“I think that any geographic point is able to generate everything. Absolutely everything that can be generated.” /Hardijs Lediņš/
HARDIJS LEDIŅŠ. THE FATHER OF LATVIAN AVANT-GARDE MUSIC Year 2015 has been named the Year of Hardijs Lediņš by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA). Marking the 60th anniversary of the birth of multimedia artist Hardijs Lediņš (1955–2004), a classic of Latvian avant-garde music and art, the LCCA is collaborating with artists from various creative fields as well as contemporaries of Hardijs Lediņš in organising a series of cultural events throughout the year that highlight the most important stages in the multifaceted work of this legendary artist. Known as the “patriarch of multimedia”, Hardijs Lediņš was an extraordinary person, who came onto the Latvian art scene at the end of the 1970s. He formed and strongly inspired a broad field of alternative culture through following the processes of world culture that were relevant at the time and idiosyncratically integrating them in the artistic environment of Latvia. Together with a group of like-minded contemporaries, Hardijs Lediņš made musical recordings, performances, actions and interventions that articulated a new language which was ahead of its time. This booklet provides an informative overview of the creative activities organised by Hardijs Lediņš and his collaborators which expanded the borders of Latvian art and music in the 1970-80s. The following texts are reprinted from the publications Trespassers. Contemporary Art of the 1980s and Soundexchange. Anthology of Experimental Music Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 1950–2010. The first text presents a brief look at the most significant events organised by Hardijs Lediņš and his collaborators, while Daiga Mazvērsīte and Māra Traumane’s essay Avant-garde Trends in Latvian Music, 1970–1990 offers a more detailed account on Hardijs Lediņš’ contribution to avant-garde art and music in Latvia.
HARDIJS LEDIŅŠ AND THE WORKSHOP FOR THE RESTORATION OF UNFELT SENSATIONS (NSRD) * Hardijs Lediņš was an architect, artist and musician and remains one of the most significant and legendary figures in Latvian art – his contribution is of lasting importance to both art practice and theory. In the 1980s, he enthusiastically analysed and popularised the ideas of postmodernism, developing them in his own concept of “Approximate art”. Lediņš completed his studies in the Faculty of Building and Architecture at the Riga Polytechnic in 1971, and in the 80s worked as a scientific assistant at the Building Science Research Institute, where he researched the socio-psychological aspects of the residential environment. Lediņš was actively involved in the music and art scene, recorded several albums, translated and wrote about music, avant-garde and postmodernism in art and architecture. A close collaborator of Hardijs Lediņš was Juris Boiko who worked in various fields of art and culture. In 1982, Hardijs Lediņš and Juris Boiko founded Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Sensations (NSRD), one of the most significant phenomena in the broadening of the boundaries of artistic understanding in Latvia. From 1982 to 1989, it worked as an alternative to the 1980s professional art and introduced essential innovations into the Latvian environment through the experimental merging of different media and art forms, as well as influencing the alternative music scene in Latvia. The NSRD line-up changed over time, involving artists, architects, musicians, fashion designers and actors. Apart from the founders Lediņš and Boiko, other participants in NSRD actions included Imants Žodžiks, Inguna Černova, Mārtiņš Rutkis, Aigars Sparāns, Dace Šēnberga. Together they created performances, actions, video installations, music, photographs and lyrics for songs. NSRD also made a significant contribution to the explanation of the theoretical aspects of art in the interpretation of the postmodernist movement, and developed the independent concept of “Approximate Art”. At the end of the 80s, NSRD activities were also joined by several artists and musicians living in West Germany, including Indulis Bilzēns, Micky Remann and Maximilian Lenz aka Westbam and others.
