Most Americans (and possibly people from other Western countries) have a skewed perspective of the Russian Federation. We see it as grey, cold, brutal and maybe even brittle. We see conformity in drab light. A few generations of peri- and post-Cold War American propaganda have steered us there. We don’t see the possibility that life there has just as much color, flux and variety as we experience ourselves.
Evgeny Shchukin arrives in charge of a small musical assemblage called Feldmaus to remind us there is warmth and light and movement there too. Places is a meditative, cinematic meandering, yet not without direction. The music’s lush dimension at times conjures erosional layering: the meeting point that lies between the currents of a river and its banks of clay, silt, and glacial deposits. Shchukin’s music builds through disintegration and vice-versa. Ironically, it is also cinematic in a way that lends itself to reading. Its methodical pacing parallels that of the soundtrack to an art film piece: possibly of a rail passenger, pensively looking out the window of a long-traveling train, on his way to meet a lover. One arrives at this place through time and submergence.
At nearly 20 minutes in length, opening piece “Kupanie Krasnogo Konya” operates as immersion therapy into Feldmaus’ low blood pressure aesthetics. A long-morphing modular synth is thematically central, hearkening back to 70’s sci-fi cinema. The musical webbing blurs one’s real environment with one’s sonic environment. At first, one can be confused by the flurry of field recordings: diesel trucks, coughing, rain. During “Kupanie…”, I looked out my front window to see who might be walking by. Even with headphones on, I felt that barriers were being broken.
But Feldmaus doesn’t wander aimlessly in ambient woods or stick to the familiar tricks of musique concréte. “White” includes a hard turn towards contemplative piano stylings not unlike those of Nils Frahm or Otto A. Totland. The micro-melody performs a lovely see-saw as it folds and unfolds texture around simplicity. Shchukin’s use of a wide array of stylistic touches and techniques reinforces a much broader color palate of romance, lightness, and dreaminess. One might imagine him in a place: face to the breeze and sunset, standing in a densely green field ruminating on the visage of his lover. There is more to Russia than what we imagine and what we read about in the news: beautiful settings and beguiling sounds to match. (Gabe Bogart)