One of Russia's most interesting exponents of a glo-fi aesthetic has been Valotihkuu, otherwise known as Denis Davydov, who lives in the industrial city of Cherepovets on the banks of the Sheksna River. With a new release this week, however, he has moved beyond the historical framework of the 1980s that had provided him - thus far - with the VHS and C60 tools needed to foster that glo-fi fuzziness.
On this occasion, some might say, dreamy nostalgia has perhaps become dreaming, pure and simple. Put differently, a new album has appeared online with the title of "Hyperstatic Rainbows." It comes together with some artwork that certainly blurs the line between reverie and psychedelia - while we, of course, should not forget that the title refers to a brand of antidepressants. What, though, of its significance for an intended - domestic - listenership? A couple of very telling, web-based reviews in Russia have already helped to frame the meaning of these sounds for a local audience.
This is so beautiful (Soundcloud)
We should start with the excellent Big Echo webzine in Novosibirsk. From Siberia we hear the opening contention that for all this stargazing or medicated wistfulness, several of the tracks do - still - appear to be "grounded in a nostalgia for a record collection at home." In other words, something still binds these sounds to the vinyl and cassettes of a parental living room. Yearning for a sunnier future, they're still tied to the past. Hand in hand with that fixed, retrospective emphasis, there's an additional and - one might say - "expansive" aspect to these instrumentals. It comes in the shape of field recordings, most of which originate in places far beyond a bedroom.
A longing gaze is cast both backwards and far away.
Big Echo looks to these natural soundbites and interprets them as a brief, yet telling insight into the "secret meanings of our environment." What becomes clear, however, is that we're talking not only about the sounds of birds and bees, but also about glo-fi itself as a field recording. That style moves across - and samples - the soundscape of a prior generation. The fading registers of a bygone age are likened to the noises captured in an open, outdoor setting. "Here in 2012, Denis Davydov is taking a journey into some field recordings of the 1980s. In doing so, he hopes - on the basis of his own, personal experience - to better understand the discoveries of those sound engineers [from several decades ago]."
A journey into field recordings of the 1980s (Big Echo)
In various ways, therefore, be they historical, spatial, or even chemical, the recordings of "Hyperstatic Rainbows" are seen as a patchwork construction, built from the fragments of "somewhere else." There's a melancholy air that results from that rebuilding of something long gone: these tracks voice an enduring affection for that which has passed - or simply never was.
For all this sadness, however, the comments on various blogs have been approving. An elegiac tone seems very familiar: "Sometimes there's a benefit to wandering aimlessly around the web. I've just come across a very good musician... I discovered that the author of this divine music doesn't just live 'somewhere in Russia.' He's actually based in Cherepovets. I've been to that friendly city myself, but it [i.e., my experience] only underscores the feeling of dissonance here. Nothing could be further from the heavenly melodies of Valotihkuu than the factories of Cherepovets..."
A physical location leads to an ethereal yearning - directed beyond the city limits and the status quo.
One might argue that an even more dramatic sensation of "removal" from modern experience runs throughout the work of Psevdo (which is the Russian for "pseudo"). Behind that term of enduring falsehood or absence, even, stands Alexander Lisitsky, a long-term resident of Magadan. Far away on Russia's north-eastern coastline, Magadan still bears the unenviable weight of a major cultural assumption. To this day, the city is - for many people - associated with imprisonment. During Stalin's rule, the entire region was a transit camp for political prisoners en route to some of the Soviet Union's worst labor camps.
The melancholy aura of Cherepovets' contemporary factories pales in comparison with Magadan's past. Here, as a consequence, the dreamscapes of Valotihkuu are also more ominous. Downtempo, often broken beats stumble forward with difficulty: the signs of strain or impending failure are everywhere. Those examples of deceleration or demise, however, are then cast against the backdrop of some striking textual snippets on Lisitsky's Vkontakte profile. Matters get worse.
Time has run out
Cheerlessness becomes angst. Currently his account is headed by two small phrases in Russian: "Are you tired? Fall asleep!" And then - even today - there's a contrary statement posted: "Sleep? That's for weaklings." Indecision worsens.
Rest and diligence are demanded in the same breath and, as an apparent result of that nervous, nocturnal flip-flopping, a new track appears. We include it here, if for no other reason that it emerged from Magadan as this text was being edited. It's called "Time Has Run Out," with all the words merged together in the original ("Vremyaisteklo"). And then we shouldn't forget Lisitsky's URL, which is again made from several words, interwoven from both English and Russian. The general meaning of his odd web address is "Go F*** Yourself." Daydreaming has a very hard time four thousand miles from the bright lights of Moscow.
