The Morphology of “Popular Mechanics”
From Unearthing The Music
The Morphology of “Popular Mechanics”
– The elephant fucks around in vain. Kur Yo Khin
When I talk about the evolution of "Pop Mechanics," about how this group began it’s existence, complications arise because I'm thinking and speaking NOW about something that happened THEN. Now I can examine all of this historically, in process – but it arose from completely different starting points; and the meaning of its appearance was completely different from the one I might adduce NOW – for NOW I know how everything unfolded and evolved back THEN. "Pop Mechanics" was a completely logical, mental formation and had nothing to do with intuition. It was clearly formulated on an intellectual level – it was a deliberate and mechanically performed act. I think that in many ways the origin of "Pop Mechanics" was tied to the fact that I'm simply not able to feel at ease in any sort of environment. Having played music for almost 37 years, I was unable to get along with any particular crowd, but at the same time I acquired the knack of any milieu in which I existed for a period time. Moreover, I caught on to the most important thing – the fundamental semantic structures of those environments – and became bored very quickly. Possessing a classical education, at a certain age I understood everything having to do with the fundaments of classical music; I understood its fundamental cultural significance, the problem of interpretation, the problem of genius – i.e., all those questions which trouble us in our youth. I was very lucky in that I evolved in parallel with the development of rock music and, to some extent, with jazz – i.e., the peaks of dying jazz and flourishing rock coincided. This is all just history now, but then a new album by Coltrane or the Beatles would come out and no one would have guessed that they would become classics in the very near future.
I began playing in a rock band sometime in 1964; I assimilated the language of rock organically – not historically, but within the limits of my own evolution. It was a matter of finding a place within this structure – not describing it –, a matter of a certain form of reflection, of being within a natural structure and organically experiencing its evolution.
I loved rock music, but I also loved jazz, something that was rare among people my own age, insofar as rock and jazz are two principally different ways of thinking: to this day I simply can't understand those who say they love both jazz and rock. When someone says to me that he loves both jazz and rock, I tell him that's a lie, that in their foundations these two things mutually exclude one another. Jazz and rock are incompatible: they are two principally different manifestations of man's energetic essence. For this reason organisms that combined both jazz and rock always seem wretched and castrated; they arouse ridicule and scorn.
I call the third principal way of thinking – so-called classical music – false masturbation (FM). People who organically exist in their own environments -always bewildered me: take, for example, Rostropovich – he arouses in me a feeling of defective, wretched art, not even art, but a senseless, uninteresting, unnecessary form of activity. Interpretation should always take place on the level of that about which man reflects; it should take place on the level of the matter at hand – otherwise, it's not reflection, but just pissing on a wall. If Mozart is not performed at Mozart's level, then the performance is just a lot of belching and fucking around. The same thing happened with Soviet jazz: those people who organically existed in that milieu always seemed to me to be idiots, because this was a form of reflection which never could achieve its ideal. I've written a lot about how Soviet jazz was a kind of anal deconstruction incapable of producing anything: it was unnatural, unauthentic and never grew to the point of manifesting complete pathology. If such as Lundstrom had pushed jazz to the level of pathology, then their jazz would have become high art, an art one could compare with Louis Armstrong and other jazz classics. But they turned out to be miserable epigones who didn't have the strength to turn jazz into pathology, then raise it to the level of a cult and put it into a religious context, while at the same time reflecting on what had been created and describe it adequately – i.e., raise their art into the ranks of a philosophic system, a vaginal morphogeny: if they had been capable of that, Soviet jazz would have become Culture. Despite the fact that Soviet jazzmen swing like elks, Soviet jazz is not music but a peculiar form of Chasidism. And thus Russian jazz was born degenerate. The same thing happened with rock: shitty determinism! We should abandon our ships. Why do I so love the Japanese? The Japanese play the same fucking shit as the Americans, but thanks to a particular refraction the music takes on a new meaning. When they play hard rock, they do it a hundred times faster; when they play noise, then it's the same as that of other groups, only with a suggestion of harakiri. It's not even mere pathology...You need only love with all your might the model you're copying in order to make it into a caricature, but at the same time you should preserve your love for it, a natural love. You should love the model while at the same time totally betraying it. Your treachery should be cosmic. One can betray only that which one loves – otherwise It's not treachery. Having betrayed an old love, you acquire a new one – i.e., you are constantly in a state of love. Thus you develop in time backwards – you don't involute, but rather you enter into a state of genuine evolution. Then this becomes a new stone. Or a tree.
