Sumy is a town in Northern Ukraine that first appeared on the map over three hundred years ago in order to defend Cossack territory against warring outsiders. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries would transform Sumy into a less dangerous industrial center, but a proud connection to those earlier times persists. The image above shows a dual spiritual and industrial heritage today - in a typically ramshackle fashion, redolent of our somewhat grayer age.
From the standpoint of contemporary music, designed to orchestrate these times and places, Sumy is home to a young artist known as Enko. His work has been showcased here on several occasions. He now has an album available for free download with the title of "Jazl Mnstr." It comes to us via the Chinese netlabel Bypass and was engineered by the project's founder, who himself performs in Beijing under the stage name of ZhangJW.
Enko remains a man of very few words, beginning with his insistent unwillingness to publish any private information beyond his Christian name, Artem. The promotional materials for "Jazl Mnstr," in a similarly tight-lipped fashion, consist of a mere six sentences. Here we're reminded that Enko has moved northwards to Moscow, where he continues to nurture a musical career that was conceived under the specific influence of Autechre. His output, since those early days, has appeared through a range of netlabels such as Subwise, Pavillon36 Recordings, and Qulture.
Domestic influences start to move outwards.
His Facebook presence, showing an extended dislike for textual data, is built almost wholly of brief links, most often to a series of images at Flickr. Many of those illustrations show his life in ways that bolster two viewpoints in particular. The photographs both document his daily experience (amid the saddening forms of Soviet architecture) and, simultaneously, conjure a sense of estrangement through manipulated textures, chromatic ranges, or the dramatic warping of solid forms. The grey, angular shapes of Russian or Ukrainian suburbs begin to buckle - as we see above.
Something non-material is brought swiftly to the surface of quotidian experience - and it looks less than welcoming. Something wicked this way comes, thanks to Photoshop.
These hypotheses can be substantiated and extended. From Kiev this week come the sounds of compatriot Evgeniy Vaschenko, who performs under the moniker V4W.Enko. Enko is currently working together with Chinese colleagues; the similarly named Vaschenko has a collaborator in Japan. The latter's newest effort, now available through Bandcamp, is entitled "y:e:t" and a collaboration with Tokyo sound artist Kyo Yanagi (aka Sanmi).
Vaschenko gave an interview to the Australian press in which he sketched the background to his current activities. In doing so, he interpreted his career as a development or trajectory from custom and tradition to (well-considered) spontaneity. This biographical view of progress also finds expression in formal terms.
Beginning the same conversation, Vaschenko described how his earliest compositional efforts emerged when he started tinkering in childhood with an accordion, discovered in his grandfather's house. A time-honored, conservative music education would soon channel that enthusiasm into rather traditional skill-sets, but the urge for experimentation always remained. He says that he never lost a sense of wonderment at "what music could be." Above we see him in a pensive mood when faced with such options.
...a sense of wonderment at what music could be
Both structurally and geographically, Vaschenko and Enko are fostering what they see as an expansive or centrifugal aesthetic. They view themselves as working beyond the normally accepted limits of ostensible space, convention, and even regulated performance. Put differently, there's a shared and conscious desire to investigate unconscious display.
The risks thereof seem well voiced by Enko's recent dabbling with dubstep and the ominous, vacuous spaces carved out by a wobble bass. A departure from the safety of local streets or structural norms may not end well. Both of these men, in fact, manage to conflate adventure and anxiety in their work.
It's a nervousness that first takes shape at home. Worries about "the world outside" start with concrete references to domestic spaces; Vaschenko, we should mention, even trained as an architect. One of our artists shows that fear visually by turning local tower blocks into swirling, almost demonic funnels. The other, a student and engineer of such buildings, dedicates the theoretical thrust of his discography to what lies beyond structure and related constraints.
Vaschenko's beautiful website is almost entirely dedicated to the sonic evocation of geometry: it makes myriad, inanimate forms mobile - and audibly so. We hear what penetrates or lies outside immobile bricks and concrete.
