Gleb Raumskaya is a resident of St. Petersburg. We've followed his output for several years now, but his penchant for quietness continues. Currently he is a student at the city's State University of Technology and Design, which only increases the likelihood that academic studies will leave scant time for chatter. Nonetheless, whatever this musician's unwillingness to advertise his credo verbally, the results of his compositional work have left an impressive mark upon the public.
The most recent of his juke and dubstep experiments over the last few months, for example, have met with particular enthusiasm from online audiences: "F**k me!" is one of the more striking English-language remarks at a major music portal. Related approval has been documented in Russian, too, using ever richer vocabulary.
Unbelievably cool! (Soundcloud)
Among the more respectable reviews or suggestions, we find a remark likening Raumskaya's output to "music for a possible TV series. Twin Peaks, maybe?" This musician, however, has a rather standoffish attitude towards bold fantasy. A few days ago, he quoted an interview with science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, republished after the writer's passing. The original lines from that conversation, used by Raumskaya, read as follows, beginning with a journalist's question. "In 1950 you wrote a book that made you world-famous - 'The Martian Chronicles.' It said that by the beginning of the third millennium Mars would have settlements and cities - full of people from Earth. Why do you think that never happened?"
Raumskaya adopts a suitably pensive pose in consideration of the question.
Bradbury himself replied in surprisingly straightforward terms: "I'm often being asked questions like that, and I love to fantasize about the answers. Here's today's answer: Because people are idiots. They've done a lot of stupid things: come up with costumes for dogs, [invented] the position of 'advertising manager,' and built things like the iPhone, without getting anything in return except a bitter aftertaste... Mankind made it possible to surf the cosmos, but instead [people just] want to engage in consumption. They want to drink beer and watch soap operas."
As a result, perhaps, of a related downscaling, such that fantasy might seem doable (and still dignified), Raumskaya's most recent release is part of Ritmo Sportivo's "Afterhours Sessions." As readers of FFM might recall, these simple yet elegant publications - reflecting one night's effort by one musician - are made only a few days before their appearance online. The tracks on "Afterhours" are also tagged with a specific time of night, as the clock ticks and sunrise approaches. One night's creative fancy adopts a precious, minor form.
The figure of Feyorz, overseeing Ritmo Sportivo as a whole, himself hopes that these one-off singles will "show the process of inspiration in digital forms." In other words, the instrumentals are designed to document and then mirror the audible "transformation" of a small, private idea, on this occasion between the hours of 00:20 AM and 7:00 AM on May 31, 2012. Much happens in a minor location, usually the bedroom of a Soviet apartment block, granting a universally recognizable view across damp grass and concrete.
The process of inspiration in digital forms
If we then move to some other releases - from other towns - the disparity between real and imagined spaces only increases. Raumskaya's skepticism may reduce the scale of "manageable" reverie, but wistfulness still pushes hard against ostensible reality. Bearing that tension in mind between location and imagination, we might turn eight hundred miles to the south of Moscow. Here on the banks of the River Volga lies the ancient city of Astrakhan. Its position close to the Caspian Sea and traditional status as a military outpost have both created a history rich in adventure. Some architectural testaments to that time are still standing.
The Astrakhan Kremlin
The fact that recent centuries have been much quieter is probably most evident in the widespread, if not usual connotations of the city's name today. The Russian public in 2012 will associate Astrakhan with one product: caviar. Given the choice between fish eggs and cannon balls, most people would choose the former, so history has been kind to Astrakhan of late. This relatively quiet address is currently home to the young beatmaker Aleksandr Leonov, who publishes his labors under the capitalized stage-name of MA2RITY.
Simply wonderful, man! (Soundcloud)
His own modest dreaming, taking the form of jazzy hip-hop instrumentals, was nicely summarized by a Russian phrase uploaded to his Vkontakte account: "I hope nobody's bored this summer." He voices a common desire for peace, calm, and a better climate. Several of his available compositions are dedicated in greater detail to those uncomplicated, "doable" fantasies of good weather and a family vacation: both are the object of realizable planning. His Soundcloud account is likewise dotted with a number of brief, approving comments. Nobody objects to sunshine or sand.
The only other source of textual information is Leonov's Twitter account. In recent days it has been populated with various remarks about Euro 2012 and the performance of Russia's national team. Needless to say, the general mood of those fleeting conversations has been miserable. Thoughts of a distant seashore become increasingly appealing. Failures at home prompt mental images of somewhere else.
Arguably further still from the workings of show business and related escapist fantasies is the city of Vitebsk in Belarus, maybe 300 miles to the east of Moscow. The history of Vitebsk stretches based to the tenth century, but today's elderly residents will recall with greater clarity the awful experiences of WWII. The city found itself trapped between German and Soviet forces, as a result of which countless streets and buildings were destroyed. Thankfully, after the slow reconstruction work of several decades, Vitebsk - for most people - is nowadays linked most closely to the "Slavic Bazar" song festival, a rather conservative affair and not unlike Eurovision in tone. It engulfs the timetables of national TV for several days each year.
One Vitebsk apartment is currently blessed with the different, yet equally relaxed noises of a one-man project DailerSound, which is supported - as with MA2RITY - by no more than a Twitter feed. The basic thematic context for this producer's work comes more from the music than from any overt PR. His tracks are, in essence, dedicated to a couple of juxtaposed topics. One is civic strife or warfare and the other is the restorative power of love.
One of the works we include here brings those themes together, with a young boy's voice imitating the sound of gunfire. The promise of adult empathy and sympathy are quickly lost - even in childhood - to the "appealing" drama of destruction.
One needn't be surrounded by gunfire in order to dream big: a provincial address is sometimes sufficient reason for fantasy to work hard. Some new recordings, by way of a test case, have just emerged by Yury Zabavchik, a young producer from the small and relatively sleepy town of Druzhny, situated somewhere beyond the suburbs of Minsk. This location is home to Zabavchik's project 1ste One.
Druzhny has no medieval back-story; it is very much a product of late Soviet industry. Construction here did not even begin in earnest until 1985, when an entirely new town was created - or at least planned - atop a peat bog. The initial idea was to place a new atomic power plant nearby, but the Chernobyl tragedy brought all such adventures to a rapid close. The effect of that decision was radical. Here, by way of sad illustration, is how the Chicago Tribune described local life fifteen years later.
Never mind the risk, they said, build the reactor
"Druzhny went thud [after construction stopped]. The influx of workers, thousands of them in a few short years, soon ended. Construction continued on the power plant but only on sections that could be converted for use as a conventional steam plant. Residents complained, saying they had come to this place in the middle of nowhere for good jobs with high wages. Never mind the risk, they said, build the reactor." Dreams of meaningful employment were becoming desperate; the allure of small-scale romance amid that widespread deceleration (if not demise) remains great indeed. When state enterprise dwindles, individual citizens salvage whatever private imagination and dignity they can.
In consideration of somewhere better, Zabavchik has - just like Raumskaya - turned to the recent passing (and long-lived wisdom) of Ray Bradbury. Three rules for living, offered by the author, can be sketched as follows. They all strike Zabavchik as workable and wise. Bradbury begins by claiming that marriage allows two people to learn from each other; death, he says, is a form of "cosmic" payment for the right to enjoy life; and he then adds a third rule of local relevance to the Slavic world. In the original, that American conviction reads: "Russia will become a superpower thanks only to the Russians learning how to love themselves... That’s what I think, I’ve been convinced of this by Russian literature and films."
Until that same fantasy comes true, or looks vaguely likely, these Russian and Belarusian producers will continue adding some more color to daily experience. It's an improvement.