Homespun Science Fiction: Wols, L420, Wind in Willows, and Astronaft

Wols (Krasnodar/Moscow), aka Yevgeny Shukin

Not long ago, we noted - and explained - how the excellent Krasnodar project known as Wols has now become a one-man venture, overseen by Yevgeny Shukin. Raised in that southern city, he is currently based in the Russian capital. Known in his managerial capacity as "Vega.," Shukin continues to guide the stellar FUSELab collective, which remains one of the high-points of Russian electronica today. In the next few days, a 28-minute Wols album will be made available through FUSELab: "Outgunned." It was recorded partly with Alexander Tochilkin, who now has his own solo-project, Kött. In other words, this recording marks the transition of Wols from a duo to a solo venture.

"Outgunned," as will soon be clear, continues Shukin's trademark spirit and style, as noted by several Western publications, even further from Krasnodar: "Composed using vintage Soviet synths and atmospheric samples from Soviet films, the music of Wols sometimes comes together as... the soundtrack to a lonely journey through the cold air." Drawing upon that same antique spirit of technical adventure, full of trial and intrepid error, Shukin is currently inclined to push the abstract, imagined dimensions of a "cold, Russian journey" further still: "Wols make dub-influenced spacehop, 'anystep,' and all manner of related semitronica."

Metaphors of open spaces become those of outer space. Intergalactic wizardry is henceforth to be expected.

Dub-influenced spacehop, 'anystep,' and all manner of related semitronica

Sure enough, when the album's teaser first appeared, Shukin said to the Moscow press that the new sounds had become "more emotional - and deeper, too. They reflect the kinds of things I love; hopefully everything has worked out well. You'll certainly find lots of [stuff related to] outer space... outer space..." The repetition said a lot. 

His page on Vkontakte currently includes a small April 2012 interview, in which he says the album also reflects an entire year's worth of draft material and sketches that had built up in his workshop. Together they accompany thoughts of high-flying escapism. Various remarks from listeners on Soundcloud have already picked up on the same symbolism of altitude, with or without textual assistance. One recent remark, made with special enthusiasm, thanked Wols for the "lofty, distant synth sound - I don't know how else to describe it! Really cool work." 

L420 (Dmitriy Luka, Babruysk [Belarus]): "Adventure of Electronics [sic]" (2012)

A simultaneous chat with a Ukrainian webzine led Shukin to proffer the following definition of his brand-new material: "The core elements are made from some themes of the Soviet cosmos, together with some 'Russian' lyricism, and a certain... Eastern depth, you might call it. You'll certainly find all kinds of samples, taken from old Soviet records, plus dusty drum loops..." 

The resulting, wistful combination of prior times and unrealized potentials (or "heights") informs another new album, this time from the Belarusian town of Babruysk. Here we find a young musician masquerading under the stage-name of "L420." This, in other words, is Lithuanian native Dmitriy Luka, already known to us as a member of Jelly Groove. On our first visit to his catalog, we remarked that Luka had recently moved away from Lithuania, specifically from Vilnius to BabruyskVilnius dates back to the fourteenth century and is home to maybe 900,000 people; Babruysk is one quarter of that size and traces its origins back to the Stone Age.

A move away from loud indicators of present-day society has proven fruitful.

You'll certainly find all kinds of samples, taken from old Soviet records (Wols)

Babruysk's ancient backdrop, profitably divorced from crass modernity, now becomes the impetus for a similar flight - into the future. Luka has a new album that focuses heavily upon one of the TV sci-fi stories best known to Soviet children. Broadcast in 1980, it tells the adventures of a robot - "Elektronik" - that escapes from a laboratory, only to meet the young boy upon whom its features were modeled. The boy, logically enough, imagines that the robot can take his place in all manner of onerous situations - like school.

In an equally predictable manner, however, that same ruse soon starts to go wrong...

Astronaft (St. Petersburg)

On many occasions, the gap between science and sentiment is underscored, since the robot wants to be like his human double. Wols' yearning of socialist spaceflight, out to the stars, is here reversed. A figure born of that same stargazing research is unable to find his proper home on earth. That downscaling of "cosmic" discrepancies to daily experience - and civic lacunae - is clearer still in the new material from St Petersburg's Astronaft. A member of several hip-hop projects in the city, such as D.U.F and JahDust, he has just released a fresh album through Free Crates, "Our Planet."

