Roland Zingiber, aka Autoisolation (Moscow)
Every so often, the rigors of DIY music seem to prompt or engender certain stage-names. One of them would be Autoisolation, which refers to a new solo project from Moscow. Behind that self-explanatory and locally pertinent moniker stands the lone figure of Roland Zingiber, which may or may not be a pseudonym. This stubborn vagueness comes from the fact our musician is not keen on offering biographical or contextual information. Instead of dates and places, this champion of "abstract" electronica, self-styled "contemporary classical" works, and even "doom jazz" offers his audiences literary quotes. One of the most important comes from the Marxist theoretician, Guy Debord (d. 1994). It is a Russian translation of the Latin palindrome meaning "At night we walk in circles - and are consumed by flames."
At night we walk in circles - and are consumed by flames (Guy Debord)
That dramatic turn of phrase was used by Debord in 1978 for a screenplay that begins as follows, celebrating a form of "autoisolation" or social estrangement: "I will make no concessions to the public in this film. I believe there are several good reasons for this decision, and I am going to state them. In the first place, it is well known that I have never made any concessions to the dominant ideas or ruling powers of my era. Moreover, nothing of importance has ever been communicated by being gentle with a public, not even one like that of the age of Pericles; and in the frozen mirror of the screen the spectators are not looking at anything that might suggest the respectable citizens of a democracy."
Debord's contrariness only increases: "The movie-going public, which has never been very bourgeois and which is scarcely any longer working-class, is now recruited almost entirely from a single social stratum, though one that has been considerably enlarged — the stratum of low-level skilled employees in the various 'service' occupations that are so necessary to the present production system: management, control, maintenance, research, teaching, propaganda, entertainment, and pseudo-critique."
Put simply, Zingiber revels increasingly in the negations of Marxist thought, revealing the "true nature" of industrial life through thematic juxtapositions, deliberate antitheses, and a resulting advocacy of dramatic social change. Habit and hegemonic structures are either erased or inverted. For the same reason, no doubt, Zingiber also quotes Slavoj Žižek's more recent assertion that: "The core of my being is not what I am, but the negative way I am able to relate to what(ever) I am." Put simply, "I" develop through a constant, deliberate rejection of both my current state and everyday assumptions. Once more, the stage-name Autoisolation appears to make sense. A voluntary solitude, cultivated away from people, allows for a better, more objective view of society's "actual" operations.
Autoisolation's core or programatic imagery is capped with a final, philosophically kindred quotation from David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" (1990): "When you see me again, it won’t be me." Nothing is constant, everything is wantonly inconstant.
The romance of saying "no" to convention is then transferred to an entire series of events in northern Russia. Last summer, the Uncapitals Tour was arranged across the Barents Region of those Scandinavian and Slavic territories closest to the Arctic Circle. Musicians from four nations were brought together "in order to move various cultural centers [of activity] from the traditional capitals to the [more distant] regions." The audible result of that activity has just been released as a compilation album.
We support the musicians' future endeavors... in the unforgiving setting of the Arctic (Uncapitals Tour, 2015)
In the words of Uncapitals' organizers: "Over the course of several days, all the participants socialized, attended talks by well-known musical experts, and benefitted from each other's expertise. A number of creative trajectories came together – as a single artistic artifact. That final product now reflects their shared perception of the Barents Region's identity." Only by nullifying the purportedly "central" role of capital cities and the bounded nature of political geography would fresh insights come to light. "We deliberately moved all of our stages from official centers to distant towns. That allowed us both to develop new skill-sets in situ and kickstart regional art organizations. We aim to inspire musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, journalists, and photographers. We support their future endeavors... in the unforgiving environment of the Arctic."
Among the participants, we find both members of Love Cult - Anya Kuts (aka Kutz or Cuts) and Ivan Afanasyev - together with additional northern figures celebrated on FFM: Wind in Willows (Anton Filatov), Chizh (Aleksandr Korneev), HAARPS (Ilya Arkhipov from Murmansk), Elecman (Artem Zolotarev), plus others. It bears mentioning, no doubt, that Love Cult themselves have long overseen the label Full of Nothing, a widely respected celebration of inversion, cancellation, and "fruitful" dialectics. That striking label name on occasion leads to rejections of overt dogma, for example in the modern church. "Nothing" is discerned in contemporary experience. Not long ago, Anya Kuts had the following to say about the tensions between the Orthodox Church and modern desire - between today's ideology and individualism.
