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Personal notes of a frustrated record producer

(Excerpts of an article from the booklet of DOCUMENT CD LR 801/808 - 9 1/2 hours of uncompromising new/jazz music.)

The idea of the DOCUMENT came about in 1987 when I suddenly discovered that my shelves were bending under the weight of tapes from USSR I would never be able to release as seperate records. By that time it was obvious to me that the Russion new jazz scene was much bigger that I had thought when I started producing records at the beginning of the 1980s. It was also clear to me that the Russion jazz scene was grossly misrepresented. in my catalogue. Although I had about 50 albums in the LEO RECORDS catalogue they presented a very unbalanced picture of the Soviet new music with the majority of the releases taken up by the Ganelin Trio. Sergey Kuryokhin, Vladimir Chekasin, Anatoly Vapirov. One could gain an entirely false impression that apart from these artists there was nobdoy else worth documenting. That was not true, of course. There were many artists who played fantastic, orginal music and deserved records. The trouble is that one cannot release these records without any subsidies or sponsorship. I could cope with the losses incurred by the releases of "big names" of Soviet scene, but to release an album by Orkestrion, TRI-O, Vladislav Makarov, Guyvoronsky/Volkov-Duo, Arkhangelsk or even Petras Vysniauskas would ne committing fincancial suicide. This is the only reason why the music of Valentina Goncharova and Petras Vysniauskas

However, the Soviet new music scene is so big and original that even the DOCUMENT can't improve the situation. In spite of the fact that the length of the DOCUMENT is 9.5 hours there was no space left for such outstanding artists as Misha Alperin, The Eugene Gevorgian Quartet, Asphalt from Moscow, musicians from Siberia and the Far East. So the DOCUMENT should not be considered the ultimate compilation which adequately reflects the state of new music in the Soviet Union. The music of the DOCUMENT is only a part of what's been going on in the USSR, and at best it should give some idea of the depth and breath of the Soviet music scene.

The DOCUMENT itself has no chronologal order, nor has it a meticulously worked out structure. Only the last CD devoted to the Ganelin Trio is there on purpose, to round up the whole decade, to emphasise once again that it was the Trio which gave momentum to the whole scene in the mid-70s. And maybe Dearly Departed opens the DOCUMENT to give listeners the shock of something totally new and unexpected. As far as the rest is concerned, I have been guided by intuition. That applies to everything in the DOCUMENT: to the selection of pieces, to the time allocated to each artist or group, to the order of pieces on each CD, and the order of CDs as well.

I profoundly regret that certain pieces of music had to be left out for different reasons. For example, a call-and-response duo of Vladimir Chekasin and Petras Vysniauskas supported by the quintet, or Valentina Ponomareva singing C-JAM BLUES, had to be left out for purely stylistic reasons - they would be alien to the overall content of the DOCUMENT. However I'd like to hope that in spite of these shortcomings the DOCUMENT provides an insight into the scene during the 1980s.

In a way the DOCUMENT is not only a summing up of a decade of new music in the USSR. It is also a summing up of LEO RECORDS' activity during these ten years. The advances of Soviet new music were tremendous in spite of the obstacles created by the totalitarian system, lack of facilities for musicians, lack of instruments and equipment, poor living conditions. Gone are the days when the Ganelin Trio went on tour abroad accompanied by a KGB agent. Gone are the days when LEO RECORDS was accused of illegally producing its albums. The tables are turned. At the time of writing the Soviet people are questioning the legality of the whole system.

The release of the first LEO RECORDS album by the Ganelin Trio was a bold challenge to VAAP (All Union Copyright Agency) which in treated Soviet artists as slaves. VAAP and GOSCONCERTS were the all-powerful organisations which decided the artist's fate: who will perform abroad and how many times, who will release records, who will get the benefits of the system. An artist had no say in such matters and was treated as a commodity. Unfortunately, there were organisations in the West, like MCPS in England (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society), which took it upon themselves to defend the interests of VAAP, and by doing so to lend a hand in supressing human rights in the USSR. What a disgrace!

