Sexuality in music, or how to get lost in the electroacoustic “Maze of Pleasures” by Maxim Shalygin

Maxim Shalygin. Photo by Anna Reshetniak



— Composers often compare creativity with cooking or sex. So what associations do you have?

— I think you can find different metaphors here, it depends on the type of music. If we draw a parallel between the creative process and the sexual act, each genre must be compared with certain sexual techniques, poses, and so on. I hope someone will write such an article someday. It’s all a joke, of course, but it’s hard for me to answer. Probably, I pursue music because nothing else brings me such sophisticated pleasure.

          Maxim Shalygin in an interview, 2018

Two years later and a month ago, on September 17, Ukrainian-Dutch composer Maksym Shalyhin presented the electroacoustic album named “Maze of pleasures”, which explores the theme of love in all its aspects: from sweet contemplation of a beloved one to wild passion bordering on aggression”. Written during the last seven years five album tracks let listeners in an intimate story “From the other side beyond the mirror”, through “Sexual”, “Holy Drill” and “Seduction” to the actual “Maze of pleasures”. These compositions will be a guide to classical (but not too “righteous”) electroacoustic music for those who are waiting for the opportunity to visit the next Ultra Music Festival, and will deflower ears of those who are long married to romantic nocturnes of philharmonic halls by modern electronic. Music tracks for different tastes hooked almost every listener, and the album theme encourages wandering in the maze of sound passion as long as possible.

Anna Lee

But the path to a dream feeling or coveted pleasure is not always similar to the Belvedere labyrinth in Paris. Even most often, it is a maze to the Goblet of Fire, a maze that changes and absorbs you. The feeling of such devastation does not leave in the first track of the album named “From the Other Side Beyond the Mirror”, which is due to the mood, perhaps, even closer to the beginning of another part of the “Harry Potter” Cinematic Universe — “Order of the Phoenix”: burnt grass, single swing, loneliness. The shrill whistles, as if from the trains traffic, against which measured guitar chords appear, become the background for the singing of a high male voice in the medieval chorales style (performed, by the way, by the author).

It seems that the choice of soundtrack for a lonely night trip home is correct, as long as the musical deployment does not include scary shots. But it appears that this is not the last mistake with the track, because its arthouse video version, turned on at dead of night, makes you squeeze into the pillow no worse than “Nosferatu”.

The shots hint at the consequence of loneliness, but its causes can be poetized by quoting the lines of the medieval courtly “The Romance of the Rose”:

When I had rested there awhile,

The God of Love who, with guile,

Had pierced my heart, as was his aim,

Made fresh assault upon the same,

And, to my discomfort, shot a dart,

That made a new wound in my heart,

So adding its hurt to all the rest.

* Translated by A. S. Kline

In romantic symphonies (under the Soviet prism) the protagonist gets lost “among the people”, in the modern musical paradigm this function can be performed by a rave. So the second album track — “Sexual” begins with a mix of electronic styles techno, breakbeat and 8-bit music. Brutal, driving, seductive, muscular — this is how sexuality appears phonically, while compositionally, everything is according to the game rules. Quite hard musically, but still “prelude” (in Latin “ludus” means game) to the main track’s sample ends with a hypnotic spelling “sexual”. At the same time, with this “sexual” the game begins: the slow alternation of looped electronic episodes is replaced by more frequent switching of musical “plans”, reusable repetition of smaller and smaller fragments, “two … five … seven, eight”Stop “rave”. It is replaced by the “sound of bliss” (as one might imagine): mid and high frequencies, harmonic scale on harpsichord with baroque ornaments and chromatic scale on the piano, oriental duduk motifs, and echoes of the eternal “rave”, whose train does not leave even in moments of euphoria.

Maxim Shalygin. Photo by Anna Reshetniak

The endlessness of “rave”(or desire for) is confirmed by the next track — “Holy Drill” — “place of power” of rhythm in the album. Uncompromising rhythmic drilling ears, feeling of accelerating revolutions, an incessant increase of amplitude, and maddening reverberation… Such track dynamics, however, does not exclude “rest” from machine rhythmic element in organ-vibraphone sound, and duduk and sing motifs, which are reminiscent of previous tracks.

The infinity idea in the composition has more objective justifications, namely, the history of the track and its film version. “Holy drill” music had been commissioned for a dance performance for an opening ceremony of a tunnel in Rotterdam. But the religious beliefs of investors had hindered the performance, which led to the first part of the “Holy Drill» name. The second part is explained by the main musical material for the composition — the drill sound. According to Maxim Shalygin, this mechanical turning found other parallels in the futuristic film shot by the composer on his own smartphone, namely — the connection with the movement of the mill, which is a symbol of the Netherlands, where the author lives. At any stage of acquaintance with the track, watching its full film version (for example, in the recording of Gaudeamus Muziekweek 2020) will enrich the visual imagination of this music with new associations:

The second-to-last track is called “Seduction”, although a more specific definition for this music seems to be “siren song”. If “Sexual” opens the view to the integral composition of the pleasure act, “Holy drill” represents the movements to achieve it, then “Seduction” is a music concentration deep into the pre-game. Still, it would be very naive to wait for the tender caress ears with seductive music (especially in the context of the previous album tracks). Therefore, the slow rhythm of music seems to tease, challenge for tolerance, as if specially stretched in time. While phonemes include rough, “scratchy” to ears episodes, and fragments of seductive singing with oriental intonations and characteristic percussion — as the dissonant first episodes await resolution in the opium second fragments and eventually the move to the last composition of the album.

In the final track — “Maze of Pleasures” — a listener indeed has to go through a labyrinth of various audio impressions. At first, the composition throws a bridge to the story from which the album began — bright percussion sounds, like echoes of shots, now appear against the background of a worrying pulse of electronic sounds. Then there is a turn on the path of the symphonic metal band Nightwish, with a style of which can be compared because of a combination of harsh electronic sounds and a quite high vocal performed by multi vocalist (you can hear the words: “make me shake from love and lust”). The logical continuation of the path leads to the depths of rough, even hardcore rap like Rammstein or Deichkind ( “liebe mich, lieb’ ewig, nimm mein Herz, mach’s selig” — “love me, love me forever, take my heart, make it blessed”). Attempts to turn away by a quick and gentle whisper («летаю, летаю, лежу или таю» — “fly, fly, lie or melt”) only get deeply caught in the paths of aggressive chanting in German. But after some time of wandering, the musical labyrinth still leads to the finish line to the coveted — enlightened singing. But how to find a way back now?

Viktoriia Vitrenko. Photo by Oliver Roeckle

What does your path to love and passion look like? Either the Belvedere Labyrinth or the Labyrinth to the Goblet of Fire: to enjoy the wandering and return to the starting point painlessly, you should follow the rule of another labyrinth — the Minotaur Labyrinth. Only instead of the golden thread, choose “Maze of pleasures” by Maxim Shalygin as the music guide of and without any doubts move to sound ecstasy.

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