Music for Ukraine: Hearing the Silence of the Steppes

The Ukrainian techno producer Kateryna Zavoloka lives in Berlin. With a label, she campaigns for empathy with her battered homeland.

Portrait of Kateryna Zavoloka

Kateryna Zavoloka, musician, techno producer and graphic designer Photo: Kyrylo Rusanivsky

Quiet flute playing comes from far away. Sometimes you can also hear the distant plucking of strings. The tone coloration is unusual. In her new album “Amulet”, Kateryna Zavoloka deliberately uses traditional Ukrainian instruments such as the guitar-like kobza or the characteristic flute types spilka and kolianka. Sometimes you can also hear the rhythmic clicking of a drymba. This is a mouth-sized instrument made of steel, whose spring is made to vibrate with the tongue, related to the jaw harp.

Zavoloka uses these instruments to allude to traditional Ukrainian songs in her compositions. The sounds quickly lose themselves in an imaginary distance and thus take on an almost meditative character. Electronic beats waft in the foreground, push forward and yet seem to stay at one and the same point. The electronics composer from Kiev has created an extremely persistent timepiece. At the same time, the stomping beats have something menacing about them.

It’s not a comfortable listen, as the basses evoke images of marching soldiers and sometimes even sound like sirens. At the end of each instrumental piece, however, the analogue instruments “win”, whose long-drawn-out rhythm conveys vast landscapes to the inner eye.

The album was released on the I shall sing until my land is free label, founded by Zavoloka and her partner Dmytro Fedorenko in April last year in response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Both have been living in Berlin since 2019, from 2006 to 2018 they released works by Ukrainian and international electronic musicians on their “Kvitnu” label, and then only produced their own music with the “Prostir” label. And now they have the sublabel “I shall sing until my land is free” yet again built a platform that brings together different musicians.

At least ten albums have been released there in the past nine months. The musical palette ranges from the Japanese noise legend Masami Akita aka Merzbow to the Italian techno producer Liza Aikin and the Ukrainian Edward Sol. All ten albums are available on the I shall sing until my land is free website. The download costs a few euros, physical sound carriers in various formats are available from 12 euros. Amounts generated on the website through merchandising or donations flow directly to Ukraine to support foundations and organizations working there.

All ten albums are available on the website of the platform “I shall sing until my land is free” for a few euros

Kateryna Zavoloka, who actually works as a graphic designer, designed the album layout in an artistically demanding manner. She collaborated with visual artist Alexander Khaverchuk on the cover design of Askanian Virgin. The result is an extremely tactile surface that is reminiscent of cardboard and can even be guessed at in the digital space. A delicately psychedelic language of form meets a stork sketched in black ink, who fixates on his target.

Intense carpet of sound

On this album, Edward Sol presents a twelve-minute composition based on sound recordings that Sol made in the southern Ukrainian steppes. Sol calls it “hearing the silence”. It is an irritating and at the same time intense carpet of sound that is located outside the usual drawers of music or noise.

For the mini-album “From Wreck and Ruin”, which was released at the end of November, Liza Aikin and the Ukrainian techno producer Vitalii Symonenko use sound recordings made by the Ukrainian sound engineer Andrii Nidzelskyi near Kyiv in the first week of the war . The beats are distorted, you can hear birdsong periodically and repeated impacts and explosions.

Symonenko and Aikin want to get the international electronic music community to show more empathy for the war-torn Ukraine. They accuse the community of still not having taken a clear position on the Russian war of aggression. Wanting to stay out of everything is a testament to the infantility of the community, they say.

“Our country is wounded and needs help,” write Zavoloka and Fedorenko on the website. “And we need staying power,” they are sure. They live their motto, which is infused with hope and energy and which has given their third music label their name: “I’ll sing until my country is free.”

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