"[We've been] inspired by some terrifyingly simple and dogmatic views of Russia's Orthodox Church on love and sexuality. In fact, in the Russia of today, which is so ecstatic over the annexation of Crimea, we are unable to find anything resembling 'love,' and sexuality has become something of a caricature. Love Cult expresses our general worries and fears, but our most recent mixtape concerns something in particular. It includes tracks from musicians we like from different times, including compositions from our Russian 'brothers and sisters.'"
A voice breaks into a cry - and then slips into a whisper
The same imagery is then placed in another, equally dramatic historical context by the Orel trio, Pomni Imya Svoe (Orel is approximately 250 miles south of Moscow). The three Russian words of the ensemble's name translate as "Remember Your Name" - and the musicians use both forms, occasionally running the letters together as an additional neologism: "Pomni Imyasvoe," for example.
Inspiration for a modern project originates in a terrible past. The outfit's name comes presumably from the Russian and Polish film of 1978, in which a woman is tragically separated from her son in Auschwitz. At one point in the feature, the mother crawls to the Nazi barracks where her son is isolated; through cracks in the building's ramshackle wooden wall, she whispers: "Remember your name." Her son should never forget his real - Russian - name, together with his Soviet citizenship. Only the loss of everything reveals the importance of something amid mass destruction.
In the same stern vein, Pomni Imya Svoe perform a multitude of well-known and twentieth-century Russian poems to music, often as (gypsy) romances. Among them are works by Esenin and Vertinsky, while other texts come from the darkest years of the Soviet Union. Given their recourse to themes of calamity, these Orel musicians - known only as Kseniya, Stas, and Maria - describe their craft in an almost Gothic register.
"An unsullied, profound and female voice ponders the most treasured aspects of human existence. It seems somehow to gaze deep within our hearts and souls, bringing both pain and joy to the surface... together with confusion and anguish. A voice breaks into a cry - and then slips into a whisper. A piano draws minimalist sketches, yet it gives voice to a manifest tension. On occasion it speaks of hopelessness, interweaving with the plaintive, expansive sounds of an accordion."
The historically determined stance of Pomni Imya Svoe
One of Pomni Imya Svoe's three members, answering listeners' questions on VK anonymously, spoke recently of how these classic poems and romances mirror both the history and experience of others. One woman's loss repeats that of a nation. "Music reflects a person's life, thoughts, and feelings. It reflects his or her reading - and what was understood from all those books. It reflects the people encountered over time. Ultimately, we're dealing with something elusive and incomprehensible. It's something that we bring into the world unconsciously."
Some of Pomni Imya Svoe's own poems, over and above the Russian canon, speak to the same issues. Realization and/or wisdom comes from loss. "How did I love you? It was painful, but I recognized that pain as payment. Even God, perhaps, never knew how much I loved you." Or: "I will perish. I will perish on the icy steppe, when the pitch-black wind throws my body to the winter as a sacrifice." Everything is voided - in the name of some "elusive and sacrificial" benefit. Complete and utter self-negation is required.
Ultimately, we're dealing with something elusive and incomprehensible
This fascination with antitheses and renunciation has always helped to construct the Baltic worldview of Vėjopatis (Nikolaj Polujanov), who is based in Vilnius, Lithuania. “My biggest sources of inspiration are city life and nature. After all, the city could not exist without nature. There’s a wide sense of affinity between them; we - as humans - live within that same [overarching] harmony. I can certainly sense nature's presence in the city after sundown. Put differently, urban traffic is something like a river - it even sounds the same. The 'flatness' of apartment buildings [block after block] is also reminiscent of a concrete forest."
Summarizing these abstract ideas in briefer, somewhat more straightforward terms, Polujanov defines his primary influence as "the special music found both in the city and countryside." It's neither here nor there... at which point it is worth mentioning that Vėjopatis is also a major figure in Baltic mythology. Referred to sometimes as the "wave blower," Vėjopatis is the legendary guardian of rivers, lakes, and even the open sea. Across them all blow winds and storms, phenomena summoned by the same divine spirit. His presence is universal, yet simultaneously invisible. Identity is sensed, not seen, being nowhere in particular.
