Feature: Alexei Konopelko of Mutaforiya Liliy
“I wrote a few bold piano fantasies dedicated to these tragic events. Music will always rescue.”
Alexei Konopelko and the reinvention of surrealism in piano composition.
Back in January I wrote an album review for Long Live The Fiction, an album by the Ukrainian based artist, Mutaforiya Liliy (Мутафория Лили). I have since come to learn that Mutaforiya Lilly is only the moniker he works under and that it comes from an Irish fairy tale character. His birth name is actually Alexei Konopelko. Throughout the review I mainly took a cultural look at the album, but I did discussed the techniques that I THOUGHT Konopelko used. Yes thought, it turns out I was embarrassingly wrong.
Alexei Konopelko was born in Dniprodzerzhyns’k, Ukraine, but is currently living and studying at the Russian State University for the Humanitarians. Dniprodzerzhyzns’k is almost entirely sustained by heavy industry surrounding metalworking and chemical production. The city of two hundred fifty thousand has radiation and pollution levels that are abnormally high as a result of its industrial economy. Currently 23, Konopelko has been making music since he was 19 and categorizes it, quite correctly, as surrealism and horror. Long Live The Fiction is his third release of 2013, and appears to be the only one he wants you to buy. Trunk “Fleziviya Circus” is priced at a measly $200 on his bandcamp compared to the $1000 Syurgazm Dead Jellyfish. So follow his example, and mine, and pick up Long Live The Fiction for only seven bucks before the price increases a hundred fold.
Upon hearing the album two key components stuck out of Konopelko signature sound, the vast orchestral arrangements used and an interesting array of vocals. The diversity of sounds he incorporates led me to think that he was working with appropriation to achieve the desired effect. Between the guitar riffs and the EDM like beats, the only reasonable explanation I could come up with was that Konopelko was sampling other songs. In retrospect I drew this false conclusion from frustratingly hard to decipher article translations, but more importantly, my own projections on his music. I wanted it to be appropriation because that is the only thing that made sense to me at the time. Even though, I did try to save my ass at the end of the review with my ‘A Deal Breaker’ section. So I am now here to right my wrongs and amend my previous statements on this wonderful album.
The errors I made were brought to my attention by none other than Alexei Konopelko himself. He messaged us all here at Ravedeaf through our Facebook page and I proceeded to correspond with him through the messaging system and was able to roughly understand how exactly he creates his music. The trouble in understanding his techniques do not necessarily stem from their complexity but from Google Translate. I probably shouldn’t be bad mouthing it so much seeing as I would not have been able to read the messages written in Russian otherwise, but the lack of precision in the translating is detrimental to comprehension. Our fragmented and far from clear conversation ranged from his musical process all the way to the current political situation taking place in his home country.
When asked about his composition process Konopelko resounded that he “writes in the piano roll in [Fruity Loops] studio on his laptop.”* What this means is that where I thought he was sampling orchestral arrangements, he was actually manually composing and writing each part on a midi keyboard. He went on to detail using an accordion and a guitar to create parts of some of the songs. Konopelko also describe using a microphone for recording so I believe that he is the man behind all of the vocal parts of the music. To better my understanding of his musical process, Konopelko included screenshots of his work in Fruity Loops depicting the meticulous process of writing each different part under varying effects or instrument voices. The beats and other instrumentation, I am going to assume, were created by him through Fruity Loops as well. In his live performances, Konopelko has featured a drummer and guitarist leaving the possibility open that his rhythm section is not synthetic on some of the tracks. Normally a musician’s process of making the music is less of a concern to me, but it is necessary to describe Konopelko’s process due to the mistake in my original interpretation.
Alexei Konopelko Performing live
Feeling a little more stable about Konopelko’s creation process I asked him to elaborate on what inspires him to bring surrealism to the world of sound. Konopelko responded by saying “girls, most insects, surrealism [in every forms of art], and films” are all part of what inspires him. When asked the effect he wished to obtain he included “surprise and anguish.” Out of everything being distorted by crossing cultures between Konopelko and myself, his goal was still achieved. As I mentioned in the album review, the distance only amplifies the surrealistic feeling that his music creates. As far as surprise and anguish goes, again he hit it right on the head. Popular themes of many musicians, he delivers better than most though his diverse sonic selection.
The highlight in our conversation came when I asked Konopelko where he sees himself going with music. He responded that he wanted to “conquer European performances” and “fly around the world in a balloon [while] playing music.” After reading more about him, I do not believe this was a faulty translation; he has been quoted saying things of similar nature before.
