Original link (english): http://www.farfrommoscow.com/articles/kvitnu.html
Original link (russian): http://www.farfrommoscow.com/articles/kvitnu.html#rus
This week we spoke to the gentleman shown above - Dmytro Fedorenko (aka Kotra) - about his work involved in running Kvitnu, arguably Ukraine's most influential label in the sphere of experimental electronica.
How are your summer activities coming along? Are many of the Kvitnu artists busy with festival work?
We drew up several plans for this summer. The first was to have our artists produce a number of small releases. I suggested that they try filling the spaces between their "larger" works, the album-length projects that appear on CD. These mini-works would be akin, perhaps, to short stories in between novels. Everybody was in favor of my plan and two small recordings have already appeared. A few more are on the way...!
There weren't many festival invitations this season. What is, however, worth mentioning is the fact that Dunaewsky69's six-month residency ended in Krakow. He managed to gets loads of work done. In fact, the mini-release he has just put out, called "Endless," is a result of those creative changes he went through in Poland.
Could you say a few words about the formation of the label? What problems did you encounter? Is it hard to develop a project like Kvitnu in Ukraine?
I don't recall there being any particular problems during the label's creation. If there were indeed complications, they resulted from our choice of creative direction. Defining and expressing the project's raison d'etre is always difficult; deciding what to publish can be tricky, too. I had to deal with all those hassles of a start-up at the same time I was incredibly busy at Nexsound. I was responsible for the production of all their CDs, together with all the concerts and festivals, too. There was so much going on at Nexsound that, to be honest, there were no good reasons why anybody would want to set up yet another Ukrainian label!
The period from Kvintu's conception to its actual birth was about six months, probably. Throughout that time I was knee-deep in all manner of creative dilemmas.
When it came to officially registering Kvitnu, that was very (very!) difficult. Those bureaucratic things are bad for the nerves. As far as the Ukrainian legal system is concerned, Kvitnu does not officially exist. In other words, we do exist and yet, at the same time, we don't. On top of that, we manage to produce our CDs without breaking the law! How's that for a paradoxical tale?
How much of your activity today is focused on CD sales, as opposed to live shows?
CDs only sell well at live shows. For that very reason we love traveling to festivals. In the current climate, those two activities support and advance one another very productively. If Kvitnu's artists didn't play at festivals, and - as a result - we weren't able to sell discs - we'd be forced to publish music only by our best-known outfits. It'd be impossible to sign new performers. I'm simply not interested in that option at the moment.
How much of an opportunity do you have to tour, or can playing beyond the limits of Kiev and Odessa, say, be a real hassle?
Odessa doesn't have much to offer in terms of concerts. There are no good gig organizers there and the local interest in our music is very small. Odessa isn't anything more than your average seaside port, really. Cities like Dnepropetrovsk and Ternopol are more interesting, as - of course - is Kiev. Even Kharkov, despite its problems with widespread public apathy, offers us more interest than Odessa.
On the subject of planning concerts, I'd say that I end up organizing 95% of Kvitnu's shows myself. In fact, I arrange most of Ukraine's experimental concerts. For some reason, things are pretty bad in this country when it comes to live shows and the requisite services.
In other words, there are simply too few concert agencies.
Can we speak today about local scenes across Ukraine, or has the web erased the differences between locations?
The web hasn't removed those differences. Personally, I'd say that the notion of something like a "local scene" depends both on the people who live there and their surroundings. If we're talking about experimental music, I'd single out Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Ternopol, and Kiev. And then, between those locations, there are specific differences or nuances, too. Despite the fact, for example, that Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk are very close to one another, the clubs and clientele in both cities are like two separate nations!
Your roster seems to emphasize the desire of Kvitnu to show quality Ukrainian electronica to the outside world. All the same, how many demo recordings do you receive from overseas?
The idea of only presenting Ukrainian music to the outside world isn't really our primary goal any more. I'd say that was truer when I was working at Nexsound. During that period I was wrapped up in the notion of local culture and the popularization of a Ukrainian scene (together with showing local audiences Western music, too). Those definitions of a core activity are less interesting to me now. I'm more inclined to see things on a personal level, in terms of an artist's "internal alchemy." The roster of artists we have online is more likely to reflect my own communication with them or some private connection. Maybe that's why we have so few resident performers.
The inflow of demo recordings is steady - a couple come through each week, normally in the form of a link to some mp3s. The last overseas material that arrived in that manner - and was good! - was from the Portuguese outfit Sturqen. I immediately offered them a release.
About five, maybe seven years ago, I used to receive a lot more demos. Both from overseas and from around Ukraine. For all that quantity, though, the number of interesting works was low.
How would you like to extend your current operations?
I'd probably like to try some publications on vinyl. It's a format we've yet to experiment with. In essence, the main thing is to keep growing.
Considering the difficulties of today's marketplace, how do you see the future of the music business, especially in the realm of hard media?
To be honest, I don't see any difficulties! If somebody starts earning less from CD sales, it's not really a problem, but a shift in emphasis. I don't see musicians suffering very much from falling sales; I'd say the same with regard to the public, too. If music publishers have encountered problems because they're earning less than they'd like, then they need to be more innovative, rather than live in the past.
