Slow Passage: Nu:Gravity, Dowdy, Jahzoviy, and Alexander Saykov

Typical housing in Rudnyi, Kazakhstan

On occasion, the musicians documented at FFM live or work beyond the traditional limits of their native tongue: they may have emigrated or simply reside in places where political changes have influenced mapmaking. Both of those scenarios - geographic and political - apply to the career of Artem Jahzovyi (or Dzhazovyy), who lives in the town of Rudnyi, Kazakhstan. Just south of the Russian border, Rudnyi is a mining community with a very short history; that brief chronology begins - and perhaps ends - with the Soviet system.

Legend has it that a pilot flying over this area, not long after WWII, noticed the strange behavior of his compass; further investigation led to the discovery of huge iron ore deposits in the land below. By the early 1950s, "tent towns" appeared as the first Soviet miners and engineers were dispatched to the area from Russia. Given that Rudnyi's name comes itself from the Russian word for "ore," it's evident that future job-seekers traveled southwards to this isolated location for one reason alone. Employment was plentiful, at least until the 1980s, and a young town would emerge, as we see above.

Dopeness (Soundcloud)

Today the population stands at roughly 100,000, although a decline in international metal markets has damaged the longterm outlook. An air of resignation hangs over local streets.

Against the backdrop of loud industry or these harsh realities, the last release from Jahzovyi was entitled "Gentle" (or "Мягкий," in its Russian form). It came with a small paragraph celebrating the benefits of so-called "softness" in terms of philosophical malleability - of being open to other ideas. "Soft and pliable matter is [always] reshaped by masterful hands, in order to create a new essence - and new nature. Your own mind should act similarly, displaying an eagerness to reconstitute itself under the influence of new knowledge. Only this way do unexperienced, alchemic connections come to be."

Artem Jahzovyi (L), resident of Rudnyi

Jahzovyi ended these musings with a quote from François de La Rochefoucauld (d. 1680): "Only firm people can be truly soft." (The original reads: "l n'y a que les personnes qui ont de la fermeté qui puissent avoir une véritable douceur.") In other words, it takes considerable conviction to relinquish one's convictions. Rephrasing things yet again, one might say that only through an admission of mistakes can truth come into being.

These ideas frame the new Jahzovyi release, "Trezvyi Mir" (tr. "Sober World"). One listener has already asked its author on Vkontakte about the meaning of that strange title. Artem replies politely: "It's my prediction of how the world will be." Whether that adjective is to be understood as "teetotal" or more literally as "uninebriated" is not clear. 

I see the clouds 10,000 versts from here; I hear the sound of ancient music in the fir-trees

Both actually seem possible, in that our musician has been reading, cutting, and pasting a large number of articles on the philosophical importance of Chinese tea. Most recently, he has focused upon Da Hong Pao, traditionally saved for important guests or "creative people in search of their muse."

Those specificities transfer easily to Russian-speaking realms, it seems, since Jahzovyi also lists a number of Russian proverbs relating to the social and philosophical benefits of tea. They include the conviction that tea increases long life, erases sadness, and always encourages friendship. All of these gains involve a happy loss of constraints - such as loneliness. Benefit comes from the submission of lonely selfhood to a network of (moderating) influences: friends, family, or the contrary viewpoints of conversation.

Dowdy (Samara/Moscow): "Afterhours Sessions 08" (2012)

A related glance beyond the limits of solitude comes this week from Evgenii Dowdy, raised in the town of Samara on the banks of the Volga. Now resident in Moscow, he was just invited by the Ritmo Sportivo collective to participate in their "Afterhours Sessions." As readers of this site know, these sessions are designed to give a young producer one night - working alone - in which to author some new tracks, tagging them with the hour and minute of their completion.

When the sun rises, the musician stops.  

No borders between musicians and listeners

The majority of any resulting - and brief - publications have been illustrated visually or textually as the solitude of a composer, sitting with his hardware in a hushed apartment. That enduring symbol implies that the invited beatmakers are penning music for folks both absent and asleep. The "afterhours" publications are, in other words, written in hopeful anticipation of an audience, either in the morning or subsequently, online. Ritmo Sportivo speaks on this occasion of Dowdy's efforts as a "nocturnal marathon." The creation of socially appealing statements - of possible appeal! - is likened to a crippling long-distance run.

A few days ago, many of the "Afterhours Sessions" participants gathered in Moscow, in order to celebrate the project at an evening event. In the PR materials we read that the goal of the "Sessions" has always been to build a (social) state or sensation in which "there'll be no borders between musicians and listeners. Just like this [forthcoming] night." Put differently, the music should hopefully create the trusting, social connections that exist only rarely - with the help of booze or bright lights. Uninhibited behavior, typically seen only on a tipsy dancefloor(!), would make a wonderful social principle, if folks could move beyond their closeted existence - in various senses. 

The hope endures that darkened, distant windows will suddenly light up.

Evgenii Dowdy

The creation of an audible improvement upon lonely material experience is also central to the work of Dmitrii Erokhin, who performs under the stage-name of Nu:Gravity. That moniker, one might suggest, is an immediate challenge to physical bonds. Only the simplest of comments regarding these sounds and their author can be found online: "Hi, my name is Dima. I'm from the town of Tuapse. I work with Ableton Live and love UK garage. At the moment I'm working on some combinations of that style and opera. The result should make for a really exciting atmosphere." 

