Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.
The signs are that we’re in a time that is ripe for disruption. But what sort will it be?
That’s the closing quote from How disruptions happen, an article that I read during the first days of this year, while slowly emerging from the blur of my covid experience. And now that a major disruption has happened, I’ve often thought of it since.
What I am suggesting is that, when a political system is undermined by events such as economic failure, defeat in war or environmental catastrophe, that political system is going to have to change or fail.
And we have all three!
A successful disruption creates space in which people can discuss new ideas
(Can we achieve some kind of democratic socialism on a global scale?)
Kamil Galeev, the master of threads 🧵 (there are now 52 of them) whom I linked to in my previous newsletter, on what some of those new ideas might be:
The current system in Russia is absolutely rotten. It can’t be changed by overthrowing a bad tsar to put a good tsar on his place. To the contrary, it can be improved only by systematically enfranchising the people and allowing them to decide their own fate on a small scale level
He also brings up the concept of Asabiyyah (social cohesion):
Ibn Khaldun argued that some dynasty (or civilisation) has within itself the plants of its own downfall. He explains that ruling houses tend to emerge on the peripheries of existing empires and use the much stronger asabiyya present in their areas to their advantage, in order to bring about a change in leadership. This implies that the new rulers are at first considered ‘barbarians’ in comparison to the previous ones. As they establish themselves at the center of their empire, they become increasingly lax, less coordinated, disciplined and watchful, and more concerned with maintaining their new power and lifestyle. Their asabiyya dissolves into factionalism and individualism, diminishing their capacity as a political unit. Conditions are thus created wherein a new dynasty can emerge at the periphery of their control, grow strong, and effect a change in leadership, continuing the cycle.
Assabiyah typically lives for four generations. So, the current assabiyah born in 1917 is like really old https://twitter.com/Operation_Ryan/status/1526231730222419968
A change was clearly on the cards. See the prescient artist in this short 2021 report by The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg:
We filmed this report almost exactly a year ago. There were worrying signs then. But we couldn’t imagine what we’d be reporting on one year later. https://twitter.com/BBCSteveR/status/1514663348062797832
Why am I thinking about all this stuff instead of getting on with some music? The war in Ukraine has changed the base level against which both day-to-day life and larger cultural considerations are measured. In terms of ‘new music’, the cultural arc stretching from after the World War II until now – somehow coming to a close?
The Russian obsession with the second world war has brought what was previously on the pages of the history books into current experience. A collective wound that we’re all being forced to revisit.
It’s so bizarre that Putin should be reenacting so closely precisely the things that he claims to be wanting to get rid of. The Nazi’s Darwinian take on sociology in which the weak should be crushed and only the strong supported, both within society and between nations.￼ Rather than lifting up those in need, they should be eliminated. The Russian narrative has on the one hand been following the course of wanting to bring the wayward Ukranians back into the fold of the Russian family, and when they’ve declined, turned to eliminating them. Having a difficult time figuring out who is who and how to relate to that rejection: see this video from a Russian state propaganda channel for example.
Russia as the bully of the world, the trouble maker. At the same time stuck in viewing the world as out to get it.
Something that I was quite surprised by was the revelation in one of the #WindofChange leaked FSB letters that Igor Sushko has been translating and publishing both on Twitter and his own site, that Russia actually intended to start up a conflict with Japan last August – the Kremlin had wanted to take back some of the disputed Kuril Islands to the north of Japan. What’s crazy is that Russia apparently brought up the issue of Japanese biological warfare based on some declassified data from the interrogation of Otozo Yamada, commander-in-chief of the Japanese army during World War II. The Japanese had of course during their pre-WWII imperialistic conquest of China behaved rather badly and had engaged in biological warfare (lice), but so bizarre to bring that up as a propaganda tool nearly 80 years later and use it to soften up the Russian public regarding a new conquest of the disputed islands.￼￼
Subjects that made headlines: Russia saved the world from biological war, declassified evidence of preparations for an attack by Japan on the USSR, etc.
The bet was placed on the fact that the Japanese specialized in brutal biological experiments, showed inhumanity, and had a disposition for Nazism.
And they should have demilitarized after the war, but they violate these regulations, creating risks for Russia.
And all of that from Putin himself, master of the art of poisoning. John Sweeney’s Taking on Putin podcast has done a good job of covering the war crimes, killing and destruction all the way back to the first Chechen war.
