The third of Heinrich Mueller's collaborative MySpace projects to become operational was Zerkalo. Their site began on 28th Nov 2006 and has so far had, for what it's worth, well over 26000 profile views and roughly the same amount of plays if
you include the figures for their video's as well. I know I said before that these MySpace projects were having diminishing returns, I had been thinking of the relatively low viewing figures for the last two Zerkalo video’s, but by these figures I was wrong and Zerkalo are more than holding up their own over time. Which is great as the music and concept deserve the attention. Mueller’s sole collaborator this time is Victoria Lukas, a French woman now resident in New York. Outside of her musical contribution, she also does all the singing and it would seem, provides the visual and conceptual aspect of the group as well. The videos are done by close associates of hers under the name Hour of Star. Concept-wise the main thing you need to know at this stage is that the influence of the autobiographical movie Mirror from 1974 by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is very much in evidence in their some of their artwork, video‘s and music.
Once it was announced that there was to be a Zerkalo album released by Clone in May of this year I did briefly consider not writing this article and doing one just on the album but on reflection I thought it would be a shame not to document the inceptional, if virtual, life of the group, as I have already done with Black Replica and Zwischenwelt. A conventional album, if that is what it will be, will actually lessen what we have come to expect from them, being a bit one dimensional without videos etc. I guess the option to go deeper is still there but Zerkalo as purely an audio experience will be placing it in another context. Who would have thought I would be saying that when all of this started? Getting to know the MySpace projects has been a really exciting and interesting experience and a whole new way to follow a group. Nevertheless it will still be interesting to see how the music stands on it's own. As you know, Zwischenwelt will be releasing an album soon as well so they are evolving also.
Musically they do kind of fit quite well with Black Replica and Zwischenwelt for some reason, maybe its just the female vocals and the dark electro vibe they mostly share. But this is just a surface comparison, but true nonetheless, on closer inspection they have their own distinctions. 'Warning You' was one of the first tracks to appear on their player and might be a good place to start. I really liked this one right from the first time I heard it, it is a slow paced and very
atmospheric instrumental which is lengthy enough at almost 5 minutes. The main elements are a bass line, keyboard atmospherics and an echoing synth line. It does sound like Mueller had a hand in the bass line at least. On this point I should say now that it's hard to work out who did what with all the Zerkalo tracks so I won't be trying. The form of collaboration could be very loose indeed, maybe some tracks were worked on and sent back and forth via the email until completed or emerged from discussions which only one of them actually had to execute? I would say that for me the track could have done with a vocal but on their site they printed a poem in Russian and English by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova which itself is entitled 'Warning You'. In fact during the quiet passage, with headphones, you can hear Anna Akhmatova saying her poem. So maybe we are supposed to read the poem to ourselves when listening? It's an option anyway, the poem is as follows
But listen, I am warning you
I'm living for the very last time.
Not as a swallow, nor a maple,
Not as a reed, nor as a star,
Not as spring water,
Nor as the toll of bells...
Will I return to trouble men
Nor will I vex their dreams again
With my insatiable moans
The poem is from the 1940's and more details on Anne Akhmatova can be found from links at base of article. I might as well detail the videos as well while I'm considering the music. This video didn't go up until February 2008 and was made by Julia Pello who is also in Weltgeist and Darlene Lin. They did all the other videos as well and go under the name Hour of Star. Basically the video is intercut with scenes from Mirror and original footage of Victoria on a beach somewhere. It is all done in a very dreamy abstract way and is in black and white.
'Watch it Burning Again' has a vocal and is really creepy. Again it is at a slow tempo but this time layers of synth make up the body of the track while the vocal gives it a subject. It is not a long track at just over a minute and a half, which gives it a weird nursery rhyme feel maybe. The lyrics are as follows.
