Askanian Virgin: organic sound between Ukraine and Argentina
di Giovanni Panetta
Interview with Edward Sol and Anla Courtis about their collaborative release Askanian Virgin for the label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free and other topics.
Askanian Virgin

Askanian Virgin (2022). Artwork by Alexander Khaverchuk, layout by Zavoloka.

Edward Sol is a Ukrainian artist owner of the worldwide label Quasi Pop, who manipulates the potential of a dilated “harsh ambient” (a mix of ambient with harsh noises and timbers). In his split with the Norwegian producer Lasse Marhaug, his effort appears in a cosmic, diversified and plastic form, a journey over the obscurity of the deep space, whereas relaxed, more monotonal shapes are put apart for other works, like Cold Breath (2022, periodic and permeated by white perturbations) or the split with the Argentinian Anla Courtis Askanian Virgin, for a fervid dynamism under temperate psychedelic lights.

Anla is a worldwide artist whose music has explored many countries, arriving also in the Arctic. He is also the guitarist in the outsiders in music Reynols, who develop an experimental concept of disharmony between psychedelia and its anti-musical counter-part similar to the ESP-Disk roster (like Godz and Fugs), and who collaborate with the weird-lysergic band Kawabata Makoto‘s Acid Mother Temple on behalf of Acid Mother Reynols.

Askanian Virgin is a collaborative work between Courtis and Sol, which was released for I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free, a Berlinian label that raises funds for helps to Ukrainian population that is the victim of the Russian-Ukrainian War. The sonic texture recalls the contemplated ethereal, dilated and peaceful landscape which the interior soul of everyone, unfortunate victim or passive observer, requests in this delicate moment.

A collaborative work that involves these two artists is Sunburst Lux, a 7″ by Sol and Courtis, made sonically of a spectral consistency, where magmatic sonorities, with an ever-changing physical touch, enrich the associated ethereal texture; here this record appears more organic and aleatory in Sol’s track (the only one of that split I listened). Instead, the Anla track is made by a field recording from Geysers del Tatio, San Pedro de Atacama, recorded in 2008 (information from linear notes).

Following the interview with the Askanian Virgin’s cited authors.

Let’s begin from the beginning. How was the idea behind Askanian Virgin born and did it develop? How did your collaboration happen with the Berlinian label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free?

Anla Courtis: “From what I can remember we started talking about a collaboration long time ago. Actually I’ve been in touch with Edward for more than 15 years, mainly through his label Quasi Pop, which in 2007 released our collaboration tape with Lasse Marhaug: Marhaug & Courtis “Jordslev Hojaldre“. Later, in 2009, I contributed a track made up with processed loops sent by (ex Zoviet France member) Rapoon for the “Escaping From Color (Rapoon Recomposed & Remixed)” CD.  Also that same year apperard the split 7″ Edward Sol/Anla Courtis “Sunburst Lux“: my side contained a piece made with recordings from geyzers. Finally, in 2013 I sent a track for the double cassette compilation “Les Illusions Magnetiqes” and around that time we talked again with Edward about doing a collaboration. I remember few days later we both sent sound files and started working with them. Probably at some point of  2014 or 2015 the collab was ready but it took years to be released. The CD finally came out on I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free, a label which profits go for humanitarian donations in the context of the recent war.”

Edward Sol: “Alan and I did some field recordings in Argentina and Ukraine, in the distant deserted places known as “steppe”. The idea was to compose some organic, natural-sounding ambient music and incorporate these both Ukrainian and Argentinian sounds into it. After many years of being unreleased that 2-piece E.P. found it’s home on I Shall…label. No specific story-behind there.”

Edward Sol

Edward Sol.

Edward, your track, the first, reproduces sonically an experience in a forest during the night, into an ambient, ethereal sound, which is monotonal and suspended. It’s possible to listen to something like some water flowing walking in a countryside context or a crackling fire in a probable camp. Electronic instruments change into naturalistic elements, in the sign of a desired and evoked super-urban harmony, by contrast, a more familiar, human hostility. Can you talk about the creative process in this work you wrote and performed?

Edward Sol: “I don’t remember much details about process after all these years. Usually it’s a basic form of “ambience” or “atmosphere” with minimal “storytelling”. Based (I hope) on some “direct” elements of field recording (both raw and processed) and then added more delicate and subtle layers of de-composed or even extremely processed sounds. Most of my music are collages so this piece is definitely too. I don’t use sequencers, patterns, algorithms etc. Just organizing small audio particles into a massive blocks of sounds.”

The second part is more about trembling around an equilibrium condition. Anla, your track has essentially two intense moments, which bring the listener outside the spatial-temporal dimensions into a place that only our souls know. Here the music is a violent vortex, and with an external sensibility, it reproduces an empathic wordwide tragedy, with not-unsuspectable references. So, how did this claustrophobic energy happen in Askanian Virgin?

