Neurologists will occasionally draw parallels between our reactions to a given musical tempo and our spatial relations. According to such theories, the use of a faster tempo is indicative of some half-forgotten, "pre-linguistic" faith in our whereabouts. A swifter cadence, first liked and then mimicked, reflects an optimistic and trusting attitude towards our surroundings. Conversely, a slower rhythm is more likely to reflect or engender sadder associations in listeners due to its (preconscious?) connection with wariness: individuals move slowly towards that which they distrust or dislike.
Even contemporary ballads, being less than sprightly, become bitter-sweet reflections upon some missing object of desire: upon the perfect love that might lie ahead. One hopes...
Given that uptempo compositions are more marketable (happiness sells better than misery), the role of deceleration is interesting in the world of today's netlabels and free downloads. What might the meaning of slow, melancholy compositions be in a non-commercial environment when profit margins no longer wield any influence over artistic expression? Here we offer two new and promising collectives from different genres, one based in St Petersburg and the other in Moscow: The Frozen Orchestra and InviteYupi. Both are inclined towards unhurried performance.
A glacial pace, even.
The Frozen Orchestra are a rare ensemble in that their members, despite a home address on the banks of the Neva, are not all Russian. The group's central quintet consists of Irish/Swiss vocalist Tamara Lee, Austrian guitarist Richard Deutsch, and a trio of locals: Ilya Rysin (trumpet), Yuri Elik (visuals), and Anton Pokrovskiy (sound technician). The fact that forty percent of that lineup is credited for their audio-visual expertise helps to give us some sense of the musicians' desired soundscape. This band aspires to sweeping, audible panoramas they term "cinematic, mesmerizing," and even reflective of some "drowning" state.
At some point in that brief list, drama morphs into danger.
Put differently, The Frozen Orchestra's compositions aim to work along the same lines as a film score, evoking meanings from beyond the limited scope of the screen and/or dialog. Scored footage is designed to display some ubiquitous state that simply is, whether it be the universality of love (for lovers to discover) or an impending, inescapable threat (for victims to stumble upon). Both those states are always there... and waiting.
Cinematic soundtracks are designed to surround us (no matter which way we look) and thus provide a surplus of meaning - a hint of that which cannot be seen. Our musicians, as a result, are expressing a view of their own surrounding reality as some oceanic entity - in which one perhaps might "drown."
Most visitors to the seaside would rather avoid that final verb. "Taking a dip" and "vanishing forever" are usually separate activities.
This inclination towards melodrama has clear formal tendencies. There are frequent - and openly admitted - leanings in The Frozen Orchestra's catalog towards trip-hop, itself a combination of anxiety and chemically-assisted escapism. Famously referred to as a mix of "computers and dope," trip-hop emerged as a melange of ethereal, dub-filled backdrops and some vague sense of "drowning" in worrying, unfamiliar realms.
These stylistic traits are well established in the careers of our musicians, too. Lee sang with European trip-hop ensembles before coming to Russia and Deutsch has worked with dramatizations of texts by Daniil Kharms, a leading light of Russian absurdism. Kharms' stories did much to reveal the meaningless yet terrifying workings of the Soviet system on a daily - and therefore inescapable - basis.
Peripheral or part-time members of the Orchestra help to bring a suitably melancholy air to these proceedings: Seva Gakkel (cello), Timur Sigidin (bass), and Alexej Ivanov (drums). Little by little the soundtrack grows in size and social applicability.
We recently contacted Mr. Deutsch and asked about the formation of the Orchestra, since background materials are thin on the ground - to say the least. He kindly informed us that romance - in happy ways! - had once led him to remain in St Petersburg after a local concert. The early relationship between these two figures involved chance meetings on a trip from Vienna to Ulan Bator and other key elements of a classic love story. In short, there is no inherent reason for any downbeat worldview in the Orchestra's private development. Quite the opposite: many listeners to this tale would be charmed by surprise encounters in distant locales.
If private experience is no source of melancholy, it comes logically from outside, social spheres. From a sense of one's surroundings and what might happen.