I built the same exact house
to watch it burning again
I can make up everything I do
I can show you anything and destroy it
The video was posted one month after the previous one and this time we have another mostly black and white piece which slowly zooms in on a disembodied head shot of Lukas finishing with her darker than dark eyes. Images of nature are close by with branches of trees swirling around her and a watery effect begins from halfway as well. But by the end all that is gone and we have this very clear and close shot of just her eyes. Witnessing or watching appears to be the theme of the track then. In the Mirror film there is a scene where a house catches fire and the main female character watches it. A picture of what looks like this scene is used for this track on their player so this connection is pretty much assured. As a total anal aside the picture is not from Mirror, not sure where they found it but it does the job. So maybe they are taking this as subject matter for this track as well.
The intriguingly titled 'When I Was Sick' is fast paced with a very strong melody line and some really tight drum programming. This is a real high point, I haven't heard much like this before. There is a lot happening in the mix with a nice counter melody appearing at times, it gets quite manic towards the end and returns to where it started. I will expand on this soon but the title might be a reference to the main character in Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, who goes into a psychiatric hospital. The lyrics are as follows.
No effects at all ...
I don't want to do this to you but
I have to.
I'm sorry I don't want to do this,
To do this to you but,I have to.
It's hard exactly to say where it comes from,
These waves and so cold Points of pain.
I'm sorry I don't want to do this,
To do this to you, But, I have to.
My name is IanaMy name is Dasha
My name is LarissaMy name is Eugenia
My name is Ekaterina
Valia, Marina, Nadjeda
Oh, I feel so better now.
A glimmer of a sense of humour does emerge on this track when at the very end you can hear her say, "Oh, I feel much better now." Although I'm sure they have a very well developed sense of humour!, I'm just looking for any signs of it in the work. The video for his track was posted just a few weeks later than the previous. There was a lot of activity for them around Spring 2008 for but then there was a lull. The video this time is in colour and begins with a slow zoom out from Victoria's naked back which then goes up her body to show her head pushed into a pillow. A few shots of her head from the front in slow motion with lots of hair action. The last scene is of the back of her head but she is now playing with her hands. The effect of the video is to literally make it seem as she might be actually feeling sick, certainly feverish.
'I Know More' as I've stated elsewhere is gorgeous. It has a really fresh sound which is probably reasonable simply done, if you know what your doing! One big layer of synth hits you full on, a mid frequency melody and a low rumble for a bass line. The vocals fit very well in this mix and pull you along with it. The lyrics are as follows.
Can't you see
Through your perceptions.
I know more
Than you could ever show.
To be honest when I heard these lyrics first I thought they might be aimed at me! But I doubt it really, it could be meant for anyone who thinks they know somebody else. In Feb 2009 a video for it appeared which was back to black and white and looked like it could have been done from additional footage of Victoria on the beach which has been used in small parts in the video for 'Warning You'. Victoria wades through the sea a lot and poses kneeling with her long hair in the water. Worryingly she gradually becomes submerged and even goes under, the camera then pulls back to show the empty beach again and how far out she is. But the final shots are of a mirror in the water reflecting the sun and then it’s back to a scene from the film Mirror itself, where the main actress is washing her similar long hair in a large basin and we can’t see her face. A more abstract feel is created this time by inverting the image throughout as well.
'Invisible' is another very slow paced track full of eerie sounds and touches as a lushly rich vocal pulls it along. On the Der Zyklus MySpace player there was said to be another version ‘Cherenkov Radiation’ which had some similarities in the bassline department to this track, I never got to hear it so can’t confirm this for sure but it would make sense as same time period. No video this time but the lyrics are as follows.
Your presence fills
all spaces around me
its invisible, invisible, invisible.
‘Letters From Puskin’ contains vocal samples from guess where, Mirror. This track didn’t last long on the player and has never reappeared and like the former track it doesn’t have a video. I remember not liking it very much at the time, I can’t really decipher any of the lyrics for you either. Its a total mess to be honest, with choppy drums and a very poor structure. I have a feeling its timing may have even been screwed up when they uploaded it. Or maybe this is how it should sound and if so it is not good. There is a scene in Mirror concerning letters from Pushkin, who was another Russian writer and poet, he died in 1837.
