U05 | revenant | zeltini
zeltini : excerpt 1
zeltini : excerpt 2
format : CD ltd to 250 hand numbered copies
all copies come with an additional art card on 300gr satin paper
release year : 2011
length : 57’30
status : still available
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(Belgium) : 13 € (inc.postage)
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: info :
revenant : zeltini
Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh, Felicity Mangan
‘revenant’ is an ongoing project with open membership that focuses on site-specific acoustic actions. All sounds originate from materials found in-situ, and from interactions with the space itself.
There were some “dark” elements surrounding this session. It was mid-November in the Baltics which meant that it was cold, gray and the sun goes down early. By the time we entered the bunker and set up to record there was no natural light left to see. Trying to find a shared experience through improvisation among a group that is not familiar is hard enough, trying to do this in the dark in an unfamiliar place is even harder. Knowing we would be without visual and sometimes auditory communication because of the multiple spaces available I suggested to do a recording experiment, to each use our own equipment yet synchronize the timing at the start. If we were to get “lost” or immersed in our own experiences, it would be interesting to reassemble them later as a shared “fictional” space. This is indeed what we ended up with. Using only my ears and a headlamp to guide my way, I foraged through that unknown space collecting objects and playing them on the varied surfaces I discovered. I remember the old rags, the dust, broken pieces of concrete, pipes coming out of the ground and how I searched for ways to animate the space and instigate interactions with the others. Whether it was the quest for new objects or the need to stay warm I constantly moved around and even ended up outside toward the end. (John Grzinich)
: reviews :
a thematic ltd series focusing primarily on phonographies reflecting the spirit of a specific place crowded with memories, its aura & resonances and our intimate interaction with it…
…which is exactly what you get on this excellent album by Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan.
The raw material of the work consists of four synchronised binaural recordings in a former Soviet military base, carried out by Shentelevs, Sprod, Grzinich and Kalninsh.
Former Soviet military installations can only really work the one way. They, and the weather, have to be unpleasant and dark with more than a hint of the sinister. In fact we are told that
It was mid-November in the Baltics which meant that it was cold, gray and the sun goes down early.
Fond memories of my childhood in Aberdeen, where the weather could best be described as… well…Baltic
So perhaps we have a new genre , Baltic Noir. I say this because I came upon a similar setting in Noise Forest which I reviewed in 2010 on this blog. There I found the same dark cold mood, indeed the artists also mentioned the weather as significant. Furthermore I picked up on the concept of some sort of transubstantiation, the act instilling life and spirit into these somewhat soul-less places and the materials that they house, a notion that is certainly at work in revenant : zeltini.
This, then, is an intervention, and I know from the work that goes on in Estonia that intervention is an important part of the collective practice – seeking out locations and sonifying/activating/energising them whilst at the same time taking advantage of the location’s unique sonic properties. In my opinion it is the most inspiring aspect of their work and one which deserves much more attention. This kind of work is rich in context and as such it really helps to know about the artists, their collective aesthetic and intentions, their past work, the location and so on. I would strongly recommend taking time to browse through the range and depth of work that goes on at John’ Grzinich’s own site.
So here we have four sound artists rummaging around a former Soviet military base in Northern Latvia in cold, raw Baltic conditions. What you’d expect from this context is pretty much what you get. Other commentators have rightly pointed out the similarities with certain of Tarkovsky’s sound worlds, especially that of The Stalker, with the dripping and metallic sounds in the disused factory. The weight of time and place, and the resonance of anything to do with the Cold War, so called because it must have been f***ing freezing being a Soviet squaddy anywhere north of Kiev.
I particularly enjoyed Eamon Sprod’s notes on the back cover where he talks of the material circumstances around the artists and of their discomfort. I’m reminded of one of my favourite writers, poet and ethnographer Michel Leiris, who in L’Afrique Fantôme, more or less said the same thing throughout and after his journey from Dakar to Djibouti in the 1930s – blimey, this isn’t quite turning out the way I expected. No twee programme notes here.
