Sleeping Dogs Lie 06aug10: Akira Rabelais, Vladimir Petrovsky

Spellewauerynsherde: Spell. Wavering. Shard. Spell as in speaking, incantation, a digitally constructed matrix of words and voices, summoning up a strange, distant past. Wavering: the shivering of those voices as they dissolve and recombine in Rabelais’ rich filtering systems, turning into pulsating, frequency rich drones. Shard: fragments, of voices, of ideas, of memories, of the past, brought back to life again.

Spellewauerynsherde is built up from found sounds, field recordings of traditional Icelandic accapella lament songs recorded in the late 1960s or early 1970s on Ampex tapes and then forgotten about. After discovering the neglected tapes, cleaning them up and digitizing them for a library, Rabelais became fascinated with the heartbreaking sadness of the voices and began to think of them as source material for a series of compositions.

In working with the tapes, Rabelais was very careful to preserve the sound and shape of the originals giving some of the tracks, such as the lovely track 5, an almost Duchamp-like sound quality — they sound barely touched, hardly compositions at all by most people’s standards. “I didn’t want to abstract it so much that it lost its essential quality. I didn’t want to damage the fabric of the original language, I wanted to set it, cast it in a certain light.”

The frame that Rabelais uses was constructed using a piece of computer software called Arge•phontes Lyre, which Rabelais developed in the late 1990s – a flexible tool for filtering sound sources, turning them into the remarkable pulsating, shifting sound fields and strange choral effects to be heard on Spellewauerynsherde’s track three for example. In contrast to much of the contemporary electronic music scene, which remains heavily dependent on commercially available software, and which mostly consists of running through every possible combination of the potentialities within such software, resulting in a glut of music that is basically indistinguishable from each other, Rabelais has worked continuously on developing software that can achieve his various sonic goals. “I tend to write filters as I need them and they go through quite a bit of fine tuning. At the same time I try to let them evolve organically. I try to appreciate my mistakes.”

Even though Rabelais’ use of the software has an iterative, mathematical aspect, in that it can be used to crank out numerous mutant variations on a particular block of sound, he claims that he sees writing software as similar to writing poetry. “I have a sort of Magical Realist approach to writing code. Borges, Garcia M‡rquez and Bruno Shculz. Labyrinths, a cascade of stars and tailor’s dummies. Code can intersect with function and abstraction in a way that poetry can’t. It can take on a life of it’s own, really surprise you.”

Rabelais then decided to throw his own unconscious as a tool into the mix: “When I was working on it, I would do an iteration of filtering and editing and then I’d burn it on a disk and play it. Put it on repeat in my bedroom for a weekend and sleep to it. Let it seep into my subconscious and then make changes off of those impressions.”

If the tracks on Spellewauerynsherde are ultimately built around the complexities of digital programming, the framework of title and text that Rabelais gives the music is equally important and transformative. In fact, Rabelais says that he worked simultaneously on the editing and processing of the sounds, and the extraordinary texts that accompany the music, as well as the seven long, mysterious track titles, drawn mostly from the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of the words that make up the title of the piece. “The OED is one of my favorite books. It’s interesting how words and meaning evolve over time. It’s like a secret natural history of human thought.”

What Rabelais has come up with in Spellewauerynsherde, is a haunting spiritual disk that sounds at once medieval, especially framed by Rabelais’ beautiful texts, while at the same time, on the cutting edge of electronic music. Digital technologies, with their use of permutation and combination of seemingly unrelated elements, bring us back to the world of magic, which also sought to transform matter in ways that give it spiritual significance. Spellewauerynsherde brings back voices from the edges of history, tapes gathering dust in archives, and transforms them into ghosts that thrive in the digital era, albeit in sometimes monstrous forms. “I transmit, “As above, so below.” I try to connect to something ineffable and then transmit it in some way.” (

Bell ringer: Vladimir Petrovsky . Bells of the Arkhangelsk museum reserve “‘Malyie Karely” (Small Karely).

Bells in Russia appeared soon after Christianisation. For already a millennium their chimes accompany every person’s life. Bells were not a Christian Church invention, they came from the West, first as a signal, but already at the beginning of the 16th century Russia had its own national original art of bell ringing. The main expressive means of these chimes are rhythm and timbre. Rhythmical variety of sounding is reached by the new way of bell ringing – not by moving the bell itself, as in European countries – but by moving the tongue of motionless bells. The fate of Russian bells is tragic. They were silent almost for about half of century. One of the contemporary centres of bell ringing revival is the Arkhangelsk museum reserve of wooden architecture “Malyie Rarely”. Here in the Russian North – a real treasury-house of national culture “Chimes of Russian North” were revived. These chimes are characteristic variety of All-Russian chimes. This museum is the only place in Russia where a school of bell ringers is situated. Vladimir Petrovsky is a bright representative of this school. He is a professional musician for whom the tradition is a basis, both in musical and moral aspects. He can really hear and feel the soul of a bell. The compositions featured on this disc show the listeners his careful attitude to the old Russian heritage and gift of free improvisation. The latter feature you can see more vividly in his performance of “Waltz of Bells”, “Monk’s Tale”, “Delusion”. In this chime Petrovsky affirms his own understanding of contemporary bell ringing as a concert genre.

01 Akira Rabelais: “1671 Milton Samson 1122 Add thy Spear, a Weavers beam, and seven-times-folded shield” (from “Spellewauerynsherde”) (2004)
02 Vladimir Petrovsky: “Funeral Chime” (from “Chimes of Russian North”) (1991)