The name of this project – Earlybird – has been inspired by the opening track of Van Der Graaf Generator’s album “ALT” (the last, 2012, record of the rock-band established in 1967). ALT is an experimental piece that shows VDGG from the unknown side. This is the only strictly instrumental album of a band mainly associated with the amazing dramatic voice of Peter Hammill. In contrast to classic VDGG’s albums, which reminded of theatric plays, ALT is rather some sequel of sound landscapes – not so much of action as of potential space. This quality of the Earlybird track inspired Vladislav Shabalin to create a sound installation.
Developed in the 1960s, genres of installation and performance art have been substantially related to music. Visual art and music of that period interacted, exchanging concepts. Let’s remember the mutual influence and collaboration of artists and musicians who worked in the minimalism and post-minimalism traditions: Richard Serra, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich. Minimalist installations and music are rather about structuring space and time, than filling them. The viewers / listeners are invited to find themselves within the space created by an artist or musician. Within, but not in the center. Minimalism shifted the anthropocentric scale of space and time, suggesting the viewer / listener to reconsider their customary view about their place in the world.
Vladislav Shabalin’s installation refers to geologic time through an anthropologic shift of outlook. A fossil tree trunk at first sight seems to be a sculpture, a hand-made artwork, skillfully imitating the natural form. But this is indeed a fossil, whose age is not nearly comparable to a human life time, and even the historic span of all mankind. The birdhouses too look like fossils that miraculously outlived their creators and habitants. The birdsongs can still be heard, yet it’s just a recorded soundtrack of the same Earlybird, an opening track from ALT.
In the 1960-70s academic avant-garde and experimental rock music weren’t in the opposition. To the contrary, their search intersected at many aspects. Opuses of minimalist composers would be more likely associated with installations of artists working in the similar tradition and “land-art”. Rock music has always been closer to performance art, elevating the presence of artist, here and now. Even if dealing not with a traditional song format, but a complex composition of progressive rock, any “extraterrestrial” sound landscapes would be accompanied with a voice, proclaiming the somewhat ephemeral presence of a human sometimes totally lost in the space.
Sound landscapes of ALT don’t appear deserted and desolate, though. The album composed of many improvisations recorded during various rehearsals and sound checks, radiates with very real, lively presence of musicians, not limited by rigid frames of completed compositions. The only time a voice finally appears in this otherwise instrumental composition is when someone says “splendid” in the end.
Birdsongs turn out to be a record. But a deserted, fossilized landscape may be not abandoned – only hibernating, frozen in waiting.