“AVANT-GARDE TRENDS IN LATVIAN MUSIC, 1970–1990”** Daiga Mazvērsīte, Māra Traumane
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND [...] rare examples of the unofficial co-operation between Riga and Moscow musicians and artists during the Soviet period were Riga’s avant-garde music festivals of 1976 and 1977. The festivals reveal both the common space of avant-garde practices and the informal “network”, connecting intellectuals in the Soviet Union interested in new cultural trends. They also mark the turning point in the musical environments of both cities, when interest in postmodern expressions overshadowed the language of avantgarde. In Moscow it manifested itself in the field of academic music – but in Riga in the field of experimental music. [...] Hardijs Lediņš (1955–2004), a student of architecture interested in music and an activist of Riga Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Students’ Club, got in touch with the violin player Boriss Avramecs (1949), who had friendly ties with musicians in Moscow. Instead of the one intended concert Alexei Lubimov (1944) offered a programme of concerts, and thus in Riga in 1976 the first “festival of avantgarde music” was born. It was “pure underground”:
the premises of the RPI Students’ Club (the Anglican Church) were approved, but the programme was not and “no printed materials were possible.”1 [...] The festival programme for the first time offered to the wider Riga audience world topicalities. [...] For the first time Riga heard minimal music: Terry Riley’s In C and Vladimir Martynov’s An Album Page for piano, violin and rock group, Stockhausen’s intuitive piece Setz die Segel zur Sonne and Intensity from Aus Sieben Tagen, as well as collective improvisation – a dedication to JohnMcLaughlin. The culmination of the programme was John Cage’s Lecture on the Weather, some of his other works being performed on the background of its reading. A provocative happening involving members of an experimental Riga theatre group and Moscow musicians concluded the concert, causing a scandal. [...] The interval between the festivals of 1976 and 1977 was filled with lectures – thematic discotheques (addition – Māra Žeikare) at the Students’ Club organized by Lediņš. Avramecs introduced to avant-garde – Ives, Schoenberg, Messiaen, etc., but Lediņš was telling about progressive rock groups like King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Camel, etc. The festival was prohibited after its second “edition” in 1977. That year the event had an official “umbrella”, it was co-organized by members of the Association of Young Composers2 and run under the name “Decade of Contemporary Music” dedicated “To the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Socialist Revolution”. The program showed greater conformism – it included the works by Soviet composers only, however, according to Martynov’s description, it was still revolutionary: “This moment of truth (for new composing – M.T.) came during the festival of contemporary music in Riga, in the autumn of 1977, we all – Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov and me, took a united stance. Our most important and provocative works were performed at the festival concerts: Pärt’s Sarah was Ninety Years Old, Silvestrov’s Quartet, my Passions Lieder and the first version of Hierarchy of the Values of the Mind. [...] the festival had an explosive effect, after which Grindeko and Lubimov were prohibited to give concerts on the territory of Latvia.”3 The fatal storm broke out after the performance of Martynov’s Easter Cantata, during which leaflets with the text of “Der am Kreuz ist meine Liebe!” were scattered from the balcony. Secret services adroitly interpreted it as the worst violation of the time – religious propaganda. The directors of the Students’ Club lost their jobs, Alexei Lubimov was prohibited to give concerts abroad and in Latvia for several years, but Hardijs Lediņš had to choose between continuing his studies and organizing events. However, the ideas of the festival found their continuation already in 1978 in the Tallinn festival of contemporary and early music and several projects of experimental music in Riga in the 1980s – most notably “Nebijušu sajūtu restaurēšanas darbnīca” (NSRD, Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Sensations) founded by Hardijs Lediņš and Juris Boiko. [...]
