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Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances
Empire and Magic. Sergey Kuryokhin's “Pop-Mekhanika No. 418” (1995)
Second, revised version 11 March 2020 (First version 13 August 2018)
page 6 • The Helsinki and Saint Petersburg (Pop-Mekhanika 418) performances
page 6 • The Helsinki and Saint Petersburg (Pop-Mekhanika 418) performances
The Helsinki performance, which took place on 1 September 1995, was professionally filmed and edited. The video lasts almost an hour and a half, which is purportedly somewhat shorter than the performance itself. It was published on YouTube without any titles or credits. We are therefore left unaware of the producer, but given the quality, it may have been Finnish television.
The Petersburg video (dating to 23 September 1995) consists of several fragments, with a total length of 35 minutes (out of a two-hour performance), filmed by someone in the audience. Its quality is just about sufficient to demonstrate that this concert involved use of the same props and costumes as the Helsinki concert. It also seems that both performances were carried out – uniquely – using Kuryokhin’s Saint Petersburg crew – among them, it appears, rock and jazz musicians Vladimir Volkov, Yury Nikolaev, Vladislav Kurashov, Mikhail Chernov, Alexander Titov, Alexander Liapin, Grigory Solugub, and artists Oleg Maslov, Viktor Kuznetsov, Yury Krasev (Tsirkul), Evgeny Yufit, Igor Bezrukov, Timur Novikov, and Sergei Bugaev. This removed the risk of involving any “outsiders” – whose particiaption did not always bring about satisfactory results. This point is discussed in “Pop-Mekhanika in the West”.
A private video taken during the Helsinki rehearsal shows that Kuryokhin followed a highly elaborate script, thus limiting the participants’ spontaneity. Yet spontaneity – albeit within a pre-set frame – had been a key feature of earlier Pop-Mekhanika performances. Kuryokhin’s new concept speaks of his systematic approach towards his endeavour and of how important it was to him that it be successful.
Though the scenes in the Helsinki and Saint Petersburg videos are only partly congruent, both concerts may nevertheless justifiably be seen as having been essentially identical, the one significant difference being the texts read out by Eduard Limonov and Alexander Dugin during the Saint Petersburg performance.
In both cities, the stage setting was spectacular. Amidst sumptuous illumination effects, flares, firecrackers, and huge inflatable flexible plastic tubes thrown into the audience, there were many other extravagant features.
The following review was written for Rock Fuzz by by Alexander Polishchuk:
The elements of the performances that could be considered specifically “Crowleyan” are, it can be contended, those that related either to Crowley’s writings or to the symbols of the Major Arcana from the tarot deck. Aleister Crowley conceived such a tarot deck in 1942; it was painted by Frida Harris. In the following list, possible references to Crowley are bracketed:
– masks portraying Egyptian deities: Horus, with his protruding beak, Anubis, and the funerary mask of Tutankhamun (– the new Aeon of Horus; the Aeon)
– a large wheel operated like a treadwheel, with one of the performers walking inside it (– the “Wheel of Fortune” or “Wheel of Life”)
– a young woman dancing provocatively (Babalon, the goddess of all pleasure) and various scenes suggesting (though not showing) sexual behaviour or copulation
– Two virtually naked men, each strapped to a cross (“crucified”) that revolved vertically about its axis. (– The end of Christianity.)
However, someone not familiar with Crowley’s writings or his influence on Kuryokhin would hardly have been able to distinguish between these particular features and any of the others. It would be fair to assume that this concerned the large majority of both the Finnish and the Saint Petersburg audiences.
Among such “other features” can be listed:
– Viktor Kuznetsov and Oleg Maslov, clad in “neo-academic” costumes: an amalgam of Venice carnival masks, a centurion’s helmet, and a “centurion’s” string tanga, that is to say the performers were virtually naked, dancing around in homoerotic poses
– a pair of ballet dancers in traditional costumes
– three ladies sitting on a porch that was lifted high into the air, swinging back and forth.
– A hangman – wearing a black pointed hat containing eyeholes, similar in form to a Ku Klux Klan hood – chasing a victim.
