06 December 2013

When Was Futurism?

Curious. First I've heard of it, and very intrigued. Apparently out -- in Austria, at least -- since this past April, having also been screened at this year's Mutek Festival held in Mexico City.

A write-up of the film at The Hollywood Reporter describes the span and focus of the film, highlighting the peculiar and esoteric development of Russian electronic music history, which evolved by its own logic and means, mainly due to its isolation from the rest of the world during the many decades of the Soviet era. Which would explain why many Russians at the time may never have heard of the work of, say, David Tudor or Otto Luening; which is also why many of us elsewhere probably know little of Russian electronic music beyond Léon Theremin or Eduard Artemiev.

But I do recall hearing some electronic music from Russia back just shortly before the turn of the millennium. Back around that time, I was listening to a lot of experimental electronic and IDM-type fare, recording by a slew of emerging artists who very much in the thrall of Autechre-esque sound-twisting and sonic abstraction. Eventually you began to see similar artists of that type popping up in non-English-speaking countries. Amongst the lot, roughly around 1999, were a number of Russian acts whose music began circulate via compilations or the odd European release.

I was probably among a small number of people of people took much notice at the time. In some way, I was a little fascinated by it. Something about this type of experimental music transcending borders, language barriers, and cultural peculiarities; being taken up and created by musicians in a variety of countries. In a way, it was almost like the spread of certain types of abstract art & design in the early portion of the 20th century -- post-Kandinsky modes of "pure abstraction" in painting, or intentionally international styles like those connected with the Bauhaus or De Stijl schools. Or so I would've liked to have thought.

At any rate, here's a few I remember...

The tune above, in its original short version, was quite a lovely thing -- with it's cooing time-stretched and -twisted vocals, and a some deep bass tones that dropped early in the tune and rolled about wonderfully throughout. I recall it turning up in a few UK dee-jays' sets at the time. The EP I own by them is an otherwise spotty affair.

Fizzarum, hailing from St. Petersburg, was another that I remember. At one point I believe their debut album was picked up by the Domino label...

A year of so later, the whole "micro-house" and minimal techno-house sounds was the big flavor of the new century, and I remember seeing a number of these Russian acts turning up on the Cologne-based Trapez label with their own contributions to the trend. This dubby track by Lazyfish was a favorite at the time; partly because of its slightly dizzying sonics, also because of the thud of the bass what sounds like its being filtering through a livingroom wall...

The Hollywood Report article described the musicians and technicians in the Russian electronic music community as "those who through ...ornery resourcefulness and enterprising ingenuity crafted machines which made sounds never heard before or since." Between that and the talk of circuit-bending, I'm vaguely reminded of early recordings by DJ Vadim, aka Andre Gurov, the Russian expat beatmaker and producer who first appeared back in the mid-90s. While Gurov would eventually settle down into a more slick and standardized mode of track-crafting, his early recordings really caught my ear at the time. On his debut LP U.S.S.R. Repertoire, and on a series of EPs on his own Jazz Fudge imprint, it was like he was playing with the idea of hip-hop DJing and beatmaking as a form of street-level musique concrète. It sounded like a guy in a dingy apartment, putting tracks together with a series of old, jerryrigged, belt-driven turntables; turntables that were clogged with dust, that played slightly off-kilter due to belts that'd lost some of their torque, and what probably had a bunch of stray wires hanging out the back...

Also, I can't help but be amused by the bit in the article in which one Russian says of the gear: "Aesthetically, it looks rather like a piece of space wreckage. ...Everything had to be monumental, like a Kalashnikov, built to last." Not too many years ago, I had a brush with a piece of gear matching this description. By way of the radio station, where for a while I was co-hosting a late-night experiemtnal music show with a guy who was a local noisician. At some point he acquired a piece of Russian-made equipment that he began using as a primary tool for soundcrafting and performances. It was an old, table-top affair, featured rows of dials and knobs, to which he hook up outboard sources and use the thing's filtering board to distort and transform the input every which way. Doing a little googling, I see that the piece of gear in question was a Polivoks synthesizer. According to those familiar with it, the Polivoks sports a sound that's "dark and aggressive"...


More about the Polivoks and many other things of its type at the online Museum of Soviet Synthesizers.

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