Pomni Imya Svoe: some minimal, time-honored tools on stage
Hence the tendency of Nikolaj Polujanov's label to equate Vėjopatis' ambient dub with "sleepless nights on a dark northern stage." The striking flatness of a Baltic seascape does much to dissolve any vertical structures into seeming endlessness.
For all these evocations of antiquity or absent times and places, the symbolism used by Vėjopatis is not just an anxious escape into rural silence. Traditionally speaking, the intangible phenomena attributed to Vėjopatis - to the deity - serve a very direct function. Winds and storms, it was believed, always happen for a reason; they blow away evil or unwanted souls forever. Nothingness contains a terribly efficient and ethical force.
I'd say that people often ponder nature without raising any questions
In an interview with Cold Tear Records in Lithuania, Polujanov discusses these and other themes, which merge in his newest album, "Anafielas." That unfamiliar noun refers to a mountain in pagan Baltic mythology, which the deceased hope to climb soon after death. "The wealthier a person was in life, the harder his ascent will be. Conversely, a pauper might, perhaps, climb the mountain quickly - if he has not offended the gods during his lifetime. Those who make it to the summit are then judged by the gods and [on rare occasions] blessed with divine rewards."
Polujanov speaks of these possible antitheses in detail - in other words, the ways in which mundane, often noisy existence typically does not invite the reversal of fortune that Žižek describes. The rich remain arrogantly so, for example; they rarely ponder a radical alternative. Most people, seeking little more than indolence and comfort, shun "the negative ways of relating to whomsoever I am."
In paraphrased terms, Polujanov now talks of being within social existence – and yet canceling it out: "Let's consider a buddhist monk. He is walking down the street, ringing a small bell with every one of his slow, small steps. People do not notice him, yet he - on the other hand - can hear everything. I'd even say that anybody who is willing to stop and listen [like that monk] will hear something new. To cut a long story short, I'd be willing to say that people often ponder nature without raising any questions [i.e., it does not prompt them to question their habitual outlook]. Folks rarely realize that when nature stops posing questions for them [about presumed normality], they no longer know nature at all."
A recent, celebrated event in the life of Vėjopatis (Nikolaj Polujanov)
The natural world, in conclusion, is full of seasonal reversals or "self-cancellations" as winter approaches; death, however, allows for rebirth and for healthier, hardier plants. A brief return to politicized language might lead us to speak, simultaneously, of natural phenomena "negating" one another in a true Marxist/Leninist spirit, turning quantitative changes to qualitative benefit. Hence we find not only the imagery in Vėjopatis of seeds, germination, growth, reproduction, pollination, and - finally - airborne distribution before a built-in demise. Polujanov also speaks of nature as neutralizing the presumed allure of urban existence - to widespread philosophical benefit.
Anybody who is willing to stop and listen will hear something new
The long-lasting, consequential benefits of contrary, even tragically "novel" experience are handled differently by these four recordings: Pomni Imya Svoe, Autoisolation, Vėjopatis, and by everybody on the Uncapitals Tour. They all offer different, yet overlapping interpretations of how a jarring, perhaps violent epiphany can be a blessing. Roland Zingiber begins by quoting both Guy Debord and Slavoj Žižek as champions of endless repudiation, of a perspicacity that comes through endless failure, reversal, cancellation, and antithesis. Chaos, as result, becomes a realm in which all potentials are happily exercised and altered; instability and unflinching disavowal are - by their very nature - fine defense against any singular, monolithic voice. Everything is happening - all the time.
The Uncapitals Tour develops these ideas spatially: the arrogant "centrism" of a capital city is cancelled out. Artistic activity is moved to a place that's maximally distant from intransigence. The middle of a civic realm is confident in its immutable importance; better, therefore, to shift creativity and the investigation of novelty somewhere else entirely. Revelations occur only on the edge of terra firma. Vėjopatis likewise toys with themes of distant nature or wilderness as guarantors of fairness and flux.
As for Pomni Imya Svoe, they - tragically - discern these same cancellations deep with Russian history, according to which normality is constantly challenged, violated, or erased altogether. Any hope for stability becomes an experience of endless transition(s), generation after generation. Those surprises and frequently awful disruptions may perhaps bring wisdom and an awareness of life's core values, but the physical cost has usually been drastic, to say the very least.