At the Ruhrtriennale 2021, Alla Zagaykevych and Yana Shlyabanska – two composers and electronic music artists from Kyiv – were on stage in the Gebläsehalle at Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord as part of the series of MaschinenHausMusik concerts, and presented the audience with their work, Kyiv: Electroakoustyka, which was developed especially for the Ruhrtriennale. The evening was dominated by Ukrainian futurism; an art movement which created a link between the aesthetics of Western and Eastern European avant-garde, until it was it was stopped by the Stalinist regime.
As we said goodbye late in the evening on 8 September 2021, none of us had an inkling of the catastrophe that would rip through their country, their lives and the lives of every Ukrainian half a year later. We had no idea that nearby, at the Kraftzentrale at the Landschaftspark-Duisburg Nord, hundreds of Ukrainian refugees would find shelter there and that the lively, fiercely independent electronic music scene in Kyiv would be silenced in one fell swoop. At least for a moment.
We were delighted about the signs of life we received from Alla Zagaykevych and Yana Shlyabanska when they replied to our message after the war had broken out. Yana had fled Ukraine, while Alla stayed in Kyiv. We asked if they would like to stay in contact as festival artists during this time and raise their voices despite the life-threatening situation they are in; they were immediately on board and above all happy to be able to continue working, to be able to make music, and to not be forgotten as artists – by us and by other people around the world who are trying to keep in touch with them and encourage them during this time.
Alla wrote to us about the first days of the war that she and everyone around her had to first try to understand what had happened and why another country simply wants to destroy another. As a professor of composition at the National Music Academy in Kyiv, she supported her students’ creative ideas during these days, even if it was only on an intellectual level. Everyone should decide for themselves if composing in this moment feels right or not. Alla explained that »it seemed to me that it helped the students to work on their compositions and maintain a piece of ›normal life‹.«
But the situation didn’t allow all students to continue studying. »We also evacuated students«, explained Alla Zagaykevych. »As we were running an Erasmus exchange programme with the Freiburg University of Music, we were able to evacuate 18 students from the Kyiv Academy to Freiburg. In May, I also travelled there myself and taught a composition seminar. It’s very important to me to be able to travel again.«
Since the outbreak of the war, Alla Zagaykevych has also continued with her own artistic work. »I am very aware that it is too early to write music about the war, but there were a lot of musicians in Kyiv who were meeting up and wanted to perform together. We recorded one of these sessions in the studio. For me, it is essential to hold onto this feeling of performing together in time of war.«
Commissioned by the Ruhrtriennale, Alla Zagaykevych composed Le voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) and produced it together with violinist Andriy Pavlov. »I developed this music in Kyiv during the Russian military invasion of Ukraine in April/May 2022« writes Alla. The title comes from Louis-Ferdinand Celine: it’s the title of his book about the First World War, published in 1932.
About her work Yana Shlyabanska writes:
»The piece plumbum for the Ruhrtriennale is an electroacoustic work based on the contusion experience of a wounded Ukrainian soldier. I was very impressed when he talked about head injuries, illustrating them with sound. This sound fragment entered the work together with the recorded and processed sounds of vases of water, which were transformed into a dark moving texture. For me, it's like memories that play out in a head in accelerated, chaotic, and non-linear ways. It is as if we are traveling in a time train, but it moves deep and wide.
The title of the work is taken from an interview with the same soldier who says that he felt the movement of a sprawling lead ring and the smell of death.«