Electroshock Records: Review:  
Alexander Volodin: "Reflections of Time"
(Electroshock Records 2004, ELCD 043)

08 tracks. Total time - 64:48.

Many composers supported by the Russian label "Electroshock Records" write music treading the grey areas between academic electroacoustics and New-Age music. Alexander Volodin's "Reflections of Time" is strongly footed on the former territory. The music combines untreated sound fragments (voices, music, environmental sounds) with complex sound treatments, all orchestrated into plastic pieces reminiscent of the works of Yves Daoust, Robert Normandeau, Natasha Barrett or, to hit closer to home, Stanislav Kreitchi, with a more pungent taste for sound collage. Then again, the topic of the album - time, its passing and reminiscence - calls for flurries of sound images. The first piece, "The Flower is Growing Up", is somewhat disappointing as, through its conformism to academic canons, it only reveals a glimpse of things to come. The triptych "Circles" is the stand-out work, a stunning amalgam of fragments lifted from the media, transformed and arranged in riveting kaleidoscopes. The fact that each movement clocks in at three minutes sharp only hits you after the cohesion of the whole work imposes itself. Brilliant. Opposite to this exercise in conciseness, the 30-minute "The Way to Star" adopts a much slower pace and is guilty of a few overlong passages. But Volodin establishes a nice (if somewhat clinical) atmosphere of lightly disquieting peacefulness. "The Music of My Memory", another triptych, also deserves a special mention. Here Volodin comes back to stacks of sound fragments, this time bits of recorded music, phone messages, voices and places from the past, half-remembered. Its grittier electronics and awkward juxtapositions (for instance, a female voice on an answering machine backed by an orchestral fragment in the third section) make for a very interesting listen.

Francois Couture ("All-Music Guide")

In this album, Alexander Volodin blends sound textures, shapes echoes, sculpts silences on the surface of ripples, experiments, in short, with the patterns that determine the identity of each sound. He also makes use of architectures typical of "industrial music", and even of "ambient", so as to develop some passages. These eight compositions are treks towards the darkest areas of electroacoustic music.

Dominique Chevant ("Amazing Sounds")

Lots of (eight) new releases from "Electroshock Records" at the very beginning of 2004. One of them is "Reflections of Time" by Alexander Volodin. Alexander focuses more on details, unlike most of the artists from the compilation. The album has four main compositions and two of them are divided in three separate parts. All main compositions are build around a theme. The first one, called "The Flower is Growing Up", is adequate to "the birth of alive creature", as it says in the inlay of the CD. It's interesting that these themes are not so fixed and they leave enough space for anyone to interpret them themselves. The third piece, "The Way to Star", is the longest one with it's 30 minutes, and, as it says in the inlay, it "was written for the exhibition in the commemoration of Leonardo da Vinchi in 2002". It's a slow and calm drone-like piece with occasional shinning of the star through the sound. Nick Knyaskov on (a distant) flute and Albina Batirshina on violin join Alexander Volodin in this composition to create good drone music, subtle and sometimes almost touching silence. The last composition, "The Music of My Memory", and also the second longest (16 and a half minutes), has three different parts with various lengths. The music from these three last pieces somehow blends the sounds from all previous ones: the subtlety of the drone piece with the thought-out rumblings from the first half of this album. It's a good closing and a conclusion at the end. The star in Alexander Volodin's music probably finds the brightest and clearest ways to shine in the last 16 minutes.

BR ("Vital Weekly")

The album's theme seems to be spiritual, if not pointing to a single religion, and opens with "The Flower is Growing Up", a collage of chopped up sounds, atmospheres and crescendos. "Circles" is a three part cycle featuring loops of sounds - time distortions and layerings of these sounds into something almost naturalistic. The next track, "The Way to Star", is a thirty minute tone poem written for an exhibition on Leonardo Da Vinci, and I think that old Leo would have been intrigued by the sculpturing of sound that the composer has created here. Finally, "The Music of My Memory", is another suite of linked tracks, stylistically similar to the previous tracks. Not as cacaphonic as some of the other albums, "Reflections of Time" is quite soporific but does throw up the occasional sonic surprise to stop you going to sleep.

