Heinali - Kyiv Eternal Music Album Reviews

Heinali - Kyiv Eternal Music Album Reviews
The Ukrainian electronic musician collages a decade of field recordings into a moving tribute to the resilience of his hometown in wartime.

When Oleh Shpudeiko bought a handheld recorder to capture the sounds of his hometown, Kyiv, it’s unlikely he imagined the significance those recordings would one day take on. It was 2012, and Shpudeiko, who makes experimental electronic music as Heinali, was interested in the concept of acoustic ecology—that is, the relationship between a place, its sounds, and its inhabitants. Recorder in hand, he roamed the city in search of its “soundmarks”: birds twittering in O.V. Fomin Botanical Gardens; the distinctive bleeping of the cash registers at Silpo, a Ukrainian grocery-store chain; the nighttime ambience of Borshchahivka, a bedroom community full of aging khrushchevkas, low-cost apartment blocks common across the former Soviet Union. Shpudeiko kept recording over the next decade, building out his soundmap as Kyiv underwent radical changes in the years following the Maidan Uprising. Then, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, shredding the normalcy of daily life—and along with it, the familiar fabric of Kyiv’s soundscape.

On Kyiv Eternal, Shpudeiko folds his archival field recordings into a love letter to the city of his birth. The album was inspired by a trip back home after briefly fleeing Kyiv’s air raids, in the initial phase of the invasion, to take refuge in Lviv. “Kyiv was more alive than ever, but I wanted to protect it from harm, to console it,” he says. “This was a city where I had spent 37 years of my life. So this album became a hymn to this part of my identity.” That “hymn” takes the form of a luminous web of atmospheric abstractions interwoven with processed piano, wordless voices, and synthesizer.

The album proceeds as a loosely structured travelogue. It begins with “Tramvai 14,” sourced from recordings Shpudeiko made on Kyiv’s light-rail tram system: The doors chime; a station announcement plays in Ukrainian and English; an overdriven stream of what might be pedal steel, reminiscent of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, extends like a pastel fog over the rattle of train wheels. There are hints of history embedded in the reverie: The English-language announcements, added when Kyiv hosted Eurovision in 2017, offer a glimpse of the city’s contemporary self-conception as a part of Europe. “Stantsiia Maidan Nezalezhnosti” goes inside the Metro stop at Maidan Square, where footfalls and the sounds of the subway are faintly audible beneath a warm, vaporous drone. Shpudeiko doesn’t dwell on the many associations that might attach themselves to Maidan Square: the “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014, which expelled the Russophilic president Viktor Yanukovych; the many city residents who took shelter underground in early 2022, turning subway stations into subterranean tent cities. The atmosphere is hazy, almost blissful, like a freeze frame of a shoegaze song.

Much of the album follows a similar template, whipping up billowing, Tim Hecker-like clouds around indistinct scraps of everyday life. Some tracks, like the largely static “Rare Birds” or “Shuliavka in Winter,” feel less like standalone compositions than pieces of a mosaic, meaningful primarily as contrasting blocks of color. But the most compelling tracks are suffused in emotion. In “Silpo,” pinging cash registers intertwine with what sound like bright guitar harmonics above wave after wave of ethereal, rising and falling tones, telegraphing a woozy mix of bucolic ambience and bittersweet nostalgia. “Borshchahivka at Night,” a quietly gripping highlight, is as still as a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photograph, capturing the solitude of the sleeping neighborhood in clicking and rustling sounds that evoke the image of trash being blown, like tumbleweeds, down empty, dimly lit streets. A flickering mist has a ghostly choral effect, as though summoning the voices of all those residents who were forced to seek safety elsewhere, lost souls scattered to the winds.

Kyiv Eternal marks a departure from Heinali’s 2020 album Madrigals, in which Shpudeiko adapted Renaissance polyphony for modular synthesizers, and its sequel, Organa, a work in progress interrupted by the war. The new record’s ethereal drones and gossamer collages lack the formal complexity of his more exacting compositions. But there are spiritual parallels, if you know where to listen for them. In his pre-war work, keeping his oscillators tuned is a delicate business; they tend to drift at will, subject to the vicissitudes of the environment. Baroque counterpoints pile up in towering assemblages that might collapse at any moment, like a cathedral tumbling under the weight of its stained glass. That interplay between fragility and resilience lay at the heart of Shpudeiko’s performance from deep in a Lviv bomb shelter last year. A similar tension also animates Kyiv Eternal, encoded directly in sounds imperiled by the threat of extinction. You can hear it in the title track, the album’s gorgeous and hopeful climax, in which arpeggios slip and stumble, yet keep pushing doggedly forward; between the sounds of rainfall above and the muddy bass below, a spirit of determination abides. Kyiv Eternal is a journal of endangered memories and a talisman against loss; above all, it’s a testament to survival.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Heinali - Kyiv Eternal Music Album Reviews Heinali - Kyiv Eternal Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 16, 2023 Rating: 5


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