Oct 09

Sounds of the Russian Avant-Garde

About a month ago, I stopped by Aquarius Records to pick up Baku: Symphony of Sirens / Sound Experiments in the Russian Avant-Garde. It’s a fantastic a double disc collection of poetry, music, and agitprop accompanied by a 72-page book with detailed notes on the Russian avant-garde movement from 1908 to 1942.

There are works from some of the best known names of the era — El Lissitzky (see his Soviet poster, below), Malevich, Kamensky, even Lenin and Trotsky — though to my great delight, I learned of seemingly countless other groups and their often humorous counter groups:

El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky, “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” (1919)

The somewhat staid Ego-Futurists, mostly in the literary camp, were later superceded by the Imaginists who indulged in long, deeply metaphoric poetry; there were also the painterly Cubo-Futurists, who counted Malevich and Mayakovsky as primary leaders. Then there were the Acmeists, the Suprematists (Malevich at his finest), the Neo-Primitivists, the Rayonists, the Bicosmists, the Luminists, the Electroorganists, the Constructivists and the Productivists.

The funniest groups were the Eggists, who formed as a joke in a newspaper article; the Everythingists, who embraced all styles of expression; and the Nothingists, whose slogan was “Write nothing! Read nothing! Say nothing! Print nothing!”

But these groups seem disappointingly shallow when compared to artists like Iakov Chernikhov, who is worth mentioning here as one of the most imaginative minds in modern architecture — even if his perspective is missing from Baku. Though best known for the Flying City, his body of work (especially his collection of Architectural Fantasies) is well worth a peek.

Iakov Chernikhov, Fundamentals of Modern Architecture (1925-30)
Iakov Chernikhov, Fundamentals of Modern Architecture (1925-30)

One of the album’s highlights is About Two Squares – A Suprematist Story by El Lissitzky (1920-22), a children’s tale about a red square and a black square. They travel toward a red circle (Earth) and smash into each other, creating abstract forms on Earth.

El Lissitzky, About Two Squares (1920-22)
El Lissitzky, About Two Squares (1920-22)

It’s a futuristic narrative that combines experimental typography with the fun of reading aloud “colour-blocks of Word”… a synesthetic experience from one of the Russian greats! View the entire story here.

Nov 06

oh, Stephin, that old hound

stephin merritt

Got up early on Saturday and headed for Book Passage in Corte Madera, where Lemony Snicket and Stephin Merritt performed their newest batch of bleak ditties for a mob of adoring young fans. Merritt appeared in his wonted dolorous mood. As Snicket fanned his accordian and gleefully warned children of the Complete Organic Pregnancy, Merritt hung his head low, strummed his uekele and crooned of the Baudelaires’ encounters with despair, death, and Count Olaf’s eye-shaped tattoo.

Later, I went home and made short work of Snicket’s last installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, The End.

Jan 06

Bigfoot Love.

Leave it to the Canadians to find topics like naughty rodents or overgrown primates and whip them into addictive reading material. Graham Roumieu’s latest work, Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir, is the brilliant second installation by the popular (and misunderstood) recluse, chock full of gnarly humor and inventive illustrations.

With an appropriate introduction from that other mysterious beast, Nessie of Loch Ness fame, the book includes a hand-clapping tablature for one of his endearing ballads as well as equally priceless descriptions of his rollicking days hanging with Chet Baker and Emilio Estevez. It’s quite possibly the funniest narrative I’ve read this year, and friends with whom I’ve shared the story have also elicited “hootilicious” reactions.

Roumieu has illustrated for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harpers, Paper Mag, and perhaps most notably, Andrews McMeel’s A Really Super Book About Squirrels… He lives in Toronto, is a Libra, and is easily annoyed. Bless his most noble heart.

Run to Giant Robot for your own copy!