Some of the most challenging and exciting noises in the Russian web continue to emanate from "the industrial backwoods of Siberia." That phrase comes from the pen of Anton Gudkov, known to online audiences as Booby Mason. Enthusiastically tagging his output as "noise, harsh noise, field recordings, abstract [instrumentals], lo-fi, ambient, cut-up... and musique concrète," he has become an increasingly influential figure. Not only has he done a wonderful job of aggregating roughly hewn, lo-fi cacophony from far-flung corners of Eastern Russia, he is also a productive sound artist in his own right.
Noise from the industrial backwoods of Siberia
A few weeks ago, Mr. Gudkov was interviewed by the delightfully named "Noise Vomit" webzine in order to celebrate three years of hard and poorly funded activity. The conversation began with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek question: "What do you really think about people who busy themselves with [deafening] noise for years? What are they, idiots or something? Maybe they should start living a normal existence instead of wasting their time on noise- or flatulence-making machines... which'll never bring you any kind of income? Eh? How long can you mess about with this sort of cr*p?" That shift from third- to second-person pronouns is striking.
An abstract query becomes a semi-serious accusation.
Mason, nonetheless, replied in a stately tone: "Personally, I think it's absolutely great when people work on what they love. Even if it's something completely f***ed up." Instead of any material goals or hopes of profit, he instead champions his DIY catalog as "a really good form of self-fulfillment. I mean all these cassettes, miniature covers, and all the fancy stuff connected with them. I simply do it because it feels cool."
Booby Mason's first cassette, published in France - and sent home
The same uncomplicated and private pleasures inform his visual endeavors, too. "When it comes to designers and all those folks who draw stuff, I really can't be bothered. It's so hard working with them. I don't think about staging any exhibitions, either - but it would be good to create a small book or booklet as a compilation of my artwork. A kind of mini-portfolio. But that's all in the future."
When asked whether these extreme sounds are designed to mirror a "myth or [Siberian] reality," Booby Mason replies that "an element of self-irony should be present in all your recordings." For all the escapist promise of primal screams, he remains rooted in ostensible experience. For that same reason, our performer entertains no (delusional) dreams of moving away far from his snowy home, to some distant location that may - perhaps - be better.
An element of self-irony should be present in all your recordings
"I tried living in Novosibirsk for two months. Omsk remains the hole it always was, but I moved back there recently - to my roots, you might say. And now Omsk has become my own [cozy] black hole! It's where my relatives and friends live. The city is also full of places that mean a great deal to me. I've started to see my hometown in a totally new light. I've no desire to get out of here. I want to travel, instead."
The radical forms of aural distortion we hear from Booby Mason, therefore, are not designed to alter reality. Instead, in his opinion, they are a way of voicing and comprehending the unnerving plenitude of everyday experience. These sometimes shocking sounds endure within quotidian situations - in places that are best hidden, perhaps. Crime, depression, lust, and betrayal all rise to the surface.
One might, in fact, mention a possible analogy with primal screams once more, at least in terms of related therapy. Such practices are traditionally designed to create a sense of integration within "full" reality, once the oppressed traumas of childhood have been loudly voiced - and thus managed. Civic skeletons need to be dragged - noisily - from their closets. Some ugly truths need to be aired.
Something similar can be found in the recordings of MushroomWavved Collar. The noises on display here originate in the town of Smolensk on Russia's western border. One of this project's prior publications had been entitled "Contra Tussim," a Latin phrase that is usually found in scientific descriptions of cough drops(!). Something in those jarring forms was designed to make us feel better - specifically when it comes to possibilities for self-expression. In other words, even within troubled cacophony there nonetheless resided a few positive motifs - such as the benefits of catharsis.
One web-label has referred to MushroomWavved Collar as the source of "screwed rhythms, chilling or hazy sounds, and harsh noises, too."
Even the rumble of a bathroom cistern or a dripping tap can seem very psychedelic
The newest release, published this week, is a split recording the US outfit Ostensibly Ossified. Parallels become possible with Booby Mason's work when we see the enthusiasm with which MWC tag their compositions as "plunderphonics," a term created by Canadian composer John Oswald. It refers to the reworking or manipulation of existing (i.e., plundered) sounds. That same approach harks back to the question regarding mythical or real noises in Omsk. Plunderphonics unearth latent aspects within actual noises. The practice is itself a form of primal (hidden or repressed) revelation.
Some recent Russian reviews of MushroomWavved Collar have spoken directly to this issue of bizarre discord or imbalance, usually masked by tidy "normality. "If you're in the right state of mind, even the rumble of a bathroom cistern or a dripping tap can seem very psychedelic." Apparently this happens more often in Eastern Europe.
