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A Great Escape: Magnetic Poetry, Kompakt–Katya, SiJ, and King Imagine


A Great Escape: Magnetic Poetry, Kompakt–Katya, SiJ, and King Imagine

Размещено 26 Августа 2015
review, english, far from moscow

Much of the music on FFM can arguably be described as "independent," an adjective whose significance has radically changed since first appearing in the Western music press almost forty years ago. Initially it referred to vinyl or cassette production and physical distribution without the involvement of major corporations. Given, however, the gradual implosion of the music industry over the last two decades, that same adjective no longer refers to underfunded outsiders alone. With the exception of primetime spectacle, all music today is perhaps to some degree "independent" or amateurish, in the original and best sense of the word. Divorced from marketplace monopolies, composition and performance are driven more by enthusiasm than cash. Everybody is an outsider, on the periphery of a black and fiscally unpromising hole.

Consequently, any expressions today of sonic independence or difference will move even further from profit and professionalism; "independence" belongs to those who expect nothing. Neither an income nor widespread interest are likely in a post-commercial realm where few ensembles make money, not only because of piracy, but also because centralized media have given way to countless, scattered music portals and platforms online. It's hard to be overtly commercial or promotionally effective when audiences don't know where to look.

One good example of solo performance that exists almost entirely as self-expression, and therefore seeks no gaudy PR, is the Kompakt–Katya project from Moscow. Known in more mundane settings as Katya Zaitseva, "KK" and her  catalog are the very embodiment of isolation. Prone to silence, Zaitseva presents herself to the world visually with faded, unfocused Polaroids and other crumpled portraits. Sonically, her compositions tend to be tagged as wobbly tape music, full of hiss and often built upon faltering loops. These, put simply, are the sounds of solitude, freely chosen or otherwise. Old, even obsolete recording devices are used to capture the musical musings of a very minor - and barely audible - figure.

The first vocals we here on the newest release, "Evelyn," are played backwards. When reversed, they reveal themselves as nothing more than two young female voices, greeting one another and chitchatting. (In fact the same voices reappear elsewhere on the album, recorded normally.) Pleasantries are exchanged - and nothing more. We find ourselves far from major drama, again amid the sounds of miniature or peripheral enterprise. For that reason, the album's title is very telling. The woman to whom it refers - and who is shown on the cover below - turns out to be Florence Evelyn Nesbit (b. 1884). In the early Twentieth Century Nesbit became not only a famous model and chorus girl. She was also, maintain some modern historians, America's first marketable celebrity, dragged at a young age into the limelight of national media - for better and worse.

Sexually abused as a young teenager, she eventually found herself loved by two pathologically jealous men - who themselves were subsequently embroiled in what became known as "The Murder Trial of the Century." Needless to say, the popular press had a field day, not only with the complexities of legal drama, but also with the private lives of everybody involved. Personal secrets became profitable, public knowledge.

To a large degree, these unfortunate events were a direct consequence of rapid developments in early twentieth-century media. Many of those same changes were visual in nature: mass publishing, picture magazines, and silent movies all evolved together. As photography became the new medium of American fashion, Nesbit's angelic face was bought, sold, and endlessly reproduced - in the name of a quick profit. Unlike our Moscow heroine in 2015, Nesbit knew increasingly little privacy or solitude. Her image appeared both on major movie screens and tiny, portable cigarette cards. The murder trial would only exacerbate the general air of unwanted public exposure and suffering; Nesbit's spouse, found not guilty by virtue of insanity, would subsequently be sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, Nesbit herself was chastised by journalists as somebody who "was sold to one man - and later sold herself to another."

The background to the "Evelyn" album, together with its orchestration of (happily) insignificant chatter, implies that Kompakt–Katya - far from being a sidelined, unimportant voice - is very grateful for the ability to choose privacy in a world that's increasingly loud or mercantile. Nesbit's timeline and various personal tragedies do nothing to advocate a life spent either on the radio or in the press.

