting new (or new jazz) musicians - it's as if those people didn't even exist. Granted, there may be some attempts to support more extreme forms (such as the 'extreme avant-garde, extreme noise,' etc), but they're barely noticeable."
If novelty is not supported, it'll simply drown
In the meantime, normality looks increasingly frightening. It shows a moribund need for convention. "Most people [in the media or music business] occupy themselves with a search for 'pure style' or its [growing] 'sterility.' However it's unclear what leads to that ideal: some kind of childhood nostalgia, perhaps..." As adult life looms, audiences purportedly strive backwards, towards that which once gave them comfort.
There's a powerful subtext here, of course, in the fact that Marokkanskaya's own upbringing - at the hands of Leonid Fedorov and Auktsyon - made her the adventurous musician she is today. Placed side by side, those facts help to suggest that Kubikmaggi's vertiginous, improvisational aesthetic is a celebration of private risk - and the need to shun comforting, institutional form(at)s. The benefits of jeopardy are embodied on stage - and then implied as a social principle. One is reminded of the oft-quoted words from Thucydides: "The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage."
There are benefits to possible failure.
Tragically, says Marokkanskaya, any deathly respect for generic or marketable "groupings" will contravene the very idea of music as a communal enterprise. Audible performance, sounding every- and anywhere, suffers terribly from confinement and restriction. Sonic harmonies wither away when denied their ability to expand and create a social equivalent:
"Why are there no music promoters who accept their responsibility to support whatever needs support? ... If those [burgeoning, novel] trends are not helped, they'll simply drown in a general flood [of standardized media]... This is no longer a matter of personal taste, [making music for] close friends, or some 'ideal style.' We're talking about the [desperately needed] existence of unique, unusual music. We mean the possibility for that same music both to exist and to be heard."
The modern version of an old folk dance?
Something related - from within a different genre - transpires in an equally wonderful release from Ukraine's Andrey Kiritchenko - who is also a favorite on this site. Mr. Kiritchenko's catalog has been enthusiastically covered before on FFM because of his long-term interest in the dovetailing of folk and electronic performance, most notably through collaborations with the Ukrainian ensemble Ojra. He, as suggested, has a new album on display, entitled "Chrysalis." Once again, the metaphor of expansiveness and some kind of transgressed limit emerges. If the "dangerously" expansive technique of Kubikmaggi comes simultaneously from a free-jazz, paternal heritage, then the content and worldview of "Chrysalis" look much further into the past.
They also, in response to Ksenya Marokkanskaya's critique, remain much closer to home. As we'll see, domestic tradition is able to foster an escape from convention - if one casts a glance backwards, to an age before mercantile modernity.
Fittingly enough, and as the album title might suggest, Mr. Kiritchenko's biography and CV echo some performative aspects of Kubikmaggi's career - at least in terms of viewing progress as expansion. We're told, by way of example, about his early years, when various styles were engaged, employed, and then abandoned. Kiritchenko's youthful movement beyond domestic rock bands in Kharkiv would lead to more numerous "activities, ranging from indie-pop to free-improvisation, from melodic electroacoustic music to experimental techno." Bloggers and webzines overseas endorse this dismissal of convention. From Chile we read praise of Kiritchenko's patchwork styling, made from "glimpses of jazz and [related] contemporary music. He opens new perspectives and new textures, especially with the percussion - drums, xylophone, marimba."
Glimpses of jazz
Taking those metaphors at face value, an opening, broadening perspective is considerably more appealing than any goal-driven, unidirectional "progress." The new artwork (above) does much to vivify and clarify those admittedly vague notions.
It's pleasing, given such baroque illustrations, to find an assessment of "Chrysalis" in terms of its folkloric connections. Andrey Kiritchenko, after all, made the album "A Tangle of Mokosha" a few years ago, together with Ojra. It remains one of the most beautiful combinations of Slavic folksong and electronica in memory. Just as timeless folk narratives often speak of (minor!) human enterprise amid the dauntingly open, even decentered realms of nature, so here a musician's "widening" experimentation is considered against the backdrop of native custom. These are subjective expressions made in consideration of what lies beyond a homestead, material existence, or materialistic norms.
