With remarkable speed, the members of Modul - and their related project at FUSELab - have released a new single; it forms part of the ongoing progress towards an album. These individual tracks hint with increasing accuracy at the contents of a larger work; various fragments speak of a whole. As we recently noted, the album will be called "How to Play," a title that with its very grandeur already evinces a degree of self-deprecation. What we have, in other words, is a series of publications or plans that lie somewhere in between brevity and permanence.
Monumentalism is vigorously avoided. The former state - brevity - is effected on a regular basis with this string of quick-fire net-releases, while the latter - akin, almost, to the lumbering scale of a concept album - is best handled with a smile.
The debut single appeared with a remix of "Catch the Noon" by Petrozavodsk's Sergey Suokas, aka Slow. On this occasion the remixed composition for the second single comes courtesy of Moscow's Moa Pillar, shown above on an ill-advised shopping spree.
In a recent video interview, Pillar spoke of how his skills have evolved piecemeal over the years, as a combination of childhood whim, parental intentions, and his early passion for mathematics. In transforming those influences into concrete forms, Pillar remarked that he is usually struck first by a mental or visual image, which he then tries to express more concretely using a multitude of sounds, samples, and loops. Classical notation is absent.
It's a work ethic that not everybody can match. Weaker souls soon fade.
Concepts are built from a multitude of borrowed, manipulated offcuts, taken from the catalogs of others. The members of Modul, in loud support of this postmodernist magic, refer to Moa Pillar as an exponent of "beat voodoo."
Some other practitioners of the style - elsewhere in Slavdom and beyond - are more open when it comes to crediting their sources. Not everybody wants to publish the secrets of their "voodoo" scrapbook. Should we start looking for some less cagey - and more informative - souls, one figure of note might be Constantine Mineikis, the Latvian artist responsible for the Beatowski Beats project.
Mineikis has been playing with samples, loops, and beats for the last eight years - and he offers us much information en route. His professional biography could be sketched as follows. A solo career was first considered, using Fruity Loops as the software of choice. After a few collaborations with other local artists, he has recently returned to the benefits of solitude and, armed with an Akai MPC 1000 production station, is again publishing individual compositions.
His basic back catalog can be enjoyed at Bandcamp, where the enthusiasm in his craft always shines through. While he often draws upon classic ballads such as "Ain't No Sunshine" or "Georgia on My Mind," Mineikis nonetheless maintains a healthy distance from any cliche with his upbeat approach to cutting and editing. The joy of buffing and polishing audible fragments is evident - and not only from enthusiastic finger prints or coffee stains.
Together with some of those Bandcamp recordings we find the following - and inviting - phrases: "These classic samples are finely chopped and then added to the raw, boom-bapish drums we all love. So... Let the music speak for itself!" Or, elsewhere, we're advised to "increase the volume to the max and feel the boom-bap vibe!"
Increase the volume to the max and feel the boom-bap vibe!
These affirmative, audible mosaics come from the Latvian town of Jekabpils, shown below and founded in the thirteenth century. Wars between neighboring Poland and Sweden were often played out on these same streets, but reconstructive efforts never faltered. No matter the damage done, bits and pieces were put back together.
Jekabpils even became home to Russian victims of religious persecution in the seventeenth century. The traditions and cultural norms of the region have consistently proven themselves flexible enough to admit many unexpected outsiders; minor forms of difference have played a more important role than loud political grandstanding or intolerance. The temptation to draw parallels with the tool box of Constantine Mineikis is considerable! If, however, we remain unconvinced by such distant linkages, his sampling technique today certainly continues in the same spirit.
Whatever the case, local streets could benefit from a happy voice and a few "boom-baps."
Mineikis has a special fondness for the editorial wizardry of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Both now in their forties, those musicians were key in establishing the use of jazz, soul, or funk samples in danceable formats. Premier has famously reworked fragments of different lyrics - from different songs - in order to create new, composite sentences. Rock, at the other end of the building site, is probably better known for breaking down sampled material into smaller elements - and then toying with their frequencies. Premier, one might conclude, operates according to principles of construction; Rock's output reflects a more deconstructive approach.
In both cases, stability suffers and creativity gains.
Why? Because everything else is boring...
If the new Modul release walks a clever, diplomatic line between subversion and bold, lasting statements, then by the time we reach figures like Orlando15 - based in Moscow - the deconstructive approach becomes an end in itself. Currently at the top of his Vkontakte page he displays a phrase in Russian that answers an (unasked) question - regarding why he'd even play music in the first place: "Because everything else is boring."
Not only does this young musician - aka Yaroslav "Vinilov" - work alone; he has also launched an intriguing new label, Morning Records. The project aims to turn fractured, broken beats into a national style! "We record, publish, and advance the kind of music we consider interesting for today's audience. We support a style that can help the growth of musical culture - both in Russia and Russian-speaking territories." Time to wake up from the dull consistency of predictable playlists.
Orlando15's profile includes a small poem of his own making. It suggests - in a similar spirit of deconstructive zeal - that this patchwork aesthetic will continue for some time. Translated into prose, the poem reads: "When the skies open up, and the stars shine brighter. When I reach places I've never seen. When, when... when?" Statements turn suddenly into questions; certainty morphs into vagueness. The more our musician experiments - or elaborates his thoughts as simple verse - the more options will reveal themselves. An empirical style, born of scissors, glues, and a disdain for consistency, spawns both discoveries and doubt.
What we have, as a result, is a classic mechanism within romanticism: the synonymy between artistic gain and uncertainty. The further we ride, the less things will look focused.
A key sample, evident in recent recordings by Orlando15, comes from a Nine Simone track, recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960: "Porgy." Written before Gershwin's musical, Simone's song offers us the following insight into our Moscow magician. It tells, in basic terms, of her gratitude for being in love. "Porgy" himself may not be the picture of perfection, but from the options available, our heroine has - with his help - made a better world for the two of them: "Lord when I feel his arms around me,/ Knowing he can’t go on without me,/ I wants to beg for a chance to camp at his door."
From social scraps, she fashions a whole new life.
Nina Simone: 'Lord when I feel his arms around me / Knowing he can’t go on without me...'
Faced by a world that's often "boring," our three young men from Moscow and Jekabpils also go in search of the soundtrack to a better, more coherent world. As Orlando15 suggests, though, yearning often takes the place of Simone's security. Her heroine finds a stopping point - and reaches a compromise with her surroundings. A childhood picture from Orlando15's scrapbook suggests to us that these Russian musicians were raised with a less forgiving view of "private enterprise." His new single with self-declared "jazzy MC" Yura Shade certainly draws a relaxed, downtempo picture - lyrically speaking - but Vinilov's music continues to be driven by a process of dismantling - that's both exciting and disconcerting.
We leave to one side the irony of having spawned such ideas beneath a monolith that's in danger of tumbling. If that happens, it certainly won't be boring. Eighty-five meters of stone are already leaning badly.