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AGF - Dissidentova Music Album Reviews

The German experimental musician Antye Greie pays tribute to 16 Russian dissidents, putting cut-up vocals, electronic sound, and collective practice in the service of feminist revolution.

A great cloud of rough-hewn glossolalia is torn into glitches before drifting into an unsettled calm. “Fire my heart with song,” intones a woman’s voice, launching Dissidentova, the latest album from experimental electronic musician Antye Greie, “and hear one who like you to the fairer sex belongs.”

The author of these words is Princess Ekaterina Urusova, the 18th-century Russian poet; the speaker is Katia Reshetnikova, a sound artist in 21st-century Moscow, who casts her voice across a field of birdsong and insect chatter recorded in the remote Russian village of her grandmother. It’s a place that the critic Dasha Birukova, the author of Dissidentova’s essential liner notes, describes as being virtually unchanged since Ekaterina’s time. In her poem, the princess invokes her muses; in her recording, Reshetnikova invokes both princess and grandmother; in her notes, Birukova explicates Greie’s role in bringing the three women together, across media and millennia.

Over the course of the next hour or so, Greie finds fuel in the work of many more women, living and dead, fair and brutal. They speak in voices shadowed by reverb, or stutter in digital cut-ups, or drawl over unctuous electro. Sometimes, like a time-travelling Alan Lomax, Greie presents the recordings as documentation of what’s disappearing; sometimes she filters and phases them into charismatic sirens. She’s rarely precious about the sources, but—in a time when anyone with a Voice Memo app can be a field recordist, and anyone on Facebook a curator—Greie stands apart as an artist who is unusually respectful, centering in her maelstroms the meaning of what’s being said, and who’s saying it, and why.

Born in East Germany and now based in Finland but seemingly most at home online, Greie got her start in the minimal-techno scene of the early 1990s. Her records in the group Laub and as AGF proved to the clicks’n’cuts boys’ club that a woman’s voice could do more than just sing the hook: It was raw material every bit as captivating as skipping CDs, plastic-surgery samples, tone-arm manipulations, or generative synthesis. Her work innovated in vocal processing and charmed with a mysterious, glowing warmth. But soon Greie radicalized in both form and content, abandoning traditional songwriting and turning to notions of how to organize noise—and other people. In 2014, she released the epochal “Nerdgirls” mix, an invigorating hour of more than 50 female electronic producers, and helped start the female:pressure network of female, transgender, and non-binary electronic and digital artists.

Meanwhile, she instituted a series of albums utilizing not just voice but language itself, fitting ancient and contemporary Japanese, Finnish, and German texts into frames of sculpted sound. In February 2017, Greie performed at a festival in Moscow and, like Ekarterina, found her heart fired up by Russian songs. Many prominent artists, Greie says, were resistant to participating in the project, given their “problematic political connections.” But Greie is nothing if not persistent, as demonstrated by Dissidentova’s 16 tributes to Russian women, including a radio broadcaster during the siege of Leningrad, a journalist murdered for her investigations into military operations in Chechnya, and Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

It sounds heady, and it is, although in both sound and mood Dissidentova album is no more difficult than records by fellow travelers like Coil, Laurie Anderson, Moor Mother, Holly Herndon, or even Zola Jesus (though none of them ever could have gotten as much mileage as Greie does out of the excruciating croaking of an old Russian oven door). “Marina Tsvetaeva 1892-1941” ft. Gbaidulina offers rumbles of barely submerged rage while Greie spits out a poem by the titular Silver Age poet Tsvetaeva. The track ferociously (and, depressingly, in timely fashion) ends: “To your mad world, there is one answer. One. One answer: To refuse. To refuse. I refuse.” It’s perhaps just a remix short (how about one by Octo Octa?) of an anthem. So is the riot of “Emma Goldman 1869-1940” ft. AGF, in which a multiplicity of Greies conjures up the famed anarchist with a gleeful, “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution!” Which is just to say that this is an album of inspirations, not references—sparks, not embers; audio bombs, not audiobooks.

“Anna Gorenko (Carp) 1972-1999” ft. Olga Nosova is a full-on clarion assault. “Let us go down to the void!” wrote the young poet Gorenko, a firebrand along the lines of Kathy Acker and Kathleen Hanna, while the percussionist Nosova and Greie carve tunnels of space for the words within tectonic plates of screeching and groaning noise, just to prove it can be done. As a voice says at the track’s conclusion: “Wow, construction machine near Kremlin, beautiful sound!” Indeed. Dissidentova is weary, and joyful, and wary of joy, and a fine example of what resistance might sound like—revealing and reveling in the endless ugliness of the world men build, and the beauty of feminist rebellions against it.

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