WORKSHOP FOR THE RESTORATION OF UNFELT SENSATIONS (NSRD) “Between the philosophy of Zen Buddhism and Californian high-tech.” Micky Remann NSRD has the status of an avant-garde (and underground) legend in Latvian music and art. More than 20 years after the group ceased its activities, the recordings of their music, actions, video performances and texts still speak to an audience of different generations. “Avant-garde” is not a quite fitting designation for the group, since at the beginning of the 80s it announced that “avant-garde is no longer avant-garde”, NSRD linked its activities to post-modernism, which, to quote them, “attempts to bring into art as many dimensions as there are in life”.4 The impulses for NSRD multimedia activities are found in various fields of arts, its founders and conceptual core were Hardijs Lediņš (1955–2004), theoretician of architecture, and Juris Boiko (1954–2002), a poet and artist, musicians Inguna Černova (1962), Mārtiņš Rutkis (physicist, software producer), architects Imants Žodžiks (1955) and Aigars Sparāns (1955–1996). Artist and stage designer Leonards Laganovskis was also sometimes involved. The group expressed itself innovatively in music and conceptual album records, in concerts/ performances, actions, multimedia exhibitions and video art, and also by mastering new technologies – they were the first to use video and computer technologies in their projects. The music project NSRD originated in 1982, however, Juris Boiko’s and Hardijs Lediņš’ creative “home” experiments started earlier. In the 70s they were influenced by avant-garde – Webern’s and Satie’s music, as well as progressive trends of art rock and new jazz. Their generation familiarized with these trends by listening to the rare, imported vinyl records and tape recordings, copied and exchanged several times, parallel to that studying issues of difficult to find foreign journals like Melos or Melody Maker. While studying architecture and being active at the RPI Students’ Club, Lediņš organised the above mentioned lectures, first discos and avant-garde music festivals and founded the home recording “studio” Seque. The Seque records’ first step had been “the prepared piano”, however a dozen of later Seque tape records feature a wide range of instruments: a piano, a saxophone, a hornlet, a trumpet, a trumpet horn, bells, a globe of the Earth, a dog’s voice (milk, bone), a two-stringed board, glassworks, a triangle, synthesizer sound, etc. Under the influence of modernist literature in 1976 – 78 Lediņš and Boiko wrote the absurd novel ZUN (a. o. a paraphrase of Zen), the only samizdat example in Latvian art. The manuscript was shown only to friends, however, the ambience and the atmosphere of ZUN travelled on to the following texts, albums and actions of the authors. ZUN combines excerpts of texts,
typical of later paradoxical NSRD song texts which “[..] can be found anywhere: in older or more recent phone books, 1902 Baedeker’s guide to Egypt or Paris, newspapers, cook books, dictionaries, etc. Also when eating, sleeping or smoking.”5 A few song titles can be mentioned: Cepure, Labrīt putra, Čau, poliklīnika, Sieviete ar Casio (Hat; Good Morning, Porridge; Ciao, Policlinic; A Woman with a Casio), etc. The philosophy of Cage, Stockausen and Zen Buddhism echoed in the first actions of the group realized in a close circle of participants: “We were just looking for a justification of these ideas in the surrounding reality, we transferred them.”6 For example – Gājienos uz Bolderāju (The Walk to Bolderāja) (1980 – 1987... 2002), an 8 km long walk along a railway line, which connected the artists’ homes and the isolated Riga port region with its meadows and garden allotments. The action was guided by several rules: light and darkness had to interchange during the walk, the walks took place once per year, every time in a different month and it had to be documented – in photos, paintings, or audio and later also video recordings. The 80s arrived with the new wave. Lediņš, being a music lover and organizer of discos7, caught the newest trends in dance and experimental music and technical innovations. There was growing friendship and exchange with Latvian new wave pioneers – the group Yellow Postmen, songs and poems composed by Boiko and Lediņš are part of their first albums. At the time Lediņš’ main field of activities was architecture theory – issues of contemporary living environment (in the USSR in fact – the estates of blockhouses) and human perception and identification. A supporter of the theory of postmodern architecture, in his articles he criticized the dehumanization of the environment in the name of rational ideas of modernity and was drawing attention to “the humane qualities of environment”, the need to understand individualism, intimacy and social processes. The ideas of post-modernism mixed with the new wave aesthetics of music, design and fashion turning into the conceptual basis of NSRD concerts, exhibitions and performances: “not for a function, but an image”, “to create an object only for this moment, this place, this situation”8, “there can be no cultural center, there can be only cultural periphery”.9 It was complemented by fascination with experimental music and multimedia. During the period from 1980 – 1986, Hardijs Lediņš, Imants Žodžiks, Aigars Sparāns, Leonards Laganovskis and sometimes Juris Boiko and Māris Steķis , realized parallel artistic activities – visual actions (addition – M.