April 21,2021

Episode 7

From medieval-inspired sounds out of Ukraine to hypermodern dance music from Taipei

Picture by Marta Witkowska

In the seventh episode of TSIR – an adventurous and inspiring global journey for music lovers, we enjoy an unusual take on a Yemeni folk song and discover mesmerizing medieval-inspired music from Ukraine. We also get surprised by hart-hitting, extraordinary dance music out of Taipei, are curious how funeral songs from Ghana sound and become witnesses of an extended improvisational masterpiece by a Canadian sextet.

Featured Artist: Heinali

Oleg Shoudeiko aka Heinali is a composer and sound artist from Kyiv, Ukraine and with his latest album "Madrigals" he creates four long mesmerizing tracks which are inspired by Renaissance/late Medieval polyphony and produced with generative modular synthesis and historical instrumentation like the brilliantly intuitive baroque viola played by Igor Zavgorodnii on "Beatrice".

I can highly recommend you to take your time and enjoy this transcendental music on a good pair of headphones. It is such an immersive and evocative experience to dive into Heinali´s very well balanced sound world. I love the instrumentation as well as the harmonic approach and I would love to hear this music on a live pa in the near future.

Heinali - Madrigals Cover
With each listen you discover different sounds or layers in this richly textured, floating and complex music. Just gorgeous!

Can you tell us a little about your musical history, upbringing, education, basically how you started and developed into the artist "Heinali", which you are now?

I don't have any formal music education, however, I listened to a lot of, let's say, not quite conventional music when I was in my teens. It was difficult to get your hands on non-mainstream music back then in Ukraine. I'm talking about the late 90s and early 00s. Pretty much the only way you could get access to this music is through niche music collectors. I was very lucky back then to be a part of the local goth/industrial community that was de facto much wider aesthetically and ideologically than the self-imposed subcultural 'goth' and 'industrial' identities. There were a lot of musical exchanges going on back then. People would record tapes and, later, burn CDRs for each other with the strangest, weirdest music. This is how I got my teenage brains blown with the likes of Coil, Aphex Twin, Arvo Part, Merzbow, Sisters of Mercy, Current 93, Boyd Rice/NON, Mouse on Mars, Nine Inch Nails, Squarepusher and many, many others.

And, what was even more important, this music taught me what music can be. It kind of freed me up from the preconceived notions of what music is. In part, from the notion that formal music education is required for music-making. So I think it's largely because of these artists that I started my experiments with electronic music in 2003. It was quite a difficult journey, quite dark at certain times. It started with me messing around with the music software just for fun, having no idea what I'm doing, just enjoying the process and then it gradually became a hobby, then, slowly and painfully, it became a profession. I had to quit a promising job in IT to pursue music, and there were a few years before my first big commission that were the toughest. Now I think that I managed to get through by pure luck, I was pretty sure back then that I won't succeed and it will end badly. In terms of aesthetics and ideology, I think I was heavily influenced by other artists for the first ten years or so and started to develop my own authentic artistic identity relatively late.  


How did you develop the music on your album "Madrigals"? The final outcome are very complex compositions,  it would be interesting to understand your creative process - way of working a little bit better?

Interestingly, you say they're complex. I wouldn't say they are, especially if compared to, say, Elliot Carter or, god forbid, Brian Ferneyhough. But they are more complex in terms of structure and texture than what I did before. I would hope they are not complicated, though. I'm ok with complexity, but I'm not the biggest fan of complication. Madrigals is a product of my love for Early Music in general and polyphony in particular. I wouldn't say I fell in love with polyphonic music the first time I heard it, but it piqued my interest and demanded to pay more time and attention to it throughout the years. What impressed me about it is the quality of experience it offers which is rare to find in other genres of music. It's a vertiginous feeling of sensory and semantic overload that is kept in place by an extremely rigorous, strict, mathematically ordered structure.

Very similar to how some medieval Christian scholastics tried to understand God, an borderless, transcendent, indescribable entity, through the restrictive structure of human intellect and language. So my love for polyphony grew. But I didn't quite understand how I could produce new senses and meanings out of it in my artistic practice. That is, until I got myself a modular system, a few years ago. I gradually became aware of the possibilities for generative polyphony it could offer. Generative means that all melodies and counterpoints are generated by a modular synthesizer on the fly, the artist's participation is optional. So I started to work on the patch (the way a modular synthesizer is set up and connected)  that would allow me to do that. After about a year and a half, I arrived at a more or less convincing patch and, what is more important, developed a musical form. And started a search for musicians with period instruments, specialising in Early Music. The idea was to entwine the rigid polyphonic texture generated on a modular synthesizer with quasi-Renaissance improvisations on period instruments. As a trellis in the garden that would be wreathed by climbing plants.