Equal champions of a minor register are Magnetic Poetry, also from the capital and now a young married couple: Oksana and Dima Ivashin. From the outset we find those two private identities deliberately hidden online as "Oxana Anikina" and "Dm Dmtr." As with Kompakt–Katya, so Magnetic Poetry actively nurture a lo-fi register, which Western observers might well be inclined to tag as twee and/or cuddlecore. It's a style designed to avoid anything calculating or overtly brash. Both band members, in fact, are obliged to hold down office jobs from Monday to Friday, yet still feel the pressing need to fashion small, lyrical statements in their spare time. "What we do embodies a style of songwriting that chose us, really. We simply express whatever comes out from within us... We write all our material at home. Where everything is quiet and comfy."  

The new eponymous album from Mr. and Mrs. Ivashin is actually the band's fourth release of consequence (i.e., over and above online singles). It comes with a couple of paragraphs in English, the chosen language of Magnetic Poetry's lyrics. We immediately encounter a story of dignified retreat from crude society: "For the past five years we've tried really hard to make our music sound otherworldly, without any reference to surrounding reality. That turned out to be harder than we thought."

"What transpired in our songs was 'the music of a great escape,' in other words, the music of a parallel universe where you can sing love songs - all the time. Somewhat foolishly, perhaps, we try and hide from everyday unpleasantness in Russia. We hide away within our cosy art, produced in an equally cosy rented flat. We surround ourselves with colorful images and cheerful sounds, hoping to immerse ourselves in them - as deeply as possible. Granted, our music won't ever reflect any [pragmatic or political] agenda in the context of modern life, but at least it passes through the prism of our feelings."

Once again the voluntary vagueness of Kompakt–Katya is repeated. Abstractions are considerably more appealing than unforgiving reason. "We've never been fans of complicated lyrics. The words in our songs serve much more of a sonic purpose; they're simply one piece within a puzzle. They help us to complete the images created by our music..."

Speaking to Russia's Wonderzine this week, Magnetic Poetry have offered a little more context. A minor scale is preserved at all costs. "Our group came into being completely by chance. We wrote our first song spontaneously, without any kind of musical background whatsoever. We simply shared a love for music and the desire to create something together. We've always liked intimate, even chamber music. We may have moved beyond any [stereotypically] dreamy, small-scale guitar sound, but it is nonetheless essential that the two of us maintain an atmosphere of mystery." That magic is not to be shared among many people.

"It's really strange for us to ever consider having a third person in Magnetic Poetry. Sure, we have talked about it a lot in the context of playing live shows, but when it comes to music-making [at home or in the studio], there should only be the two of us.... We've no pretensions in our daily lives. On the other hand, it's difficult to step back from a creative process, because - whether you like it or not! - that all gets transferred into quotidian experience." Dreams prove persistent, no matter their scale.

An ability to let creative fantasy challenge everyday drudgery comes from minimal social contact. "If we were unable to believe in one another - if we didn't value what we do - then we'd certainly not be making music together... It's unbelievably cool when you inspire one another - and that inspiration then becomes something tangible. Whenever we've finished working on something, we might both be weak with joy for an entire day! Or, conversely, when something goes wrong, we both walk around miserable. Occasionally we feel so tuned in to the same wavelength that we even seem to be a single organism."

Fantasy, offered but one supporting voice, is sometimes able to sideline actuality "in a cosy apartment." Two other recordings this week extend that same game-plan. The first of them, published by London's Eonian Autumn, is called "Amarata" and comes from Kiev's King Imagine (aka Alexei Mikryukov). The label speaks of Mikryukov's piano and electronic ambient instrumentals as audible "memories of the future. They evaporate in sound and represent the evident sadness of a life that unfolds only in the mind. You can hear an existence through dreams, through shadows of a forgotten dialog and tired condemnations. A finch taps like maple tree branches against the window... This is nostalgia for the life we lose when we're born."

Adult social existence is a losing proposition from Day One. Magnetic Poetry speak of holding reality at arm's length; these King Imagine instrumentals commence the same struggle as soon as possible. In the same way, Mikryukov's other project Crossworlds (together with vocalist Irina Skrypnikova) reworks and reinterprets some ancient Ukrainian folksongs as a response to widespread modern awfulness. The result becomes "a place where the noises of a post-industrial world intersect with ancient lullabies. Together, those melodies carry a listener away... into the distant darkness of prior centuries." That erstwhile sense of worth is especially appealing at a time when Mikryukov, for example, quips on his social networking profile that: "I'm a fairly strange and loathsome persona non grata." There's little to recommend the present day.

