Late night music browsing doesn’t usually lead to much, but in 2015 it paid its way when I came across Kedr Livanskiy’s single Sgoraet, and developed a fascination with her work that has only grown over the last couple of years. In that time the Russian artist (real name Yana Kedrina) has released a debut EP (January Sun) and an album (Ariadna) and both are excellent showcases of her ability to write music as high-art. Livanskiy’s music sits at the interzone of several genres, knitting fluidly together from techno, ambient electronic, and much more, and has the ability to drive deep into the listener’s consciousness on an emotional level, from the graceful dreaming of the album’s title track Ariadna to the blood-rush intensity of songs like ACDC and Otvechai Za Slova. She paints structures, images and sensations in electronic sound. There is narrative in her songs, but as she says herself in the interview, music can express things beyond the capacity of words, and her own work definitely does. After months of immersion in Ariadna, we caught up with Livanskiy on email to learn about her world.
So you have a background as a singer in a punk band, and you studied cinema and literature at various points. How did you end up in electronic music and why did you choose it as your main creative outlet?
All this led me to music. Cinema is too global, a process where a lot of people are involved, to make movies, you need money, you need to contact producers, go somewhere to persuade different people and prove to them that your idea is worth something. I behave differently in my life. I do not go anywhere with my work and do not offer myself and my projects. It’s hard for me. Everything develops itself.
Music is more intimate, a personal process. Here you are the one God and creator :). To no one are you responsible. You do not consider yourself with anyone. Music is more abstract. It best suits my chaotic type of thinking. its structure is not so closely connected with the designators.
A picture in a movie, or a word in literature, is already a sign in itself. It means something.
In music, well, what does a note mean for example? Well, it generally cannot be tied to anything. It describes SOUND. But the sound is what?
You do not touch it, everyone thinks about it in its absolute way. You need to listen to the sound. I like sounds, music is closest to me. I do not know how to explain it. That’s why you just try different things, and you find something closer to you.
In fact, from childhood it was clear that music was the closest to me. but apparently it was necessary [to study other things] and it was necessary for me to grow. The ripening of the voice and the passage of different schools. To return to where I came from.
‘I’m too lazy to improve my English’
A thing that came across in your earlier interviews was how deep you go into topics that interest you. You mentioned becoming interested in Krautrock and watching every documentary on it. Are you quite an obsessive learner?
To be honest, I get inspired very easily. But the way I collect knowledge is very fragmentary and not systematic, so the result is a mess in my head. I have a bad relationship with the structures. So rather I am absorbing the knowledge intuitively. For example, a lot of articles and books on my topic they are in English, but I’m too lazy to improve my English, so many sources are not available to me. That is, I would like to make the effort, but I could honestly try much harder. But all that is in Russian and the simplest English, I try to cover, and yet books and films about music are all by-products [of music itself]. Nothing is better for studying the subject than constant interaction with it, so I prefer to just listen to a lot of different music.
Ariadna was written more on live instruments and synths, rather than the Ableton-written January Sun. Why did you make that change, and how do you feel it changed your writing process?
In fact, Ariadna is equally written both with synthesizers and on Ableton. I’m a tactile person, for example, I still prefer to write all my notes in a notebook, rather than on an iPhone. And in fact, I just started to make money and I started buying some tools. And I repeat, I am a person who is more focused on the process itself. A sharp sound result can be achieved today with the analogue, and [also] with the help of a completely virtual environment. So using synthesizers for me is more about the process, that you take [the music-making process] out of the realm of virtual and immerse it in the real. Sensations are much more pleasant to improvise on the instrument, often I even forget to press the record button. But having that and the other experience [writing on computer] is good, I like the synthesis of these two methods.
Quite often while touring I take with me a two-hats midi keyboard, and calmly and with pleasure I work completely on Ableton. Of course, overlooking oneself with a bit of irony, you feel like a shaman and the master of sound you feel how you control the laws of physics, how the sound changes.
To me, Ariadna feels more, cinematic, with more space and air than January Sun, which was tighter and more aggressive. Would you agree with that?
I think Ariadna is structurally more rich and diverse. Each track is internally more dramatic than the songs on January Sun (in my opinion, if the song is more complicated, it does not mean it’s better in general, it’s just that these are different approaches and goals [for the two projects]).
Even for example take Ariadna, its structure corresponds to the inner state of the hero [from the Greek myth. Ariadna’s golden thread helps Theseus escape the labyrinth of the Minotaur].
Where the narrative first starts, then it ends with an alarming topic, equivalent to the state of a man lost in the labyrinth (like a yew in a labyrinth) and then such a delicate transition – like a thread and again a return or, as it were, a way out.
So I probably agree with that for many songs because there is a clear story in this album. Even a plot in some sense. But this will not always be the case for me. It was interesting for me to work with the song structure, where the text adapts itself to music and not vice versa.
But now, working on new material I’m again led to work with the sound probably, not with the text. Let’s see what will happen. I want the music itself to be the text and without any words and singing.
A bit like LSD
You also listed environments, both urban environments and nature, as inspirations on this record. You’ve said that you called your neighbourhood by the river ‘Border Moscow’ and spoke about being inspired by how mysterious and mystical it can feel sometimes. Do you think electronic music is good as capturing the soul of environments like that, to represent the atmosphere of a place?
I think in this sense, music is generally capable of anything. On the transfer of any state, whether it is a person, a place on earth and even more, can convey something that we are not at all capable of expressing with language, or something that we have never seen in our lives. These themes, even beyond the maximum of perception, music can break through these doors of the mind. It is a bit like LSD. So the music will always be. Because the world is music :)
You’ve spoken about how the Russian music and cultural scene was isolated until up to relatively recently. Do you think that blend of a culture that grew by itself, mixing with outside influences via the internet in a big way, is why a lot of Russian music and culture sounds so creative and fresh today? Is it an exciting moment for the scene?
I also think it is connected in our country with the fact that the musical niche has not grown to such a level of capitalization as in America and Europe and this also makes it more lively and free. Of course, it is inspiring to have the opportunity to share with the world and the fact that it can be interesting to someone other than ourselves.
If people want to learn about the history and origins of Russian electronic music, about stuff like Izhevsk [the city’s famous 80’s music scene], where’s a good place to start?
It’s probably best to get acquainted directly, through music, listen to mixes and podcasts of Russian musicians. for example on NTS, some of my friends’ record monthly mixes, where you can get acquainted with Russian music – the old stuff, as well as the new stuff, which has not even managed to get out yet, for example the record label GOST ZVUK‘s NTS show.
Kedr Livanskiy’s January Sun and Ariadna are out now on 2MR.
All Photos: Masha Demianova