As one of the coldest winters on record continues in the States, it’s nice to know that others are going through the same thing. As I write this, it’s -18C in New York and -28C in Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia; our brief polar vortex is their business as usual. And Novosibirsk is a southern city.
What do the Russians do when the outside world is frozen and desolate? Do they pine for the warm summer months, curl up by the hearth, toast the descending frost? Perhaps ~ but in this case, they also make warm, engaging music. Diafilms is a happy release in every aspect, from the children’s toys that occupy its spools to the playful postcards and Soviet cartoon stills that accompany the cassette. While listening, one imagines a jovial father bringing out a box of treasures to share with his children. “I used to play these games with my own father,” he tells them. “дедушка?” “Yes.” Excitedly yet reverently, the children begin to pull the objects from the box: dice, a xylophone, a metronome, an old watch that still works (faintly), a board game, a deck of cards featuring images of Belka and Strelka. The family dog barks from the front lawn, where it has seen an elk. A bird lands on the windowsill, curious, hoping for pie.
Egor Klochikhin (Foresteppe) evokes an idealized Russian past, filling Diafilms with field recordings, colorful instrumentation, cellophane static and sampled Russian monologues. At times the tape seems to wobble, but it’s not the tape – it’s the patina of memory, an imitation of an ancient cassette on a new cassette. The tape casts a spell similar to that of an ancient folk tale: a brook babbles, a bear turns in his den, the sound of bells is cast upon the wind. Somewhere, an old man and woman are making a child out of snow.
The music is a perfect reflection of a lost art. The diafilm – a series of 20-40 celluloid strips – was popular in the 50s and 60s, but only in the Eastern Bloc. Still images with dialogue, similar to those found in children’s books, were projected on the wall as a narrator read the accompanying story. The tape wobble is meant to evoke the often unsteady image. The physical package is a time capsule, a souvenir from a bygone era. It’s a gem of a release from Foresteppe and yet another triumph for Klammklang Tapes. (Richard Allen)