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Pine Therapy: Endless Melancholy, Pavel Chigarskikh, SiJ, and Furthers


Pine Therapy: Endless Melancholy, Pavel Chigarskikh, SiJ, and Furthers

Размещено 7 Апреля 2016
review, far from moscow

A few days ago, we documented some new rock recordings from Yekaterinburg, given the enduring influence of local cultural history––and specifically of the Sverdlovsk Rock Club (1986-1991). It goes without saying, however, that no town or city can be defined by a single style––even in retrospect. In the name, therefore, of ongoing and confounding diversity, it's useful to throw a weighty spanner in the works and showcase a radically different genre from the same location. Yekaterinburg is home to more than one movement.

Pavel Chigarskikh is a local resident, whose newest ambient compositions have been presented to FFM before their official publication––we offer a couple of them here. Labeled only as "Parts I-V," they reflect Chigarskikh's longstanding penchant for understatement, if not total silence. The last time we encountered his catalog, the artist's social networking accounts were only lightly dusted with a handful of aphorisms. They took the place of any authorial statement and served as abstract advice: "You fly further––into nothingness––as if within a cloud spun from millions of sparkling threads. Everything else has frozen still––and there's nothing to disturb the peace and quiet. The only thing left to do is observe the beauty of that surrounding depth––calmly, eternally." Introspection, we were told, would lead to an uncomfortable wisdom––but how, exactly?

Another small prose poem from Pavel Chigarskikh, entitled "Depth" (or "Profundity"), imagined that within hushed realms there resides a jarring presence. It might not offer much comfort; truth might actually bring little consolation. In the best traditions of Dostoevsky, we were warned that if one's introspection becomes really focused, subjectivity's internal workings could manifest a much darker potential. Wisdom––the ability to know everything––might well lead to worry. "A beast looks upon me from these unknown depths––the domain in which everything is born and dies... I am pursued by his gaze, full of fear or loathing. He follows my every step; he accompanies all my prayers. How I wish to merge with you––although we've never met. My beast, my consciousness. Myself." The spirit of Nietzsche is close at hand.

These more dramatic forms of lyricism are again––consistently––tied to the notion of silence. Greater virtue or knowledge certainly lies far from modern hubbub, but its precise nature can be hard to predict. Maybe intense reflection and self-examination will lead to nasty discoveries? Once a modern, confidently socialized ego is cancelled out, matters can be hard to predict: humility ushers in a wealth of other, stronger forces.

The newest instrumentals come with absolutely zero context: no artwork, announcements, or advertising materials. Instead we find a few pithy posts from Chigarskikh, indicating various films or (equally spectacular) natural phenomena that have inspired him of late. For instance, the most recent Chigarskikh post was a large illustration released by NASA, showing the magnetic field of the Sun. It is harder to imagine a grander vista, one that would––hopefully––leave viewers in silent awe of a noiseless, boundless realm, far beyond our humble lives.

And then we have cinema, which also serves to highlight things ineffable––or simply incomprehensible. The two features of most direct influence on Pavel Chigarskikh's music this year have been Richard Ayoade's 2013 adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Double" and David Fincher's "Gone Girl" (2014). The former story is plainly familiar to most Russians, but is updated by Ayoade to address more contemporary workplace anxieties. The sense of nothingness in a drab office complex becomes a joyless counterpoint to Chigarskikh's amazement at cosmic grandeur. Solar patterns lead to a vertiginous sense of belonging––to a system so unspeakably bold, it leaves one dumbstruck and free from "bestial" consciousness. Nothingness promises so much. Office politics, however, make one feel like nothing––pure and simple.

And so we hear in the screenplay: "I don't know how to be myself. It's like I'm permanently outside myself. Like, like you could push your hands straight through me if you wanted to. And I can see the type of man I want to be––versus the type of man I actually am––and I know that I'm doing it, but I'm incapable of what needs to be done. I'm like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me."

"Gone Girl" debates related issues of truth and falsehood in a social setting. Instead of narratives about social insignificance, however, we face the possibility that a character may have acted far beyond expectations or ethics. A murder may even have been committed. Identities are again less than clear. One of the primary characters in "Gone Girl" writes nervously in her diary: "I will practice believing that my husband loves me, and will love this baby. That this child might really save our marriage. But I could be wrong. Because sometimes, the way he looks at me, I think this man of my dreams, father of my child, this man of mine may kill me. He may truly kill me."

In both films, nothingness is the central theme––a death either virtual or literal. Pavel Chigarskikh's music is designed to find a quiet, welcoming alternative to the "animal vacuum" of social life. His search for soundless belonging in some lofty, life-affirming scheme continues. Human networks are clearly insufficient.

