Foresteppe ~ Formula

Writing about loss in Music After The Fall, Tim Rutherford-Johnson engages with the idea of the musical work as forever on the brink of moving on, dissolving into its surroundings, disappearing. Similarly, Foresteppe‘s practice could be seen as dealing with processes of erasure in his treatment of tape and film, letting sonic dust float in suspended animation.

But whereas field recordings conveyed a dreamy scoundscape hissing with nostalgia and idealised past in albums like Diafilms, in more recent works Foresteppe seems to be tackling loss with a build up of structures that collapse, dragging any sense of an unfolding narrative though a process of ruination.

It is maybe facile to read this as the loss of innocence resulting from Foresteppe’s experience in the army back in 2018 that caused a radical departure from the trademark acoustic and unhurried sonic world of Western Siberia his listeners had become attuned to.

Indeed, in light of current events it is perhaps inevitable, if not always appropriate, to view many works by both Russian and Ukrainian artists through the prism of war, with albums composed and released in the months bridging the Russian invasion acquiring different layers of meaning.

It is apposite then, that Formula deals with shifts in semantics. Its four tracks sharing the same suffix, Gustota (густота), Pestrota (пестрота), Pustota (пустота), and Prostota (простота) refer to Density, Variegation, Void and Simplicity. A lengthy quote from the Russian avant-garde painter Pavel Filonov provides the cultural frame.

“A conscious or unconscious being, or an object, or an abstract concept, exists in the process of evolution as in an ever-active force, undoubtedly penetrating through and exiting through all its visible and supposed particles that surround it, like an atmosphere that has weight, color, smell and form and transforming it moment by moment into something new, and new to such an extent that, according to the idea, there are no two moments of the same state of form. In this atmosphere, its essence abides forever, for death as a cessation of conscious or unconscious evolution is denied by the very development of the idea of evolution. We believe that whoever holds the idea of evolution in his hands also holds eternal life.”

Broadly speaking, Filonov was the proponent of Analytical Realism, also known as Universal Flowering, whose aim was to reveal the inner soul of the object in a painting. Formula is a fertile petri dish of microbial “acoustic-culture” spurring continuous transformation. As in Filonov’s works, modulating shapes, different textures, organic features, non-uniform shades, and irregular contours respond to the emergence of an atomised world. Foresteppe captures the flux of existence through a collision of different planes within space and time.

In Pestrota (Variegation) the Ukrainian folk song Воли мої недужі (My oxen are sick) performed by Ulyana Kot, rather than grounding the piece in localised context, generates a sense of dislocation with the percussive rhythmic pattern subtracting it from its logical ethno-folkloric identification. The song ends with the lyrics “Glory will go to the whole world / Sister with brother in one colour” (it’s worth remembering that the West Siberian Foresteppe has family ties in Ukraine).

Closing track Prostota (Simplicity) revisits vintage Foresteppe ground with acoustic and toy instruments conjuring scenes of domesticity reminiscent, in particular, of his collaboration with the family combo 231 in |/|/\|/|/. The main thrust of the narrative is taken up by field recordings featuring a conversation between two kids talking to each from their balconies on different floors. It seems to hearken back to happier times and yet, the simple melodies, increasingly anxious and haunting in their repetitiveness, draw an altogether different picture.

It’s as if the horror vacui of Pustota, with its blurred and desaturated background, has compromised the engram, the group of neurones that serve as the “physical representation of memory” rendering any attempt at recapturing a lost innocence ineffective. This is a raging album, dark and complex in spite of its luminous veneer.

All proceeds are given to the network of volunteers helping people evacuate from areas of military conflict. (Gianmarco Del Re)

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