Setting aside the issue of ‘editing’ or gap between raw sources, the original order of events, and final presentation, the sound world is captivating, displaying a richness across so many elements, surprising the listener with the unexpected and the unusual. For the most part the work as a whole sounds ‘legitimate’, a transparent document of what actually went on in the spaces where we are treated to chains dragged across floors, broadband noise textures, even machine-like sounds. I say ‘for the most part’ because eventually, to my ears, some of these sounds began to register as digitally looped sounds and stuck out as somewhat unfeasible in the context. But who knows?
Bells and other resonant sounds gradually come to the foreground, followed by a rhythmic sensibility towards the percussive potential of the material (less ’played’ however than in Noise Forest). The result is masterclass in illustrating the meaning of various verbs by means of sound: drag, scrape, rattle, tap, shake. A teacher could have fun with a class of five to seven year-olds asking them to describe all the action. As the awareness of resonance develops, hints of interplay between the musicians blossoms into something resembling a performance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of the work, a result in the first instance of the artists’ experience with these processes in these kinds of environments. There were passages that could have been played from a score, for example where a repetitive metallophone figure gave way and settled down to a clearly defined quartet, then thinned out to the tiniest sounds. These contrasting, more introspective passages, the lulls in activity, the clear evidence of musical structure and of humans doing musical things, drew me ever deeper into the work. And of course the heavy deep reverberation of the space, a presence in itself, colouring every tiny gesture and every emerging texture.
Then finally voices and the sounds of the outdoors towards the end, which some might interpret as lending depth to the narrative, others as focusing too much on sound sources at the expense of pace and density.
To my ears, the spell was broken only with the entry of a long-ish foregrounded passage of Jew’s Harp. I’m sure it was brought along to add to the party, but a listener might be forgiven for wondering if it wasn’t thrown into the mix back at the studio. Instead of listening to something that I could have picked up at home, I really wanted to hear the ‘indigenous’ activities going on in the space. I’d have preferred a shorter work with more lingering on the initial sources, which were certainly rich enough to sustain my interest over a long duration. This might be one key to success in these enterprises – tight focus on fewer sounds, not giving the impression that you’ve run out of ideas, taking a deep breath and leaving space if you have, picking up again when appropriate. In other words, less can indeed be more. All of which seemed to be the run of things for the initial stages of the intervention. But these are minor quibbles, and very personal ones at that – after all, who am I to criticize?
Above all, the hypnotic, intense and irresistible mystery of a world heard but not seen, the very core of the practice of so many of these fine sound artists.
To me, and perhaps only me, this kind of work, fundamentally self-initiated and (I assume) modestly funded, if at all, made with inexpensive equipment, is far more important and inspiring than heavily subsidized forays into the wilderness or other natural environments with outrageously expensive kit and which are ultimately dependent on teams of assistants.
I will certainly listen again and again to this album – unlike some ‘avant-garde’ endeavours, none of this is chucked in your face, and, perhaps as a result, you’ll never really get to the bottom of this kind of work, hence the appeal.
Ever since I found out about the work of John Grzinich and company in the splendid isolation of Estonia I’ve admired everything about what they do, primarily because I’ve always wanted to nick John’s best ideas and start up a similar venture to his here in Scotland. A visit is still on the cards.
We are told that ‘‘revenant’ is an ongoing project with open membership that focuses on site-specific acoustic actions. All sounds originate from materials found in-situ, and from interactions with the space itself.’
Can I join please?
Fouter & Zwick
Somewhat of a supergroup of phonographers collaborating on this one, including John Grzinich, Felicity Mangan, Kaspars Kalninsh, Eamon Sprod, and Maksims Shentelevs. I’ve seen other names as part of “Revenant” in the past that have included artists like Hitoshi Kojo and Patrick McGinley. Revenant is an on-going project focusing on site specific acoustic actions. All recorded sounds originate from found materials located in-situ and through performer interactions with particular spaces.
