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      Leningrad 1980s

• Sergey Kuryokhin and Pop Mekhanika – all documents
• Сергей Курёхин и Поп-механика – все документы

Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances

by Hannelore Fobo, September 2017

Part One

Sergey Kuryokhin and Friends: Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983

• page 1 • Preliminary Remarks

• page 2 • Hans Kumpf and Sergey Kuryokhin

• page 3 • 1980-1981: the first meetings

• page 4 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: pictures and text

• page 5 • Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov: the Utiugon.

• page 6 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations 1983: music and audio recording (4min 12s fragment)

• page 7 • Hans Kumpf: description of the first part (German / English)

• page 8 • Sergey Kuryokhin: Introduction (4min 37s) to the first part. Voice recording and transcription with English translation

• page 9 • Sergey Kuryokhin: introductions to the second part. Transcription with English translation and six audio fragments

• page 10 • Reference list

Sam Riley. Listening to Leningrad Collective Improvisation, 1983. An analysis (2023 / 2024)

Part Two

Pop Mekhanika in the West

Part One

• page 6 • Leningrad Collective Improvisations: music and audio recording (4min 12s fragment)

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fragment of Hans Kumpf's audio recording (4min 12s)

Kumpf recorded these “collective improvisations”, but the conditions were less favourable than in December 1980: instead of studio equipment and tape recorders, he had to use his small cassette recorder. When he digitalised the cassette thirty-four years later, in 2017, the quality of the sound turned out to be remarkably good, and it could certainly be further improved using appropriate technical equipment.

The cassette has preserved more than an hour of experimental free jazz and renders the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere created by musicians and their small number of guests.

Among the musicians were several saxophone players: Boluchevsky, Butman, Letov, and Kuryokhin. It is hardly possible to assign a specific saxophone tune to a specific player, if not, perhaps, taking into consideration that Sergey Kuryokhin was the only non-professional saxophone player present. Although it is true that the Club 81 wasn’t supplied with a piano, another reason for Kuryokhin’s choice of a brass instrument is more convincing: at that time he was cherishing the idea of exchanging the piano for the saxophone more>>, and on his request, Hans Kumpf had brought him a special mouthpiece. However, Kumpf’s comment on Kuryokhin’s saxophone skills is very much to the point: “a lot of show and little playing technique.”[1]

Vladimir Boluchevsky, saxophone (left), Sergey Kurokhin, saxophone (right) In the background left, with camera: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Photo: Hans Kumpf 1983

Vladimir Boluchevsky, saxophone (left), Sergey Kurokhin, saxophone (right)
In the background left, with camera: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov; Arkady Drogmeshenko (with glasses)
Club 81, Leningrad 1983 • Photo: Hans Kumpf

The jam session started with a first general improvisation lasting forty minutes, which Hans Kumpf analysed in 2017. This description is presented as separate document more >>. During this part, Ivan Sotnikov and Timur Novikov presented their now famous utiugon more >>.

The second part of the improvisations was a succession of duets and trios; sometimes other musicians also joined in. Since the meeting had been arranged in honour of their German guest, Sergey Kurykhin, who took the part of the presenter, asked each musician to improvise with Kumpf. Six such pieces were recorded, one of them with Arkady Dragomoshenko reading his poem more >>.

There were no prearrangements other than Sergey Kuryokhin's introductory remarks before the first forty minutes more >>, and then again before each duet or trio more >>. But these remarks were all in Russian and were not translated, although occasionally a word or two would be added in English, such as “after that tutti”. The situation being as it was, Kumpf had to rely on his feeling for the musicians.

While Kuryokhin’s musical contribution to the session remains unclear, his part in “conducting” the improvisations is all the more obvious. Especially his first speech, which lasted over four minutes, demonstrates his idea of a “general collective improvisation” that was to maintain a specific structure:

    The first piece will be quite long, but it will be divided into parts. It will begin with a general collective improvisation, a very quiet one. A tutti part of sorts…  After that, Hans Kumpf will remain alone and perform solo. Next, he will be joined by Vladimir Volkov… It will be a Volkov–Kumpf duet. Next, the duet will be joined by Vyacheslav Gayvoronsky and become a trio. Next, there will be another tutti part, after which events will, so to speak… develop unpredictably, as a spontaneous improvisation. It will be better if we don't play simultaneously all the time. It will be better if there are duets, trios, and solo parts. Let’s say only one performer remains. Don’t begin to play with him all at once. Otherwise, some instruments simply cannot be heard. The teapot, for example. It is a very quiet instrument and should be played alone. A duet of teapot and clarinet, for example. Therefore, I suggest listening very carefully. Some parts will be very loud, others incredibly low. The music may become both aggressive and meditative, depending on our inclinations and a particular piece. more >> [2]

One of (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov’s pictures from the session shows several microphones installed on top a chair. Besides Hans Kumpf, a person called “Misha” also recorded the meeting, possibly requested by Kuryokhin. On Kumpf’s cassette we hear Kuryokhin asking Misha to switch off the tape recorder when the voices set in: Kuryokhin found the speeches irrelevant. However, they are not irrelevant to us. In retrospective we can say that these pieces of additional information allow us to understand the dynamics of the improvisations and the way musicians and public related to each other. The voice parts have therefore been transcribed and translated into English.

Microphones from audio recording devices recording the jam session
Club 81, Leningrad • photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov 1983

After the jam session from December 1980, the 1983 Collective Improvisations were the second Leningrad improvisation Kumpf recorded, but there was also a third: in April 1984. Few pictures exist of this session, and we know much less about the names of participating musicians – no more than the names of Sergey Letov, Sergey Kuryokhin, Boris Grebenshikov, and Hans Kumpf –, but it has a quite unusual Tango-improvisation featuring Boris Grebenshikov – “Счастье моё” / “You are my Happiness”, a tango from the pre-war times more >>. This audio file is also unpublished. Together, these three audio documents constitute highly interesting material from Kuryokhin’s “pre-Pop Mekhanika” period.

With Pop Mekhanika concerts, Kuryokhin’s “conducting” part in performances would increase both conceptually and physically. "Pop Mekahnika in the West”, the second part of this essay, will be dedicated to this subject.

next: • page 7 • Hans Kumpf: description of the first part (German / English) >>

[1] “viel Show und spieltechnisches Unvermögen”. Kumpf, “Enfant terrible“ und Superstar.

[2] Translated from the Russian by Tatyana Zyulikova


Russian names: Владимир Болучевский, Сергей Курёхин, Аркадий Драгомощенко, (Е-Е) Евгений Козлов, Клуб-81, Владимир Волков, Вячеслав Гайворонский, Сергей Летов, Борис Гребенщиков, [Ханс Кумпф]

Uploaded 2017

Last updated 20 July 2024