Minimalism and Looming Silence: Phil Gerus, Deepad, and Eric Delay

Ulyanovsk

Since Ulyanovsk sits on the banks of the River Volga, it has a long and rich history. One might think that the region's heritage developed thanks to early river trade, but the reality is slightly more dramatic. Settlement began here in the seventeenth century according to a military rationale. Originally known as Simbirsk, the town was designed as a fort, defending the edge of Russian lands from all manner of nomadic foes - many of whom would use the Volga to sail in from the middle of nowhere.

This unnervingly epic scale of adventure ended, thankfully, when Russia focused upon expansion elsewhere - into Siberia. That same shift of attention, though, also turned Simbirsk into a quieter - if not sleepy - regional center. Adding insult to injury, destiny then conspired in the mid-nineteenth century to cause a major fire... and much of Simbirsk burned down. It was only Soviet development that would finally save local industry from complete decline almost a century later, when hydroelectric projects and car factories both transformed Ulyanovsk into a manufacturing powerhouse. Above we see a 2011 photograph of that modern, bustling metropolis.

Perhaps because of these considerable changes in fate - or because heavy industry is unlikely to foster delicate music - the performer known as Eric Delay (below) describes his hometown as "strange." That adjective is used on all his web venues to introduce the mysterious, distant town of Ulyanovsk to his Western listeners. The same online texts, in fact, are also used to explain how his minimal soundscapes have slowly grown amid the smokestacks and smelting plants. 

Eric Delay (Ulyanovsk)

Delay attributes his earliest years of craftwork to parental care and attention. While still in kindergarten, even, he claims to have developed his first passion for a definite style of music: he adored the mainstream new age recordings by German ensemble Enigma: "For a while, I was really keen on their music, and couldn't imagine a day without it!" Although his current downtempo and gentle techno is a long way from Enigma's faux monasteries or latter-day folklore, a similar wistfulness is nonetheless evident in his adult tastes. Put differently, Delay still likes to speak of a penchant for "expressionism" in various forms. 

Once sampling technology appeared - and was affordable - he put this love for sonic hints and nuances into practice: "I would cut tapes into small pieces, re-arranging them in order to build the tracks anew. Sometimes the results were unimaginable! Over time, I would collect those tape snippets and make a kind of sample library. I'd construct all sorts of surreal instrumentals and distribute them among my friends and relatives."

Music built upon pauses

This DIY minimalism has found support from Krasnodar's FUSElab, who specialize in a similar kind of dubby, atmospheric micro-fabric. Russian reviewers have suggested these little, muted sounds are best suited to "the middle of the night or perhaps the break of day," i.e., to times of silence. Other imagined contexts involve "the chill-out room of a night club... where a DJ is winding up his final set - and only a couple of people remain on the dancefloor."

The role of silence, retreat, and removal here even leads to the suggestion that we're dealing with "music built upon excessive pauses." The distance from impressionism to noiselessness is small indeed.

Phil Gerus (Moscow)

A related outlook can be found in the work of Moscow-based Phil Gerus. He, too, began his earliest musical adventures with direct parental help, specifically in the context of the family's jazz trio. This would lead to an academic concentration upon piano studies and an eventual, rather unique passion for the works of Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, and Chopin. Moving slowly into the world of wires and plugs as his studies progressed, Gerus was ultimately tempted to move his skill-sets into a realm of electronic performance.

Here the love for understatement we noticed in Ulyanovsk is extended and/or refined in that Delay's manual cut-and-pasting becomes Gerus' treatment of piano samples using granular synthesizing. Tangible pieces of tape are reduced to mere milliseconds of digital sound. The building blocks become almost invisible.

Continuing that dalliance with nothingness, Gerus nowadays hopes to work increasingly with improvised shows, not only using the deft fingering of his jazz background, but also stepping into a risky relationship with silence - as each sound is, quite literally, pulled from nowhere (and nothingness). 

Phil Gerus 

In a related manner, "absence" is employed visually, too. Few pictures exist of this musician. Instead of uploading documentary photo-evidence of his physical appearance, Gerus prefers to use charcoal sketches (above) or - for his EP artwork - a range of female figures, taken usually from the cinematic canon of the '60s and '70s. His avatar on this page is but one example. This enduring love affair for an absent age and its faded heroines has even led to one jester leaving special words of gratitude at Soundcloud: "Hi from Jane Fonda!" 

Many of his downtempo or chillout compositions are likewise colored with a good deal of lo-fi tape hiss, adding further to the overall sense of fleeting melody (and transient renown). All in all, Gerus' elegant instrumentals constitute a series of touching considerations of that which once was - in another age and culture. 

Hi from Jane Fonda!

Should we wish to push this connection between micro- and arguably absent sounds even further, we might turn southwards towards Kiev and a brand-new EP from Deepad (aka Miha Voland and/or Vladimir Maksimov). Following his youthful years spent amid the mainstream maximalism of Depeche Mode, Moloko, Chemical Brothers, and others, Maksimov then moved towards a more restrained style - specifically towards minimal, dub-, and deep house. These are the audible emphases still on display today.

Various metaphors of depth or a related profundity are extended by our musician's current publisher, the Kievan tech/ deep/ micro-house label Subself. In showcasing their own music they continue to pull a paragraph directly from a US clinical psychology journal as promo-blurb. Published in 2007, the article discusses the so-called "subself theory of personality." In essence, the text argues that the Western notion of selfhood as a "bounded, unique, and dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgement, or action" is alien to many cultures worldwide. More common is the idea that we all manifest various "subselves" of our personality in different "contexts or social settings."

Group dynamics or workplace responsibilities might bring these subselves into play. In the Big City, a form of mild schizophrenia often develops, born of anxiety and insecurities. Any assertive ability to save face can lose out to a series of masks.

The label quotes some especially pithy sections: "Your personality is an evolving mosaic of beliefs, values, talents, limitations, memories, reflexes, priorities, fears, perceptions, and other habits. Together they make you unique among all living and dead humans. Each subself is semi-independent, has its own goals, gifts, limits and experiences the world uniquely. Each subself can ally with, ignore, distrust, respect, scorn or conflict with every other subself. Your inner family of subselves can range between harmonious and purposeful to chaotic and unfocused..."

Everything you ever create will be thrown away...

Professional tensions will clearly lead to greater chaos, not harmony. Individuality becomes fractured, nervous multiplicity. For that reason, Maksimov quotes some well-known (and upbeat) words from Bono: "Music can change the world because it can change people." These happy, even inspirational transformations, however, offer no sense of permanence. Music is no gateway to peace, calm, and comfort, according to some other striking quotations employed by Deepad.

By way of example, he also calls upon some rather severe notions from Chuck Palahniuk, himself of Ukrainian extraction and author of the 1999 screenplay for "Fight Club." From Palahniuk we hear - in Russian translation - that "Everything you ever love will reject you or die. Everything you ever create will be thrown away. Everything you're proud of will end up as trash.”

Best, therefore, to acquaint oneself with emptiness now - and adhere to a strict minimalism. Beginning with a humbling exit into the rolling hills of the Ukrainian countryside, full of nature's own (minimalist) chatter.

Vladimir Deepad (Kiev)

Audio

Eric Delay – Blue Sky
Phil Gerus – Flitting Away
Eric Delay – Futuristic Town
Phil Gerus – Love Walkthrough
Phil Gerus – Ordinary Things
Eric Delay – Thinking about You

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