Acting as the local for this recording was Zeltini, a former Soviet military base located in a forest in Latvia. As the sun’s light was growing dim the Revenant group ventured into one of the base’s abandoned bunkers to feel and hear their way through an hour long improvisation. On its own, Zeltini isn’t a particularly captivating work. However, in understanding the concept, constraints, and context of the recording, it does stand as quite impressive, particularly in the groups deftness in extrapolating fine drones and consistent textures through only the use of found material, not to mention their sublime translation of depth in this large space. To my surprise, a radio and Jew’s harp are clearly heard at different points, and I’m skeptical as to their legitimacy as found objects. That aside, Zeltini should spark some inspiration in artist’s working in this field, or any field for that matter.
Revenant is an open-membership project involving a shifting cast of location recording specialists. On this occasion it comprised ever-present John Grzinich, with co-workers Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, Kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan. The eponymous informing environment of Zeltini is an abandoned former Soviet army base in a Latvian forest – large horizontal bunkers where missiles were stored, one of which was used in a semi-transcendental experience in which the participants dispersed in almost total darkness, “feeling my way through the space by hand and by ear,” as Sprod remarks.
No instrumentation is mentioned, a notation on the sleeve stating, “Final piece edited from 4 synchronized binaural recordings”. There’s a prevailing oppressive note, the mind’s eye filling the ear with images of cold, clammy surfaces, enmossed walls, moribund machinery. Movements through the bunker space are heard, diverse toyings with various found objects – glass, stones metal. Not a random scattering of debris, but listening and interacting with each other and creating music with non-musical objects. There are ineffable overtones to be found here (wind? pipe blowing?), enhancing textural variegation. The keynote sound is a dull, metallic drone, as if there were a sputtering engine at work somewhere down the corridors and the clanking of light metal objects, linked like chains, skittering across the foreground (“Zeltini [edit 1]”). Small rhythms unearth themselves: soft-mallet taps with a vaguely gamelan feel, faint voices, and, what’s this? A jew’s harp? Yes indeed – strumming away in a loose rhythm (“Zeltini [edit 2]”), lending a rare moment of primitive melody, continuing for the final section of the work, accompanied by mounting clatter, till a slow dissolve of sounds amid the mechanical chirps and the inevitable aqueous sloshes. Zeltini is the most ‘live’ sounding and least treated of the whole Unfathomless bunch, and, as such, proves to be somewhat short on those unfathomable mysterious moments and tracts that characterises the best of what is otherwise a compelling series of audio documents.
…after a while this evening I have been able to really dig into tonight’s CD, which is a new release by John Grzinich’s open membership group Revenant, whose practice sees them visit specific sites, in which they record themselves making music with whatever materials they find…On this occasion Grzinich is joined by Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, Kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan in an old disused Soviet nuclear weapons bunker in Zeltini, Latvia. the album takes its name from the town, and is a further new release on the Unfathomless label.
At least four of the musicians involved carried recording equipment, and recorded their activities in the bunker. These recordings have been later assembled into a single hour-long piece of music included here. So for the most part these recordings sound pretty much how we might expect recordings of such a place on a cold dark evening might sound. the liner notes include a couple of paragraphs from Eamon Sprod who talks of scrabbling about in the dark, staying close to the walls, trying not to fall over, scraping whatever was to hand against dusty cement surfaces. The recordings for the most part resemble this, all hollow, echoey shuffles and scrapes with occasional hollow crashes. The sound do not feel incidental, its clear that they are deliberately made, but the majority of them don’t sound instrumental at all, they sound like the space they belong in, just the sound of human beings interacting with them. On the whole, I like the sounds here and the way they are mixed…Where the room is scoured for other sounds, bits of broken glass kicked about, small objects tapped and scraped, a very beautiful glass-like chime that takes an eternity to die away, there is much beauty to be found, and these sounds are, for me, enough in themselves without the need for rhythm or other obviously human involvement in the space. I am reminded often of an old Organum album released on the Matchless label that was recorded in an old disused railway tunnel.
Even the slightest of scrapes of knocks seems amplified, and while the resonance of the nuclear bunker may not touch on quite the same intensity the multitude of microphones makes everything seem up close and in detail…
Overall this is a nice listen and a pleasing extension of what is a nice idea – making music out of spaces and what is found in them without any prior knowledge of what could be to hand. the resourcefulness of the musicians here to pull music from nowhere, in the dark, is exemplary, and the mixing down of the various tracks is seamless, even though I personally wouldn’t give quite so much time in the mix to some elements.