The fact that everybody on stage, including the musicians, was wearing strange costumes and masks (mostly sourced from the Saint Petersburg Lenfilm Studio) further enhanced the impact of these things. One of the masks was shaped like a helmet with two horns, possibly an allusion to “The Devil” of the Major Arcana
A gushing review of the performance by A. Frontov appeared in Limonov’s newspaper “Limonka”. Frontov also made up a number of “witchcraft” details in the style of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita”, such as a man changing into a goat and two students completely disappearing. In fact, the carnivalesque opulence of the show recalls a sort of “Devil’s midnight ball”, akin to Bulgakov’s episode in the novel, only somewhat less refined.
Kuryokhin, the master of ceremonies, was the only one performing without a mask. Wearing an antennae-laden crown and a skin-tight unitard covered with silver metallic sequins arranged like fish scales, his appearance was quite extravagant. Kushnir likens him to the Amphibian Man in Belayev’s science fiction novel. With an eye to the Major Arcana, he could heave been “The Fool”.
The music was less daring, with Kuryokhin predominantly relying on the rock and jazz sections, although there were also some more exotic pieces, including а quartet of recorders and a number of popular Soviet songs, mostly interpreted by Kuryokhin himself.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the Helskinki video is Kuryokhin’s interpretation of “It’s all an illusion” [Призрачно все] from the Soviet movie “The Sannikov Land” (1973); the line of the refrain is “Life is just this short moment between the past and the future” [“Есть только миг между прошлым и будущим, именно он называется жизнь”]. The camera shows a close-up of Kuryokhin’s face. “Kuryokhin’s singing is, so it seems, totally sincere and emotional, and his glowing eyes almost fill with tears,” is Kan’s comment. Kuryokhin’s not hitting the higher notes intensifies the impression of a fragile and vulnerable human being, and the same goes for the almost amateur sound of three acoustic guitars and a violin. Kuryokhin is no longer playing a game of irony, Kan resumes: “the voice and the eyes express genuine despair and a true feeling of tragedy.”
It is hard to say whether the Finnish audience shared Kan’s impressions. Without the close-up on Kuryokhin’s face and without understanding the words, they may have simply assumed it was a sentimental melody, nothing more, perhaps thinking it was Kuryokhin’s own composition. They could scarcely have known anything about the phenomenon of Soviet pop music.
Yet Kuryokhin’s credo at the time of his performance seems to have been: “It’s all an illusion”. And at the Saint Petersburg concert, when Kuryokhin asked those present to observe a minute’s silence in memory of Aleister Crowley, he gave “the moment between the past and the future” a specific meaning – and also set himself a mission.
But Kuryokhin would again hold true to his ironic, antithetical approach. The Petersburg video shows his performance of the song “We Need Only One Victory” [Нам нужна одна победа] (11 min., 32 s in). This song, written in 1970 by famous Soviet singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava for the movie “Byelorussian Station” [Белорусский вокзал], depicts the strength of will Soviet parachute troopers needed during WWII in order to gain “one victory for all – no matter the price”. It became a cult song and a symbol of comradeship and heroism, and its instrumental version, which Alfred Schnittke arranged as a march, was adopted as the paratrooper’s hymn. At first, Limonov sings, quite out of tune, along with Kuryokhin, then Kuryokhin continues alone, but forgets the text and looks it up from a book. When they come to the word “victory” [pobeda / победа], a cracker explodes, and this single, innocuous sound generates a humorous effect reminiscent of a sketch.
The refrain of the song is:
И все ж бессилен он.
Сомненья прочь, уходит в ночь отдельный,
Десятый наш десантный батальон.
Десятый наш десантный батальон.
[Deadly fire awaits us
Yet it has no power over us
Hesitation flees – the tenth paratroopers battalion
Goes off into the night, alone.
Goes off into the night, alone.]
When it gets to the last refrain, as two “executioners” start tying a young man to a cross, Kuryokhin makes a slight change to the word zhdyot [ждёт], changing it to zhzhyot [жжёт], thus significantly altering the meaning of the text: it goes from “deadly fire awaits us” to “deadly fire is burning us”. A couple of seconds later, in the next scene, we see two men strapped to revolving crosses, their naked flesh contrasting with the flares attached near to their hands and their feet. Babalon proceeds to engage in her erotic dance, while the wheel of fortune turns, emitting Bengal fire.
