Unhurried, Hypnagogic Movements: Umiko, Denizo, and Htrspltn

Denizo (St. Petersburg)

The stage-name "Denizo" is deceptively brief, since it is connected to a wide range of activities - each with a different moniker. Within three syllables we find multiple ventures. By way of immediate example, this young composer and producer from St. Petersburg is also known as Denizo Shummer - and manages multimedia projects such as The Seven Notes. Thanks, no doubt, to considerable caffeine and the long summer nights of his hometown, he also performs as a member of the Jazz Gangsters, celebrated on several occasions at FFM. That fundamentally anonymous, yet diligent ensemble weaves hip- and glitch-hop instrumentals from a wide range of jazz classics.

A couple of months ago, those northern activities led to an album on Lucky Time Records: "Golden Jazzyland." As we mentioned, the unwillingness of Jazz Gangsters to either name or advertise themselves usually means that contextual information is only found amid the lengthy mixes published in between official releases. 

The spirit of jazz... and wanton inactivity

The last Jazz Gangsters mix, for example, was introduced as follows in Russian: "Summer is now behind us - and we dedicated the whole season to music-making. As a result, you'll soon get a chance to hear our album: it's rich with the spirit of jazz, bright summer days, and wanton inactivity!" What sounds like indolence, however, can sometimes lead to very peculiar - if not unnerving - results.

The Jazz Gangsters' unhurried, odd enterprise is furthered by a new Denizo EP, "Strange Things." High levels of ambient tape-hiss, plus broken glitch- and trip-hop loops, all give the impression of slow, sleepy movement. Clarity and narrative development surrender to nervous, fractured patterns that fade in and out of background interference. Self-expression has trouble making its way: reverie works hard to establish or extend a fixed rhythm. This tentative engagement of the surrounding world will soon be explained.


Denizo: "Strange Things" (2011)

Any soporific fantasies operating within these instrumentals have also been framed to some degree by the tiny promotional text that came with today's release. "During the recording of the JG album, it was impossible to predict how much things would spin out of control – turning [jazz standards] into a collection of broken, dope beats." Something inherent in the structure of prior recordings would be amplified further over time.

Sure enough, as we soon learn, the ad-libbed flourishes of classic jazz would be interpreted as a kind of challenge. Put differently, to what degree might their joyful liberty make sense to modern listeners? Dare one adopt a spontaneous, trusting attitude to actuality today, engaging it "on the fly"?

A collection of broken, dope beats

This shift from antique improvisation to issues of modern spontaneity - unfettered by structural norms! - certainly underlies the opening Denizo composition, "Crazy Radio Show." That instrumental is built upon the sleepy twiddling of some radio knobs, positioned atop an old-school receiver. Free movement around the ether, prompted by audible jazz samples, creates more peculiarity than "harmony." Hence, says Denizo, we have the EP's title. From within an old record collection comes the slow appearance of some "strangeness"; it comes from the nation in which Khrushchev once likened jazz to a stomach ailment...

Ivan Htrspltn (Ulan-Ude)

Matisse, much earlier and on a more positive note(!), had equated jazz with "rhythm and meaning." Finding any such pattern in today's experience - or across its worldwide media - is, however, a tall order. The upbeat, uptempo sound of our jazzy predecessors has slowed down radically. Denizo moves warily around a realm that is "strange" indeed. The world does not submit to any specific pattern, and therefore is troublingly devoid of significance. 

This same anxiety or unnerving fantasy - born of structural freedom! - can be seen in new work by Ivan Htrspltn. A resident of Eastern Siberia and the city of Ulan-Ude, Htrspltn speaks of his own discography in the most abstract, decentered terms possible. In other words, the development of his lyrical voice is described as a removal of differences between internal and external experience. Identity becomes endless, free extension - and speaking of "one-self" in the first person is apparently impossible: "Htrspltn himself[!] is a complex web of thoughts, feelings, and associations. There's a[n overriding] sense of morbid beauty." Considerations of selfhood as snowballing liberty are likened to physical demise. Again gay "abandonment" is cause for concern: the world is not to be trusted.

