Last August, an article appeared in the Belarusian press celebrating the involvement of two local outfits in a UK compilation. More specifically, that fundraising album was called Touched. Although the LP's track-list gathered a daunting 417(!) compositions in London, it nonetheless served two immediate and laudable purposes in Minsk. Firstly, all proceeds went to Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK; secondly, both of the Belarusian performers in question––Mustelide and That Sky––found themselves on an album together with Amon Tobin, Autechre, and Nils Frahm.
Simple collaboration had garnered an impressive harvest––in exchange for minimal effort. The same news was also celebrated by the Minsk record label and digital community Ezhevika (tr. "Blackberry"), who have published both Mustelide and That Sky in the recent past.
I've always recorded material, songs, etc. on some kind of dictaphone (Mustelide)
Now the staff at Ezhevika have announced a compilation of their own: II Miracle, designed to continue the mission of I Miracle in October 2015. The newer release casts a glance over the last twelve months at Ezhevika, while including a few colleagues from Russia, Israel, and Austria––perhaps through emigre connections. The resulting collaboration may be smaller in scope than Touched, but an emphasis upon audible networks is just as clear. In fact, I Miracle declared a couple of years ago: "We've an enormous number of talented musicians here in Belarus. We've always wanted to build a bridge between the pages of [social network] Vkontakte and some of our beautifully decorated, high-quality releases for the international market." Lines were drawn between provincial Belarus and the distant, imagined communities of London and Los Angeles.
The now-annual release of these Miracles remains symbolically vital, no matter the style or genre under consideration. Put differently, folks at Ezhevika like to compare newly submitted music to tomatoes, delivered to market. If nobody notices that fresh produce, then it quickly spoils. "The role of Ezhevika is to stop any 'rot' setting in..." Worthy material needs to be picked, polished, and promoted ASAP. And the towns and villages around Belarus have plenty to offer, we're told.
Mustelide returns––both from Touched and I Miracle––to Ezhevika in 2017, following a very productive year with her other domestic projects: Silver Wedding and Clover Club. Her workplace zeal has led to several insightful interviews of late. Using her real name, Nataliya Kunitskaya, she first explains how collaborations and/or teamwork have shaped her career. "I've always recorded material, songs, etc. on some kind of dictaphone. But it has usually ended up in a cupboard somewhere, mainly because I consider demo stuff to be either hopeless or uninteresting. Because of all that, I stayed scared for ages."
Mustelide continues: "Then, taking small steps, I began playing in bands––where [paradoxically] I found more independece and freedom whenever it came to self-realization. With all that feedback [from band members], I finally began to understand whether my work was any good or not. I became motivated..." Supportive dialogs helped to build a more confident and creative monolog.
Never use music as a means to attention or power. That always kills any magic you once had (Mustelide)
"I haven't really discovered [all of] my female colleagues around Belarus yet. I'm sure they're out there somewhere! It's just that they're probably underground acts [and therefore harder to find]. A lot more women producers will emerge soon; that has already happened in Russia, in fact worldwide... But the most important thing of all is to avoid using your craft for vanity's sake. Never use music as a means to attention or power. That always kills any magic you once had." A sonic craft, begun collectively, should never hold itself higher than some collective purpose.
"You should treat your music like somebody you love. That can be tough, of course! There will be times of indifference, betrayal, passion, and madness. But... if you view music as the love of your life, then be kind to it. Fight for your music. And work hard, too."
This topic of fruitful humility emerges among some of the other artists on II Miracle. Take, for example, a young man in Saint Petersburg who goes by the stage-name of Antrru (Anton Kiltsov). More specifically, an Antrru album from 2016 was declared to be the result of four years' lonely enterprise. Even more directly, Ezhevika traced the LP's genesis to "a time when Anton lived in a rehearsal studio, itself housed within a defunct factory." Perhaps as a result of professional instability and meager funds, married with a sense of purpose, the LP was called Mramori, a neologism made from the Russian nouns for "marble" and "sea."
That same juxtaposition was then used to invoke the album's overall and admittedly abstract theme: "It's something with the timeless solidity of stone, yet the fickleness and changeability of the sea." A unique voice was shaped among other, contradictory noises. The present was shaped by myriad, absent voices of the past.
Nowadays, Antrru's humbling connection with natural phenomena tends him––still––towards reticence on social networks. Everyday chatter is replaced with brief snippets in both poetry and prose. For example, Kiltsov writes (in translation): "Realizing/ my state of affairs, halfway to the shore./ Remaining/ in my room/ for complete safety./ Chasms will open between us––/ So promise to be quiet./ Chasms will open between us––/ So promise to be quiet./"
That final looping couplet shifts the emphasis from anxious interaction to some hushed, isolated awareness. Or, as Antrru says elsewhere: "Live openly and honestly with yourself. That way you don't have to argue with the silence." Truth, in classically romantic terms, resides in contemplation of someone or something else. Verity is not here today––and has probably passed us by.
