The Moscow duo known as Arabian Horses consists of Alexey Yuhalov and Nikolay Erushev. We've spoken often with admiration for their work, a chaotic melange of prog, free jazz, and improv traditions. These two artists now have another wayward achievement to announce, more specifically a split with St. Petersburg's Glina, who happily catalog themselves as a "doom jazz sextet." It's interesting to see the kind of rhetoric that's used to frame these new recordings elsewhere — and the role of improvised cacophony as a whole. What, in other words, are the associations of spontaneous discord for our Moscow audiences and beyond?
The split recording with Glina informs us that "this lo-fi duo from Moscow makes raw, tribal noises." At that early point in the proceedings, however, the sentence structure becomes rather odd. "Guardians of the black new-wave, ritual side [of things], Arabian Horses produce sounds of bum quality... and burn all around." Low quality noise, judging by that wordplay, is associated with a subversive or even "incendiary" potential, as if discord involves some revelatory zeal, showing truths that are better hidden. Ugly, yet honest facts come forth in unsightly sounds.
This isn't just drone - it's a party conducted with hammers and saws
That subtext of hidden verities is then developed a little further: "The band's weird and spiritual stage shows will take you to the farthest corners of your soul - and then leave you there in total darkness. This isn’t just 'drone' [performance] - it’s a party [conducted] with hammers and saws." Celebratory deconstruction drags some uncomfortable maxims into the foreground.
The resulting conflict between peace, calm, and "honest" cacophony is soon stated in even more direct terms. We're offered a choice between delusional harmony or the honesty of some atonal clamor; life, put differently, is horribly difficult - and deserves a fitting soundtrack. "The duel with death continues [in the catalog of Arabian Horses]. It's time to choose your destiny!" The moribund horrors of bliss need, apparently, to be avoided at all cost.
Those challenging, confrontational statements certainly match the general tone used by Glina. From St. Petersburg we're offered a "monotonous drum roar… [that underwrites] a story full of gloom and desperation.”
A recent blitz-interview online, framing the shambolic work of Arabian Horses as "cathartic," asked Yuhalov and Erushev a few business-like questions. The artists claimed that a penchant for noise first arose when they realized their inability to play (profitable) hip-hop... Turning instead towards avant-garde options, they declared an affection for some of the more challenging outfits celebrated on FFM: Love Cult, AWOTT, USSSY, and IAOOTL, for example.
Monotonous stories, full of gloom and desperation
That collection of (fairly) new experimental outfits helps us to position Arabian Horses relative to a longer tradition of improvisational work in Russia and Ukraine. We could, for example, draw parallels with the Kharkiv ensemble The Moglass, who also have new work to announce: "WHNZ:42:SBYI." The band, in essence, is a threesome: Yuri Kulishenko, Oleg Kovalchuk, and Vladimir Bovtenko. Happy to catalog their output as post-rock, ambient, glitch, and free-form jazz, The Moglass have been in existence since 1997 - but prior to that official birthday, at least five years of Ukrainian DIY and improv outfits can be documented, far from prying eyes. As with Arabian Horses, so The Moglass bring the disorderly nature of private experience - slowly! - into public view.
Maintaining close connections over the years with Ukraine's Nexsound label, various other luminaries of the local music scene have become The Moglass' collaborators, specifically the wonderful Andrey Kiritchenko.
In fact, one might draw a useful connection between the improvised, "feral" sounds of The Moglass and Kiritchenko's own reconsiderations of Slavic folksong. Even though there's a huge difference between these performers in terms of volume, common ground does exist in a shared focus upon the alluring - yet unnerving! - possibilities of non-urban, pre-modern experience. And indeed, keen to find an overlap between the (subconscious) "natural" thunder of free jazz and hushed rural melodies, The Moglass recently made the following statement. "You can't always call our live shows 'free noise.' Sometimes our performances are gentle and melodic." The distance from passion to things pastoral needn't be great.