If I want to produce a record by Cecil Taylor or Sakis Papadimitriou I don't have to ask the permission of the American or Greek government. And I sort out my financial arrangement with the artists, and not with the official bodies in those countries. Why, then, should I ask permission of VAAP to produce a record by a Soviet artist? Why should I pay money to VAAP knowing that the artist will get nothing? I would like to settle fincancially with the artist and not with VAAP. It seems that both VAAP and GOSCONCERTS are on the run. VAAP has admitted already that it represents only those artists who want to be represented by VAAP. However, there are still many organisations in the West who continue to deak with GOSCONCERT, VAAP, GOSTELERADIO or MEZHKNIGA and not with the artists; by doing so they support the systen which is falling apart, and restrict the freedom of the artists and achievements of those who fought for freedom of artists in the Soviet Union.

As I am writing these notes one thought is going through my head: where to get the money for the production of the DOCUMENT. I have just got a letter from my biggest distributor, New Music Distribution Services, saying that NMDS cannot make the payment which was promised earlier till they found a sponsor. This payment was supposed to cover their outstanding invoices for two years. Isn't it ironic that the organisation which was formed to help independent labels like mine has in reality become the main stumbling block in releasing music which has been played by the underpriveleged in a totalitarian country?

My financial situation has always been hopeless, but now it is worse than ever before. Yet we can't go back on our word and stop the production of DOCUMENT. There are people who have already send their subscriptions. They have faith in LEO RECORDS. Can we possibly let them down?

Where are all those people who distribute subsidies? Where are those people who sponsor all sorts of events - competition, trips, walks, football matches, tennis tournaments, concerts, festivals, etc? I have never met this people. We live in a wonderful country which does not want to hear about new music, let alone Soviet new music. Fifty-five million brains eroded by the Beatles. Everytime time I release albums by Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor or Carlos Ward British critiques jump at the opportunity of reviewing them in national newspapers. To review ECM releases is a must fir them My Soviet records however, very seldom get reviews in the national press. The name of the artist seems to be more important to the critics than the music. British DJ's don't give much airplay to Russian records, the promoters are not interested in bringing thbe protagonists of new music from the USSR. It is obvious now that the Ganelin Trio's tour of Great Britain in 1984 was a happy accident rather than a reflection of interest in Soviet new music in this country. My Swiss distributor outsells three British distributors in spite of the fact that the population of Switzerland is almost 10 times smaller. The British jazz media is still embarrassed to hear about Soviet new music. It prefers to pretend that LEO RECORDS does not exist. Their attitude can be illustrated by the fact that WIRE magazine did not even send a reviewer to the ZURICH FESTIVAL of SOVIET AVANT-GARDE JAZZ, although the organizer of the festival Susanna Tanner generally offered to pay a return flight. When offered to stage a festival of Soviet new music in London the head of the Institute of Contemporary Art failed to turn up twice for the appointment in his office. Among these people tolerance borders on ignorance and very often it is impossible to say which is which. When it became known that London will get a 24-hour jazz radio station I wrote to the music director, whose personal efforts were instrumental in creating the radio station. In my letter I offered him any help he might need in the field of new music from East European countries. His reply was quick, precise and shocking: "I would be very pleased to receive all your company's recordings and we will air them all. That I promise. However, there is one condition: they must be good jazz records both in performance and recording standards. The nationality of the origination of the recording is only of secondary interest to me".

So now I know that the nationality of the origination of the recordings is only of secondary interest.... Explaining the priorities of his radio station to the INDEPENDENT and WIRE magazin, the same music director underlined that his priority is to find out what his audience want to hear, and then to allocate the different types of jazz corresponding time on air, in accordance with the wishes or demands of his audience. He was not speaking of the high artistic quality of the music he was going to broadcast, he was not speaking of high uncompromising standards or of educating his audience He wanted to find out where the taste of his audience was in order to please it.

