(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.     Berlin                                                  

      Leningrad 1980s

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

Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances

by Hannelore Fobo, 2017 / 2018

Part Two

Pop Mekhanika in the West
Chapter headings >>

page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7

page 2 • Touring the West. Expectations and legends

Here is an example announcing Sergey Kuryokhin’s Chicago concert at the Southend Musicworks on 13 October, 1988. The author is Renaldo Migaldi.

“The music of Leningrad-based Sergey Kuryokhin is still revealing itself to me. After first discovering his brilliantly hip twisty-fingered pianistics on recordings Kuryokhin made as a member of Boris Grebenschikov's rock band Aquarium (recordings that had to be smuggled out of the USSR by Westerners), I then moved on to his fascinating solo stuff, in which heartrending lyricism alternates with a convoluted percussive hammering sound reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Now I'm getting knocked out by the music of Kuryokhin's big electric band, Pop Mechanics, which serves as a large-scale canvas for an explosive, theatrical consciousness that veers unpredictably from mutated folk music to free jazz to dissonant violin shrieks to a half dozen guys banging hammers on scrap metal. A legend on the Leningrad avant-garde scene, Kuryokhin was the subject of a PBS documentary a couple of years back, and at the time I assumed I'd never have a chance to see him live. But glasnost has apparently changed all that. Tonight, 8:30 PM, Southend Musicworks, 224 N. Desplaines; 283-0531.[1]

It should be added that in Chicago Kuryokhin performed not with Pop Mekhanika, but with American musicians. The review published in the Chicago Tribune on October 20, 1988, names saxophonist Mars Williams, drummer Paul Wertico, guitarist Pete Cosey, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and singer Rita Warford and her group.[2]

The reaction of the public was, however, not unanimous – not everyone was as delighted as Migaldi by Kuryokhin’s “theatrical consciousness.” Hans Kumpf attended the Pop Mekhanika concert in 1989 in Moers, Germany more>>.[3] He summed up his impressions in his article for Jazzpages from 1997 “I was quite ill at ease with Kuryokhin’s festival show when he started to stage scared hens and a goat which hid away under a piano. A nuanced musical performance such as on our record ‘Jam Session Leningrad’ meant much more to me.”[4]

Hans Kumpf critical reaction to what he calls, in the same article, “Kuryokhin’s Aktionismus” – an “excessive emphasis on action”, that is, Kuryokhin’s acrobatic movements – is his reaction as a musician familiar with trends and tendencies in the world of free jazz, including historical ones.

In a lecture held at the First Darmstadt Jazzforum, December 1989, published in 1990 as  “Sowjetischer Jazz” [Soviet Jazz], Kumpf expressed his opinion in a more general way, noting that there exists among Russian jazz musicians an inclination for “stylistic conglomerates and re-editions of dadaism and fluxus”.[5] Apart from Sergey Kuryokhin, he explicitly names saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin, pianist Yuri Kuznetsov and the Arkhangelsk band with saxophonist Vladimir Rezitsky.[6] 

Conducting a research among other jazz musicians on the origin of such a tendency to overact on stage, he finds a plausible answer in Bert Noglik’s analysis: the German musical critic relates it to the Russian tradition of the “Estrada” – the presentation of popular songs mixed with entertainment, inspired by such diverse genres as operetta and circus. But Kumpf also admits that none of his Russian interlocutors shared Noglik’s opinion.[7]

By contrast, Kuryokhin himself explains that “The eccentricity of our behaviour on the stage is very easy to explain – Chekasin and I have often discussed this question and always come to the same conclusions – that for us the behaviour is always the continuation of a musical idea, including everything: jumping about, hitting plates and stamping our feet. For me a word can grow into a musical phrase, and a musical phrase into a gesture, although some of it has, of course, been thought through in advance. I feel – I don’t know whether this is right or not, some people may like it, others may not – I fell like having fun. […] I love the theatre […] I want my performances be worth looking at more>>.[8]

Kuryokhin’s credo can be summed up in the following quote “Mastery as such doesn’t interest me in the least; I’m bored to death by it.” [9]

Seen in this light, Kuryokhin’s theatrical effects were not intended to compensate for non-professionalism. Quite on the contrary, he was fully convinced of his professionalism no matter the circumstances – an example with the Telonius Monk competition will follow in the last chapter of this part. For Kumpf, such theatrical effects were nevertheless overriding musical professionalism.

An element of a parody of “Estrada” undoubtedly prevailed. Kumpf’s position allows us to understand the ambiguous feelings at least part of the Western audience experienced during those pompous Pop Mekhanika concerts: On the one hand, the Pop Mekhanika rock-jazz-punk performances were the most exciting and most innovative happenings ever produced in post-revolutionary Soviet Union. On the other hand, rather than being concerts, they reflected Kuryokhin’s concept of entertainment – mixing a striking number of “ingredients” in hope of creating a new type of Gesamtkunstwerk. But not everybody felt entertained all the time.