And so: I simultaneously played jazz, rock and classical music, and loved them passionately, i.e., I combined in myself three persons (so-called trinitarian schizophrenia). Western music reached me practically from the moment of its appearance, but being in some sort of deformed and remote space, everything turned into monstrous shit. Just like with the Japanese. I love Japanese music because I hear in it something native and akin (to exact: FM). Aside from this love I was also inclined to talking shit, i.e. to conversations about what I was doing, to fucking around on the level of introspection. I really like to talk about what I'm doing. In different historical periods this is considered either a value or an anti-value. It happens, they say, that critics are dickheads, don't understand a thing, and should take up self-description; and then it's possible to create Kant by describing a cucumber. The reverse happens, too: criticism becomes detached from the artist. One can take any miserable key-plunker or paint-dauber and construct something: unbelievably beautiful.
At first playing three different kinds of music was hard, but then I gradually got used to it; sometime in the 70s I became so used to it that I felt completely at ease – but playing jazz, rock or classical with other musicians was uninteresting. You play one thing and think about another. You play Mozart, but the jazz is lacking, and so forth. And thus I played: I played at various times with practically all Leningrad rock groups; with practically all jazzmen – except with the traditionalists, who hated me; and with classical musicians, who generally didn't understand me at fill, those assholes – fucking bitch!
Identification with all cultures meant, finally, that I stopped being identical to all of them. I was no longer able to coexist with any milieu whatsoever. Jazzmen considered me a rock musician; rock musicians considered me a jazzman; and classical musicians simply considered me a motherfucker. Well, then let them suck each other off with their Penderecki. "Pop Mechanics" became a direct expression of my ideas about all three of these musics. The internal morphology of each of these phenomena was unimportant to me – the fuck with their morphology: the only thing that was important was their interaction. My task in "Pop Mechanics" was to introduce into one thing elements of another. It was my own idea, my own thinking in pure form. There is no deep, morphological link between different musical cultures, but they do get along with one another, coexist. A new morphology arises from this interaction. These days techno is constructed on the same principle. I took the rhythm section from rock and its relentless hammering; from jazz I took whole pieces from the likes of Count Basie and superimposed it on music like Status Quo. Plus some other layers as well.