You can't always call our live shows 'free noise'
The band also employs a few subjective tags that prove very fruitful. Our musicians like to refer to their aesthetic as "outsider prog" or "personal folk," in other words the daunting challenges of some pre-industrial landscape is subsumed within personal experience. A sense of being to match the Slavic wilderness - yet belittled by petty urban life - is let loose, often to frightening effect. Grand wishes and worries break out of normality.
In the same way, a few Western webzines have tended to define The Moglass in terms of unnerving, yet natural phenomena. "This music is spacey and foggy... It's an achievement of heaviness through stillness." Whatever the impressionistic nature of that phrasing, it at least assumes a state of affairs that simply persists — whether its ignored or not. The worrying majesty of "natural" and spontaneous experience may be suppressed by modern decorum, but it's not erased.
Emotions spill forth at the most inappropriate moments — and that sense of "excess" is well embodied in the endless dimensions of whatever lies beyond the city limits.
A roughly hewn portrait of enthusiasm: The Moglass
A movement beyond urban ring roads needn't necessarily be seen in terms of dread(!). A hushed and profoundly romantic consideration of distance or intrepid travel has just been released by the virtually anonymous collective known as x.y.r. We say "virtually," because although these instrumentals have been published with no contextual information, some digging around shows that x.y.r is/are very closely related to the wonderful 2muchachos collective, based in Cherepovets, more than two hundred miles north of Moscow.
2muchachos produce quiet, lo-fi tape music with a deep appreciation for the rustling beauty of Russian forests; the x.y.r recording is a sonic consideration of Daniel Defoe's 1719 story, "Robinson Crusoe." Each of the tracks is named after a chapter within the novel, running from the early risk of "First Weeks on the Island" to "Return to England." Much ground is covered.
I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York...
All ends well, though, as we know — and deadly danger is transformed into a pleasingly familiar narrative arc. The musicians in x.y.r have even dedicated the tracks to "those people who like to 'robinson' for a while." That imaginary verb turns the fears of a shipwrecked loner into something riskless: we go on a journey, knowing beforehand we'll come home. Exotic locales are robbed of jeopardy and, for that reason, these instrumentals are understated, wistful, and replete with a warm, glo-fi buzz.
The members of 2muchachos have openly admitted before that their instrumentals use a lot of sounds borrowed from nature with a Dictaphone. Small noises are kept lovingly on a miniature device: there's nothing excessive. The crash and clamor of Arabian Horses is far away: 'natural' experience has been gently domesticated and kept in a back pocket. Even the artwork chosen by x.y.r suggests miniature postage stamps more than sprawling maps.
In closing, and as a further extension of that happy passage from chaos to calm, we might turn to an ensemble mentioned yesterday, at least in passing. The Feedback Loop are a duo based in Vilnius, specifically with the lineup of Justinas Adžgauskas (aka Justicious) and Benas Aleksandravičius. As we mentioned, the project is advertised in straightforward terms as a "collaboration of two teenage friends. They came together after discovering their activities and passions were pretty much the same." This is important, because much of Justicious' usual work concerns the troubled passage into adulthood - in terms of both hopes and fears. The invocation of loping structures in his side-project with Aleksandravičius acts as a "holding mechanism" - to counter the worrying trajectory away from youth. Repetition breeds calm and consistency.
There's much in yesterday's text to support that conjecture, but even here we find the appeal of predictability and "containment" on display. One of the Russian expressions used by The Moglass to define their troubled style is "closet psychedelia." Put differently, the spiraling dimensions of psychedelic enterprise lie sometimes beyond the limits of safety: they both appeal and unnerve.
Showing much greater enthusiasm for the limits of familiarity are the members of x.y.r. Those three letters refer to a lengthy Russian phrase that might be translated as "The Temple of Solitary Contemplation." The option of staying at home, amid "looped" and naturally repetitious forms, sounds very appealing indeed. Solitude is equated with spiritual success.
Romance, in other words, might risk nothing by staying in bed - especially with the comforting structures of a 1719 novel at hand.