Konopelko’s influences range beyond the array of everyday occurrences and collections of insects. His influences reach back to piano players and composers from the twentieth century, such Aram Khachaturian, Salavatiore Sciarrino, and Zdzislaw Beksinskogo. The American born composer Conlon Nancarrow, is one man in particular who has a strikingly similar parallel to Konopelko. Nancarrow had communist affiliations around the 1940’s forcing him to escape harassment by moving to Mexico where he was largely ignored and unknown for the majority of his career. The similarity between Konopelko and Nancarrow comes from their composition process. Nancarrow suffered from having few connections with musicians who had the ability to play his music, and ironically enough, it led to him composing music beyond human capability of playing. Nancarrow composed for the player piano increasingly complex and abstract pieces that established him in the area of avant-garde composition. In the twenty-first century Konopelko finds himself with a more modern approach of this technique. Instead of a self-playing piano, he composes with the computer and recording software. The result is the same, beautiful yet alien piano pieces that could never be performed by a single person at one time.
The main difference and advantage Konopelko has over Nancarrow is the bottomless well of sounds to choose from. By itself, the jarringly intricate piano work achieves formidable ground, but Konopelko goes even further. His aggressive use of more abrasive sounds between Trunk “Fleziviya Circus” and Long Live The Fiction make the albums feel leagues apart.
The obvious detachment between the human and the piano helps such feeling as horror and surrealism frighteningly more obtainable. What Konopelko has achieved, like Nancarrow, is the killing of the middleman. Through modern technology both men were able to go directly from their minds to sound. The imperfect, yet often desirable, human interpretation of composed pieces is gone, what is left is the raw ideas exposed exactly the way they are wanted. Insanity bleeds into Konopelko’s works far more regularly and deeper than Nancarrow. There is no formula to Konopelko’s sound. It is ever changing with an extreme lack of clear direction. Again this is where the surrealism and horror lies. Music strays from what we consider reality quite frequently, but never in quite the same way. Horror is found in the unexpected more than anything, and Konopelko does an amazing job of representing this.
Konopelko’s reinvention of this mechanical programming of the piano has made its impact on Ukraine and some of its neighbors. He has even been featured in a Russian branch of The Rolling Stone, which seems quite bizarre seeing as the American version has little to no respect or concern for avant-garde and experimental music in general. If Konopelko does succeed in integrating into the entire European music scene like he so desires, he could possibly help popularize a return of surrealistic piano to European experimental music.
During the time I was in contact with Konopelko the political situation and protests in the Ukraine came to the attention of the news in the United States. So to end our correspondence, I asked him what his thoughts were on what was going on in his home country. The Ukraine has been plagued by turmoil and unrest following the protests and fleeing of president Yanukovych. The death tolls have gone passed one hundred and include police officers, but the majority of the dead are protesters. Currently in Russia, Yanukovych refuses to accept that he is no longer president and called the protests a revolution and a coup d’etat.
Konopelko made it quite clear he “does not see a coup [d’etat]” or a revolution. Studying in Russia and originally from the Russian speaking area of the Ukraine, he became very “alarmed by the situation” when he heard of the deaths that had happened. In his opinion the situation is “sad, useless and fleeting,” it has “caught fire like a feather” and gone up in flames. Referring to the protesters as heros, Konopelko describe how “scary it is to watch and be aware… of heroes his age and even younger” that have been killed. A certain amount of respect was given to the protesters by calling them the “modern heroes of his country.”
In response to whether joining the European Union or strengthening its ties with Russia was in the best interest for the Ukraine, Konopelko said a compromise would be the best. He detailed that “the relationship with Russia is important for the Ukraine,” but that any alliance would be good. The recognized need for help is overwhelming due to the poor state of the Ukrainian economy before and definitely after everything began. Russia had been supplying the Ukraine with enormous amounts of financial aid but froze the money after Yanukovych was forced to leave the country.
“Politics are like cancer, eating away at poetry.” Being a musician, Konopelko has felt the negative impact of the protests on the world of art. When people can not even attend school or go in for work because of what is going on, it is hard for music like Konopelko’s to find its place. Music does find its way in with huge political events, but not the kind that Konopelko composes. While the music scene might not be as vivid in a public sense, the turmoil has inspired Konopelko to write. It appears that the awful events of Konopelko’s country might lead to his next release being even more dark and emotional than before. “I wrote a few bold piano fantasies dedicated to these tragic events. Music will always rescue.”
* The quotes embed are translations to the English language. What this means is that they do not necessarily represent Alexi Konopelko’s exact meanings or word choice. No misinterpretation of his quotes is intended and the best efforts were made to accurately represent what he was saying. It pains me to not be able to include more of his opinions due to the language barrier. Take these “quotes” as my personal interpretation of what he was saying (here I am again projecting).