All this fire and light notwithstanding, Alexander Kan recalls his impression of the Saint Petersburg performance as having been sombre and gloomy:
to page 7 • PM No 418. Limonov’s speech: Dugin's “The Burden of Angels” >>
 Pop-mekhanika v Khelsinki 1995 (Pop-Mekhanika in Helsinki) [Поп - механика в Хельсинки /1995/] 1 September 1995. Web. 28 July 2018.
The YouTube channel Grineter7 links to bassist Alexander Titov’s channel as the source of the original publication. Titov participated in this concert (and probably the other one, as well), but he only shows fragments of the video on his own YouTube channel. Web 28 July 2018
 According to Alexander Polishcheck’s review. See footnote 8
 Sergei Kurekhin Pop-Mekhanika No. 418 (Sergey Kuryokhin – Pop-Mekhanika No. 418) [Сергей Курёхин - Поп-механика № 418] 23 September 1995. Web. 28 July 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoBLYHL3vSA
 The list has been compiled with the help of various sources, and requires verification.
 Fobo, Hannelore Pop-Mekhanika in the West, page 4, “The principle of spontaneity”.
Web 28 July 2018 http://www.e-e.eu/Pop-Mekhanika-in-the-West/index4.html
 Chubraev, Sergey. Private message July 2018
 Summarising the visual effects involved use of both videos, as some of the effects are better documented in the Helsinki video and others in the Saint Petersburg video.
 […] само выступление было, как всегда, со вкусом смоделировано и блестяще материализовано на сцене ДК Ленсовета. Четырехрукий (две из папье-маше) Курёхин в течении двух часов самозабвенно манипулировал целой армией хрестоматийных персонажей в масках (престарелыми балеринами, полуголыми воинами, картонными мужиками), вовсю резвившимися сряди гидрозондов, атомных взрывов и др. легкой пиротехники в сопровождении упорядоченной какофонии звуков (от техно до Р. Штрауса и Г. Малера). Рок-н-ролл как таковой был представлен более чем внушительной командой: Сергей Курёхин (рояль), Александр Ляпин (соло-гитара), Игорь Тихомиров (бас) и Дядя Миша Чернов (флейта, саксофон). Еще были Африка, Тимур Новиков и проч. И все инкогнито.
Polishchuk, Alexander [Aleksandr] “Pop-mekhanika v DK Lensoveta.” (“Pop-Mekhanika at the Lensoviet Palace of Culture.”) [“Поп-механика в ДК Ленсовета.”] Rock Fuzz no. 26, October 1995. Web. 31 July 2018.
 The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement, The World, and The Fool.
 These costumes constituted an element of the artists’ activities that was characteristic of their membership of the “Neoacademic” movement.
 This article is available on various personal websites, for example “totalfront” 18 May 2012
Frontov, A. Koldobstvo No 418 proshlo udachno. (Sorcery No 418 was a Success.) [Колдовство No. 418 прошло уданчо.]
Web. 28 July 2018. https://totalfront.livejournal.com/30905.html
 Курехин поет, как кажется, совершенно искренне и проникновенно – со светящимися и чуть ли не наполненными слезами глазами […]
Kan, Alexander [Aleksandr]. Kurekhin. Shkiper o kapitane (Kuryokhin. What the Skipper says about the Captain) [Курехин. Шкипер о Капитане]
Saint Petersburg, Amfora, 2012, p.124. PDF for Digital Editions version. Web. 31 July 2018.
 Ощущение такое, что великому мастеру иронии уже не до шуток. Неподдельное отчаяние и подлинный трагизм сквозят и в голосе, и в глазах, […]
Ibid. p. 124
 Хорошо помню очень тяжелое, под стать освещению в мрачно-багровых тонах, даже гнетущее впечатление от концерта.
Ibid. p. 125
Uploaded 13 August 2018