Very similar themes frame the newest recordings from SiJ (aka Vladislav Sikach from Sevastopol, Ukraine). They appear almost simultaneous with a Swedish compilation from Lamour Records, wittily titled "Droning Ukrainians." It contains a track by Sikach, "Infinitas." Cleverly packaged on two cassettes––each colored as a Ukrainian flag––the double album is designed to illustrate both the validity and vibrancy of an East Slavic drone or deep ambient scene. SiJ's own LP, working along related lines, is called "There Is No Life without Love." The idealism of Pavel Chigarskikh is evident here from the outset. Grounded in numerous remixes of the title track, the SiJ publication is also swathed in silence; its author has absolutely nothing to say. Interpretations of the instrumentals are more likely to come from fans.

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."

Magic abides only in forests and fantasy.

The same author goes on to laud the evocation in SiJ's music of "secret soundscapes, which invites 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 overcome suffocating convention? Solitude and hushed sentiment are a good place to start. Neither of them––thankfully––will be shared with many people.

In essence, the fundamental drive of "There Is No Life," just as with Pavel Chigarskikh, is a search for contented belonging––for inclusion. Another online article quotes the words of Italian drone exponent Fabio Orsi: "Touring is a lot of fun, but sometimes I just want to go home." SiJ himself said in 2014 the following; home may be closer than one thinks. It can be reached by listening:

"My music helps people concentrate and to distract them from a lot of nasty thoughts... We don't live in a noiseless world. The sounds around us often create a natural, musical fabric. I mean the noise of city cars and the voices of people; then––beyond the city––we have birdsong, the babble of a brook, and the chattering of insects. At the seaside there's always the rumble of waves and the howling of winds. How is that not music?" One need only listen to the surrounding soundscape in order to feel connected. Sounds offer freedom from the pain of selfhood––they are the collective voice of everything and everybody else.

The gap between anxiety (isolation) and membership (inclusion) is traversed by trial and error––one slowly tests the waters of an alien realm. In the same way, Vladislav Sikach tentatively builds the sounds that give voice to something better. That process includes both success and failure.

"The creation of each track begins with an overarching idea or concept. Then I take some sonic fabric as a base element––it becomes the rough structure of a future composition. Step by step, the project is slowly filled with lesser [audible] fragments. The tiniest of [sonic] details are left until the end... That [deceptively] simple explanation shouldn't obscure the fact that two to four weeks are needed to finish an instrumental. There are, of course, exceptional instances in which something intriguing can arise spontaneously––such as a compositional mistake or errors due to the synths or the general recording process. Stuff like that [i.e., the glitches] all gets used to some degree or other."

Accidents beg inclusion; SiJ allows for minor, perhaps contradictory elements to find a home within a grander fabric. He conceives of himself as a mistake and empathizes with sidelined, small-scale discord.

It would be hard to imagine a clearer expression of this yearning for "home" than the moniker of Kiev's Endless Melancholy. The gentleman responsible for these hushed, introspective instrumentals is Oleksii Sakevych, who embodies a self-proclaimed dedication to the "expression of love and passion through minimalist piano recordings."

Sakevych is keen to use etymology in order to explain the raison d'être of his craft. Drawing upon the original Greek roots of "melancholy," he teases some half-forgotten nuances of "sadness, darkness, and anger" from his moniker. Turning then to the subsequent ways in which melancholy has been viewed since the early Twentieth Century, he associates the understated audiovisual imagery of Endless Melancholy's discography with some "dark lunacy" of which fin-de-siecle scientists once spoke in Moscow.

Needless to say, the issue of sadness very often emerges in interviews with Sakevych, even when journalists claim to unearth elements of "optimism" or "radiance," perhaps, within his catalog. The musician responds: "I'm naturally a melancholy guy! I'm constantly deep in some nostalgic state." Why might that be?

Any vague hopes for the future are an extension of what we heard from SiJ. Outsiders, foreign objects, and human mistakes are slowly interpreted not in terms of regret, but of unrealized potential. He who fails can only improve––thanks to that failure. This is because the most human element of all in a narrative structure, be it textual or musical, is chance––the capacity to make mistakes, improvise, and improve. Minor, "outlying" elements are allowed to grow, blessed by their stumbles and faults.

Sakevych says: "Everything happens kinda spontaneously with me. The sounds almost seem to come from nowhere. There might be a [basic] melody that takes shape in my head, something I'll try to remember and then reproduce. Occasionally something will get written down when I'm actually at the keyboard... but there's no standard practice or system." If one listens attentively to the surrounding world, the productive chatter of glitchy, fruitful labor can barely be discerned. It's the noise of evolution.  