What is the story, idea, concept  behind the song „Beatrice“ that is featured in the podcast?

Beatrice, apart from the obvious Dante reference, exists in a large part due to Ihor Zavgorodnii's performance, who played baroque viola on it. Initially, I was close to abandoning the composition for good since it was the weakest in terms of structure, the form itself didn't make much sense. Even when we were recording it with Ihor I was almost sure it wouldn't work out, but when I heard all of it together back at my studio everything suddenly fell into place. I wanted Ihor's performance to conflict with electronic polyphony (in contrast with Rondine and Giardino, where acoustic instruments are in a relative agreement with electronics) and I asked him to imagine a bird in a beautiful garden with many other wonderful birds, but this bird is in a closed cage. So this bird's song differs from other birds in the garden, it's desperate, maybe even aggressive, reckless, but contained at the same time. Perhaps it can be seen just as a separate self-sufficient archetype or as a reinterpretation of Dante's text. 

Heinali - Beatrice (the featured track in Episode 7)

Is there an electronic music scene existing in the Ukraine that you are part of and if so what does it look like, or do you act more like a solo act without any scene involved?

There's a huge electronic music scene here in Ukraine with a lot of interesting stuff going on, but, unfortunately, most influential Western music media, in general, seem to be too occupied with resounding well known Western artist names to pay attention to what's going on. This being said, we have a huge problem in Ukraine with the production of our authentic values. Ukrainian artists rarely get noticed in Ukraine unless there's a big authoritative Western media that writes an article about them. Actually, this happened to Madrigals. No one, except a small circle of friends and colleagues, paid any attention here to the release before the review in The Guardian. And afterwards, all hell broke loose.

Pretty much every major news media wrote about it, I've even seen posts about it from the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK and some local government cultural institution I've never heard of before. I kid you not! They were all "very proud" of me. Just for the context, I recorded Madrigals (and all my previous releases) with my own money and never received any support from the Ukrainian government, and the LP itself was released in London, on Injazero Records. As for the feeling of being a part of the local electronic scene, I wouldn't say it's so. I realise that I'm a part of it, but I don't feel like I belong here. I maintain connections with several artists here, but it's more like individual friendships, I don't have a sense of being a part of a larger community.   

Heinali live

Your music has a very cinematic feeling to me. I was wondering how a live concert of the latest record will look like? Do you cooperate with visual artists and is the music played "live"?

I don't perform recorded compositions live. All my live shows are structured improvisations. It means that I develop a general structure, the general form of the live set beforehand, it gets separated into several blocks with certain rules. The order of these blocks doesn't change, but what happens inside them is always improvised. I used to perform compositions years ago but gradually realized that it doesn't work for me. There's no thrill, for me, in performing pre-recorded material. I want it to be different every time. To relive this exploratory experience I have in the studio, share it with the audience, adapt, every time, to the location's specific acoustic characteristics. To be open to failures.

I'm not interested in polished, sterile shows that feel just as good entertainment, but don't offer any opportunities for the unexpected, opportunities to learn something new about yourself and to connect with the artist on a basic human level. This makes collaborations with visual artists a bit difficult. To accompany the music, the visual side has to be generative as well or improvised at least. It's the technical part. There's also the artistic part, that is, I'm interested in a visual work that would be in parity with music, so my music could uncover new meaning in it and, vice versa, video work would uncover new meanings in my music. This is even more difficult. So far I had no such collaborations, but I'm constantly on the lookout for such opportunities. We'll see how it goes.

Heinali live for Fact Magazine

Can you share with us three artists / albums that you listen to or that have inspired you lately?

I'd love to! Here're my favourites:

Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble - Remember me my dear

Beatriz Ferreyra, Natasha Barrett - Souvenirs caches / Innermost

Tristan Perich - Drift Multiply

Graindelavoix - Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae

Lost Girls - Menneskekollektivet

Dom Joseph Gajard / Saint Pierre de Solesmes Abbey Monks' Choir - Solesmes 1930

The Hilliard Ensemble - Perotin