GRAVITSAPA: Concert No.1 “23.23” (For Chamber Duo With Looper And Polivox)
Release year: 2023
A comment I sometimes hear about myself is that my musical taste is broad almost to ludicrous amounts. I’ve never really though about it that way. I mean, I know I listen to a lot of different music from a lot of different genres, but I’ve always put it down to genuine curiosity, the desire to dig deeper and find the roots of music I like, understand the context, and on the other hand find out what kind of music artists I like have inspired, and just in general to not just listen to the music I like, but learn something about it. And after 30 years of that… well, I guess it’s kind of natural to have listened to a shitload of music, and found a shit ton of artists I like.
And still, from time to time, I come across artists and albums that leave me stumped. It’s positively delightful, and a major reason why I keep digging deeper, digging wider: to find music that exposes something new to me. Ukrainian Gravitsapa and their newest release, the obscurely titled Concert No.1 “23.23” (For Chamber Duo With Looper And Polivox) is a good example. According to the promo sheet, the band started out as a christian alternative rock band, evolving via a math-rock and post-metal phase to unclassifiable avant-garde. Well, I suppose that goes to explain why it’s so hard to pin down Concert No. 1…
Avant-garde is certainly apt, as Gravitsapa does not neatly fit into any pre-existing niché. I saw someone describe this as post-noise, which sounds so vague it’s next to meaningless – but also apt in its vagueness. There are certainly elements of the kind of abstractness one is likely to find in noise here, but Concert No. 1 can’t be simplified down to a “noise album”.
So how to describe this? Where to begin?
Well, as odd as it is, my first association is the British black noise act Emit, who released a slew of demo tapes and albums around the turn of the millennium: the one man project’s brand of blasphemous chaos was a guitar-driven, improvised form of haunted audio torture. Strip away the cacophony and the abrasive, distorted elements and leave only the formless, eerie and haunting passages of calm atmospherics, and you approach a common ground with Gravitsapa and Concert No. 1. Another, somewhat more distant association is Finnish ritual drone/dark ambient act Halo Manash and their sound full of dragged-out, e-bowed drones and how they create unconventional, alien sounds from traditional instruments.
(Maybe the associations above display just how far outside my musical horizons Gravitsapa is?)
Add to the above a dollop of free-form, jazzy experimentalism giving the music not shape or form, but direction, which glues together the disparate parts. As such, the compositions don’t feel static or entirely haphazard, but as moving towards something.
So, whilst the foundation of Concert No. 1 is in conventional instrumentation (electric guitars, electric bass, drums), the result is anything but conventional. The promo sheet says Concert No. 1 is an album about the evolution of consciousness during the war; due to its abstract, largely formless nature, what this exactly means is left very much for the listener to intuit. There’s nothing traditionally martial or belligerent on the album. Quite the contrary: Concert No. 1 comes across as inwards turned and introspective more than anything.
Concert No. 1 is an album that challenges the listener. It’s a through and through weirded out, abstract puzzle that the listener will have to work out for themselves. Gravitsapa offer precious few keys to decipher the album. Its minimalism and lack of conventional form makes Concert No. 1 a hard album to focus on, but its few more abrasive elements – prominent feedback being a primary one – refuses to let it be relegated to mere background music.
This is one of those albums where the traditional good-bad axis just doesn’t cut it. I’m not sure if Concert No. 1 is a good album in the way other albums are, but it’s certainly not bad. And there’s nothing mediocre about it either. Safe to say, it’s an album that will alienate most people instantly, and many others after they discover they just can’t make inroads into it.
But after this, there will be a small minority who remain, perhaps perplexed and confounded, but at the same time intrigued and oddly drawn to the not-quite-minimalist-minimalism of Concert No. 1. I find myself being among this group. I’ll be damned if I can say how to interpret this avant-garde experimentalism and align it with the intent mentioned in the promo sheet (see above), but there’s something that draws me to listen to Concert No. 1 again and again – maybe in the hopes of doing so.