NB. At the time when this article was published i only had access to the lossy version of this album; this situation has now changed – click here for an update. [February 2022]
We tend to assume nowadays that, once something is put online, it’ll never disappear. But in the case of 15 Songs from Glass, Oil and Other Sources, by Russian experimentalist Nikita Golyshev (aka CD-R), that’s not the case. The album was originally released in 2007 on a netlabel called Musica Excentrica, set up the previous year by Golyshev and which ran until 2008. Their releases – as was the case with so many netlabels during the noughties – was also put onto the Internet Archive as a means of distribution (and which, for a great deal of music, has managed to keep it alive following the labels’ almost inevitable demise), but in the case of Musica Excentrica these too have subsequently vanished from the web (here’s an archive of the 15 Songs page). i only got partway listening through their output, but it was sufficiently interesting – including releases from Kevin Drumm, Kenneth Kirschner and Kim Cascone – that it’s a real shame that they’ve apparently been erased from existence, especially in the case of Golyshev’s 15 Songs, which was easily one of Excentrica’s most engrossing and unusual albums.
In the original release notes, Golyshev described 15 Songs from Glass, Oil and Other Sources as “the result of research”:
The main objective of this experiment was to detect some acoustic properties of oil as substance, placed in different capacities such as crystal glasses and medical bulbs. The obtained 15 sound fragments are collected by the frequency and spectrum analysis of oil behaviour, its molecular changes in various environments (aggressive and non-aggressive) and wide range of oil interactions with metal.
Spoiler alert: as it turns out, 15 Songs is not quite so rigorously scientific as first impressions suggest. i recently made contact with Golyshev, and he explained that, while the music was created by experimenting and “playing with glass pieces of various shapes and sizes filled with various liquids”, the intricate, not to say highfalutin, track titles are not rooted in scientific fact. They’re the product of considering the way in which some compositions, from Golyshev’s perspective, “rely on the concept more than on the act of music creation itself, with pretty predictable results. So I named all the parts of this recording in a highbrow style. I was wondering how this roughly-recorded album would mimic real experiments of this kind, with the help of the fictional story told by the titles and accompanying text.”
i don’t think this matters in the least. A great deal of avant-garde music is simplistically (and wrongly) described as ‘experimental’, but in the case of 15 Songs Golyshev’s original pseudo-scientific description seems entirely apt. There is a real sense in each short piece that a literal experiment is taking place, with an incredibly tactile impression of materials being handled, studied, manipulated and recorded. However, the handling of the materials isn’t simply clinical but also playful – the entire album, in fact, sounds like the curious hybrid of a lab experiment, an elaborate ritual and a period of play with assorted objects and substances. In this respect, i often find that the distinction from one track to the next is less important, less interesting even, than the longer-term direction in which its soundworld moves.
It’s this hybrid quality that makes 15 Songs as compelling as it is. Golyshev’s approach strikes a beautiful balance between serious and whimsical, one moment gently causing soft frictions, the next repeatedly striking his array of glass objects at different speeds and intensities. To what extent there’s a ‘method’ behind these results is impossible to guess, but the prevailing tone is one of considered improvisation. It’s also impossible to know exactly how the sonic results of these experiments have been subsequently edited or processed; Golyshev referred to using “additional basic processing (delays, reverbs etc.)”, but there are no obvious signs of this.
i spoke of its longer-term direction, and from this perspective there’s a nice development from the teasing, tantalising opening tracks involving harmonically rich frictions and gentle glass impacts – exploring the subtleties of their overtones, producing somewhat gamelan-like sounds – to the later tracks where hovering tracts of buzzy noise and humming pitch lurk at the periphery. The relationship between these foreground and background elements at first seems incidental rather than deliberate, though as these drawn-out tracts grow in power there’s a significant concomitant increase in the energy of the glass-play, leading to highly florid percussive displays. In the wake of such climaxes – the first of which comes in song 6, ‘Oil (X-Ray), Glass (frozen), Oil Spectrum Low Frequency Analysis’ – Golyshev pulls everything back to almost nothing, reinforcing again the oscillation between play and study, madness and method. It also reiterates, in the inward tracks that follow, that this isn’t music ultimately trying to grab attention – at least, not in obvious or predictable ways. There’s a strong lowercase quality to many of these songs, and in this context it’s a reminder that our ears are incredibly sensitive analytical tools, able to discern extremely tiny distinctions and fluctuations emerging from near-silence.
That being said, some of the most striking moments on 15 Songs come when Golyshev is at his most overtly demonstrative. The aforementioned sixth song is one such example, and the album’s second climax is another, progressing through songs 13 and 14. The former, ‘Frozen Oil Spectrum Analysis (Infra-Red Analysis on Low Frequencies)’ features the wonderfully hypnotic combination of gentle repeating pitch squeaks over a deep drone with light, dull impacts. The latter, ‘Molecular Oil Structure as the Basis for Percussive Glasses’ is, at nearly 5½ minutes’ duration, by far the longest track on the album, and it picks up where song 13 finishes off, first reducing until only the squeaks remain, before gradually bringing about a slow, steady expansion. Noise, drones, glass impacts and anonymous scratching sounds, are not so much combined as focused into a complex ‘beam’ of accreted sonic matter that is allowed to intensify until it reaches a point of critical mass.
Released by Music Excentrica as a free download in September 2007, 15 Songs from Glass, Oil and Other Sources was one of just two of their releases originally available in both MP3 and FLAC formats (the rest were MP3 only), but it pains me to report that i seem to have never downloaded the lossless version. i’ve scoured the web many times over a number of years trying to find it, but the very few people i’ve located out there who also have this album only have the lossy version, and even Golyshev himself doesn’t have a copy any longer. Nonetheless, the lossy quality is pretty good (320Kbps), and in any case this is most definitely music worthy of your time, so i’m happy to be able to resurrect and preserve this fascinating album for a while longer. And as a small postscript, the artwork for several of the Musica Excentrica releases was created by Grisha Kochenov, and you can see some of the rejected ideas for 15 Songs on his website.