Seeking a sense of liberty from these burdens and crippling distances is the one-man project DomainMeta (aka "Vadim Abjective"). Based in Saint Petersburg, Vadim has just released his "Metaphysics EP" through the Minsk Echomania label. Needless to say, there's an explanation available for the title. "Metaphysics is something between a science and a philosophy. It's a kind of faith in a higher power, something that goes beyond the confines of [traditional] scientific hypotheses." The music, we're told, hopes to embody a related "search for some internal or higher force in the universe. In some of our new compositions, the 'evolution' of a track reaches a state that's almost unimaginable - [the sounds become] something that many people just can't get their head around!"
[Audible] states that are almost unimaginable
Verity, if we follow the rationale of DomainMeta, operates on the edge of discord. Truth - as the expression of all aspects in a given situation - will move far beyond the narrow limits of harmony. Not everybody wants to hear everything.
Because of that presumed tension between truth and squeamishness, between sounds appealing and revealing, our musician then makes a self-deprecating statement. "Given the the choice between two paths - between going back or moving forward - I'll make the one correct decision: standing still." The noises produced in search of a "higher power" give painful voice to various physical limitations - as a result of which, inactivity and indecision soon have considerable appeal. Silence is safer than the announcing of existential worries.
In that light, we should mention Vadim's other project - known as Abjective - which we indeed examined recently. As we said on that prior occasion, he has spoken of its overall worldview as "very ascetic." Here there's an opposite - though related! - process to the raison d'être of DomainMeta. When speaking of this second project, Vadim's "ascetic" reductions in both sound and scale are considered relative to progress: the stricter and/or smaller the sonic function, the better.
Even though the stage-name of Abjective implies a woeful descent into physical or moral laxity, it's as if the musicians working here with Vadim are mocking their own sacrifices; they've invested much time and effort in fashioning these quiet, fragile sounds, yet immediately anticipate the hurtful criticism of outsiders with a self-deprecating moniker. They don't expect spiritual goals to be treated with respect - at least not by the public.
The connection here with DomainMeta is that the "Metaphysics EP" admits any attempt to voice true or totally honest spiritual concerns will lead - no doubt - to an "unimaginable," maybe unlistenable form of discord. Rather than even begin that grand, probably ungainly process, the recordings of Abjective are designed to hide away - in quiet and modest retreat. If faith is elusive - or "unlistenably" fragile - then it's better, perhaps, to turn to the drugs, just like Valotihkuu.
Siberian mushroom noise
And so, working along similar lines, we find the project Vyazkiy Sharab. The genuinely clamorous output of this anonymous individual is self-tagged as "Siberian mushroom noise." More specifically, the general outlook in these harsh sounds comes from a very odd - and admittedly psychedelic - source. Everything is credited to a "snail[!] called Charles. He lives right beside us, but he sees surrounding reality in a totally different way. Welcome to the cosmic world of Charles."
What's wonderful here is that if DomainMeta feels "true" expression runs uncomfortably close to discord, then Vyazkiy Sharab speaks of harsh, unbridled clamor as plenitude. Everything comes to disorderly life: things good, bad, and fantastically ugly. The risk from which DomainMeta hides is here embraced with amazing, ear-splitting vigor.
The sounds of Valotihkuu hope for a chemical exit from physical experience (or an escape from waning physicality). Here those psychedelic tools are used to give an artist the courage to face troubled, corporeal existence - eye to eye. That picture is full of information we'd rather avoid - and so we run up against stunning, "full" hubbub. Nothing is excluded - certainly not on aesthetic grounds. It seems only fitting, therefore, that many of the tracks on a new Vyazkiy Sharab recording are dedicated to looping, living processes: "Mountain Stream," "Within the Root," and so forth. One of the instrumentals is intriguingly entitled (in Russian) "Cryptomnesia." In other words, it refers to memories that are forgotten, but which then return - and are presumed to be new thoughts!
The sounds of endless (re)generation are understandably riotous.
Inclusiveness is a plus
This same outlook can be pleasingly extended to the city in which Vyazkiy Sharab lives. Of some recent works on a CD celebrating alternative music across Novosibirsk, one of Vyazkiy Sharab's colleagues said: "All the pieces in the puzzle are now in place. Our [new] compilation LP seems the most evenly balanced of them all. The most complete. Evenness might be a minus, but inclusiveness [or 'wholeness'] is a plus."
As we say, any soundtracks designed to match the entirety of physical or urban reality will probably not be pretty. They'll amplify all manner of unspoken, hidden, or sidelined phenomena. The levels of comfort are close to zero; the philosophical benefits, however, are considerable. The worse things sound, the more we learn.
We end with some wonderful words from Afisha - about the cleansing potential of Vyazkiy Sharab's disorienting, discordant excess. "Using primitivist rock, noise, or other manifestations, Siberia's underground music embodies a unique law, one that manifests itself time after time. Audiences are never allowed to stand on the sidelines for long; sooner or later, these musicians will start playing. Perhaps they'll perform their own material - perhaps someone else's - but they'll keep arranging this kind of [sonic] witches' sabbath. They'll keep going... all the way to complete enlightenment. Cover your head!"