Chasms will open between us––/ So promise to be quiet (Antrru)
This same escapist zeal on II Miracle informs the music of Kosmonavt, whose earthbound existence belongs to a resident of Minsk, Belarus. Our artist at least reveals his Christian name, Lyosha (i.e., Aleksei), but still likes to insist that his surname is "Spaceman." That's unlikely, but admirable. And so we find bedroom reverie. Lyosha introduces some of his newest compositions as follows: "Hi! The cosmos is born right here––together with some electronica, glitch, and instrumental hip-hop." The grandest scenarios are imagined with a wink and knowing smile. In reality, membership in the world––not to mention the cosmos!––is a little harder and arguably not a laughing matter.
The performers on II Miracle are presented en masse as a vibrant and consequential community. Their interviews, private observations, and poetry suggest a more tenuous sense of self, however. They hope to better understand their surroundings, both among their peers (professionally/geographically) and relative to their predecessors (retrospectively/historically).
The many bands of II Miracle find themselves in varied stages of professional development, all the way from (recent) inception to dissolution––and then silence. Noiselessness lies both before and after them, so it's important here to consider the involvement of the capital's widely respected folktronica ensemble Shuma (aka Šuma).
The group members are currently defined with an intriguing turn of phrase: "digital archaica." Regional or national folk traditions are sought, saved, and then vivified with modern technology. The reason those songs are resurrected helps to explain the raison d'être of this compilation. The members of Shuma admit their longstanding preference for folk material that was once––purportedly––used in "pagan rituals." The past offers a greater sense of civic order or discipline than the present. The past, quite literally, helps to make sense today.
The band's lineup in 2017, designed to keep these old ideas alive, is rather lengthy: Maryna Rusia Šukiurava and Nadzeja Chuhunova take responsibility for vocals. They are joined and supported by fellow musicians and sound producers Alexey Budzko and Nick Cherny. Behind them all sometimes stands Pavel Gorbach (drums). The last of those Shuma colleagues is already well known to us from his solo catalog. Gorbach even contributes a track to II Miracle.
Here, put simply, talk turns to tradition, to the linkages that keep silence/detachment at bay. In recent conversation with the Belarusian press, Maryna Šukiurava declared that communities of a Slavic past help her to comprehend a troubled modernity in Minsk. Old stories clarify a murky present. "Folklore has always left me in a kind of subjective, really secret state. It always grants me an intimate connection with myself––with human nature. Folklore does that in audible, feminine forms. At the very same time, though, folklore also lets me access something global. Through music I tune into something profound."
Šukiurava continues: "So-called 'ethnic' music contains a genuinely ancient symbolism. It preserves our genetic memory and cultural codes. Everybody who enters that folkloric wold will discover a source or key within themselves. The same thing happens in psychotherapy. The therapist may utter something that––initially––appears meaningless to you, yet a switch has been flipped. All of a sudden, everything is in its proper place. You'll admit: 'Oh! You're right. That's what makes sense!' The very same thing happens when you sing [old songs]. It always takes you by surprise!"
A sung tradition, passed charitably from one nameless individual to another, keeps silence at bay. It engenders an audible feeling of membership. Other people and outlooks can be heard. "Whenever people listen to folk songs really carefully, consciously, then they'll enter a mild trance. You definitely see that happen at 'ethnic' concerts. Some of the audience members will cry, while others giggle. Some get up and leave, while others are rocked to their very core."
Together with Mustelide, That Sky, Kosmonavt, Antrru, and her own outfit Shuma, Maryna Šukiurava helps to manage the teamwork of independent music publishing in Belarus. With minimal income, maximum effort, and meager professional prospects, there's no logical reason why these men and women should keep going. Yet they do so. Together.
Finally, on a much grander scale, Šukiurava describes some essential, almost metaphysical bond with prior, absent generations. What connects them all is sound––the opportunity to hear, appreciate, and learn from one another. The LP's existence makes little sense; it justifies itself socially, not fiscally. It is designed to draw connections with peers (today) and predecessors (yesterday). The album therefore works both synchronically (as a single statement in a specific year), while Shuma expand a sense of identity diachronically (Belarusian selfhood, Šukiurava believes, has been slowly accrued over centuries of storytelling).
Moving out in space––across a map towards Israel, Russia, and Austria––II Miracle bolsters a fragile, underfunded, yet productive network of influences. Together those same influences, engagements, and collaborations show Belarusian performers in Minsk to be mutually supportive amid fractious politics. Ideology will always fade; "subjective and very secret" harmonies will remain, however. As long as they're shared.