Such "freedoms," after all, are often enjoyed at the expense of one's wages... as the tone of Kubikmaggi's missive attests.
One Dutch webzine wrote of Andrey Kiritchenko's music: "[It sounds] ancient perhaps, but also very modern... The modern version of an old folk dance? ... Hardly folktronica, I’d say, but something entirely new altogether." The past no longer inhibits the present. It generates it, using again the implicit raison d'être of folk songs: it considers the risky passage from an enclosed, almost idyllic sanctuary into the threatening contexts of a wider world. Such songs are full of promise and jeopardy in equal measure. Anything could happen to the hero of a folktale or ballad, all the way from romance to disaster. Such matters are in the unpredictable, fickle hands of magic and Mother Nature.
A celebration of the movement away from formal constraints and assurances also lies behind the new project known as All Objects Lost. Based in Moscow, this downtempo enterprise has two members: Nick Samarin and Polina Voloshina. They describe their work - in Russian and in the third person - as follows: "The musicians are inspired [equally] by nocturnal Moscow - especially in May - and by the aroma of a forest after the rain. They take additional inspiration from the reflection of apple-red sunsets in [city] windows and the scent of sandalwood shavings in a Ladakh carpenter's workshop. The music has no explicit 'mission': these sounds simply appeared, without reason or purpose, as everything else on Earth."
This music has no explicit 'mission'; the sounds simply appeared, without reason or purpose
More in their design than in their execution, the instrumentals of All Objects Lost espouse a "loss" of formal or ostensible limits, in order to embrace the romance of things intangible (sunsets, aromas) or invisible (distant Tibet). The less connection to specific people or places, the better.
The same emphases are mirrored in some of the poetry that Ms. Voloshina publishes. Turned into English prose, her most recent text speaks - as ever - to the relationship between truth and (visual) trappings, between verity and the abandonment of form. "Remember neither names, nor masks. Do not distinguish, measure, or assume. Simply discern a drop of light in everyone, [since] everything is framed by an idea and filled with beauty..." Extending that same metaphor, neither recognition nor awareness operate within the narrow dimensions of convention.
...and Polina Voloshina, the other half
Voloshina's current profile is crowned with a phrase in Russian extolling the virtues of "Balance within the context of urban vanity." That same sense of equilibrium comes, evidently, from jettisoning the consoling nature of material values, physical appearance, and other "objects" better "lost" than found.
On that note, it's fitting, perhaps, to close with the new solo recordings from Eugene Chistiakov, a solo performer and club personality from the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih. To local audiences he's already known for bold, confident, and mainstream enterprise, but has briefly adopted a shorter and more enigmatic stage-name, "IIIII." Just as that moniker is unsuited to primetime or commercial formats, so these sounds - published through Ultra Vague - are more obscure. Despite a successful career playing music in many clubs - as "Diablik" - and a residency on Kiss FM, Chistiakov is now "following a path into sound design." Ambient textures, used to embrace and therefore escape physical locations, have a special appeal.
He calls these sketches "another" music: they're born of quiet, tentative considerations of both difference and departure.
The path [from convention] into sound design
In order to place these side-projects or offshoots in a broader philosophical setting, Chistiakov offers a few words of wisdom on his social networking account. They all speak to the risky romance of "formless," non-conventional enterprise. He stars with a sentence from Jim Jarmusch on the need to suffer formal education(!), simply in order to witness or remember the occasional gem. "Being in school is like any other experience - 95% of it is wasting your time; but the 5% that isn’t, is really important.”
Chistiakov then calls upon some words attributed - in Russian - to Bjork, declaring that "nothing's worse" than a group of girls all dressed in pink. Again, conventional limits look very unappealing. This accelerating flight from grim, even suffocating norms sounds loudest of all in some world-famous phrasing borrowed from Albert Einstein. Here we find a warning that any avaricious ties to the material world will lead, inevitably, to greed, conflict, and (mutual) destruction. "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
Better, in other words, to walk away from a suspect love of limit - before it becomes something worse. Promise lies in the vague realms above material experience and structure, even if they seem fraught with creative danger. And, as Kubikmaggi say of the people in the audience, listening to that brinkmanship, there's a pleasure to be found in unfamiliarity and bewilderment, since therein lies discovery.