Ž), “intruding” into rural and urban space – Telpiska akcija 1m x 1m x 1m (Dimensional action 1x1x1m, 1980), Mediator (1982), Pārcelšanās (Moving Over) (1982), Līnija Kurzemē (A Line in Kurzeme,1983). Two conceptual, thematic exhibitions were held at the House of Architects: Aila, Pagātne un postmodernā naktsdzīve (Aperture, The Past and Post-modern Night-life, 1985) and Vējš vītolos (Wind in the Willows, 1986, also a music album), visualizing the scenarios of interaction between contemporary design, life-style, multimedia and technologies. In the musical project NSRD flute player (also vocals, bassoon, saxophone) Inguna Černova was the only professional musician to join Lediņš and Boiko. The first songs of the group – disco hits in the sounds of new wave and rap: Kabinets (Cabinet) and Ciku caku caurā tumba (Zip Zap Hollow Speaker), in 1982 were recorded in the studio of friends – Dzeltenie pastnieki (The Yellow Postmen). The same year, in the first concert performance, the group entered the stage through a wardrobe, and subsequently it maintained stage image highly unusual for Latvian stages, with an irreplaceable figure of Lediņš in a canvas “military” coat, red, designed and glued over glasses and usually with a huge brass band drum. Recordings are a strong evidence of the unconventional stance of NSRD.10 They were done approximately once in six months, the instruments were borrowed for 2–3 days and the albums were recorded in intense 24-hour long processes. Even though Lediņš and Boiko always had a clear idea for each album, they themselves, in fact, could hardly play, therefore they often invited musicians – for recordings and concerts, or just ordinary people, who could sing and contribute with various musical instruments for the necessary “mood”. Alongside acoustic instruments, found instruments and “anything that produces a sound”, the most modern available equipment was used – music sequencer, synthesizers, and, very progressive for that time – a computer. The album tapes were copied at home and distributed via friends. Not being professionals, NSRD were free from criteria of musical professionalism. The elementary rhythm was kept by a rhythm machine, a synthesizer or a computer – “it was possible to play in four notes rhythmically – four were recorded and the rest repeated”.11 Instrumental blanks were recorded in the 4-track tape-recorder at first, followed by the vocal. This resulted in the minimal sound of NSRD: the breaking of rhythm, melodies in minor key, chance, paradoxical texts and layers of sound effects. The atmospheric album Kuncendorfs and Osendovskis (1984) stands out especially among others. Its strange audio play story (Jūlijs nevar būt Augusts, July cannot be August) is accompanied by sound effects, distorted speech and sequences of songs. As to its motives the album remotely reminds of ZUN, but in form it resembles an unfinished idea of the artists – the sound play Magulaks. The title of another album, Medicīna un Māksla (Medicine and Art, 1985), is a paraphrase of OMD’s record Architecture and Morality. The sizeable multimedia cycle Dr. Enesera Binokulāro deju kursi (Dr. Eneser’s Binocular Dance Course) or “acu dejas” (“eye dances”) (an album, a video film and animation, 1987), a pseudoscientific game-ritual was inspired by a newspaper article on exercises for eyes. The new media – video, finally entering Latvia – allowed to join the two wings of the group – the visual and the musical – outside concert-performances.
In the first film Cilvēks dzīvojamā vidē (Man in a Living Environment, 1986)12 the assessment of the housing estate environment turns into a performative action in the yards of apartment blocks. NSRD Video performances in which music, action and images are of equal value follow: Pavasara tecila (Spring Grindstone, 1987), Aisberga ilgas / vulkāna sapņi (An Iceberg’s Longings / a Volcanoes’ Dreams, 1987), Dr. Enesera Binokulāro deju kursi and the first digital animation in Latvia (analogous drawing and BASIC system programming) the video clip for “eye dances” (1987).13 In the wake of “reconstruction” (perestroika) NSRD got acquainted with multimedia event producers from Germany – Indulis Bilzēns and Micky Remann, who got involved into the group’s activities and brought to their attention the ideas of autopoetics and cybernetics. After the stage of post-modernism NSRD arrived at its own “approximate art” programme. “The borders between various genres in art are very approximate, they cannot be defined, just like