With the appearance of samplers arose not merely a new technology, but a new aesthetic. With the appearance of samplers techno and a new way of musical thinking arose. Earlier it was not understood how one could use someone else's music in awn's own composition – they called it "plagiarism." With the appearance of techno plagiarism is elevated to cult status. Plagiarism has become the fundamental aesthetic element. Various morphostructures are imposed on a single rhythm, a rhythm that summons an ecstatic state. Rhythm is the basis of any ritual; techno is a new ritual music. The same thing applies to "Pop Mechanics." I'm not interested in morphology. It's not important to me what the folk ensemble will sing – only a sign, a clearly expressed symbol has significance. I repeat: it's unimportant whether the folklore is Russian or Tibetan – the only important thing is to create the feeling itself of folklore. "Pop Mechanics ' is not a group, but a means of thinking. Everything I do – writing music, composing film scores, just thinking – is done according to the principle of pop-mechanics. Pop-mechanics is my organic chemistry; pop-mechanics is me. Pop-mechanics is a ritual dedicated to secret gods. By the way, religious cults and historical events also can be components of pop-mechanics. The important thing is to not become absorbed in morphology and internal logic. Everything's clear just the same. In the last few months I've been trying to overcome completely this principle of thinking in myself, and I hope that I'll eliminate it in the near future. I'm beginning to cross over into another state and I like all this terribly much. Every "Pop Mechanics" as a concert was constructed according to its own laws, laws that depended on the audience, the size of the concert hall, the situation in the country. Since everything is comprised of blocks, each block is automatically dispensable. If someone happens not to be around, then this is compensated by someone else's presence. Sometime before the concert I would put together a plan, call everybody, asking who could make it to the rehearsal before the concert and to the concert itself; then I'd put together a list, and then using these elements, samples and a card index it would be time to a program. Lets suppose there's going to be a conference of highly-gifted filmmakers: and so I think, why should I hammer together some sort of incomprehensible solo with a phrasing whose logic escapes them – what the fuck do they need that for? – i.e., taking into consideration the mental capabilities of the filmmakers I decide how to play. Or musicians. How can some miserable little musician understand the logic of catharsis? He waits and waits for catharsis, the catharsis is on its way, then suddenly some crap comes raining down on his head! Instead of catharsis – shit! Since back then nobody did this kind of shit, then that shit summoned such rejoicing both on stage and in the auditorium. Almost like fresh cheese- cake with cherry topping. It was very nice that the participants themselves didn't know what would happen. And they weren't supposed to know, since the sequence of events was unknown to them.
Nowadays I like making silence. If earlier my basic method was layering, then now I like taking something comprised o three or four levels and throwing out one or two of those elements. For example, a ballet performed in complete silence. The dancers dance what they have – but in complete silence: this makes an enormous impression. It’s so absurd! I.e., the principle of "something missing is one of the most important components." The same principle, only turned around: – instead of +. If earlier I liked saturation, then nowadays I like pauses. It's a whole worldview. The number is announced, but no one comes out on stage; then someone comes out, but he doesn't do what he should and leaves; then another pause, someone does something, then once again everyone waits for something to happen. One needs to employ pauses very skilfully. It's quite lovely.
The most important thing is working with sound. For me there's no particular difference between high and low art, between the ability to play and the inability to play – both the one and the other are natural. Like my acquaintance from Berlin, Liubka, said: "It doesn't matter who's on top and who's on bottom. The important thing is who's fucking whom." Greg Goodman, whom back then I really loved, would sit down at the piano and start banging the fuck out of it – and he didn’t evolve into this shit from Haydn, through Beethoven and Wagner, through Prokofiev and Shostakovich to Stockhausen. No, he just dreamed up an enormous scale of development, arranged a whole chain of development, the school was apparent, but, as a matter of fact, there wasn't any sort of school at all. There is no difference between high and low, because everything is just various evolutionary zones combined in one temporal space. There are several evolutions and at some moment they all united. "Pop Mechanics" appeared at a time when the romantic approach held sway. Everything was taken way too seriously, jazzmen loved like crazy their shitty jazz and rockers were ready for the sake of their fucking rock to tear out somebody else's throat with their teeth. Nowadays, in the postmodern period, all this has become the norm. Postmodernism's basic principle is to love and hate at the same time. To make one’s way out of the endlessly naked body of postmodernism turns out to much harder than to get in (the principle of deep vaginism). Although, of course, for many it's not easy to enter postmodernism, since to do that one has to admit that everything you did before was total fucking garbage. Therefore it's easiest of all to escape into medieval music, baroque or else into some even more distant region, into some kind of Orient. This is a reaction to the impossibility of genuinely becoming a postmodernist. Postmodernists have it even worse because the flood of information has reached such a level that to not be a postmodernist is practically impossible. The reaction to this is such that among filmmakers nowadays, for example, we witness an unbelievable desire to make terribly simple sentimental pictures, like in the 50s. But the results are quite miserable – it's impossible to enter the same stream twice. Their desire to scramble out is apparent, but the result is apparent as well: a product of introspection, not the normal healthy desire to bang together some really swell pictures. One needs to possess a certain madness to do such things. Otherwise, the estrangement is all too apparent – the mark of far-fetchedness is visible. And this is how they try to get out of postmodernism. The high spirit of romanticism is needed, but what they take for romanticism is just sentimentalism: now we need a powerful romantic surge, a burst that attains the heights of heroics. Not being able to find themselves in art, people go out into the world, grabbing the machine gun – like Limonov, for example. A powerful romantic surge demands self-sacrifice, a tragic death, only then will the powerful romantic hero be made manliest and the way out of postmodernism be revealed. Bu one would like this romantic hero to be a Nonman, an unthinkable – fuck – being, a Goddamn Virtual Alterego.
