12/09/2004

Russian Industrial Noise artist: ZGA (aka Nick Sudnick)

The sound of ZGA's improv noise is like a metaphor of the late Soviet or post-Soviet everyday life: rusty, broken-down, unpleasantly dominated by cold metal, functioning to seemingly inpenetrable, absurd logic. ZGA is the first still active Russian noise group, started in 1984. Nick Sudnick, its sole remaining member from the original line-up, is another of those dozens of St. Petersburg musicians who at some point played also in Pop Mechanics. I meet him in his workshop in the center of St. Petersburg. The workshop is, naturally enough, filled with beautiful primitive Soviet electronics and junk iron objects. Throughout the interview, Sudnick keeps soldiering together parts of his junk-iron instruments, "zgamoniums". The day before ZGA has performed at the fourth annual memorial festival of Sergei Kuryokhin, in front of an extremely warm and welcoming audience. Kraut-rockers Faust also performed, and they are coming to visit and have a jam session at Sudnick's workshop on the next day.

ZGA's music has developed on a trajectory of its own. While the sound of their first mid-80's recordings was a lot like any home-made distort-o-industria, their roots in the 70's prog were discernible post factum from riffs and rhythms they used. The Western industrial/noise influences - Nurse with Wound, Factrix, Mnemonists - reached them only somewhat later, during perestroika, when Sudnick started to build his zgamoniums. The zgamoniums, which ZGA uses both on stage and in studio, are contact-miked springs hammered with mallets, metal sheets gently stroked with medieval-looking miniature whips, strings attached to brutally constructed iron grids, and much more. "We realized we could never play as well and skillfully as the Western people we admired. At that point it became clear that we had to find something of our own, a language of our own. So in late -87 I started to build my own instruments."

After three cd's released in the first half of the 90's on Chris Cutler's ReR Megacorp label, ZGA has released only cassettes on Alexander Lebedev-Frontov's Ultra imprint. Like it happened with many other Russian underground musicians, their Western concert trips all but ended at about the same time, when the interest in Russia, born during the Gorby years, had run its course. After that Sudnick has put his efforts on several side projects in to his old band, but now interest in ZGA may be on the rise again. Their first cd release in six years, The Flight of Infection, due out soon on the small US label Tariff.

"Basically I like what has happened in Russia after the collapse of the USSR, that the society has become more open, even though they are now trying to strangle the media again. On the other hand, many people, including me, didn't guess that everyday life would get this difficult. Artists and musicians are unable to earn any money, because their products just don't interest anyone in the situation where the average income of the population keeps on falling all the time."
"But I don't have any clear-cut political opinions. I think Dugin [this interview was done before Dugin became influential in state politics] is an interesting author, and I see the work of Alexander [Lebedev-Frontov's, with whom Sudnick plays as a duo under the project name Vetrophonia] work as good-natured, healthy humour. I don't take it as seriously as those blockheads in the National Bolshevik Party."

In recent years ZGA has discarded the remnants of their silly prog wackiness, and at the same time melodic motifs have become more noticeable in their music in the form of Sudnick's simple electric organ sounds, making it sound like nothing else. "I studied accordeon when I was a teenager. I learned the standard Soviet accordeon repertoire: a bit of classical, a bit of folk stuff. It was boring, but I dreamed that with my accordeon skills I could one day get a chance to play on an Ionika, the Soviet electric organ of the late 60's." The best moments of ZGA's current live set are difficult to place into any exact time and place. With Ekaterina Fiodorova on metal percussion, Ramil Shamsutdinov on trombone and Sudnick playing zgamoniums, tapes and accordion, the band looks and sounds like a science fiction band led by Tom Waits from a film that Tarkovsky never made. Or almost like an imaginary factory orchestra in the late 1920's, equally interested in noise music of the time and the melodicism of Shostakovich.

Hungarian journalist Rene F�l�p-Miller was a rare foreign witness of the original version of this music in the early 1920's. His account from 1926 is particularly valuable, because unlike Italian Futurists' noise music - the Delta blues of contemporary industrial music, as I think somebody has called it - the Russian Engineerists were afterwards almost wiped out of Soviet history:
"The Bolshevists very soon proceeded to construct special noise instruments, to form noise orchestras, to give the public a 'real new music', instead of the usual old bourgeois individualistic 'patchwork', and in this way to prepare the collective soul for the revelation of the holiest. They imitated all conceivable sounds from industry and technology and united them in peculiar fugues, in which a whole world of noise deafened the ear. [...] A particularly fanatical sect of 'machine worshippers', the so-called 'engineerists', held in the festive hall of the Moscow Trade Union Palace noise orgies which show better than anything else the absurdity of all these attempts. The first public divine service of these 'machine worshippers' began with a noise orchestra composed of a crowd of motors, turbines, hooters and similar instruments of din. [...] This was a passion play which represented the sacrifice of the lower individual man on the altar of the mechanized and desouled collectivity."

* Note: This article was edited for length when published in The Wire. Here you have read the original unedited version.
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--- Excerpted from an article at Tamizdat.org & re-printed here without permission ---

1 comment:

RezidentUtin said...

Info here relative old. Just in 2002-2004 ZGA has released 4 CD on www.Hor-Music.ru & Strange Sounds + few solo releases by Nick Sudnik/