At one point in this interview, I ask Israeli composer Igor Krutogolov – who founded KIP back in 2002 – whether he is drawn to the manipulation of tension and the postponement of release. The question arose as I switched from the first side of Hymns to the second, in which a frenzy of bass, drums and clarinet collapses into an extended church organ drone. Whenever I listen to this moment, my ears are still ringing with dissonance and viscera as I transit into the bliss. I don’t trust the stasis. The drone, seemingly still and serene, feels like a volatile force. Dormancy is merely the prolonged inhalation that powers the inevitable scream. To my surprise, Igor replied by saying that music is not a manipulative force; that it’s a pure energy that we can either accept or decline, present and whole in the mind of the listener.
While it’s not a perspective with which I necessarily agree, it’s not a surprising viewpoint for a band whose music emanates conviction and emotional transparency. There is no deception here. Hymns marks a dramatic reinvention of the band formerly known as Kruzenshtern i Parohod: a sudden switch from jubilance and rhythmic hoopla to darkness and phenomenal density. Below, Igor and I discuss the band’s drastic transformation, from revamping the role of the clarinet to reinventing the trio’s live performance demeanour.
You changed your band name for this upcoming record, as a reflection of the radical transformation that has taken place with this new material. What caused this shift in sound, and why did you decide to divorce this album – in name, at least – from your previous music?
Yes, that’s correct. That was made for the new album, but I haven’t changed the name of the band – I just reduced it (roughly speaking, it’s only the abbreviation of the former name). It was done precisely because I didn’t want to change the name of the band. That just wouldn’t be right. After so many years of activity, changing the name…it would be easier to just come up with a new project and name it differently.
Obviously, the sound and form have changed. I’ve been wanting to change the sound of the band for a long time; the sound of the clarinet, to be precise. Today, everything evolves around the sound bit. In the past, someone could take a wooden stick, put a string on it and sound like the universe. Today that is practically impossible. We have surrounded ourselves with a huge amount of effects and acoustic systems, but this is the reality of what’s happening. I’d really like to “stop” time with the help of music. I hope that someday that would happen.
Does this shift coincide with a change in listening tastes? I see you make reference to Aaron Turner’s band SUMAC on the KIP bandcamp, while I definitely hear traces of ZU at some points of the album. Are there any particular bands that you’d consider to be influential or inspirational forces in your transformation?
That is not quite correct. Our musical taste and its change throughout time didn’t effect the final result. The album turned out the way it was supposed to be. I refer to those names and bands, just to “attract” the attention of the same audience that listen to this kind of music. I believe that our music would appeal to them.
It would be false to say that i wasn’t influenced by bands like Zu or Sumac, but if we remember the last albums by those bands, then I didn’t like Zu’s last one at all but I loved Sumac’s What One Becomes. In my opinion, Aaron Turner is one of the brightest representatives of the post metal scene. On the other hand, KIP’s Hymns was written long before the releases of the two previously mentioned albums. I don’t think that I’m able to say which bands or what kind of music I had listened to while writing the album. I listened to all sorts of music, mainly Henry Purcell. Its difficult to put my finger on it right now.
The clarinet is an interesting presence within this heavier sound. Sometimes it adopts a soft, sedative role running against the harsher textures; at other points it rises above the bass guitar in these feral squeals of tone. How easy do you find the process of incorporating woodwind into these pieces, and are you drawn to the tension between softer timbres and the more typically visceral instrumentation?
The process of changing the sound, or the introduction of new sound of the clarinet, wasn’t easy. In fact, here we collide it with two bass instruments, which by itself isn’t easy. The low sound of the clarinet, in some occasions, pulls the sound of the bass guitar. That also was done on purpose. Here, there was a sort of substitution of the standard perception of the instrument. We are used to the sound of a clarinet as soft and the bass as low. In our album we aimed for the opposite. We wanted to create a feeling of a wholeness of the organism. We worked a lot on the sound. At the beginning, I really didn’t understand how to make it sound or tune it and that was one of the hard moments. Mainly it wasn’t clear how to create a feeling of a tender clarinet in some moments, that comes through a powerful wall of sound, but I think we managed it. We have a lot more work to do and that’s what makes it interesting.
Actually, I work with wonderful people and great musicians. Ruslan [Gross, clarinet] always understands the whole task and has a feel for the music. Guy [Schechter, drums] is a great drummer who can always find the right sound. Also I must refer to James Plotkin who did the mastering for the album. I truly believe that he has done an amazing job. Very precise! It was the first time in the band’s history that we didn’t want to change or redo anything.
The passages of drone within the music feel somewhat anxious and expectant; I spent the opening period of the record’s second half waiting for the distortion to drop back in and sweep the quiet away. Do you find yourself drawn to the manipulation of tension and the postponement of release?
There is no manipulation here whatsoever. In my opinion, music lacks the manipulation substance. In art yes, in film as well, but not in music. Music is pure energy. One can accept it and one can decline. I remember after listening to one of Giya Kancheli’s symphonies, my speakers burned because the range of the dynamics was so wide, that after a very quiet, almost silent sound, came a burst, a thunder of a symphonic orchestra. Is this manipulation? I don’t think so. But even if it is present, then only if it says on the record as a warning about what might happen. Music lacks manipulation – it presents in people’s minds.
The three of your have been playing together for 14 years now. Have you noticed any particular evolutions in the way you all collaborate and interact? Has your new sound brought with it any overhauls in your creative process?
Yeah. The band exists for 14 years already. First of all, I want to believe that we are playing better and feel each other even more. Within the band, no serious changes were made, besides that playing together became even more interesting. Now, playing together brings us more joy. In fact, the most significant change in the band is that if in the past we gave much attention to the technical side, the dynamics, then now we address our attention to sound.
I imagine this new sound generates a very different energy in the room during live performances. How have you found the experience of playing this new material live?
At our first concert, I remember that more then a few of our former fans understood for less than five minutes. Then they’d better run before they get blown away by the sound. Those are completely new feelings. Actually, as a band, we feel more open than before. The recent shows are radically different to the older ones. If in the past I felt that I needed to put a sort of a mask on and hide behind it, nowadays it’s the complete opposite.
Previously, KIP’s shows resembled a circus arena. I used to make funny faces and jump around, as if I was trying to influence the dynamics of the audience. Obviously a lot of musicians’ bands do the same. They headbang, jumping around with the rhythm or chasing it. After playing our first major rehearsal for this album I realised that I didn’t want to headbang anymore. Now we stand on stage in the form of a circle. Ruslan and I stand with our backs to the audience and Guy faces the crowd. It’s funny, because here, I can without a doubt say that it’s the new sound that directly influenced my choice for this kind of stage dynamic.
My personal feeling is that time stops on stage and the energy lifts your consciousness and dives in to a huge rock and then throws it from a cliff. For me it’s a total dive in to the unknown.
What music are you listening at the moment?
I always listen to all kinds of genres. I’m really into classical music. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Baroque music and Carlo Gesualdo.
What’s on the horizon for KIP?
Well that’s a very difficult question for me. I genuinely don’t know about the future of the band. What I do know is that we are trying to get out a vinyl issue by ourselves, and that all the record labels I have turned to are not interested in our current material (probably they have their own reasons for that). I do know that it’s difficult to organise shows, because almost no one answers letters. Most importantly, I do know that we will continue working.