John Peters ("The Borderland")

Volodin is a young Russian composer (born in 1982), but he's certainly no ingenue judging by the accomplished works on display here - four extended eletroacoustic pieces written between 2000 and 2002. Moody, dissonant instrumental passages unfold meditatively throughout the recording, with occasional intrusions of abrupt ruptures and blasts, and samples (crowd noise, rain, etc.) generously incorporated throughout. Volodin's not afraid to shake things up, mixing brief snippets of thrash-metal of all things into "Circles. Part I". Violent electronic scrapes slice through "Circles. Part III" while the faint strains of a traditional orchestra are heard in the background. "The Way to Star" is the disc's epic, whose 39-minute length accommodates its unhurried drift through numerous episodes. Early in the piece, flute playing is heard against a magnified array of piercing insectile chatter; later on, a delicate gamelan episode recalls similar ambient passages in Paul Schutze's music. Near its end. Aggressive clatter erupts, almost drowning Albina Batirshina's violin playing, before winding down with some brief crowd noises and creaking drones. For all the quality of its construction, though, "Reflections of Time" offers greater intellectual rewards than it does emotional, and Volodin's music might be better targeted to a modern classical market as opposed to the electronic crowd.

Ron Schepper ("Grooves")

Born in 1982, Alexander Volodin may be a young composer and musician, but has already participated in the 30th International Competition of Electroacoustic Music and Sonic Arts in Bourge, France, and the Third All-Russian Competition of Young Composers - Crystal Tuning Fork in Russia. "Reflections of Time" is his first album, and with the exception of guests on flute and violin, all the music is composed, arranged and performed by Volodin. "The Flower is Growing Up" opens the CD and is a sound-art collage piece that combines rushing ambient and thunderous waves, howling tonal swells, alien crowd chatter and a banquet of UFO fun. My favorite part is near the 7 minute mark when the multi-layered alien glom transitions to a heavenly organ grinder in a church choir performing in a carnival of the absurd side-show segment. Very cool. Tracks 2-4 comprise "Circles", another sound collage work that can be sometimes spacey, at times high volume aggressive, and absolutely brain crushing at others. But once again Volodin displays a penchant for bringing together seemingly disparate sound elements into a cooperative whole that is continually engaging and held my attention throughout. Clocking in at 30 minutes, "The Way to Star" is "Reflections of Time's" epic track. It has a machine-like droning experimental sound collage feel that follows in the path of the rest of the album, introducing a non-stop parade of sounds and samples. But there are also some orchestrated parts that have an equally droning, but more ambient quality, and some lengthy segments of pure ambient drone, peppered with miscellaneous sound bits. Tracks 6-8 make up "The Music of My Memory", which continues Volodin's now trademark sound-art style. I hear a use of voice samples that brings to mind the works of Mika Rintala and Hal McGee. But we've also got some of the harshest and highest volume moments of the set, my favorite part being when the music builds to a volcanic roar, only to descend abruptly into a folk acoustic stringed instrument pattern, but just as quickly shifting gears and soaring into cosmic space, accompanied by a children's melody. A very creative use of contrasts. In terms of pure variety Volodin seems to be an endless source of ideas. But where he really succeeds is in the molding and melding of these bits and pieces into larger structural frameworks. Lots here for sound collage fans to enjoy.

Jerry Kranitz ("Aural Innovations")