And so both King Imagine and Crossworlds hope to celebrate spontaneity over "grown-up" common sense. In a new interview, Skrypnikova similarly declares that her studio enterprise with Mikryukov is "not supposed to tax the brain. The heart is what's important; there's no [workplace] pressure, only the heart. Nothing more than music, improvisation, and a purity of feeling."

For the same reason, she also expects her work with Crossworlds to appeal to younger people, whose outlook has not yet been tainted by modern cynicism. "I teach at a drama school, working with children between thirteen and sixteen years old. They listen to really great music and I love it when they send me tracks. It's always something really cool - and interesting, too." Neither surprises, nor audible spontaneity are to be expected from older generations. Within the music of Crossworlds, Mikryukov's colleague finds a "connection to some sense of space, or a [universal] feeling of the Earth, perhaps. It's a bond with the songs that my mother once sang, something that comes from a profound memory of childhood."

A sense of loss - and therefore of increasing yearning over time - is strongest in the new album from SiJ (aka Vladislav Sikach from Sevastopol, Ukraine). This extremely productive solo composer has just released a new LP, only weeks after the last publication. With artwork (below) that's grounded wholly in imaginary realms, the album is accompanied by some useful framing texts.

As we've heard from the other artists today, so with Vladislav Sikach the frustrations of adult experience are often foregrounded.  By way of example, the most recent interviews with SiJ included the following observations. "There was no real rationale behind my first release [as a youngster]. I simply uploaded a couple of noise tracks; together they constituted a sort of vague drone or minimalist material... Slowly I began my path from noise to ambient to [superior] drone... The fundamental impetus in all of that, banal though it may sound, has always been depression." Sadness is escaped - with increasing effort.

And so the mind wanders elsewhere this week, to better places. The newest album from SiJ, called "Way to Dream," offers a lesson in constructive wistfulness. On first reading, the title almost sounds like a teacherly imperative; a better way must be found. The best dreams are structured far from home. This is how SiJ frames the new instrumentals, tagged as "ambient" and "cinematic": "The final rays of the sun are reflected across the smooth, azure waters of the sea. They capture the purest, most cherished desires and dreams; together they strive like an impassioned sailing ship towards a distant horizon. The light vanishes, giving way to a lullaby of starlight."

As the text continues, it becomes clear that the English album title means less "A Way to Dream [Properly]" than "Path to a Dream." The confusion lessens as we read further into the promotional texts: "This album is dedicated to somebody who's very dear to me. It's also the most lyrical release in the SiJ catalog. With its gentle sounds, the LP hopes to awake a romantic sensation of reverie in each and every listener. The album's melodies were conceived somewhere between heaven and the waves, in a calm dialog of the elements. Those same melodies act as guiding stars, helping everybody to find a 'way to their dream.'"

In normal situations, Vladislav Sikach is inclined to say little, if anything. For that reason, it's useful to note that he recently uploaded an amateur review to one of his other LPs. The text summarizes much of what we hear from Kompakt–Katya, Magnetic Poetry, King Imagine, and SiJ. All those projects hope to ignore or respond to adult cynicism with an alternative worldview. Given the volume and ubiquity of crude social norms, however, romance is obliged to hide away in small places: either in bedrooms full of old cassette players or in the "cosy rented apartments" of forgotten zip codes.

And so a SiJ supporter writes, in a suitably florid and escapist tone: "Nowadays, many people are convinced that the time of fairy tales and magic has long passed. In actual fact that's probably true, especially when your childhood starts to fade, faced with the inevitable onslaught of 'rational' mature existence. Your belief in magic will slowly be lost and become nothing more than a pleasant recollection. Nonetheless, we're all capable of leafing through the pages of our life story. We can all return to those wonderful, prior times when there was still room for enchantment - the kind of magic that's missing today."

The same author goes on to laud the evocation in SiJ's music of "secret soundscapes, which invite us to take an unforgettable, fantastic journey. We'll travel to places where the most incredible legends become reality; they'll take your breath away. Each of the travelers will discern something different and personal, thanks to the power of their imagination." Where can these experiences be found? Where can personal desire be realized and private experience hope to overshadow shared - if not suffocating - convention? Judging by these four publications from Kompakt–Katya, Magnetic Poetry, King Imagine, and SiJ, solitude and hushed sentiment are a good place to start. Neither of them - thankfully - will be shared with many people.

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