Just as the band says, these are "cinematic" tracks. They're designed to express a state that lies around and beyond a story's protagonists. Soundtracks unveil and amplify some kind of state, as already mentioned, that simply is.
And that brings us to a new recording from the witty and often merciless publication Guerrila.ru. The magazine's staff have just decided to launch a record label. They informed us: "We don't like any label apart from Warp - but they don't publish anything in Russian!"
The resulting project - Guerilla Records - will therefore focus on material in the local language... with the occasional foray into other tongues. The intention is to run the entire gamut of media formats, from mp3 and web-based material to old-school vinyl releases. "When it comes to stylistic matters, we won't be limited to any particular genre. Nonetheless, we will be focusing on new and relevant developments within today's electronica."
...we will be focusing on new and relevant developments within today's electronica
Put differently, the plan is to find recordings that relate to - and therefore reflect - the present day. The first choice? Some might say witch house. Or a parody thereof.
Once again we're in the realm of a decelerated and wantonly troubling style, designed to show the inherent creepiness of modern-day pop. Nationally famous hit records are slowed down to a drunken, if not comatose pace. The result produces the same oceanic sensations referred to by The Frozen Orchestra, albeit in a totally different genre. Such discrepancies aside, these releases are still unified by a unsettling sense that behind commonplace jollity there resides something nasty.
Any genre that owes so much to goth and industrial/drone traditions is not going to produce happy artwork, either. Below we see the quintessential tools of a road movie - but the destination may not be nice. We can't even see the road...
This Guerilla release is attributed to a figure known - in the graphic traditions of witch house - as InviteΔYupi.
The album is accompanied by the following statement in Russian. "An anonymous producer from Russia with the nostalgic name of InviteΔYupi has reinterpreted the nation's musical heritage of the late '90s. This is a period that's always treated with disdain in intellectual - and pseudointellectual - circles. Chopped 'n' screwed with the taste of cough syrup, this is a brutal mix of rave and R&B sounds. It straddles the line between good and evil. It'll give you flashbacks from high school afterparties... several generations later. InviteΔYupi himself likes to tag this odious style as 'PCP dub'... or 'Timberland on PCP.'"
Chopped 'n' screwed with the taste of cough syrup, this is a brutal mix of rave and R&B sounds
The rationale of trip-hop returns: decelerated and doped-up sounds produce a soundtrack to insistent nervousness. Just as trip-hop grew out of the racial tensions in Bristol - and a need to hide from them "chemically" - so these new witch house compositions pull some very scary sounds from the primetime Russian pop music of ten years ago. Normality is frightening.
The InviteΔYupi recordings do include a high degree of irony, since it's admittedly funny to unearth borderline demonism in a teenage record collection, but over time that impression changes. The contents of well-known music start to defy expectation; old-school entertainment begins to show its real face.
Titled "Forest Rave XXXL," this recording lasts for 50 minutes. The longer it continues, the more the double entendre of that title comes to the foreground. Big fun becomes something big and scary - and it might live in the woods. Something wicked this way comes - and it's whistling a number one hit song.
The self-proclaimed "cinematic" soundtracks of The Frozen Orchestra imply a rather foreboding view of surrounding actuality; the InviteΔYupi album manages the same trick through the nation's pop ditties. The Frozen Orchestra's music would appear to be an outgrowth of a certain city; the InviteΔYupi tracks come from a certain period.
From both spatial and temporal standpoints, a troubled pensiveness and dejection endure. This, of course, sounds like the major reworking of some time-honored assumptions (if not stereotypes) regarding all things Slavic. So much so, in fact, that a question begs asking: perhaps the folks at Guerilla are joking. If so, a dark sense of humor is at work.
Below we see a recent advertisement for a Russian retro-party, using the same bubblegum tracks that are manipulated by InviteΔYupi. The poster promises "Super Hits of the 90s!" and "Slow Dances." Knowing what we now do about decelerated pop songs from a previous decade, it might be wiser to stay away. Or learn the Lord's Prayer.