(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 >>

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page 3 • The three principles of Kuryokhin’s “action on a totally global scale”

I must immediately concede that I will not be able to give a comprehensive answer to this question. The scarce documentation on PM performances in the West available to me (articles, photos and videos) does not allow me to proceed in a systematic way. What is needed is a description of every single PM performance with information about its participants, as well as a compilation of reviews and articles that appeared in the foreign press. But this is a task for research team. The lack of information concerns the years from 1992 to 1994 in particular, while 1995 belongs to Kuryokhin’s political period, which left its mark on the performances. I will discuss them in the last part of this article, “Empire and Magic”.

I have therefore pursued a different approach. Focusing on PM’s most intensive touring period, 1988 to 1991, I have tried to analyse the documents I can access in order to determine Pop Mekhanika’s key features – which, in my opinion, lie beyond music “as such“. The definition of such key features will allow us to consider the question of whether they can be transposed integrally to an “alien” surrounding.

Available documents comprehend a limited number of videos and pictures of Pop Mekhanika performances, including my own, interviews with Sergey Kuryokhin and other musicians, texts by journalists, biographies by Alexander Kan (2012) and Alexander Kushnir (2013),[1] and last but not least, Sergey Chubraev’s unpublished Chronicle.

In essence, Kuryokhin explains these key features himself, and they form Pop Mekhanika’s eclectic concept. They are three: the principle of informality and spontaneity, the principle of contrast or antithesis, and the principle of “styob”, a specific humour that used, among others, animals to parody humans.

These three elements fuse into one: Kurykhin’s idea of “action on a totally global scale”, a concept he adapted from Alexander Scriabin. But we can separate them for the sake of clarity. We will see what happens when they leave their natural setting.

Kuryokhin’s mind had been set on “action on a totally global scale” even before staging any of the Pop Mekhanika concerts. Here are his statements in Kan’s early interview for Cadence:

    CAD: Imagine that you have unlimited financial and organisational resources… S.K.: Great, great… CAD: What kind of project would you try to tackle? S.K.: Oh, I love huge projects; I would take, say, five or six symphony orchestras, set them out on a stage of 5 square kilometres, give it amplification, add a lot of electronics, invite something like 30 or 40 soloists of the musicians I like or respect – Braxton, Parker or Bennick. Chekasin would conduct a professional choir for which I should write the music. I want action on a totally global scale, what Scriabin called “action in a total harmony,” I want the metaphysics of total unity, I want to come close to mystery, I love mystery, I love the very spirit of this ancient ritual. This is of course totally unrealistic, although if the Guggenheim Fund would give me a grant I would be prepared to go to Paris to work with some orchestras, choirs and soloist more>>.[2]

To create “the metaphysics of total unity”, Kuryokhin developed an eclectic concept based on the principle of contrast or contradiction, as the example of Obukhvich’es film shows: brass instruments versus rock guitars. In an interview with Graham Duffill in March 1982, shortly after a concert of his “Crazy Music Orchestra” at the Lensoviet Palace of Culture, Kuryokhin called this an “antithetical structure”: “I have an antithetical structure so that a paradox is produced in the music.”more >> [3] During the rehearsals for the concerts, his main concern was to establish the order of appearance of each “section”, to create this antithesis. This principle can be studied in the 1983 recording by Hans Kumpf, with Sergey Kuryokhin’s instructions published in Part one of this research more >> and more >>.[4]

The order of appearance became an unwritten score, to be remembered by musicians and performers. Improvisation took place within this pre-established framework. Kuryokhin expressed this concept in the interview for Cadence:

    CAD: So for you there is no dogma: playing only spontaneous music or notated music. S.K.: No, no, although I am a great devotee of spontaneous improvisation, which is for me the dominant form. My works have a very formal structure, then I invite those musicians whose work I know, like Derek Bailey does, but he has no structure, his is all spontaneous improvisation, whereas I construct a very exact composition with individual musicians in mind, and in my mind I fill our the skeleton, the construction, with improvisations which are characteristic of those musicians. And they improvise within the bones of this skeleton. In this way while I am constructing the composition I can already, as it were, hear it being played by the musicians I have I mind more >>.[5] 

Kuryokhin typically “conducted” the PM musicians’ entrances by first attracting the attention of a particular group with extremely vivid hand gestures. Then he gave the entrance itself by jumping vertically from a standing position with arms swinging in opposite directions. With rock rhythms several jumps often followed each other, or he might accompany the rhythm shaking his arms, as if dancing. The movements looked incredibly dynamic and were an essential part of the performance.