A sense of morbid beauty

Htrspltn's newest recordings, "Intergalactic Avantgarde," give voice to this same experience and are published today through Shufflebrain. They come with the following text in Russian; it imagines some distant - and unhappy - event of the future. "Spaceships departed on their long journey to distant lands. People like us sought a better future, both for ourselves and our loved ones. In the year 2136, Earth was overpopulated - and so courageous, enthusiastic citizens boarded some spacecraft on a one-way journey... They flew far from their homes, in order to conquer unknown planets."

Considerable strangeness awaited them - in the company of jazz.

Ivan Htrspltn: "Intergalactic Avantgarde" (2011)

Htrspltn continues in ways that explain further the recording's artwork: "There had been rumors of some people finding paradisiacal worlds, where they settled forever and were now warmed by the rays of new stars. Other explorers had vanished forever into a cosmic abyss... All of these people, however, had found some kind of peace, in that they'd all won something from life..." Peace was discernible, at least for a moment before the travelers realized that directionless liberty, sooner or later, will probably end badly. Such is the bittersweet outlook behind these recordings. Grounded in jazz, they ponder freedom in terms of intergalactic enterprise, which offers a 50/50 chance of disaster.

Some people vanished forever into a cosmic abyss...

Even fleeting success is viewed as rejected security and possible/probable failure: we're offered a sense of gain that's born of unavoidable loss. We're still close, therefore, to the notion of "morbid beauty" and the conviction that abandonment is (impending) failure. Htrspltn imagines his music as the soundtrack to "improvised" journeys, which - as with Denizo - are unhurried. Speed is certainly pointless if one's destination is unknown! In a recent interview, Htrspltn also admitted that he's inspired by David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, and Kurt Vonnegut. As we say, there's no guarantee these magical journeys will end well...

Much of Htrspltn's imagery borrows equally from cosmic and sexual sources, which indicates that these heady, yet worrying "journeys" may have a simpler - social - origin. The hypnagogic tendencies of Denizo and Htrspltn suggest that waking and/or maturation are both difficult. Leaving the security of youthful ritual brings challenges both good and bad. (Probably bad.) Inspired by flights of imaginative whimsy from prior decades, these young men move into the anxious, even "morbid" domains that open up whenever convention is shunned.

Umiko (Elena Neniskyte, Vilnius)

For that reason, perhaps, we might mention kindred souls like Umiko from Vilnius, who finds a related appeal in broken, decelerated, and semi-improvised beats. Here, though, the prime source of inspiration and ad-libbed enterprise is neither urban hip-hop nor some fantastic location. This Lithuanian musician (known off-stage as Elena Neniskyte) claims to have been "raised by nature" and now expresses that with a mix of sampled trip-hop, jazz, and dub traditions. The natural world offers a networked, harmonious alternative to busy, social spheres - and the result is happier, too. Biospheres are more accepting than cities.

An interview with the press in Lithuania added some useful background not long ago. Here - on the matter of live, improvised performance - and therefore trust - Umiko mentioned her decreasing faith in computers. "I'm starting to trust them less and less... After all, they break. It's more interesting to control oneself than a machine." A tentative movement is made away from tradition, custom, or computerized rubrics - and monitored physically. It's a passage from safety to risky spontaneity that's made haltingly. The Lithuanian press has noted, in that spirit, that Umiko both performs and publishes slowly: "Haste is not the main thing," she replies. 

It's more interesting to control oneself than a machine

And so, through her constant invocation of natural, rather than peopled realms, Umiko proposes an alternative to the threatening, "morbid," and "strange" spheres that inform Denizo's and Htrspltn's catalog. She does so by removing people and technology. Mother Nature offers more comfort than a metropolis: both are reason for possible concern, but only natural plentitude gives some cause for celebration. Htrspltn imagines human "plentitude" as the instigator of a mass, intergalactic exodus. More people mean more trouble: haste brings unhappiness.

Neniskyte admits openly to "wanting more feelings and emotion in my work - enough to let me embrace the whole world!" Judging by the sounds and views we hear from Denizo and Htrspltn, though, there's considerable worry about what lies beyond the front door, be it "heavenly planets" or a "cosmic abyss"! No wonder these recordings tread carefully.


Umiko (aka Little Bird, live 2011)


Denizo – Crazy Radio Show
Denizo – Guess The Tune
Ivan Htrspltn – Half Past the End
Ivan Htrspltn – I Love It When You Talk Dirty
Umiko – It Is
Ivan Htrspltn – Somnambulist's Eyes
Umiko – Still
Umiko – Wind Spirit

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