Little Voices: Kate in the Box, Malkovic, Nikita Prishchepka, and Miiisha

At the end of 2009, we looked at the work of Kate in the Box, a radically minimalist/lo-fi ensemble from Rostov-na-Donu (above). Now, as then, the band appears to be a duo of Andrei Vozianov (percussion, vocals, and guitar), together with Sergei Tarasov (bass and computer). During our last visit, we noted: "Of all the instruments listed, it's interesting that the percussion is mentioned first, since this band embodies such absolutely basic skills that the first impression one gets is of two people just hitting something. Marking out a basic, initial rhythm is the most important thing this outfit does."

...the first impression one gets is of two people just hitting something

The duo's PR material continues to say as much; there is no striving here towards grandeur or adult expertise. "Bass and drums? Yes, please. Let's emphasize them! Percussion? Absolutely! You could add a few electronic noises here and there. This is no atonal racket, though; it's just that the guitarist doesn't know how to play. But who needs a guitar solo, anyway? It'd only spoil the overall mood."

"We don't know how to sing, either! But who needs dance music? If there's any snobbery at work here, it's only so that we demand more of ourselves. Oh yeah... we shouldn't forget a few cultural references:  LCD Soundsystem, Liquid Liquid, Pan Sonic, and Prinzhorn Dance School."

The most recent proof of this artlessness can be seen below.

The band's new release, "Syrop," is available for free downloading. It is so stripped-down that it starts to recall The Normal's "Warm Leatherette," produced by Daniel Miller in '78 - a track designed to "investigate the erotic possibilities of a car crash." In other words, it looks for emotion where none exists; the vocals reflect those barren surroundings.

As a response to an empty world, the small, muted voice we hear sounds dramatically estranged. As one of the tracks declares: "Lights are glowing, sweets are boring; I'm ignoring everything you said." An urban context does nothing to increase the likelihood of normal interaction.

Given that the odds are stacked against pleasant socialization, emotional detachment is preferable to failed engagements. Put differently, it's better to back off than to lose. Hence, it would seem, the disengaged or divorced tone of all the new releases in this text; it's a chilly register that comes from the off-kilter outlook informing the image below.

Once our eye strays from a narrow, central focus, normality is disconcertingly unstable.

This is an anxious view of adult experience that produces a similar poetic response in recordings by Miiisha (aka Larik Surapov). Here, too, all lyrics are deliberately drained of all emotional content or elegance. To boot, the newest tracks by Miiisha, offered in our player, are written in fantastically bad English. That communicative inability has a direct consequence. Some of the songs are designed as invitiations onto the dancefloor - by a young individual who lacks the linguistic skills to operate in that milieu; he may want to participate in mass activity, but evidently cannot.

What we encounter, therefore, is the voice of a little outsider, in several senses. Even his stage name - "Miiisha" - evokes with its drawn-out, sentimental vowel the plaintive call of a parent, summoning him home... away from a world where's he clearly ill-equipped to survive.

This asocial, virtually autistic pose was well captured in a recent Twitter "interview" given by Miiisha to a few interested parties. Here he claimed to be totally divorced from the physically able, well-educated world of high technology, insisting that his only access to the web is only over a dial-up modem. He uses neither ICQ nor Skype.

Wondering if this pre-adult Luddite, scribbling away at home, is perhaps an offspring of the antisocial geniuses of Russian literature, one fan inquired whether Miiisha/Surapov likes the futurist poetry of Velimir Khlebnikov: "I think he's cool, but the poetry's complete sh*t." The idea of social isolation appeals; the idea of penning ornate texts for public judgment does not.

There's a good reason why one of Miiisha's very few promo images is centered on his bedroom; this is the safe enclave.

One of the other questions posed on Twitter reads: "Should I give up my seat on the bus to embittered old ladies?" "Depends," says Miiisha. "There are all kinds of old ladies." His constant standoffishness means he never adopts a position on any issue - which may be a wise choice once we see the final query. This, too, went unanswered: "How many meters can a pig crawl if you chop its legs off?"

The world is probably not worth joining.

Due to this overarching impression of a most nasty, unforgiving habitus, two more new and equally "little" releases, also based on a lo-fi or minimalist sound, have turned directly to childhood as a better place for diminiutive voices to develop. One of the most appealing has been the side-project of Khabarovsk's RJB. Working together with Estonia's Alinah Sipps, RJB has produced a tiny EP with the title of "Nikita Prishchepka Is a Liar: The Flying Dogs."

Below we see the eponymous hero; his cheeks are already flushed from brazen falsehoods, yet he lacks the skill to tie his own shoes. Or remove leaves from his hair.

The tall tales of a small boy are looked back upon with great fondness, since they at least are full of wonder. They are untrue, but given the impressions thus far of actuality and the real world, fantasy and fabrication are positive options. Nikita's made-up sightings of flying dogs are erroneous, but they're full of faith in change. If the world can show itself to be false, so to speak, it still embodies a kind of self-renovation. Stasis is never possible - and thus hope endures in a worrying environment. The line between lies and fairy tales starts to fade.

The line between lies and fairy tales starts to fade

For all of our older, "autistic" characters whose voices we hear in the works of Kate in the Box, that hope has vanished - and so they step back into the grimly-defended realm of heartlessness. The figures at both ends of our timeline are small (short boys and petty outsiders), yet members of the former group want to grow bigger, whereas representatives of the latter - bruised by adult experience - simply want to be invisible.

The release notes to "Nikita Prishchepka" invited us this summer to "cover our eyes with our hands, count to twenty, and smile." Hiding for fun will, it seems, eventually becomes a kind of hiding from necessity.

And, in fact, the appeal of retospection lies at the heart of another new release from the excellent Malkovic and their so-called "indie-lounge" EP, "Remixed Estrada." The outfit is a foursome: Sasha T. (guitars), Dima M. (bass), Alesha G. (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Ivan S. (drums). They're inspired by Berlin's Contriva, who - by their own admission - pen the kind of music that's designed to make a human voice "unnecessary." Add to this the smooth Brazilian bossa nova of Marcos Valle and Soviet soft jazz of Mikhail Tarverdiev.

Tariverdiev's career takes us back into the heart of Brezhnevian Russia and the MOR/lounge soundtracks of the socialist '60s and '70s. Looking at his influence together with the issues discussed thus far of maturation, it would seem that emotional damage, done in the present, can be avoided by looking back at the diminutive (perhaps self-delusional!) adventures of one's childhood. Looking even further into the past, beyond one's birth, even, to the time of Tariverdiev, the general soundscape appears to be one of endlessly remixed soft-jazz, where melodies improvise freely and make the need for pushy human voices totally "uncessary."

A small voice is the sound of safety; the sound of silence is safer still. Especially in a blissful state that's somewhere between "waking up" and "falling asleep."

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