borders between different cultures. Sometimes a question arises – is it art, or is it no longer art. This points to the presence of approximation in art processes. [...] The representatives of the approximate try to do everything so as to, first of all, abide by the interests of every person, every individuality, the atmosphere of every space.”14 The idea of approximation crystallized through interaction with a computer, as comparison of the exact abilities of scientific equipment and approximate ones of human beings. The concept was implemented in practice at the first and the second aptuvenās mākslas izstādēs (Exhibition of approximate art, 1987, 1988)15: in the space transformed into an environmental installation heaps of video monitors were playing video works by NSRD, DJs took their turns at the taperecorder mixer, a programme of performances and musicians’ actions spanned several days. A guest from Germany – Maximilain Lenz aka Westfalia Bambaata – participated in both exhibitions, acquainting Rigans with his scratching – record-art technique. Responding to that, Latvian musician Eastbam (Roberts Gobziņš) demonstrated tape-art, suitable for the local limited technical possibilities, sound mixing with tape recorders, a technique popular among Latvian DJs. [...] Following the invitation from German organiser Micky Remann in 1988 NSRD participated with improvisation in the Transwelt Telefon Konzert II (1988). Phone and video signal, overcoming the political borders, connected musicians in Frankfurt on the Main, London, Damascus, San Francisco, Riga, Gambia, Kathmandu and Moscow. For Latvian contemporary art the 1988-89 exhibition Riga – Lettische Avantgarde in Berlin and Kiel, though, was even more important. NSRD participated in this first large-scale exhibition of new trends in Latvian art with documentation, outdoor installations and performances. However, these major foreign projects brought closer the group’s disintegration. NSRD, similar to other interdisciplinary artists’ groups in Eastern Europe, underwent a crisis upon encountering the system of Western art institutions, the range of exhibitions policies and the new pragmatism of the post-socialist era at home. [...] Major changes in the order of Latvian state brought also changes into the lives of NSRD participants. After 1989 Juris Boiko continued his individual work in video and conceptual art and was also active as a curator and poet. Hardijs Lediņš continued activities in music, among his numerous projects and recordings the most ambitious was the experimental opera written together with Kaspars Rolštein’s Rolstein on the Beach, staged in Riga in 1997. However, NSRD’s influence did not cease: Rolstein on the Beach absorbs many postmodern techniques and “jokes” of the group, Lediņš and Boiko jointly re-published several early albums of the group on the Seque label, two post-mortem albums dedicated to the deceased artists have been published: Best Songs: 1982–2002 (2002) and Songs for an Unwritten Play (2006). [...] * Reprinted in abridged version. First published in: Astahovska, Ieva, Traumane, Māra, „NSRD”, in: Tresspassers. Contemporary Art of the 1980s. Riga: LCCA, 2005. ** Reprinted in abridged version. First published in: Mazvērsīte, Daiga, Traumane, Māra, Avantgardistische Str mungen in der Lettischen Musik von 1970–1990 / Avant-garde Trends in Latvian Music, 1970’s-1990’s”, in: Sound Exchange: Experimentelle Musikkulturen in Mitteleuropa 1950–2010/ Anthology of Experimental Music Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 1950-2010. llmer, Golo Steffens, Markus and erlings, Melanie (eds.), Saarbr cken: Pfau Verlag, 2012, s. 236–261; 250–270. Online: http://www.soundexchange.eu/#latvia_ en?id=43&parID=1 1
Boriss Avramecs in an interview with Māra Traumane, Riga, 2008.
Musicologists Guntars Pupa and Ingrīda Zemzare.
Vladimir Martynov, “Povorot 1974 – 1975 godov”, in: “Eti strannye semedisyatye”, ed. Georgi Kisewaler, Moscow 2010, p. 174-175.
Hardijs Lediņš, “Avangards nav avangards”, Avots, 1987, no. 5, 44 lpp.
“NSR darbnīca”, Avots, 1988, no. 4, 22. lpp.
Juris Boiko in an interview with the Māra Traumane, Riga 2001.
For example, organising together with friends the evenings of the audio visual disco “Kosmoss”. 7
Hardijs Lediņš, “Jaunais vilnis ārpus mūzikas”, Liesma 1985.g. augusts.
Hardijs Lediņš, Juris Boiko, Interview: E. Gillen “Ungefähre Kunst in Riga”, Niemansland, Nr. 5 (1988), West-Berlin, 33.lpp.
A large part of Seque and NSRD recordings, published before 1989, can be heard on the webpage www.pietura.lv
Inguna Rubene in an interview with Māra Traumane, 2007 Riga.
Authors of the video film were Hardijs Lediņš and Imants Žodžiks
Authors of the animation were Imants Žodžiks and Mārtiņš Rutkis.
14 Hardijs Lediņš, “Towards the Approximate”, Introduction to the Manifesto of Approximate Art, manuscript, 1987.
Exhibition of Approximate Art, The House of Knowledge, Riga, 1987 and exhibition A Mole in a Hole, Museum of Foreign Art, Riga, 1988.