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Ethnofuturism and Music

Marina Khodyreva
composer and folk music researcher (Udmurtia)

1. It is a well-known phenomenon that the folk art experiences a revival and starts its new life in the works of composers. In the literature on music we can find a plenty of examples when a composer uses folklore motives. The original melody is something used without alteration; or it may be refined (by adding some harmonic colouring of timbre); or this may be a completely new composition bearing the folk melodica.

2. The interest to the folk song was most notably demonstrated in the 19th century. During the 20th century a multitude of styles and schools was introduced and a new kind of relationship between the folklore and the composer's art work emerged.The last decades of the 20th century, referred to as 'the postmodernist age', produced a phenomenon called ethnofuturism. This school is remarkable for having blended the two opposite efforts: the aspiration to retain the traditional folklore and to preserve its environment is accompanied by a strong desire to make use of the methods of avant-garde art and thus to apply the fruit of the technological revolution in art.

3. At the moment it is still hard to speak of ethnofuturism in music, as the genre settings must first be determined aesthetically, as well as the doctrine. This may probably remain a task for the nearest future. However, we can already see some elements of ethnofuturism setting foot in music and in musical performances (happenings, musical actions, etc.). Attributes of ethnofuturism can be noticed both in academic music and in the mass music production.

4. In the town of Izhevsk, the demand for the so-called techno-ethnic art was felt already in the 1980's, after the art association Lodka (The Boat) emerged. Exhibitions by the artists of Lodka, often centred around a performance or a particular action, were always accompanied by traditional-sounding avant-garde music or by singing their own songs. At the time, performances of this kind, either in a room or in the open space, were news. The Lodka people tried to expand the entrenched boundaries of what is conceived as the art; in their pursuit of new images, paints and emotions they were searching in the traditional lifestyle as well. Later, artists of other arts, among them musicians, joined the association. When the Izhevsk Club came to take the place of Lodka, an opportunity appeared to produce the first vinyl disk of authentic folklore in Udmurtia. The disk (named Beserman Krez) reached the market in 1992. During an expedition arranged by the Izhevsk Club, two folklore groups were recorded in the Yukamensky region of Udmurtia: in Shamardan village and in Abashevo village. For the members, recording folklore music was, in a way, another ethnofuturist experiment in music: authentic live performance was combined with the technique of sound recording generated by technical progress.

These activities culminated in hosting the 2nd International Conference on Ethnofuturism in Izhevsk on 25 to 28 June 1998. The event was a powerful impulse to comprehend the Finno-Ugrian cultural heritage. Immediately after the conference an art association Odomaa was founded with the participation of actors, scientists, poets, writers, musicians and others who were interested in ethnofuturist art. Since 1998 to 2002, the association conducted seven festivals. A mixture of exhibitions and theatre, with visits to villages to have a touch with the genuine folk art, those festivals included performances, happenings and installations. This, too, can be viewed as experimenting in ethnofuturism, as the public was meant to fully participate in the action.

In 2001, three CD's with the genuine folk music were produced under the common title The New Song of the Ancient Land, containing guest songs from the village Karamas Pelga (Kiyasovsky region, South Udmurtia), the folklore of Russian old believers from the village Karsovay (Balezinsky region), and the folklore of Bessermens from the village Abashevo (Yukamensky region). The project was carried out by the Izhevsk based studio Kama Records. Beside supporting the ethnofuturist trend, the studio is experimenting with unique electronic music with expanded range of sound coloured by folklore manner, original timbre colouring, warm and sincere performance. A similar kind of successful synthesis of electronic futurist music with fragments of folk songs one can find in the music played by the group Virgo In Tacta; inexperienced in the local folk, the young auditory of Izhevsk was listening very carefully to their dance music and compositions. Against a repeating rhythmical background, fragments of a record of the guest song of the Mazitovs' family (from the village Karamas-Pel'ga, Kiyasovsky region of Udmurtia) came as sudden bursts. The composition held the auditory under the constant tension, as it was rather hard to predict when the next fragment of the folk song would come.

5. What is it that makes a musical composition ethnofuturistic? A mere quoting from a folk tune or reiteration of its elements would hardly give pabulum for reflection: whether or not is this ethnofuturism?

An important property of futuristic art is its conceptual character. It must bear some message, some aesthetic idea coded in music. Otherwise it would be pure pop music similar to that played by the Russian group Ivana Kupala. The ease of sound and the entertainment manner of their compositions seem to link this group rather to rock and pop music. Futuristic art, on the other hand, is charged with dramatism.

Indeed, this trend is not free from losses. It has triggered the process of active transformation of the genuine roots of folk art into other modern forms.



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