Beauty... (Soundcloud)

Actuality needs a much more dramatic - operatic! - soundtrack with which to counter torpor. The idea of those consequential, overtly "thespian" sounds has certainly appealed to the UK's Disturbing Noise label, through whom Nu:Gravity is now publishing an EP.

Erokhin's choice of UK garage seems especially important. It was, after all, a style that became (happily) vague with the inclusion of multiple, minor voices from London's ethnic diversity. As Frank Broughton famously said: "Garage has meant so many different things to so many different people that unless you're talking about a specific time and place, it is virtually meaningless." It created bonds where they previously did not exist - and the distance from London to Tuapse is great indeed. Geography inhibits any physical connection, since Tuapse - just like Rudnyi - occupies a very peripheral location on the map. Rudnyi lies just beyond the edge of Russian lands; Tuapse perches on the edge of terra firma.

More specifically, Erokhin's home is relatively close to Krasnodar; it lies on the shore of the Black Sea. For that reason, these streets and their residents have long been tied both to trade and tourism. The earliest Russian connections here stretch back to the nineteenth-century military traditions of the Crimean War, but for most families in 2012 the historical events of greatest significance in Tuapse will be linked to an oil refinery that was established under the Soviets.

The melancholy avatar of Nu:Gravity (Dmitrii Erokhin, Tuapse)

Now that socialist culture has faded away, some of the government representatives in Tuapse complain that industrial activity in and around the port stifles the development of bona fide tourism. The past is weighing heavily on the future. For all the sunny associations of the Black Sea shoreline, there are some negative aspects to local life: various stereotypes of provinciality and a frustrating inability to shake the remnants of an old industry. Whatever the case, the melancholy yearning of Nu:Gravity's garage sounds - under the admitted influence of Burial - finds sympathetic ears in the culture that inspired it. A different civic "atmosphere" is conjured in various locations.

One might argue that these virtual, atmospheric, or imagined communities might grow relative to a physical context. The worse one's environment, the harder imagination - and yearning sounds - will work to foster something better. As possible support for that argument, one could look at the new release this week from Moscow's Alexander Saykov, whom we've long known as Koalips.

I must serve in the army for one year

His new release is entitled "Mistral" and published under his real name through Lithuania's Cold Tear Records. With a running-time of almost one hour, nine downtempo, ambient dub instrumentals tell the story of a storm's arrival, its impressive cresting, and quiet denouement.

Given that the album's title also refers to a continental European wind, it's genuinely surprising that Saykov is able to pen these wistful tracks at all. He is currently doing his military service in the Russian army! Just prior to that obligation actually starting, he wrote on Facebook: "Dear friends, I have to tell you something important. According to Russian law, I must serve in the army for one year after graduation. There is the possibility that I'll be able to visit home from time to time. At present I am finishing a new new ambient/techno album. I will miss you, my friends."  

Bootcamp starts - and so does the ambient or dub techno. As a reponse.

Alexander Saykov: "Mistral" (2012)

Now - during his ongoing absence - Saykov continues to post or tweet various requests for musical hard- and software. The audible dreams he sketches with those tools are regularly interrupted by the hardships of a recruit's life. A few days ago we heard: "In order to celebrate the holidays today, they gave us two waffles and half an apple. How are you celebrating [at home]?" 

When we first touched upon his catalog, Saykov's biography made most sense in terms of some evolving emphases or influences over the last few years. We therefore drew a line from his early enthusiasm for Autechre to what Saykov himself called a more "melodic, calmer register." His last EP, released a few months ago, certainly helped to extend the quieter end of that trajectory. In a few impressionistic phrases, Koalips likened some decelerated and atmospheric instrumentals to "a journey into the forest."

An evocation of trees has now become the celebration of a continental wind. Solidity fades away.

This morning I saw Venus in the sky

Saykov's imagined loss of orientation within that forest was nonetheless interpreted positively, as "a time for experimentation." Deceleration and a metaphorical view of "immaterial" waywardness were both understood as a beneficial flight from the noise of mainstream culture. Those same emphases and images continue today. Just as Jahzovyi's quote from François de La Rochefoucauld suggested, there are benefits to getting lost or losing one's "confident" ties to tangible experience.

That seems especially true whenever army life looks bad. Some other tweets from Alexander Saykov over the last few weeks have been: "Do you know what bothers me most? Hearing from soldiers who have girlfriends [at home] that they pay for prostitutes in the public baths"; "The most remarkable aspect of mankind is his ability to justify everything he does... and then dump the rest on other people"; "I got food poisoning again..." Physicality's failings inspire an alternative.

Hope lies beyond - or above - surrounding realia: "This morning I saw Venus in the sky. I'm sure that's a good sign." Music helps to give those airborne hopes a fitting soundtrack - and simultaneously imagine some absent, caring bonds. For JahzovyiDowdyNu:Gravity, and Alexander Saykov an alternative to ostensible, sometimes bruising actuality comes in sound. Physical limits of various kinds are dismissed, mentally, in order to imagine a simple yet elusive realm in which "there'd be no borders between musicians, listeners," or friendly neighbors.

Alexander Saykov, currently serving in the Russian army


Dowdy – Boogie for Squirrels (11.00 PM)
Nu:Gravity – City Lights
Dowdy – Meeting (12.47 AM)
Jahzoviy – Poisk Tebya (The Search for You)
Jahzoviy – Prosnis' (Wake Up)
Nu:Gravity – Through the Walls

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