Moon Far Away | Беловодие | | 2005
A review by Degtyarov
It is a shame that overuse condemned the once esoteric word ‘ethereal’ to the graveyard of clichés, where it lies betwixt ‘epic’ and ‘visceral’ in a soil of newfound meaninglessness. ‘Ethereal’ — that which is delicate, celestial and elusive — is the first word that comes to mind when attempting to define the sound of Belovodye, the third album of Russian folk project Moon Far Away. Belovodye, which translates roughly into ‘White Water Land’, offers a compilation of traditional songs from the North of Russia which have been rearranged to such an extent that they might as well be considered the band’s original work. With this work, Moon Far Away do not only open a door to the White Sea region from which these songs were collected, but also take us on an oneiric journey that challenges our distinction between myth and reality.
Where their previous album Sator (2000) saw Moon Far Away explore their inner Dead Can Dance through ritualistic and neoclassical pieces, Belovodye walks the ancestral paths surrounding the band’s native Arkhangelsk region, near the Arctic circle. These paths are clear of obstacles for more accessible, varied compositions, which rely less on repetition and more on colourful vocal lines and rich layers of instrumentation. The most striking example of the band’s evolution since their previous album is the track “Ty vzoydi krasno solnyshko”, on which the instrumental Sator composition “Architects of immortality” serves as a backdrop for an elaborate vocal melody provided by singer Anastasia and band leader Count Ash. While it cannot be technically classified as such, the vocal technique is evocative of the plainchant, which blesses the composition with an angelic character it did not possess before, like a halo of sanctity that a martyr wears only after his worldly demise.
Moon Far Away’s departure from repitition and monotony is a consistent factor throughout Belodovdye. Songs such as “Sobiraetse lyubeznoy” and “Tsvetiki” could have easily been offered as simple folkloric guitar melodies, but the band’s renditions of these pieces possess a level of intricacy that is often absent in traditional music, Russian or otherwise. Granted, the music is still fairly simple from a compositional, structural point of view, but the relative sophistication of the vocal lines, coupled with the combination of traditional and modern instrumentation make for a timbre that strikes us as ancient but not archaic; novel but not decadent. On the whole, Belovodye is a much more complex musical structure than Sator.
Taking into account Moon Far Away’s bigger emphasis on vocals and tangible influences (local folk music), this album may at first seem at odds with the group’s image. Appearing always in gowns which obscure their faces, Moon Far Away are eager to divert your attention away from the human origin of their music. In their mission statement, their proclaimed desire is to “create a unified audio and semantic image as free from any human origin as possible”, as well as crafting their art as “a combination of classical traditional European culture and modern select avant-garde tradition.” These statements may at first seem contradictory: classical traditional art appears to be at odds with the artistic vanguards of the 20th century, while independence from human origin achieved through the reinterpretation of historical music may well be an impossibility.
However, there is sense in attempting to revive the ancient through the modern when the latter is the language we best understand. Authentic, 1:1 renditions of ancestral music are, while entertaining, oftentimes quite pointless because we no longer understand the subtleties and references that gave these songs meaning to their original listeners. It is much more effective to transmit eternal values through means which are widely understood in the present day. In addition to making the message more comprehensible to contemporary listeners, the implication of eternal values that stands at the core of the art makes clear that they exist independently from particular individuals, societies or ages. Hence another Moon Far Away motto: “everything finite is worthless in the long run.” There is no coincidence in figures such as Giménez Caballero, who believed in the timelessness of morality and truth, attempting to appropriate aspects of avant-garde art for their traditionalist political movements.
Via this detour, Moon Far Away’s music is able to rely on recognisable influences modern and traditional whilst still creating an art that is above and beyond any temporal, earthly connotations. It is a human vessel which transports the godly. In doing so, it taps into our ancestral memories and evokes images seen only in dreams.
Through its mystical nature, Moon Far Away musically recreates what we shall refer to as fabricated recollections. These are images which dwell in our semi-consciousness as memories that are not actual memories. Especially for visual thinkers, it takes little effort to create with our minds lifelike images of what a situation must have been like even though we were not physically present to witness them. This is similar to how memories work, except the images we have in our minds are a genuine reflection of what we once saw with our own eyes. However, when we recall something we experienced 15 years ago, we are not, in fact, remembering the experience itself as much as the previous time we remembered it. This allows details to fade and transform over time. So after years of gradual fading, memories –except for the most poignant ones– are images passed down from a long string of other, often inaccurate memories, much like Chinese whispers. This memory is in some cases barely distinguishable from an image we created ourselves based on a second-hand account of an event, or even a dream.
Where certain, distinctive smells will instantly evoke a vague memory of a real event, the best, most melancholic music digs even deeper, scurrying along the border of reality and myth, summoning –often only for fractions of a second– hazy images of the most amazing landscapes. Landscapes of which we are unsure if we ever set our feet upon them, or merely traversed within the confines of our own mind.
Moon Far Away evoke such semi-mythical images on a collective scale. Their music instills in our minds the vague memory of a world we are not certain existed in a physical sense or is merely the culmination of hundreds of years of legends, myths, fables and fairytales –fictional stories which are themselves rooted in real events, people and places. They are immersed in the same waters of fantasy in which Lady History likes to splash her feet all too often, further blurring the lense through which we pretend to understand the distinction between the real and the unreal.
To comprehend better the mythical haze that is draped like a mantle over the music of Moon Far Away, consider the following. Charlemagne was a living, breathing man, yet he is so many centuries removed from us that the thought of him walking these same lands seems to most of us no less than alien. Our understanding of him is based on earlier conceptions, themselves rooted in both myths and historical accounts, which are in their turn based on what others saw, heard and said. And our views, too, shall form the basis for future conceptions, travelling through the collective human mind for many more centuries to come, ever further into the mists of legend. And one day, the reality of breathing the same air as Charlemagne will be as inconceivable as the idea of being in the same room as one who fought in the Great Patriotic War. Who is to say, then, that our dreamscapes are not rooted in some distant memory that now floats scattered across the cosmos?
Hence, we have no choice but to refer to the music offered on Belovodye as ethereal.