In view of the Western audience’s ambiguous reaction, it is intriguing to note the extent to which legends and superlatives have been created around Pop Mekhanika in the West – post factum. In the first chapter of his book, Alexander Kushnir writes “After the psychedelic orgies in Stockholm, Liverpool, Berlin, Nantes, Ljubljana and Amsterdam, the art paratroopers were to perform in Helsinki. ”[10] Kushnir, who, as it seems, had not been present himself at these concerts, apparently relied on the impressions of eyewitnesses, but the term “orgy” appears to me highly exaggerated. At Nantes (1991) and Berlin (1995) - the two performances I attended –, I would have gladly taken pictures of a psychedelic orgy if I had seen one. The videos of Stockholm and Liverpool have nothing to offer in this respect either. I don’t know about Ljubljana and Amsterdam, but Kushnir has not presented any documentation to convince us of an orgy, and my conclusion is therefore that Kushnir, a great admirer of Kuryokhin, gave his imagination free rein.

As there can be no doubt that Pop Mekhanika concerts were an important manifestation of Soviet/Russian subculture (although they have not yet been described in detail), I asked myself the question whether the different points of view expressed by Kumpf’s critical approach and Kushnir’s enthusiastic appraisal were more than just reflecting personal opinions. In other words, the question was whether the Western and the Russian audiences perceived Pop Mekhanika concerts in different ways, and if so, whether this difference could be specified or even explained.

Reference list >>

[1] https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/sergei-kuryokhin/Content?oid=872873

Retrieved 17 December 2017

It is not clear how the author of the article came to know about the Pop Mekhanika performances, but he probably knew the LP released by Leo records in 1987 “Sergey Kuryokhin – Introduction In Pop Mechanics.” It was recorded live in Leningrad in October 1986. The BPS documentary Renaldo Migaldi mentions is the BBC documentary about Sergey Kuryokhin ''Comrades: All That Jazz''. It was filmed in the summer of 1985 and shows a punk improvisation with Kuryokhin and other musicians – incidentally, again at the Club 81 – but no Pop Mekhanika concerts. Joanna Stingray, the American singer, filmed PM concerts in 1986 and later. In 1986, with the USA release of her record “Red Wave” featuring Leningrad Rock bands Aquarium, Kino, Alisa and Strannye Igry, her Pop Mekhanika videos might have been broadcast.

[2] See footnote 18 on page 1, John Litweiler, “Soviet Pianist Exudes An Animal Magnetism”, Chicago Tribune, 20 October, 1988  http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1988-10-20/features/8802090561_1_sergey-kuryokhin-animals-chicago-concert Retrieved 17 December 2017

[3] In 1988, he went with Kuryokhin to Tallinn, Estonia (at that time still a Soviet Republic), where Pop Mekhanika performed at the Tudengijazz Festival, but there seem to be no records of this concert.

[4] Mir behagte freilich nicht, als Kuryokhin auf der großen Festivalbühne eine Show mit erschrecktem Federvieh und einer Geiß, die sich unter dem Flügel verkroch, inszenierte. Eine nuancierte Musik wie auf unserer Platte "Jam Session Leningrad" bedeutete mir mehr.

http://jazzpages.com/kumpf/ku_kury.html Retrieved 17 December 2017

English translations from German and Russian by the author, unless otherwise mentioned.

[5] Was ist wohl der Grund für die Vorliebe für stilistische Konglomerate und für die Neuauflage von Dadaismus und Fluxus?

Kumpf, Hans.  “Sowjetischer Jazz” [Soviet Jazz]. In Darmstädter Jazzforum 89. Beiträge zur Jazzforschung. Edited by Jost Ekkehard, pp. 49-66. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 1990, p.63

[6] Ibid, p. 62

[7] Ibid, p. 65

[8] Kan, Sergey Kuryokhin Interview, p. 12

permanent link http://www.e-e.eu/Sergey-Kuryokhin-Interview/index.html

[9] «Мастерство как таковое меня совершенно не интересует, мне это смертельно скучно» Kan, Skipper, digital version, p. 31

[10] После психоделических оргий в Стокгольме, Ливерпуле, Берлине, Нанте, Любляне и Амстердаме питерский арт-десант собирался выступить в Хельсинки. Kushnir, Kuryokhin, p. 4

page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7

Russian names: Сергей Курёхин, Поп-механика,

Alternative writings: Sergey Kurekhin, Sergei Kurekhin, Sergej Kurjochin, Kuryochin, Pop mechanics, Popular Mechanics

Uploaded 26 March 2018