Erik K. Skodvin’s Miasmah label has beguiled and seduced me more than once with its intriguing design work alone, tempting me to snap up a CD before having heard a note inside it. In nearly fifteen years, I can’t recall a time when I was ever disappointed.
Kasha iz Topora by Gultskra Artikler (aka Alexey Devyanin) almost escaped my notice the first time I came across it back in 2007, only because the cover art was so markedly different from the usual sepulchral Miasmah vibe.
When I got it home and played it, the differences continued. What struck me then as moody and mysterious and even at times creepy – as sounding like five different albums crammed into one, in fact – still strikes me that way. What deepened all that mystery was the fact that the album’s copious liner notes were written in Cyrillic. As it turns out, they contain an updated version of an old Russian fairytale “about a man with an axe that makes flying porridge.” The idea seemed to be that the music on Kasha iz Topora was a kind of soundtrack to that story. While that may be the case, none of that information has ever contextualized the work for me – something for which I’m truly grateful.
Kasha iz Topora is first and foremost the sound of things, the late night confessions of the left behind objects in a second-hand shop. On the opening track, “Po Derevne” (“In the Village”), a wonky guitar is accompanied by a keening Casio, and what sounds like a wind-up toy, a clinking stack of obsolete tokens, and a rusted carpenter’s rasp.
Musique concrète to be sure, but with an emphasis on expressing and conjuring emotion instead of highlighting technique or artifice. The album unspools and blooms and mystifies and changes its mind again from there. It’s a challenge to determine what’s actually played from what’s sampled, yet the pleasure lies in letting the totality of it animate your imagination with speculative images of what on earth could be making that sound.
Surprisingly, considering the frequently grotty, fingerprint-smudged, silt-choked sounds, the music almost achieves a kind of sunny transcendence, particularly in some of the later tracks like “Votpusk.” But even a word like that is almost too suggestive. Kasha iz Topora makes and follows its own path, and that path is wide open.