A recent interview with Endless Melancholy does quite a lot to validate this small scale and spontaneous, stumbling form of being. "There are certain things that just won't appeal to the majority of people. Especially to those folks who have established, rather fixed notions of what 'music' should be. They consider ambient compositions to be [nothing more than] quotidian noise. In simple terms, any aspect of 'mass' culture assumes that it's accessible to a majority. However, in order to listen to––and get pleasure from!––anything like ambient material, you need to be open to something novel. You shouldn't limit your audiovisual perception with any restrictions or limits. After all, you can [even] find music in silence; it's there in the sounds of our environment. You just need to listen."

Only a few fortunate individuals can discern patterns in soundless peace; the same people who are accepting of novelty, surprise, and quintessentially human mistakes. The people who do not judge difference.

Just outside Kiev we find the figure of Dmitry Olexienko––otherwise known as Dima to friends––and the so-called Lune Suis, who jokingly refers to himself as "non-Dima." Together they are called Furthers. Their social networking pages are written entirely in Russian or Ukrainian––despite the duo sometimes claiming in jest to be Finnish.

An old announcement for a Kievan Furthers concert once invited audiences to enjoy "something that's always unique––because it's improvised." In a similar vein, the networking profile of Lune Suis used to be headed with a simple phrase in Russian: "Be Kind." Spontaneity and charity––two qualities that can be realized by abandoning the dubious values of urban life; these musicians refer to their current output as a sonic form of "Pine Therapy." The forests around the Ukrainian capital can fix whatever woeful politics and economics have broken.

In the same way, Furthers have written about their newest recordings––"Pineal Dreamer"––as the fruits of "some subconscious gardens. Our own garden is a pine forest and, since our journey has also been a lengthy one, we've dedicated the recording to pinecones" (the Russian for which also means "lumps" or "bumps," as in bruises).

A similar love, attention, and symbolism went into the LP's handcrafted and stiched covers (below), perhaps with some needle pricks en route. "We decorated each of the covers with some cunningly devised, ancient labyrinths... The LP overall is dedicated to 'pineal structures'––to a stately pine forest, clothed in sleepy moss. It's also dedicated to the cypress trees, glistening in the sun along mountain paths. This is a kindly, yet psychedelic recording; it glimmers with splashes of sunlight, as do the finest ambient compositions. The LP is an adventure, where many things happen. Our forested worlds are full of magical beings and amazing discoveries––of cosmic significance. This is psychoactive, meditative, and simply excellent music."

Yet again real-world romance feels obliged to stargaze, in search of something resembling resolution––or at the very least look for chemical alternatives. The here and now is escaped among the pinecones, forest paths, and mushrooms.

A telling pun adds a little context, playing upon the link between "pines" (in a magic forest) and "pineal gland" (in mental fantasies). Although the pineal gland basically helps to regulate human sleep patterns, Furthers make note of the fact ancient mystics believed it to be either a "third eye" or even the home of the soul. They suggest the same gland––full of dreams or divine possibilities––is responsible for everything from tales of "alien abductions to our magical or mythical awareness."

"A belief in the unconscious can help people reveal these wonders––these deep wells of spiritual and creative potential. We offer these compositions to anybody who is able to pluck dreams and rich hallucinations from the pineal gland. Specifically we mean shamans, dancing in the pine forests of their soul––together with all the visible and invisible beings." Phenomena beyond ostensible reality are interwoven with whatever lies beyond active memory.

Two other illogical forces of philosophical or spiritual benefit are referenced on "Pineal Dreamer": the yilaster and suññatā. The former refers to the ancient Greek belief in a place where body and soul coexist. That mythical location was fashioned from both dead matter and divine, astral potentiality. As for the Sūnyatā, it is an arguably kindred notion from Buddhism (among other belief systems): a paradoxical concept of both nothingness and boundless space––simultaneously. In simple terms, suññatā is the primary goal of meditation. It is the removal of excess vanity, of "everything I am." A truer sense of self comes from erasing all claims to selfhood. Nothing––thankfully––is left. As a logical consequence of abandoning binarisms such "Me/Not Me," we then begin to question the differences in "Life/Death"––in between (clamorous) presence and (noiseless) absence. All is impermanence. Wisdom comes from accepting one's impending departure and vanishing act.

Pavel Chigarskikh moves swiftly and consistently away from noisy self-assertion; both SiJ and Endless Melancholy's Oleksii Sakevych ask that we replace cocky assumptions of uniqueness with a willingness to quietly respect our surroundings. An insight into nature's endless, intricate machinery––before and after any human lifespan––will keep chutzpah at bay. Finally with the new recordings from Furthers, those sobering suggestions are placed inside an honored––albeit forgotten––tradition. Nothing will always offer us more than avaricious claims to something.

The desire among these ambient and drone composers to avoid tasteless, tawdry modernity is nothing new. It is, however, a fresh challenge to each and every one of us. It is the challenge to jettison urban hubris and head for the pine forests, in the hope of both debasement and self-discovery, thanks to "pine therapy." The forest is open to one and all.

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