Another reviewer has gone further still, drawing parallels with shamanistic practice and the discovery of spiritual significance within inanimate or "objective" life. "This recording suits a lot of our daily situations. It also does a great job of killing that part of our minds normally used to store other musical genres! Sometimes you just want to switch on stuff like this: it's the backdrop to your own madness.You can kick back in an armchair, close your eyes and go on an unforgettable journey into the unknown..."
Madness and flights of psychedelic fancy are apparently equally likely if one delves (too) deeply into normality. Whatever the hidden facets of actuality may be, there's no guarantee one would want to discover them.
This recording suits a lot of our daily situations...
Extending that sense of some abyssal underside to existence is the new album from Minsk's Raw N^D, otherwise known as Andrey Shepelev. The eight newest recordings are untitled, but - despite that vagueness - come with a direct question posed to listeners: "What happens when experimental techno meets eroticism?" That implicit shift from desire to drive, from sensuality to machinic persistence, is not pretty. The wish to reveal - with obstinance! - some additional, darker verities will certainly conjure ominous sounds.
After all, these same compositions have been described by their publisher as "an interweaving of uncompromising passion and an alienated mood." The greater the drive, the more pronounced the estrangement.
Other listeners, such as Thierry Massard in France, have written in rather tortured but informative English about these Slavic instrumentals. Rearranged and polished somewhat, Massard's phrasing would appear to concern some "purely abstract forms akin to the sinking of a sub-philharmonic orchestra." In any case, that textual difficulty is arguably unimportant, since the newest work from Raw N^D comes thanks to the Belarusian label, HAZE, also in Minsk. Put differently, the label's organizers have an affection for reticence - and say nothing themselves. The one, tiny text that does appear on the pages of a central website tells us the following in rather dry terms:
"HAZE is an independent and noncommercial netlabel, publishing experimental and avant-garde electronic music from around the world. We offer everything free of charge - and legally, too, through the Creative Commons system." And, with that, a hush falls over the proceedings, at least from a linguistic point of view. Any of the websites overseen by HAZE will be dramatically free of text; neither editorial nor public comment is encouraged. Mournful, unpunctuated sounds take precedence over anything overtly grammatical.
Formal changes and spatiotemporal journeys
The fourth recording today comes from the Moscow glitch and industrial artist Tim Ballista. He is another solo performer unlikely to indulge in wordy PR, in fact he's explicitly framed by his sometime label - Illphabetik - as an exponent of tight-lipped, "dark atmospheres and related sound design. Ballista tells stories about form[al change] and spatiotemporal journeys. He describes all that he sees with both speed and [manifest] volume."
The current, complex avatar of Tim Ballista (Moscow)
That vision operates beyond anything ostensible, in that Ballista's instrumentals are designed to reflect "a world full of unseen creatures - and unknown forces." The newest addition to this worldview comes from Belgium's Entity label and is a split with East London's Nick Nenov. Both men lean towards things visual as an escape from the straitjacket of language:
"Surely you've considered that sound and image have a lot of things in common. Indeed, one could postulate that they [operate in] parallel [ways] across the entire perceptual spectrum." In fact, in more detailed terms, Nenov's own manifesto declares a longterm interest in "synesthesia and the aesthetic translation of cognitive stimuli." Forces of beauty - beyond the limits of speech - are given significant and possibly attractive forms. What on earth, though, is appealing in all we've heard thus far?
Synesthesia and the aesthetic translation of cognitive stimuli
As we see below, the accompanying artwork is a medical image - and, in the same spirit, listeners are invited to "enter the bloodstream" of these drone tracks. If we compare the harsh noise from Omsk to these monotone, mantric considerations of a beautiful, chemical harmony, an interesting juxtaposition comes to light. Clamor is used to illustrate external, social realms. Wordless, "aestheticized" drone is used to voice some kind of equilibrium connected to the human body. A peaceful glance is cast inwards, away from nasty normality and things grow markedly quieter... albeit in a dramatic fashion.
The very title of the Ballista and Nenov recording - "Inherent Split" - plays upon this same idea of "inner peace." Most of the tracks are dedicated to states of calm that lie beyond bodily forms, as nature returns to fluid, endlessly mobile multiplicity. From the track-listing, we learn that this transformation occurs "in swamps," within a "blood shower," or for those people who recently "died near the river." The sounds of Booby Mason's Siberia are those of social pressures enacted upon a body; the droning patterns from Moscow and London consider what lies beyond any "split" from that same physical frame.
Freedom, peace, and equilibrium, apparently, are accessible to us all. After death.