Our third artist, who also is publishing new work, makes those "domestic" lines of argumentation clearer still - and older, too, in that she draws upon Ukrainian history as an exit from the claustrophobia of modernity. In order to explain her line of thought, however, we need to take one final look overseas. This last Ukrainian sketch requires a brief detour - to France.
We should mention the Quartz Music Awards in Paris, which are designed to champion new and experimental electronic music. The Kievan project Kvitnu, about whom we've written many times, just walked away with three awards for Best Label, Best Artist, and New Discovery - not to mention another nomination in that final rubric, too. In other words, Kvitnu is establishing itself as a major force in East European electronica, both sonically and graphically, given the equal - and beautiful - attention paid by the label to its artwork.
From that same stable this week comes new music from (Kateryna) Zavoloka, continuing the theoretical concerns of her last two releases. In 2007 she published "Viter," a glitch-dappled evocation of the wind's movement; this was followed early in 2011 by "Svitlo," a similar view of light's shimmering qualities in audible forms. As a variation upon these elemental themes, we now have "Vedana." The object of attention this month is water.
We begin with a small, rhythmically arranged text, both in English and Ukrainian; this is how Zavoloka interprets the album's title. The text positions the significance of "Vedana" both as and beyond a concrete individual, since it is an old-fashioned Christian name. A specific person - through Zavoloka's aquatic imagery - is examined not only as a physically delimited space, but also an intuitive awareness beyond anything tangible. Individuality and subjectivity operate inside and outside corporeal limits.
As usual, the Kvitnu artwork speaks to intricate, ecological patterns that surpass easy (verbal) formulation. The text reads as follows in its English form:
Vedana is an ancient Ukrainian woman's name.
Vedana is pure sensation without emotions.
Vedana perceives the world through intuitive insight.
Vedana flows, melts, drips, and crashes.
Vedana flows, melts, drips, and crashes
As with "Viter," the use of distortion is foregrounded, on this occasion through the low end of a percussive range. The misshapen sounds of a bass drum speak to the troubled limits of base physicality. Something excessive moves beyond the petty confines of fleshy existence. That seemingly impressionistic interpretation can be justified with a few external references.
Firstly, "Svitlo" had been built with what Zavoloka specifically called "raw bass lines, constantly breaking rhythms, and unexpected structural turns." Secondly, the same gruff bass/base register is now reemployed, in her own words, to depict liquid "depths," whereas some plaintive folk vocals provided by Dania Chekun represent "the surface of sonic water". From an evocation of bruised or "raw" actuality we move to the discussion of a loftier, lighter alternative.
Her symbolism is concerned simultaneously with the polar opposites of depth and surface, dead matter and "intuitive insight." An exit from one side to the other seems vague until we learn that "Vedana" was actually inspired by the mythical figures of Cossack "Kharakternyky," i.e., wizards or shamans, even. Legend has it that these magicians were able to adopt the the form and fluidity of water - by drinking from the purest streams. Zavoloka refers to the result as a sort of "inner melting." As we see, modern Ukrainian comics have a rather more dramatic view of things...
In all these new works from Enko, Zavoloka, and V4W.Enko, there's a residing concern with potentials that lie beyond the depressing weight of convention. That burden is seen in terms of the human body, Soviet architecture, or fossilized musical structure. An escape from all three is promised via intuition (today) or magic (in a mythical past). The homogenization of modern daily life or international convention can be sidestepped with a return to the long-forgotten potentials of local practice - before the bricks, mortar, or motorways appeared in Sumy, for example.
Below we see Zavoloka in Kiev with her two colleagues from Kvitnu, Kotra (left) and Dunaewsky69. Beside a local body of water, they scour their surroundings for new and better ideas. There's not a concrete structure in site. Instead, the red star on Dunaewsky69's shirt suggests the reworking of a new, "constructive" magic - after a quick drink, taken from the end of a short blue pier. Expect an inner melting as the present day gives way to something very old indeed.
Look for Ukrainian bottled spring water at your nearest grocery store; you never know what might happen.