Ilia Belorukov & Jon Heilbron

Studio & Rotonda
Intonema int 031

Central figure in Saint Petersburg’s avant-garde music scene, Ilia Belorukov is involved with improvised, noise and electro acoustic sounds and played with timbre explorers such as Keith Rowe and Radu Malfatti. On this two-CD set he mostly puts aside the alto saxophone, with which he has recorded more Free Jazz-like sessions with the likes of drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and others to concentrate on sound design. Instruments of choice are snare drum, drum synthesizer, vibrating speaker and objects. His companion is Australian Jon Heilbron, a composer who is founder of the Phonetic Orchestra, and here plays bells, bontempi chord organs, toy harmonica and tuning fork.

Appropriately each CD is different. The first, recorded in a studio, interspaces minimalist instrumental outpourings and sometimes unidentifiable noises among protracted silences. The second, made in the Rotunda of the Mayakovsky Library, is in-the-moment sound design, exploiting the room’s spatial qualities to emphasize terse quasi-instrumental timbres with miscellaneous stirring and echoes from passing humans and machinery.

Although there’s arbitrary allure in following the drones, patterns, judders and crashes that buoy up during the “Rotunda” session, the 43 minutes includes enough patches of inertia to suggest that a careful edit to perhaps half the length would have been in order. As it is the occasional organ-like quivers and reed puffs appear only gripping when contrasted with protracted machine-driven hisses or intermittent percussive snaps. In fact a full-force outburst of stentorian bellowing that could come from an ocean liner’s foghorn that is heard mid-way through so dominates the sound field that preceding and following hubbub sounds like little more than minimal ghostly whistles, disconnected peeps or echoing slaps. When the narrative accelerates again during the final sequence the almost impenetrable drone that results is the purported climax, only to have momentum lost as the track dissolves into echoes of constricted, metallic clanks, a vague tremolo pulse and disconnected whistles.

Divided into two longer and two shorter selections, the “Studio” CD is more approachable since human created instrumental currents in the form of reed buzzes, organ-focused tremolos are heard among the many silences, hisses and buzzes. Comically enough the most frequent interruptions to this cone of silence are those which resemble whirring vacuum cleaner hums. The sound first appear on the second track mixed with equivalent vibrations from the organ and is mated with minute harmonica blowing on the third. On this third and longest track as well, uneven percussion whacks, saxophone whiffing made with key movement and massive machine-like echoes are also heard. Finally the fourth track makes a climatic virtue out of the Hoover-like buzz by framing it with intermittent signal processing, a heart-monitor-like pulse and random reed peeps.

Overall Belorukov and Heilbron can be commended by probing the outer limits of the sound-noise continuum with conventional instruments and field recording inferences. But a choicer touch could have made the experiments more welcome to others.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. (16:50) 2, (06:15) 3. (18:50) 4 (07:10) CD2: 1. (43:00)

Personnel: Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone, snare drum, drum synthesizer, vibrating speaker, objects) and Jon Heilbron (bontempi chord organs, bells, toy harmonica, tuning fork)