‘In The Middle’ is the latest track to be made available but it is not on their player only on their YouTube channel. It sounds extremely like a Mueller production so maybe Lukas only sings? It is a great track with some of his signature snare and bassline sounds on display. Some nice reverb on the atmospherics as well.
The optional and the exclusive
I shove it all out the doors
Out the windows it will flow
Over creaks that sing in a foreign tongue
Over trees that have grown so high In the middle of the night
In the middle of the earth
And do you ?
Do you say so, do you really?
Do your teeth chatter with the chilled wind
Or with the ambiguous anxiety of justice?
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the earth
She shall shove it all out the attic
Through the cellar and the stairs collapse
The sky and the desert plains are one.
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the earth
The video this time reverts to colour and is beautifully abstract. No Victoria this time, only circular shapes made out of what looks like smoke and probably isn't. I can't make out how they did this but it is very effective and they should be congratulated for it.
It's quite a collection of tracks then, with only one dud which may have been quickly recognised as such. I would expect most of these to appear on the album, there worth it, but you never know, I am looking forward to the new ones even more. As for the meaning behind the group it
is still what you want to make of it. Zerkalo is Russian for mirror. Right from their first video and their MySpace site they have referenced the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and most specifically his 1975 film Zerkalo, released as Mirror outside of Russia. They have a link to a YouTube video of him on their site where he is asked to answer the question, what is art? I think his answer is obviously important to them so I have transcribed it into English from the subtitles. They have the French translation up. I'm not saying its the Rosetta stone that unlocks the meaning of Zerkalo either but I found it tied things together for me. I have the link for video at base as usual. He says, “Before defining art or any concept we must ask a far broader question: What's the meaning of man's life on earth? Maybe we are here to enhance ourselves spiritually? If our life tends to this spiritual enrichment then art is a means to get there. This of course is in accordance with my own definition of life. Art should help man in this process. Some say art helps man to know the world like any other intellectual activity. I don't believe this possibility of knowing. I am almost an agnostic. Knowledge distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know the less we know; getting deeper our horizon
becomes narrower. Art enriches man's own spiritual capabilities and he can then rise above himself, to use what we call free will." This might explain an earlier title footer, the insistent “Life, Life.” Wikipedia says this about the film itself, “...a highly autobiographical film drawing on his childhood experience and incorporating some of his father's poems. Tarkovsky had worked on the screenplay for this film since 1967, under the consecutive titles Confession, White day and A white, white day. From the beginning the film was not well received by Soviet authorities due to its content and its perceived elitist nature.” I have a copy of this myself and am a bit of a fan, but have only seen about five of his films so far, but have still managed to pick up a fair bit of info on him over the years. Because Mirror is autobiographical of his life I always took the title to simply mean that it was him looking at himself. Albeit a subjective view. Now maybe Victoria is looking at herself with this project? But before we go too far down that road consider this.
I don’t believe Victoria Lukas is her real name, it doesn't sound very French anyway. But it was the pen name used by Sylvia Plath, she spelt it Lucas though, when she first published her also autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar in 1963. This also weirdly happens to be a book I know well and would recommend to anyone who doesn’t feel they fit in. Links for more information on Sylvia Plath at base of article. I must say that I may have stopped doing DRL a long time ago if it wasn't for the chance to write about unexpected subjects like this, Anne Akhmatova and Tarkovsky. Not to mention all the good karma that has come my way since I started! But if it had remained all physics even I might have lost interest by now. I guess this broadening of appeal could be added as one of the many reasons for Mueller starting the MySpace projects as well. Anyway, they have also reprinted one of Plath’s poems in a section of their MySpace. The poem is unsurprisingly entitled Mirror, it reads.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
The quote I used from Tarkovsky at the start of this article makes so much sense in relation to the writing of Sylvia Plath, "An artist never works under ideal conditions...the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn't look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world." The world was certainly ill-designed for Sylvia Plath to function happily in and she eventually committed suicide. But great work came from her sufferings which can actually help to ease the same pain of others.
