Staraya Derevnya

Boulder Blues

Rock music, but not as we know it

“Let’s say it’s a mass of data… waiting for a correct interpretation” – Peter Brock, The Stone Tape.

In 1972, following the BBC’s airing of Christmas ghost story, The Stone Tape, a theory arose that the energy generated during traumatic or emotional events could be recorded onto rocks and replayed at a later date. This psychometric notion, known as The Stone Tape Theory, lays the foundations for the latest release from self-professed ‘Krautfolk collective’ Staraya Derevnya.

Gosha Hniu, the project’s driving force, enlisted the musical aptitude of ten accomplices for the group’s eighth release, Boulder Blues. These contributions range from drums (Andrea Serafino) and bass clarinet (Yoni Silver), to choir (Dasha and Masha Gerzon), “objects” (Hniu) and, the Bergman-referencing credit of “cries and whispers” for Galya Chikiss. This ought to give some clue as to the tone: it’s not the poe-faced approach of some experimental compositions, there seems to be genuine joy in the performances of these merry pranksters.

And then there’s the lyrics. For almost as long as Hniu has been releasing records under the banner of Staraya Derevnya (some twenty odd years now), the lyrics have been influenced by the poems of be-hatted Russian painter/poet, Arthur Molev. Sometimes these take the form of warbled vocals delivered in an almost histrionic fashion (‘Scythian Nest’), or, on the title track, the phrase “kamen zvuka” (‘stone of sound’) recycled over and over. A repeated mantra that loops from assuring and friendly to spat through bared teeth and back again, slowly crumbling all meaning.

In the case of ‘Bubbling Pelt’, however, Hniu takes a different tack, mangling his voice until it sounds like a pack of stoats bickering in a wind tunnel. It’s on this twenty-minute stunner, whilst indulging these experimental urges, that the collective are at their best. It grows and tumbles like a barely-restrained kaleidoscopic juggernaut. It’s free folk forged from the sound palette of The Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus and played with the gusto of Les Rallizes Dénudés.

It’s deceptive. Often sounding rudimentary in its use of wheel lyre, flute, double bass, and kazoo. The sounds click and clack together. Yet there are cleverly integrated effects in its midst. Noises manipulated and reversed. Synthesizers twittering and burbling. Theremins surging. All deftly slotting together to create a psychedelically bucolic headspace. Like tramping around the woods with a gut full of psilocybin, picking up on every strange sound, from a twig snap to an un-oiled gate. Rustled leaves, whipped wind, scattered rain, and your own pensive heartbeat, Staraya Derevnya manifest it all. Almost as if it has been hewn from the land and fed directly into the players’ frontal cortices.

Musicians often speak of being conduits for sounds. Boulder Blues appears to have emerged out of something deep, timeless, and possibly mineral. Then again, it might just be rock music.

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