«Козлиный концерт или Введение в Поп-механику» "The Goat Concert or Introduction in Pop Mechanics" Sergey Kuryokhin, Georgy Guryanov and violin player Vladimir Dikansky from the string section In the background: jazz section and rock section. 20. 10. 1986, Leningrad Palace of the Youth /ЛДМ – Ленинградский Дворец молодежи photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

«Козлиный концерт или Введение в Поп-механику»
"The Goat Concert or Introduction in Pop Mechanics"
Sergey Kuryokhin, Georgy Guryanov and violin player Vladimir Dikansky from the string section.
In the background: jazz section and rock section.
20. 10. 1986, Leningrad Palace of the Youth /ЛДМ – Ленинградский Дворец молодежи
photo: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

In this way, Kuryokhin stimulated his fellow musicians to create “action on a totally global scale”. He had to trust the magic of the moment. Violoncellist Seva Gakkel, one of the “permanent” PM musicians, described this magic moment: “The final effect of all Pop Mekhanika concerts was always the same: delight bordering on panicking horror. I guess this was what Kuryokhin wanted to achieve.”[6]

Alexander Kan describes the birth of this magic moment in an elaborate way:

“Each brick in the building, each piece of glass in the kaleidoscope called “Popular Mechanics” had to serve as a musical (and non-musical) symbol or sign of a particular period, a historical, political, or cultural meaning. […] Under the cannonading of the industrial section accompanied by a sadomasochist show or by a gaggle of geese walking on the scene, an intricate complex arose. It brought together heart-breaking melancholy, unbridled joy, subtle humour, sad irony, and, finally, just incredible delight in one’s ability to come up with all this and to be able to realise this energy.”[7]

Reference list >>

[1] Although both biographies have been important sources for my research, the accounts of musicians and artists they present are rather anecdotal than analytical. This leaves its mark on the texts, especially on Kushnir’s biography, as he compiled a single text with the help of a large number of interviews, often without indicating the sources, as if relying on his own memories. In this regard, Alexander Kan, a close friend and working companion of Kuryokhin’s, particularly in the 1980s, benefits from his personal recollections. With his experience as a writer and music journalist, he also appears to be more objective than Kushnir. I have nevertheless noticed a number of inaccurate dates of performances, and such inaccurateness might relate to other events, too. 

[2] Kan, Sergey Kuryokhin Interview, p. 14

[3] Dulfill, Graham, Russian Jazz: Sergey Kuryokhin Interview, Leningradsky Club Sovremennoy muszyki. 1982?. No date is printed on my copy of the interview, but in the introduction to his interview, Dulfill refers to a festival in March 1982.

[5] Kan, Sergey Kuryokhin Interview, p. 13

[6] Конечный эффект всех концертов Поп Механики всегда был одним — восторг на грани панического ужаса. Вероятно, это было именно то, чего Курёхин питался добиться. Kushnir, Kuryokhin, p. 133

[7] Каждый кирпичик в здании, каждое стеклышко в калейдоскопе «Популярной механики» призваны были служить музыкальным (а то и немузыкальным) символом или знаком определенной эпохи, определенного исторического, культурного, политического смысла. [...]А под грохот индустриальной секции, в сопровождении садомазохистского шоу или бредущего по сцене стада гусей рождался очень сложный комплекс щемящей тоски, безудержного веселья, тонкого юмора, грустной иронии да и, в конце концов, просто невероятного восторга от сумевшего все это придумать ума и сумевшей все это осуществить энергии Kan, Skipper, digital version, p.70

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Russian names: Сергей Курёхин, Поп-механика,

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

Uploaded 26 March 2018