His prior recordings, discussed here, had been inspired by the phenomenon known as "redshifting." That term refers to a visual effect caused by celestial objects as they move away from our vision on Earth; it's a product of growing distances and disparities. The result is a striking impression of growing redness across a planet's surface. The term "redshift," on a figurative level, therefore equates growing spectacle with increasing distance. Magic and ongoing motion work hand in hand; distant objects are loved all the more.

Astronaft's antique, cheesy synth-chords of Brezhnevian sci-fi on that recording (still!) show the importance of fantasy in an age of material torpor. Many of the sounds on display here will be associated by Russian listeners with late-'70s cartoons and "cosmic" feature films that arose in response to social stagnation, just like L420's TV series. As civic improvement looked unlikely in those decades, the escapist and markedly spacey noises of otherworldly storytelling took over.

Astronaft: "Our Planet" (2012)

In fact, the cosmic themes of 70s' pop music worldwide - full of glitter, starlight, and moondust - only strengthened the appeal of nighttime fantasy for earthbound, disenchanted dreamers. In "Our Planet," the desire for distant plenitude has been transferred to the much smaller realm of ecology. Both cosmic and ecological harmonies appeal - and are absent. They remain objects of a fading reverie, no matter how close they are to home. 

Some of the most dramatic parallels between starry-eyed hope and earthbound spaces have come to us - on several occasions - from Petrozavodsk and the noiseless forests of Karelia. Here we find Anton Filatov, who designs his own soundscapes under the stage-name of Wind in [the] Willows - and who has been discussed on this site several times before. He both admires and celebrates the romance of hushed "Karelia, lost within the mist and bogs along the Finnish border. He plays on children's synthesizers and constructs walls of strident, droning guitars. The result [nonetheless] is a peaceful kind of psychedelia, lapsing on occasion into the realm of new age music." 

A peaceful kind of psychedelia

When we first encountered these DIY recordings, they were tagged as "ambient," "experimental," "free folk," "psychedelic," and "Russian Federation." Concrete locations interfaced with druggie imprecision - and generic boundaries merged with an alleged "freedom." Those markers have now grown in number - and lessened further still in specificity. The more recent music on display from Wind in Willows has been cataloged by its author as redolent of "the wind asleep in the trees, Karelian pine forests... and intergalactic contact."

Anton Filatov Wind in [the] Willows (Petrozavodsk)

The appeal of a distant viewpoint, far across the treetops, becomes the starward yearning of a modern-day romantic. Put differently, the complete absence of modern society appears to be a reliable guarantor of other, better connections. Any frustrating gap between heavenly bodies and the lumpen earth can certainly be reduced by removing all (noisy, petty) members of the public. Time to head for the fir trees; the Russian landscapes offers many such opportunities. 

Any such promising and starry realms, therefore, will also remain far from the logic of human language. Language and its bearers have been left behind. Our musician, when asked to tag his newer works with generic labels, insists that they "sound like whirr and shhhh." To what exactly, though, might that onomatopoeia refer? Once again he combines an empty landscape with a rich imagination: dreams benefit from solitude.

Filatov's romance, working along these lines, begins tiptoeing into self-parody, even. His inspiration is purportedly found in the "murmur of rainbow unicorns, pine roots, Karelian trees, nights of love, polar lights, and northern stars."

Primitive synths and walls of droning guitars

There are now some May 2012 recordings on offer from Wind in Willows, entitled "Deepness in the Sky." A passage upwards is imagined in terms of depth, erasing everything in between. Where science fiction fails, Mother Nature endures. These new and bewitching instrumentals are first offered to us an interface - once more - of "primitive synths and walls of droning guitars." On this occasion, however, the range and impact of those sounds is extended. "This peaceful psychedelia will embed sacred, ambient sounds deep within your seven chakras."

One need only stare at the deep blue hues above a Karelian forest in order to outdo logic, outstrip leaden actuality, and bridge some of the frustrating gaps between "here" and "there." Modest, lo-fi narratives ponder some high points of nature's enterprise. 

Wind in Willows: "Deepness in the Sky" (2012)


Wols – Ashwind
L420 – Dog
Wols – Moscow, Side A
L420 – Police
Astronaft – Space Jazz

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