Going back to the very beginning, I should say that culture doesn’t have the significance it had ten years ago. Folklore should lie (or stand) at the basis of culture. For some reason we have folklore, but it seems to be some kind of shit, not folklore. We ourselves look upon our own folklore as kitsch. For us it's not folk art. As soon as an ensemble with balalaikas and Russian folk instruments appears, right away it's kitsch. Other folklore is folklore, but ours summons only guffaws. I think that our culture is doomed to epigonism. Even with the appearance of punk it was hard to imagine Russian punk, but it took root and now whacks off left and right. The same thing with new-age: it was hard to imagine that these two chords, flacidly dripping into one another, would find so many enthusiasts, that more and more people would buy this music and listen to it - until, of course, it was assimilated. Whatever sort of music appears in the West, sooner or later it takes root quite beautifully in Russia, however crazy this might seem at first glance. Russian culture is epigonistic – it can go fuck itself. On the other hand, this epigonism should be raised to the level of a high culture or high art and when the original model turns into something unimaginably monstrous it turns into a totem, a new work of art. Since Russian thought has always been very flaccid and Russian introspection very banal only a few people are capable of understanding it. The goal of these people is to seek for those epigones capable of taking everything to a point of absolute bastardization and conceiving something new. Since the creators of culture are themselves incapable of anything, one needs to prod them, not bothering to explaining why – simply use force to push them across the border. Or else bribe them. For example: tell a guitarist, here's a million bucks, scrape your guitar so hard that that Japanese ass shits in his pants. There should a strict totalitarian diktat in art. Then: the projection of art onto politics and a new totalitarian state is created. All it would take is several people acting single-mindedly and it would be possible to shake up things so much you'd never put them back together. Nowadays politics influences culture, but if one were to establish a strict totalitarian regime in culture, then gradually culture would be able to direct politics. We’ll close the old borders and draw up new ones. And that's all! By that time we'll have died and there's no telling what will happen then. It’s senseless to contradict organic chemistry. If you just say to a musician, do this and that and you've got art, he won't believe you. Therefore he needs to be tricked. Constantly deceived. Only through deceit and cleverness can one force others to make culture. Real art. I can't bribe anyone nor can I physically coerce them – there isn't a good enough apparatus of repression. For the time being I can influence someone only through cunning and guile. I really love describing each forthcoming “Pop Mechanics”. It’s important that everyone in the auditorium knows what's going on. Since I'm geared towards surprises, then with this everything happens in reverse: the surprise everyone knows all about. Everyone should know about my costume, about the tiger, about the sadomasochism. Everyone should understand everything – the surprise shouldn't be new. In this lies verification of just how insignificant the means are when surprises are already not surprising. All the elements should be thought through and gone over for a long time but when the concert begins they’re no longer important, they're already natural – they're surprises that aren't surprises. That sensation of contraptedness so valued by every sort of sincere, stubborn bore disappears. The important thing is to protect one's own fucking cross from them. I feel like ending this article with a poem:
The hamster sleeps, the "Varyag" flies,
The church bells ring and toss.
Look hey, Cossack, the foe is nigh
and wants to filch the cross.
The text was originally published in “Kabinett” Journal, we thank its editors for reprint permission.