Anla Courtis: “Music has the power to reflect all sides of life, reaching even its own borders. Then of course it can also help the listener to go deeper and deeper into inner zones not yet explored. However I wouldn’t say this music is necesarily claustrophobic, it’s true it deals with a special kind of energy but take in consideration that the response can variate enormously on different audiences: what it can be oppresive for some people can be totally cathartic and joyful for other.”

Anla Courtis

Anla Courtis.

Ed, Askanian Virgin involves the related feeling on this tragic and horrible moment in your country. The label and the record are moved by a necessary intention in art, generating empathy from the other side. Can you recounter your motivation to create this record?

Edward Sol: “Actually, the music was created years before the current war (I guess more than 10 years ago) and I prefer it to be associated with 100% positive emotions. Even if some person founds dark/disturbing tones in it, I can explain this effect by the main theme of the record: it’s all about wild, mysterious and little-known character of the Nature, with its creatures, Gods, spirits and energies. It’s about something unknown, out-there, pre-historic, ancient and spiritual. I’d say that self-sufficiency and self-recreation of the Nature is something clearly opposite to the essence of war. This music is clearly anti-war.”

Glass Eye/Rubber Leg has a leitmotiv which lies in metallic timbers and a massively atmospheric sonic matter. The first track, Glass Eye has an organic complexity in its structure, like an obscure creature takes life slowly rising through an uncomfortable ambient. The second piece, Rubber Leg, follows more homogeneous or magmatic patterns, describing a flowing in a preset direction, stubbornly contemplated despite the relative adversities. As we can see, both tracks express the associated dark general feeling. So can you tell us how these ideas found their place in this work? How did this creativity, plastic and claustrophobic, happen in this record?

Edward Sol: “Sometimes a very unexpected thing can force you to think about creating music. A few years back I watched TV series called “Terror” and its cold, deadly atmosphere reminded me my early interest from the childhood, when I was reading the horrifying stories about unsuccessful North and Polar expeditions, lost and iced ships. These stories weirdly resonate to my soul. So, maybe my 2 little stories about it sound a bit absurdly and cartoonish sometimes, but I really tried to entertain myself (and hopefully listeners) with my imaginary “long and dangerous” expeditions. In my real personal life, I never visited any really cold and icy country, never seen the ocean or snowy maintains. So, please, don’t judge me too hard for this ridiculous music…”

Anla, you give your contribution to music and also performing, and you play many instruments (electronics, tapes, guitar, synth, violin…). Moreover, you have gone around the world, playing in the Arctic too. Can you describe for us your totalizing art and its intentions?

Anla Courtis: “I’d say many of the most relevant experiences I’ve had came from touring around the world.  Playing my own music and bringing it to the Artic or to other remote places is something unique but it’s not an easy task: it requires all your energy. In any case, going to the last part of your question, I’m not sure I can prooerly describe all my artistc task and intentions: music and art often works beyond the describable, so I  definitely prefer to let music speak for itself.”

One of your last records Roots of a Knob (with the collaboration of Stefan Neville) has a marked ethnic sound, with sweet and velvet harmonies, and oblique and eclectic sonorities. This album is related to harsh noise too, and this gives an idea of your versatility on new sounds with an elastic creative mindset. In Roots of a Knob is interesting the association between a hieratic ethnic sound and the electronic corrosivity of noise, where everything appears original and innovative. Can you explain how these elements and their relative intentions were born?

Anla Courtis: “I think some kind of diversity is something at some point necessary: I mean, it would be boring if all my albums were sounding exactly the same. And that’s why collaborations are so meaningful, because they can easily bring you to a different zone where you don’t have all the control and from that you can learn a lot. The tape with Stefan has some subtle harmonic moments and some few disturbing layers coming along. I think it has a nice balance of both and it is probably quite different from any other collab I’ve done, that’s a fact which helps to keep the music as fresh as possible.”

In this case, music can be seen as a cathartic way to fight this horrible and dark moment. It’s not casual the non-utilitaristic act like a musical or artistic creative process can contrast the cold calculating on a violent and useless attack that we can see unfortunately these days in Russian-Ukrainian War. So, in the end, what will be the next news in your discography?

Edward Sol: “My planning horizon for today is till the end of the day or maximum the next morning. War does not leave enough place for today. Honestly, I have no plans for composing and very little plans for releasing music (some music composed before the War started). Moreover, the title for my upcoming charity CD compilation for Sentimental Productions is “Tomorrow Is a Big Distance”. The music provided by great sound artists and I already like it a lot. It’s powerful and magical.”

Anla Courtis: “Music can definitely be a form of resistence in a complex world full of increasing problems but also can be a comercial meaningless activity…it depends on the attitude. And well beyond trying to keep the attitude in the right place, of course there are some noticeable discographic news: I have a recent tape with Méryll Ampe and there’s a coming one with Ben Owen. I also have a coming LP with David Grubbs in Husky Pants Records and there are a bunch of fresh Reynols releases such a like “Corulu Flatdas Gasigo” and the LP  “Peloto Cabras Mulusa Olve“, plus much more to come. Music never stops so, as far as it’s possible, we shoudn’t either.”


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