You can already see how musicians have moved their attention towards live shows. I think the role of booking agents will soon be more important than music publishers - or they'll at least reach the same level. Twenty five years ago, tours were organized in order to support an album. Nowadays, though, that album serves mainly to remind the public that its author even exists! It's the reason to put on new shows. In my opinion, that's both right and proper.
I'm inclined to distinguish between the problems undergone by publishers or music stores from those among the public. Publishers and sales outlets may be having a hard time, but what does that have to do with music? People are listening to music no less than twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. Musicians compose now just as they did back then. The most important components of that process - musicians and their audience - haven't gone anywhere. Everything's just fine with them!
The problems currently undergone by the middlemen are secondary.
Sometimes we hear that the salvation of the book and music industries will come only from the physical appeal of books and discs - as objects of desire. How do you feel about that?
The visual appeal of any publication is, of course, important, but it's sad if the cover is more important than its contents. It'd be strange to fill your shelves at home with good-looking discs that you never wanted to hear - because their contents were dull. This situation seems to concern the salvation of designers, more than the musicians or their audiences. Things would be a lot better if less junk were published; if that ever happens, everything will be perfectly fine.
Music on physical, hard media is only relevant for a certain section of the public. There's no real reason, though, to think that any one section of society is better or more important than people who'd rather read or listen to something without fetishizing the box and cover.
And we shouldn't forget about a third contingent, who'd prefer not to spend any money on music and books - they still like to read and listen, too!
These are all distinct social groups; merchandisers should know how to interact with them all. Everybody reads books and listens to music in equal amounts: publishers, musicians, and writers should never forget that. If you try hard to maintain good relations with the entire audience, then it won't matter what technology a social faction uses: you won't have to "save" anything at all!
Tell us about the design process that goes into the artwork for Kvitnu publications. Does your colleague Zavoloka deal with the handicraft?
Actually, the physical craftwork is my responsibility. Zavoloka comes up with the idea, its basic "code," and produces the graphic design. Then we debate the images for a long time and come to a constructive conclusion - in other words, we decide how to reproduce that idea on paper. It's a multifaceted process. Katia is a wonderful, very experienced designer, and I've got a background in printing. I know loads of special ways of working with paper. Thanks to that marriage of engineering and graphic skills, we're able to get the most out of our plans - whenever we need to show Kvitnu's new work to the world.
On one occasion, you referred to Katia Zavoloka as the "ears and eyes of Kvitnu." How does that relate to her collaborations within Kvitnu?
Katia's opinion on any artistic process at Kvitnu is always important. To put things in simpler terms, all the visual work at the label is either hers, or it has been given her approval.
She has a pretty radical approach to the artwork. She plays the role of a powerful, subjective "filter" that blocks all the rubbish. Even if our views don't coincide on something, I always value her opinion when it comes to how any new Kvitnu CD should sound. She helps me get rid of the kind of things that - in time - would be unpleasant to recall...
How are Kvitnu's CDs received in the West?
Very well! I'd even say "excellently." Each of our artists has his/her specific audience and, judging by reviews, the label as a whole has a great reputation. Our basic audience is in the West.
How do you position Kvitnu within the context of Ukrainian electronica - or contemporary music as a whole?
Kvitnu is a realm of very strange and subjective decisions, taken by a group of intriguing individuals. If we can formulate our vision of music such that listeners find something new or interesting, that's excellent.
We have a question about your own work as "Kotra." In the promo-materials that accompanied your 2008 album "Reset" you write that the recording was made in order to "reset to inner. To free." How do you understand that concept of "rebooting"?
The album wasn't so much "made" as it was released - in order to "reset [things] to inner." By that I mean that the album played the role of an internal virus; I wanted it to clear or free a certain space and therefore allow the production of new energy. It turned out to be a more powerful recording than I expected. In a word, it worked very well! The notion of "resetting" here arose from my own personal motivation, so when it comes to the theme of a reset or reboot, the audience can create their own story.
This spring you produced a very severe-sounding album with the title of "Revolt." These terms, such as "revolt" or "reset" bear the meaning of a return or restoration. What can we say about that?
The beauty of abstract music comes from the fact that audience members can interpret its codes as they wish. As a result, I'm not sure that an extended textual interpretation of the two albums is going to help very much. Actually, I never really expected to pull listeners into any kind of "directed" interpretation. Rather than offer textual explanations or decodings, I think that in some cases questions are better left without answers!
Could you tell us how you make the amazingly penetrating sounds that we hear on "Revolt"? What hardware do you use?
My main device is the application of digital overloads. At very, very high levels! As a source for those sounds I use graphic files, both raster and vector. I also use various graphic applications. If we're talking about the physics behind it all, then I could say the following: both color and sound operate in waves. If you work with them in similar ways, the results can be very interesting!
In closing, what would you like to see online, in order to make your work easier or better? What, in a word, does the web lack?
In my opinion, the world of music doesn't succumb to categories such as "better" or "worse." You can't improve water, for example; you just need to stop pouring dirt into it. Then you can drink it.
On the subject of the web in particular, I'm not sure what to say. The most valuable aspect of the internet today is the speed with which the web itself is changing: the way it influences many aspects of our lives, in including their very limits. I'd like to see as many of those changes and influences as possible.