How long do you have to stare at a painting before falling in? How long before you start hearing the wind rustling your horse’s mane or the soft orthodox chant? Online mystery musician Ivan the Terrible tries to answer these questions in regard to the paintings of Russian Romantic-Modernist painter Viktor Vasnetsov. Ivan’s release named after the painter picks out seven of his paintings and turns them into noise pieces reflecting the gravity of the pictures, while also deforming them in a very abstract way. The grave spirituality of Vasnetsov’s paintings is surgically extracted and kept intact, while the material rest of the works is cut apart, stretched and moulded and rearranged into these immense, sprawling surfaces waving and pulsing multidimensionally. So, in increasing order of personal preference:
Sirin and Alkonost – The Birds of Joy and Sorrow keeps the dichotomous aspect of Vasnetsov’s painting, but blurs the clear distinction between the two figures, the constantly tripping noise bursts very slowly turning into chords which then again rotate into noise at an excruciating pace. Three Tsarevnas on the Underground Kingdom emphasizes the surrealism of the three princesses symbolizing the wealth of the Ural mountains. While not actually relating to the folk tale the painting is based on, the piece reflects an outsider’s gaze, the strange impression of someone non-Slavic. After Prince Igor’s Battle with the Polovtsy lets you hover above the fields covered in corpses, revelling in complete stillness while also enjoying the lightness of floating on the breeze. Kashchey the Immortal is the devilish laugh and crawling dance of the evil damsel terrorizing wizard and is one of the more melodic pieces. Baba Yaga a typical old witch figure, cruising around the infinite Slavic forests, having a menacing air due to her unpredictability rather than simple evil. Knight at the Crossroads perfectly synthesizes the knight’s indecision and survivor’s guilt, without unnecessary sentimentality, but with a lighter twist. Finally, Baptism of Prince Vladimir gravely marches through the ornate orthodox church in a panning move catching each and every detail on all the faces present at the christening.
The seven pieces are an excellent way to prolong the experience of the paintings. While maybe looking at each of these works for 9 to 13 minutes at a time would be a little much, Ivan’s soundscapes stretch out the experience into a very enjoyable length. Musically, the drones and indecipherable chords work great and the pieces successfully fulfill their purposes of being rather states, ambiances rather than actual songs. What they seem to sometimes lack though is a clearer sense of staging. At times, the sheer joy of experimentation overpowers the purpose of the piece and derails it into just a touch too long single droning notes, just one too many variations in the modulating LFOs or just a pinch too much of a dynamic/dramatic jump.
While clearly not the work of a mature artist, Viktor Vasnetsov very elegantly manages the translation from stasis to development, from spiritual to abstract from one sort of painting to another. The seven pieces drift in and out of focus and make for a great soundtrack for other activities by not being too intrusive, but once you get into them wholeheartedly, it’s hard to get out before they’re done.