some CD's, DVD's (on and others)



“New Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock", Fred Trafton - Mikhail Chekalin's LP/CDs: Print

"Meditative Music for a Prepared Organ" - Volumes 1,2 & 3; "The Symphony-Phonogram", "The Night Ritual for Choir and Drums", "Green Symphony", "Borderline State", "Between Spring and Autumn by Stealth", "Concerto for Piano Synthesizer and Voice", "Pagan Suite", etc.

  • Fred Trafton, “New Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock”, 11/18/07 eng, rus

... It's really daunting when the music is as dense, intellectual and ... well ... difficult as Chekalin's. But if you read the GEPR, I don't need to tell you that sometimes the more difficult the music, the greater the rewards when you finally get through the initial difficulty and finally "get it". There's no finer example of this than Mikhail Chekalin's music. In spite of this, you'll still need to be satisfied with an updated and clarified discography plus reviews of seven (eight, actually, since Nonconformist is a 2CD set) of Chekalin's masterworks. I'll have to save the remaining five CD's for another GEPR upload. Those are the ones where the titles and liner notes are in Russian only, so it may take me a while to tackle those ...

The first thing to say is that all the stuff I mentioned above about Boheme Records no longer matters. Boheme is gone, I know not where, and all the music associated with them is either gone or trying to find a label elsewhere. I know that Chekalin is trying to find a label, and if/when it happens, I'll let you know which albums they decide to carry. For now, I've chosen to review the Volume 1 through 5 series of CD's plus two others that were released in Russia ... so far you can't get them anywhere else, but that may change soon.

Meditative Music for a Prepared Organ Volume 1 and Volume 2 is a re-release of the three-LP Meditative Music for the Decomposed Electro-organ series on 2 CD's. This is a series of solo live improvisations on a "prepared" electronic organ. No synthesizers, no overdubs. Of course, since the "prepared" part of this is that the organ is plugged through various effects boxes, the distinction between this combination and a synthesizer is sort of academic. Don't let the instrumental description fool you ... this is electronic music without a doubt. These albums are where Chekalin really sounds the most like Klaus Schulze. So if you like that sort of slow, developing, spacey electronics, you should find this to your liking as well. All the more impressive for being solo live improv.

The next two albums in the series, Volume 3 and 4 re-release another three albums on 2 CD's, this time "The Symphony-Phonogram" and "The Night Ritual for Choir and Drums" (doubtless a re-titling of "The Ritual - Night for Voices") on Volume 3 and "Green Symphony" plus "Borderline State" (Border State) on Volume 4. Here we are once more into the serious modern classical electronic music style I talked about in the Concerto Grosso reviews above. Chekalin mentions that these are recorded using a 4-track analog tape machine only ... no sequencers or computer editing. The instruments listed are "synthesizers, percussion and vocal", though it's largely synthesizers with a few sections of nice spacey vocal overdubs for sweetening and occasional percussion. There's a few Klaus Schulze-like moments here, particularly the later, more symphonic-oriented Schulze albums, but overall the style is more modern classical than Berlin School. You'd swear a lot of it is really symphony orchestra. This sort of music actually takes a bit of training to listen to. Since I've had that training (... seriously ... in my Electronic Music classes in college with Professor Charles Stanley, a classical composition specialist, explaining what I should be listening to as a running commentary ... it's a really ear-opening experience ... thanks, Professor Stanley!), I find this sort of thing just amazing. But you may find it a bit rough going. Give it a try ... it's really worth it once you "get it".

The last in the "Volume Series" is Volume 5 which re-releases the LP "Between Spring and Autumn by Stealth" and also has a bonus track ... a live recording called "Concerto for Piano Synthesizer and Voice" recorded in 1993. Sonically similar to Vol 3 & 4, but "earlier" sounding ... which parts of it are and parts aren't. Also, spacier and not as rhythmical, but perhaps darker in tone. All the same comments apply as above. Good stuff, but after just listening to Vols 3 & 4, my ears could have used a rest before cracking the shrink-wrap on this one. I shouldn't try to listen to this much modern classical music in one sitting. I just start craving "normal sounding" harmonies after a while. Still, an excellent album ... just leave some time between this one and similar stuff.

Nonconformist may have been released earlier than the above-mentioned series, but the music was actually written and recorded over an even longer span of time than the Volume series. The title, to my mind, is actually a bit of a misnomer. I would say that this album collects Chekalin's music that CONFORMS to western ideas of what electronic music is supposed to sound like. Less classical and more "techno", Nonconformist has a lot of fast, heavily rhythmic music (dare I say "dancable"?) and more traditional harmonies in it than the earlier albums. Actually, it reminds me quite a bit of Yello or maybe Peter Fromader's Anubis Dance. That's not necessarily bad ... I kinda like that style. But those interested in more "serious electronic music" ... or maybe I should say "academic electronic music" ... should stick to some of the other albums I've discussed above. Still, as modern techno music goes, Nonconformist has a lot to recommend it, including pepperings of off-kilter noises, interesting use of sounds as percussion, '40's private eye music and oriental flutes in addition to the Boom-Clap-Boom-Clap you would expect of techno music. I could do without some of the new-agey jazz piano sections though.

A "Pagan Suite" was released immediately after the Volume series, however, though this album still features music composed and recorded in the early '90's, it is not a re-issue of anything previously released on LP. Instead, this is a lengthy (78:33) electronic suite in 19 movements. This album still has lots of the "classical electronic music" vibe of the Volume series, but is beginning to incorporate some heavier rhythmic elements. This makes this album a bit more accessable than the Volume series (particularly Vols 3 thru 5), though there's still enough strange noises, dissonance and scary soundscapes to frighten away your landlady, interspersed with weirdly beautiful and harmonic music punctuated by klangs, chuffs and whooshes. Though I find the Volume 1 through 5 series very stimulating on an intellectual level, A Pagan Suite speaks to me the most of all Chekalin's albums on an emotional level. It's just easier to relate to. This is the album I would recommend as a first listen to Chekalin's catalog. If you like this one, then move on into the Volume series next. Unless you're a fan of Yello and the like, in which case you might want to try Nonconformist next.

I haven't been in contact with Chekalin for a while, so I don't know what he's been doing since 2004 as things get increasingly retro-political in Russia. I do know that there's a (non-Russian) label who's considering releasing some portion of his catalog for worldwide distribution at the moment. If this happens, I'll report it, plus anything else I find out.

-- Fred Trafton

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