Far Away: Spiraal Aurel, Sunbells Fenimore, and Alexei Borisov with Colleagues

The phrase Spiraal Aurel designates a relatively well-hidden musician from St Petersburg. Although he remains wantonly nameless, it is at least possible to discover that he studies at the city's Electrotechnical University. That brief information, not surprisingly, suggests an overlap exists between these sounds and their author's academic enterprise. From electrotechnical research come noises that are more "revealed" than overtly crafted. And indeed, "SA" admits in some terse phrasing to recent lab-work with field recordings, antique handmade instrumentation (shown below), and microsounds. The appeal of indirect, isolated noise here is considerable: what transpires is a soundtrack obscured by time, (its own diminutive) size, and distance. None of these noises are proximal. They occur far away from daily experience.

What we find, in other words, are investigations of odd harmonies that happen elsewhere. The glitchy, unpredictable textures of Spiraal Aurel's latest recordings, "Symmetric Sense," are only nudged into more rigid patterns after a discernible delay. Irregularity is slowly led towards strict(er) repetition. Things natural are gradually made artificial - while levels of editorial intrusion remain as low as possible.

Some of the recent comments at Soundcloud have been telling; they cast some light upon this authorial minimalism. One recent visitor to the site declared: "This is very original. I like it; there's a great atmosphere. It has a real industrial feel, too!" That notion of industry, however, develops elsewhere, far from our gaze: the concealed, often irrational business of electrical circuits is slowly brought into earshot. Nature's accidental sounds are amplified, rather than altered.

Spiraal Aurel (St. Petersburg)

Another Soundcloud listener praises Spiraal Aurel's "de-structured beats" and "tapecore" aesthetic. Put differently, we're witnessing not only an attempt to (politely) systematize nature's glitchy enterprise, but also a performer's crumbled, stuttering style, with which he hopes to approximate a biosphere's uneven, yet fecund intervals. The gap between human absence and presence is constantly considered; a light is shone upon the tricky disconnect between objective field recordings and the unavoidably "meddlesome" practice of recording per se. 

Gorgeous track. I love this 'tapecore' ambient style

These are all sounds occurring at a (natural) remove, i.e., increasingly - or hopefully - far from any intrusive control. Artistry is investigated with the smallest number of artists involved!

A development of the same notion, perhaps, positioned amid forms of silence and anonymity, comes this season from the Moscow drone project Sunbells Fenimore. Although we can at least discern a name behind these publications - Ivan Kurbakov - his hometown is rarely advertised. These, as a consequence, are homeless compositions in various senses. Kurbakov operates several projects, which are close in spirit to Petrozavodsk ensembles such as Bedroom Bear, Black Sky Chant, and Love Cult. He has, in fact, worked with the first two.

EPs have appeared not only via collaborative effort. Sunbells Fenimore is far from Kurbakov's only endeavor, in fact he's arguably best known for his work as Mpala Garoo, followed by the side-project Kon Tiki Gemini. In several ways, a de-centered aesthetic is celebrated. Sonic output belongs to no single person.

Mpala Garoo

Across these splinter groups, so to speak, is an overarching desire to fashion what Kurbakov calls "tropical drone." Needless to say, that term sounds rather odd in the Russian context. As fellow downtempo artist Billiam Wutler Yea recently remarked to us from the town of Dmitrov: "There are no tropics or palm trees in Russia... and the summer is always short and cold!"

Western blogs have struggled to understand that same adjective in a Slavic setting. "Here we've got some pretty cool lo-fi, experimental, and tropical drone tunes. I know... 'tropical' is a rather awkward word to describe music, but I would consider 'tropical' a tag for those fuzzy melodies and tunes that keep you in a relaxed mood. Everything's a bit lazy and you get this warm feeling - the kind you only get when you're hanging on the beach and everything's fine... at least for the moment."

...lo-fi, experimental, and 'tropical' drone tunes

Pleasure comes from a feeling of remove, if not total absence. It's an idea extended to romantic, even dizzying extremes by one satisfied customer: "This is music crafted for the sunny, tropical paradise of our mind[!]. A seasonal temperament is shared via some magnetic vibes; we can all exist in the same balmy and tropical headstate no matter what our physical location may be." At this point, all rational argument is placed aside and we find descriptions of "pure vibrations that ebb and flow on the appeal[?] of tidal moons."

Sunbells Fenimore: "Paradising" (2011)

That audible charm, evoking the pleasure of departure, also has a physical equivalent. Some Western observers are irked by Mr. Kurbakov's avoidance of many things digital. He is a hard figure to find. The natural world - in terms of both its soundscape and pre-digital communication - holds more appeal for him than email and/or social networks. In the words of one US publication: "The artist Sunbells Fenimore appears to be from Russia. He doesn't have a MySpace page, though, and isn't very internet-friendly..."

Should we want to extend this logic even further, we might consider the brand new recordings from Alexei Borisov, drummer Ol'ga Nosova (of Motherfathers), Ilya Belorukov (saxophone), and guitarist Andrey Popovsky. Together they have just published a seventeen-track, forty-five minute album of live improvisation, committed to tape in St. Petersburg's Experimental Sound Gallery (ESG). En masse, these initially silent and unpredictably structured compositions are entitled "Two Hours Prior to Admission."

Freely improvised electroacoustic music: noise, ambient, and field recordings

Although performed before a living, breathing audience, the new ESG works are  - with their title alone - designed to evoke the natural, uneven "harmony" that emanates from a location before authors, composers, and editors even enter the premises. These, is short, are attempts to evoke the raw sonic material from which subsequent stylistic and generic selections will be made. In the same way, the promotional imagery for the album is offered to us in low-grade formats, prejudicing imprecise colors over clarity. Swathes of discord and broad chromatic fields are validated over and above any kind of selectivity. Fuzziness, not finesse.

Ilya Belorukov (live in St. Petersburg)

The attraction of a homeless, authorless clamor was thrown clearly into context by a recent event in Yaroslavl at which Mr. Borisov performed. A regional wildlife sanctuary hosted a museum concert called "Music in Nature, or Rare Forms of Mankind." Patterns of expressive uniqueness came slowly to light once our "natural" habitat was left behind. Away from the flattering, elitist context of a concert hall or conservatory, a different hubbub emerged, positioned within the rapid chatter of birds and beasts. A departure from habit (and hubris!) itself became synonymous with discovery.

And so we read: "Stuffed birds and animals; all kinds of fish and snakes... kept in glass jars. Museums like this were so exciting in our childhood, but over time they come to mean something very different. They're home to remnants [in various senses] and memories. And then [all of a sudden] music appears here: beautiful and complex music...."

And then music appears here: beautiful and complex...

From a place designed to preserve the forms, colors, and calls of absent animals (themselves within an oft-forgotten building) music emerges. As a soundtrack to absence, it appears at a maximum distance from technique, tradition, or flattering prestige. Throughout the ESG project, together with the sounds we hear from Spiraal Aurel, Sunbells Fenimore, and Alexei Borisov's other enterprise, a sense of quiet awe is evident. It's a respect for noises that operated before our arrival - and for those that'll endure once we've left.

A gentle smile of gratitude transpires.

Alexei Borisov and Ol'ga Nosova

Audio

Aleksei Borisov – No.14 (O. Nosova, I. Belorukov, A. Popovsky)
Aleksei Borisov – No.5 (O. Nosova, I. Belorukov, A. Popovsky)
Aleksei Borisov – No.9 (O. Nosova, I. Belorukov, A. Popovsky)

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