This is to me the best example of conformity. This is what breeds stereotypes and consumerism, and this is how mediocrity sets in. To look the same way, to wear the same clothes, to listen to the same music, to read the same books, to belong to the same group of people who belong to the same group of people. To be scared not to belong. To conform.

All that has been written above should not be taken as grumbling. It is just a statement of facts. I am convinced that such an attitude to a new music is quite normal. It seems quite natural to me that in a consumer society musicians pay a very heavy price for developing uncompromising music. After all, he comes on the stage to create and not to entertain and it is is exactly for this reason he should not expect a great deal of money for the unique opportunity to elevate his spirit above the audience and touch the mystery. In the flight of creation such musician becomes a mediator between the CREATOR and the ordinary people.

Those who come on stage evening after evening to entertain, on the contrary, have every right to expect a payment for their job. The size of payment is naturally established by market forces. It is no secret that Winton Marsalis or Herbie Hancock make more money than Cecil Taylor or Slava Ganelin (I mention those names only as an example). Although it can be seen as a personal tragedy for Cecil Taylor or Slava Ganelin, this is probably how it should be in a consumer society. It is very unfair because in an ideal society people who create should be remunerated much more than those who conform. Yet it seems logical that in a consumer society a creative artist should sacrifice his financial security for a reward which can be enjoyed only in historical perspective. I am convinced that the names of Winton Marsalis or Herbie Hancock will be quickly forgotten as soon as they stop playing. Their places will be taken up by new entertainers, while the names Cecil Taylor or Slava Ganelin will live in many generations for these artists are unique, and nobody can take their places. Tons of vinyl release by giant record companies will be turned into rubbish, while a few tapes released by small independent companies will shine like beacons.

The moments of highest creativity are very costly for a musician and very often the more radical the music the greater the obscurity of the musician. It is only much later, that the programmer catches up with the time and begin to reward the musician. To quote John Cage: "When we separate music from life what we get is art (a compendium of masterpieces). With contemporary music, when it is actually contemporary, we have no time to make that separation (which protect us from living) and so contemporary music is not so much art as it is life...." It seems natural, too, that a record producer who dares to document creative performances should share the fate of a musician. There must be some unanimity between the artist who has to survive in order to play his original music and a producer who brings his music out on a shoestring budget.

The work of art, or something significant, is more likely to be created in exactly such circumstances. It would be ridiculous to expect CBS, Warner Bros, or other giant record company to start producing uncompromising music. Their only objective is to make profit. In the past they occasionally recorded such artists but my understanding is that it was done by mistake rather than realisation that they were creating an innovative piece of music which will stand the test of time.

It is equally ridiculous to expect sponsors in Great Britain to donate money to the music of minority. New music is very elitist, and its audience is the smallest. Every British sponsor expects some returns for his money, at least in the form of publicity which new music can not provide.

...

So, it seems that the only way forward for a creative artist and his producer in a consumer society is to accept this natural order of things and to continue their search hoping that sooner or later the public at large will catch up with the time and appreciate their efforts.

Everything in this DOCUMENT is anti-consumer. The music you are hoing to hear was not recorded in 24- or 48-track luxurious studios with air-conditioning, and the musicians did not have all the time in the world to do it. You won't hear "the most beautiful sound next to silence". You will hear music that is full of guts, vitally and kind of different energy which you cannot trace in Western or American music.

This music was produced in appalling conditions on outdated equipment. The tapes were smuggled out of the USSR, the whole think was produced on a shoestring budget, against all the odds.

It is not for conformists. It is not for mass consumption. It is for 1000 people who matter most for the future of music, people with advanced and sophisticated taste who appreciate originality. These people are the musical elite, the Aquarian conspirators.

Welcome to the club!

Leo Feigin
September, 1989


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