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Amidst all the destruction porn and Russian Twitter trolls (both infuriating, depressing, and at times comical) I’ve been touched by the creativity that the Azovstal defenders managed to tap into in the final days of their stand￼. After all the anguish, desperation and pleas for help, the all-out attempts to draw the attention of the world to their plight, they in the last days suddenly seemed to find another mental space, a kind of letting go in which they stepped into another way of being. In the space that opened up between the fighting having come to an end and waiting for some kind of evacuation/rescue, knowing that it might end in death, they managed to tap into a kind of peaceful state in which there was space for singing, taking beautiful photographs of the destroyed steel plant, and even an atmospheric, almost Tarkovskyian short film capturing the final day.￼
The photographs grew out of trying to draw attention to their plight of course, but I was amazed by how much of an aesthetic sense remained given the circumstances. Also the calmness of the defenders as they gave over their arms and allowed themselves to be searched without any indication of fear, given that one knows what the Russians are capable of when it comes to torture, and how they view precisely this group in terms of their propaganda.
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On Twitter I’ve been following Dmitri, an Estonian with a Ukrainian father and Russian mother, now living in the UK, who has been transcribing and translating a lot messages intercepted by the SBU (Ukrainian Secret Service), amongst other things, from Russian into English, giving a very interesting peek into how things are being experienced from the Russian side. He’s also been translating a number of the daily interviews that Arestovych, an advisor to President Zelensky, has been holding with Feygyn, a Russian journalist – again providing some interesting insights into the Ukrainian situation.
Some of the more frightening things that he’s translated have been some truly horrific descriptions of torture (both sides describing the other as sub-human), on a par with the descriptions of Russian torture that I’d come across in Haruki Murakami‘s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Difficult to get out of your mind once having read it.
Modern media has offered us an incredible, almost real-time peek behind the scenes as the war in Ukraine has unfolded. Besides the translations, from another angle, the aesthetics of the video material: alongside the destruction porn, the banality of some of it, the everydayness: birds singing amidst videos of burnt out tanks, abandoned troops in limbo waiting next to a highway, grass growing.￼
And then on the other hand extremely intense battle footage (see this incredible example), which in a bizarre way can be appreciated as an incredible piece of film – putting aside for a moment the horrific destruction that the war is inflicting on the environment, buildings, human bodies. Not to mention the individual and national trauma that goes along with it. The drama of the battle. Staying cool under fire.
On that track, with an interest in approaching the sounds of war in an abstract, non-judgemental way, sound artist Jacob Kierkegaard will be presenting Kryds Ild (Cross Fire), a piece based on the sound of gunfire and military machinery translated for military band, which will be premiered at the Klang Festival in June.￼
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Atomar: I have most of the music and sound in place around the 40 poems by Lene Henningsen that we recorded earlier this year. Two people reading poems (sometimes simultaneously), field recordings, some piano music. That’s it. I’ve decided to group them into seven episodes, and we’ll probably release them on a weekly basis from mid August to late September.
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As I mentioned in my February newsletter, I’ve been delighted by John McGuire’s Pulse Music, recorded in the 70s using amongst other things the Synthi 100. The full album is now available, and they’re very beautiful recordings, paired with an acoustic piece along the same lines, but with accommodations for it being performed by live musicians. What’s interesting is how well the electronic versions work. The crisp precision, while at the same time sounding very alive. I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to achieve something that’s as convincing using today’s technology, one would imagine that it should be simpler. There’s something to be directness of the recordings – the absence of reverb and the like to create a spatial soundstage. Just sequenced synthesized sounds sounding incredibly lively. A delight to listen to. I suspect that Stephan Mathieu’s mastering has helped in this regard. It’s interesting to compare the new Pulse Music release to Pulse Music III and the later Vanishing Points on the Sargasso release, which is somewhat similar but doesn’t quite have the same acoustic presence as this new Unseen Worlds version does.
There’s a clarity to it that reminds me a little bit of the Battiato recordings that I was talking about recently. Partly in terms of the compositional decisions, but also some kind of combination of the analog equipment and at the same time not having the technical possibility of getting overly complicated keeps the recordings a delight.￼
Some diagrams of both the composition and the recording setup as well as photographs of the equipment itself, the Synthi 100 and tape machines in the old WDR studio, can be found on graphic designer Joe Gilmore’s site.
All the best