"Reflections of Time" opens with an ear pressed to the pavement as a pitter-patter of resonant raindrops fall, listening to the breaths of a factory, the rise and fall of its chest, expelling smoke. A deliberate, ponderous sense is pervasive, and sets an immediate tone for the rest of the record. This is Volodin's "The Flower is Growing Up", the first of four theme-heavy compositions. Through the interplay of controlled drone and bits of random noise, backed by strings, a soprano melody and swirling noise, he vividly constructs the calm and anxious helplessness surrounding birth. Welcome to life. The second theme, "Circles", comprised of three compositions nearly identical in length, is Volodin's self-described representation of useless information assaulting a mind from all directions. Anxious, scatter-brained symphonies of beeps and blips poke heads out of corners as metal music samples roar by at random intervals. Sampled voices rise above shimmering, resonant tones and deep synthesizer drones. "Circles, Part III", echoing, incomprehensible voices and deep roars flashing across channels. It is reminiscent of a trip through an airport, where an information overload dulls the senses and unexpected bouts of silence don't create predictable relief, but rather a sense of loneliness and isolation. The track pushes hurriedly through abandoned apartment building doors, encountering screams, distant music, voices speaking and impatient pounding. The enrapturing "The Way to Star" is a cycical, epic masterpiece. It debuts an atmosphere of meditative calm, rich in silence and space, filled lightly with twinkling wind chimes and bubbling brooks. String drones, slightly de-tuned, swell patiently in the background before assuming dominance in the composition. Then, bird samples that would have brought a smile to Messiaen's face and a quirky flute solo and an ingratiating high-pitched tone, rising from a whisper to a wail and the bird calls become more and more agitated and then, again, a sudden fall to near silence. The flute is back as a biting wind whipping outside a poorly-insulated house in the dead of winter. Now, complete silence. The composition returns to the wind chimes and the water. The flute has returned as well. The bubbling water is now rain, and the flute's song is distant. After an extended melody, the voice of a restless crowd rises above industrial whines. Again, the chimes and the water return, except now to a different source, with doors clicking shut and a wild violin and percussion snapping and snarling. In the final, sixteen-minute section of "Reflections of Time", entitled "The Music of My Memory", Volodin allows the listener a three-part glimpse into his life. The piece, described as "My feelings - My remembrance - Small pieces of my small world", is an intriguing sound collage, balancing calm moments with overdriven conduits of rushing noise. Volodin refuses to relinquish control, directing transitions from vignette to vignette, moving on as he becomes ready. "Reflections of Time" is a beautiful, breathtaking piece of art that reveals a mature composer driven to peak after peak of inspiration. This is electroacoustic music at its finest, rich both in invaluable lessons that any aspiring composer should absorb and in spinning captivating musical landscapes that any listener will easily become enveloped in.

Brian Voerding ("Wind & Wire")

I don't know much about this Russian composer, but his CD is a nice surprise: varied and textured electroacoustic music, with many mesmerizing passages. Volodin uses a theory of sources, from environmental recordings to instruments like flute and violin to - I suppose - samples from other people's music; his way of processing and mixing them is, most of the times, delicate yet powerful (it often reminded me of a more dramatic Lionel Marchetti). However, I think that some of Volodin's compositions suffer, now and then, from their cerebral, slightly detached nature. For example, I was a bit put off by the cut-up feel of the "Circles" section, with some obtrusive, in-your-face passages, like crunching guitar chords replaced by natural sounds the next second. The 30-minute "The way to star", on the contrary, is a majestic, vaguely disquieting drone, and could be used as a perfect sum of all the nuances of this record. A not always convincing, but surely demanding release, in the best sense of the word: it is definitely "experimental", and offers many inputs to the listener, also challenging his habits.

Eugenio Maggi ("Chain D.L.K.")

Apart from a flautist and a violinist on "The Way to Star", this is entirely the work of Alexander Volodin. This track was written back in 2002 for an exhibition in commemoration of Leonardo da Vinchi in which the almost dreamy passages are sandwiched between soundscapes of crowd noises on layers of textures and minimalist themes. Plenty of time is given during the half-hour to explore the relationship between these differing aspects especially when considering the mellow chimes and the aquatic sounds. The floor shaking notes are guaranteed to involve you with the music. The opener "The Flower is Growing Up" sets the scene with an instrumental that starts ambient but develops through the nine minutes to encompass a variety of timbres that ranges from languid to happiness. "Circles. Part I" contains sections of distorted heavy metal music and ambiences. It's quite a contrast and "Part II" of the same piece commences with simple acoustic guitar notes. It is described as electroacoustic music which is a strange mixture of ambient, very modern classical and electronica all rolled into package devoid of rhythms and melodies. At times the instrumental music suddenly becomes very harsh and then subsides into quieter interludes. Never designed for airplay, this music would challenge even the most forward thinking radio DJ and that is precisely why its so interesting. Be in no doubt that here is a musician in total control who can deliver personalized ambient music that has a timeless quality and what's more its well worth listening to.

Brooky ("Modern Dance")


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