The atmosphere of the bunker space is nicely portrayed as well. the photos that are part of the sleeve design help us to picture the site, but even without looking at these the music paints a fair picture in itself…it remains a nice addition to the series. [edited version]
The Watchful Ear
Revenant is an open-membership project carried on by a number of specialists of location recording, in this occasion the quintet of Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, Kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan. The environment inspiring this release is an abandoned Soviet military base in a Latvian forest, comprising large horizontal bunkers where missiles were once stored. One of them – the only that hasn’t been shut yet – was used for a semi-transcendental experience in which the participants spread around the place in almost total darkness, “feeling my way through the space by hand and by ear” as noted by Sprod. As always in this sort of venture, we have to divide things. On a side, the value of the product as a document of a unique event, obviously higher for those who lived it. On the other, audiences at home trying to find elements of interest in something that risks sounding as a thousand of products of comparable origin. In this case, the professionalism of the people involved and their ability of determining the building’s responsiveness and its inherent musicality made the difference and – although I wouldn’t say that the album is really special – a good part of the resounding materials is sufficiently evocative to justify the need of spinning the disc several times to look for additional details and psychological hints. At any rate, let me be very explicit: in this house, stretched frequency auras and baffling resonances will forever be preferred to rustling noises and “scrape, rattle ‘n’ roll” incidents, of which there’s no shortage here.
Revenant (I can’t help but think of some especially powerful and frightening figures from Doom) on this occasion, November 2008 in Latvia, consisted of Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan (though Grzinich writes: “‘revenant is an ongoing project with open membership”). No instrumentation is mentioned and, further, there’s a notation on the sleeve stating, “Final piece edited from 4 synchronized binaural recordings”. Perhaps it’s the cover imagery, maybe the former-SSR setting, but it’s quite tempting to hear this dark, brooding music as inhabiting a Stalker-like environment. There’s an oppressiveness, a dank aspect wherein one thinks of cold, clammy surfaces, algae-covered wall, ancient heavy machinery. The two overriding sounds areas are a blurred, metallic kind of drone, as though there’s a sputtering engine at work somewhere down the dark corridor and the clanking of light metal objects, linked like chains, skittering across the foreground. Small rhythms emerge: soft-mallet taps with a vaguely gamelan feel, as though at least one of the devices lying around still functions. Some faint voices then, rather surprisingly, a jew’s harp, strumming away in a loose rhythm, verging on a melodic fragment, a hapless fellow traveler in the sewers. This continues for the final 10+ minutes of the work, some increasingly violent clatter alongside, until the sounds skid to a conclusion among the chirps of mechanical beetles and sloshing water. The work is almost static, in a sense, minor events drifting in and out of focus; again, one thinks of the lengthy water-covered floor shot of Tarkovsky, though the focus here isn’t quite so sharp.
An ongoing project with open membership, that is what Revenant is about. On their second (?) CD, we find John Grzinich again, but with four new members, Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, Kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan. The five of them went to Zeltini, a former Soviet army base in Latvia and they looked for some stuff to create music with, as this is another angle of Revenant. Find material on the site, and play that as if it were instruments, using the space as its concert space or studio. Again we are not told how this was recorded or edited, but for about fifty plus minutes we hear these five persons moving through the bunker space, toying around with the various objects they found in this space, like glass, stones and metal. This is done in a musical manner, through means of improvisation. Not a random scattering of debris, but listening and interacting with each other and creating music with non-musical objects. There are overtones to be found here, which are hard to place (wind? somebody blowing a pipe?), which add a nice textural tone to the proceedings. Maybe like the previous one, this is the natural element that is being used here. I am not entirely sure. The only reference I could think of is the recent work of Jeph Jerman – closely miked acoustic objects being played, but then in the large resonating bunker in Latvia. Not the most easy listening one around, but surely some great music has been captured here.
Frans de Waard