Lukas obviously identifies with her to some degree. So maybe even from this angle it still means that Victoria is essentially looking at herself with this project but as you‘ll soon see there are two subtly different ways of looking at yourself. Her interests and passions are certainly on display. She obviously has a deep interest in Russian culture and mentioned in one of her rare posts in the blog section of the site that she is trying to or would like
to speak Russian fluently. But I think this is just surface stuff to point us in the right interpretive direction and to give the project an aesthetic feel. If all that Mirror and Sylvia Plath stuff etc was meant to be about her looking at herself it would be very selective on her part. But going deeper than that I feel she is very much using us as her mirror. We are looking at her, from every unflattering angle, even unclothed in the video’s and in the many pictures you find of her in their pics section where you'll even find one key image of her looking at herself in a mirror. There is even one silent video of her on the MySpace just looking at the camera which is the most obviously mirror like, you feel uncomfortable watching her in it. It's interesting to note that the previous MySpace projects to this were not remotely like this. It’s like she is going out of her way to give us as much visual information as possible about herself. I think this aspect of Zerkalo is closer to the Plath interpretation, mirror as truth, than Tarkovsky's mirror as subjective truth. Which makes it all more like an art project than a music one but nothing is ever really one thing and these projects are certainly multi-layered. Perhaps the subjective truth part comes in the song titles and lyrics, if you can piece anything personal or cohesive into it that is. Maybe there was a time she really was feverishly sick and she decided to change her identity and country for instance.
Going back to the Tarkovsky quote when asked what is art?, he asked the question, “What's the
meaning of man's life on earth? Maybe we are here to enhance ourselves spiritually? If our life tends to this spiritual enrichment then art is a means to get there. This of course is in accordance with my own definition of life. Art should help man in this process...Art enriches man's own spiritual capabilities and he can then rise above himself, to use what we call free will." Is there any evidence of something in Zerkalo that might help spiritual enrichment? I suppose we may be being asked to follow Victoria’s example and look at ourselves. That might not sound like much but it is one of the first and most important steps to take and if we really did do that in as objective a way as possible then that really would be a very big thing. It would be a positively life changing thing, a very hard thing as well but then nothing worthwhile comes without some effort on our part. Well, this is what I found and like everything, it depends on how deep you want to go. You will find meaning in everything if you look hard enough and it is there but maybe just for you.
The MySpace projects also really show how far we have come with technology and the internet. We are now only limited by imagination and as long as we have a means to produce art of any kind and can document it digitally we can present it potentially to the world. That is what Victoria Lukas is doing in not one but three projects, Inkamera and Weltgeist are the others, and if you want to investigate her further you will find a whole ready made world of bands, artists and characters all doing likewise. Heinrich Mueller, Victoria’s group and the people involved in Black Replica, Zwischenwelt and Daughter Produkt are already succeeding on their own terms and getting on with being creative artists.
Zerkalo have played live in New York in 2007 and in France and Belgium in Feb and March 2008. From what I can make out Victoria appears live with her laptop, microphone and
projections. She will be touring Europe again in April and May 2009. There was a piece written on then in the French magazine, Mouvement, when Victoria cited the influence of the musicians, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Robert Wyatt and poets and writers, Anne Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Jean Genet, Virginia Woolf and the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. I just watched the new Joy Division documentary and it made the point that their Closer album introduced their fans to a whole other world by using titles of books by J G Ballard and Franz Kafka for song titles for example. The same could very well be said here, maybe not for everyone but for some teenager this will be the first time they heard of
many of these artists and that could also be a life changing event for them. Again the other MySpace projects didn't take this approach and neither does Mueller outside of referencing institutions like Cern or Desy. Zerkalo, amongst other things, appear to be trying to turn people onto a whole new world and that is commendable. They certainly have their fans, you only have to glance at their comments to see this, so who knows what impact their ready referencing is having and will have? But remember also to look in the truthful mirror, do you like what you see?
My next stop will be the Der Zyklus 12" 'Cherenkov Radiation'.
Zerkalo live in New York 2007http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKLSIA2Tmkghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXr0rXaDuUY
The site they recommend for more on Tarkovsky is here
Also, if you do a search in Google video for it the full length version of Mirror should show up.