Home Music Valentina Goncharova: Recordings 1987-1991, Vol. 1

Valentina Goncharova: Recordings 1987-1991, Vol. 1

If you’re listening to experimental recordings and, say, the yard waste gets picked up outside your window and the sound of the truck segues perfectly with the music, that doesn’t mean that the recordings are merely random noise. It signals an artist who’s thoroughly in tune with the world, so much that it encourages the listener’s ears to close ranks with the composer’s aesthetic. So it is with the music of Ukranian-born Valentina Goncharova. Shukai, an archival label dedicated to Soviet era electronics, has released her Recordings 1987 – 1991, Vol. 1, 90 minutes of varied, inventive music with a clear line from tradition. It’s consistently forward-looking, compelling and accessible.

Born in 1953, Goncharova began her musical education when she was seven years old. Her perfect pitch and small hands caused one early teacher to lead her from piano to violin. She studied at the Leningrad Conservatory in the early ‘70s, during a period when, she says in a recent interview, “there was little chance to find professional fulfilment. And I began to search for myself.” A pivotal discussion with fellow composer Svetlana Golybina led the students to ask where music is heading. “I still have no answer to it,” Goncharova says, “But, it was this question that gave meaning to my whole subsequent life and determined my ideas, actions and creativity for many years to come.”

The search for herself has led Goncharova from classical music to underground scenes and back, and, despite the limited timeframe, you can hear all of it on Recordings. Inspired by Stockhausen, Yoko Ono and the Ganelin Trio, the composer has a restless ear—and a sense of humor. The aptly-titled “Symphony of Wind” uses synth washes to evoke the elements, and while the concept is well in line with new age, the floor-rattling bass gives the piece a substance more visceral than meditative. “Zen Garden” is like a chamber piece reimagined; the synth timbres are set to something like a harpsichord, which plays rising countermelodies against her swooning violin. “Passageway to Eternity” hints at another influence, Tangerine Dream, that earth-shaking bass suggesting a difficult but steady path to the afterlife, rewarded by shimmering, practically angelic tones.

This is highly varied work; “Vigor” is six minutes of thunderous percussion that some adventurous DJ might even introduce on the dance floor to build a sweating audience to a fervor. The central piece here is the nearly 19-minute suite “Metamorphoses,” which builds from a spare percussive intro to more layered sections in which Goncharova turns to vocalizing. As the electronic arrangement develops from this skeletal beginning to a dense close, from insect-like scratching to the human voice, the title image is manifest in a remarkable transformation that’s challenging, yet at the same time playful.

The 16-minute closer “Dynamics” may be the most purely abstract track here, violin lines growing scratchier and tape manipulations more prickly before some kind of bass line begins to tie things together and Goncharova’s vocals take on severe distortion; she reportedly sings directly into amplified cello strings at one point, at this seems the likely culprit. One thing that makes Goncharova so remarkable is that no matter how wild her ideas get, there’s something that grounds her work—a rhythm, a melody, a pleasing texture. The tension between pushing the envelope and making something appealing is fascinating, and the very heart of music and communication itself.

Goncharova’s previous recorded output included an album’s worth of music on Leo Records’ Document, a massive eight-disc sampler of Russian improv in the ‘80s. These home recordings reveal an even more impressive vision. The composer has performed in all manner of venues, from free-jazz concerts in Moscow to recitals of 18th century music in a Catholic Church in her present home of Estonia. Her musical approach and interest seem eagerly lower-case catholic as well. Music is a gift from above, she seems to demonstrate, and it takes all kinds of forms to honor the creator. Recordings 1987 – 1991, Vol. 1 can only scratch the surface of this talent; one hopes subsequent volumes clarify her development even more.

Electronic experimentation has never been so restless, or accessible.
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Endearing Abstractions

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