I recently had the opportunity to chat with one half of the Russian duo, Korolev Zond, Mr. Leonid Ksanfomaliti. His band, Korolev Zond, is an experimental, ambient noise-art-rock outfit. Their most recent recording is a split CD they did with New Yorker Carl Pace, aka Beta Cloud and it is simply entitled Korolev Zond/Beta Cloud. It is a very clever and crafty work put together via long distance, between Russia and New York City. The irony in that fact alone is that as recently as 1985 that sort of collaboration: done with electronic communications and involving the passing back and forth of music, but, hell, during the Cold War that music could’ve just as easily been a code in itself or the music could’ve contained a hidden, encoded message…you get the idea. Anyway, so the thought of an American and a couple Russians making a CD together is not even blinked at today, but would’ve been a revolutionary thing to do, say, back in the late 1970s or in the early 1980s.
Some time ago, Leo, Vadim and Huric Sunduljian, who played the violin and whatnot until moving back to his native Latvia about a year or two ago, all emigrated to Bozeman, Montana about 10 or 12 years ago and ever since, that has been their “home base”.
Naturally, I had to ask about their moving from Eastern Russia to Bozeman, MT and what sort of change the move had had on their style - anything new? Or some kind of extraneous influences, etc. or whether they’d already cemented their sound before the relocation.
Leonid’s answer was interesting - it expressed bittersweet reminiscences: wide-open spaces and objects that he would find: old, metallic tools or scraps of metal from an old car, factory, an unknown fragment of a super secret UFO “happening”(?) plus the mundane as well: kitchen utensils, farm implements lying around, tools, et cetera: these were what you might call “found sounds” before it became fashionable.
His answer? “Up until we moved we were using mostly homemade instruments, crude crackerboxes, improvised percussives, adjustable speed fans with mallets attached. There are no recordings from that time. We mostly played in my father’s barn (the chickens hated us!) When we moved after a short time we were able to acquire more “professional instruments”: a few keyboards, a Theremin, a drum machine, et cetera.
“The harsh desolation but indescribable beauty of Montana has definitely influenced our sound. There is also a certain nostalgia about the Motherland that was not really present in the early days.
“The cultural differences and freedoms of this country have really allowed us to move into exciting new directions.
It’s a good thing these two childhood friends kept up their love for experimenting and making music as well as just playing with sounds. Soon enough Korolev Zond was born. Among their many musical influences, some include: Bastard Noise, Swans, Coil, Nurse With Wound, Dead Machines, Pink Anvil and To Live and Shave in L.A., among many others that are all listed on their MySpace page.
Just to get things straight: Korolev Zond is not the name of one guy (as I, as well as many others it seems, said Leo, thought at first), but the name would definitely be familiar to anyone who was alive and well in the Soviet Union in the 60s and 70s: Korolev was Sergei Korolev, one of the leading rocket scientists in the USSR in the early 1960s and was, along with a couple other brilliant scientists developed a rocket and the attendant systems to be able make a “round-the-moon” space trip and Zond was the name of the rocket that was eventually developed, itself a derivative of the Soyuz rocket program. That these two would pick Korolev Zond as their moniker isn’t a surprise (at least to people who know what the name refers to) since they’re both enthralled by science fiction and have deep interests in the area of strange phenomena, UFOs and the like.
Before their latest work, the split CD with Beta Cloud, Korolev Zond released Tunguska, just being their most recent release, but there interstellar groove machine goes back further than that - check out their MySpace page for a discography and more info. Anyway, Tunguska is a CD that stays on top of their interest in all things odd and eerie - anyone who’s halfway interested in UFOs and stuff like that, will be familiar with the “Tunguska Event” or “effect” - depending on what you believe about it, what you think the event itself did to make a lasting “effect” on the area, etc. The basic story is that a large-ish meteorite was, presumably, large enough to get through the atmosphere without burning up completely and the resulting meteor that smashed into a frozen, lifeless winter-covered Siberian forest in a place called “Tunguska”, leaving an odd aftermath in its wake - but there are other theories as well. Too many details to get into here, but suffice it to say that in Russia today it’s still a much-talked-about occurrence that has many theories and much conjecture as to what “actually” happened. When I asked about Tunguska, I said that they must be pretty familiar with that whole thing and surely have heard several stories and/or legends about it; I also asked if they grew up nearby Tunguska. Here’s how Leonid replied:
“We did not grow up near there, but there were always rumors passing back and forth, quietly, about it. It was much like your [America’s] ‘Roswell’ or ‘JFK assassination’; years after the fact people were still talking. Some said it was a meteor, some, a secret weapon being developed by the government; others thought ‘anti-matter’.
“It was always something I was fascinated with as a child, along with the space program. I worked on my father’s farm, feeding chickens and digging holes. All of it [the Tunguska tales] seemed like strange and wonderful dreams to me at the time-I was obsessed! I would daydream about space aliens and rockets all day. My father would say that I could fly to the stars if I worked hard enough; things were beginning to open up and everyone felt a sense that things were going to be better.
“Personally, now I like to think that the blast at Tunguska was created by our music slipping through a crack in time and space, its sonic power tearing through the atmosphere with such tremendous force that it destroyed all in its path!”
Now that is a creative way of thinking! None of this linear B.S. anymore - all is possible and, who knows, maybe there are some missing Russian punk-rockers stuck back a couple hundred years ago.
So, I also kept on with the Tunguska thing and asked if that whole “Tunguska Effect” aura affected their/his belief system(s). I asked if they’d gone out to the site to visit and if so, was it spooky? Did it have an eerily deafening silence? Were there still signs of devastation that was evident in this, the beginning of the 21st century? Well, even though it was sort of a redundant question, Leonid gracefully answered thus: “Again, I think that growing up on the stories [makes them] stick with you. We visited [Tunguska] a couple years back with family and the two of us took two weeks and went out to the site. It was a really powerful experience.
“How much of it was due to the stories from childhood and how much was reality, I’m not sure, but there is a beautifully haunting feeling in the air there, as if the whole place is charged with otherworldly energy. It sticks with you in some capacity and we have tried to convey that energy, that feeling, in our music; to what end? I am not certain but I think it is an important component.”
So, of course, the next thing I had to bring up was their general interest in Science Fiction and, for instance, who some of their favorite authors and/or books/movies are. Here’s what Leonid said: “I’ve always loved [Isaac] Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. 2001: A Space Odyssey was my favorite as a child, I read it 20 or 30 times, it was a big part of my learning to read English.  seemed more realistic to me than some writings, like the idea that this could happen in my lifetime. I’ve liked books like that, I could always feel more in touch with them.”
Then I asked about how his collaboration with Beta Cloud went: if they got along all right, was there any tension or “friction” between the two. But no, in reality Korolev Zond and Beta Cloud got on just great - here’s what Leonid said about it: “Carl was fantastic! It went really smoothly. He is also a very easygoing guy and we related to each other very quickly. It was probably the smoothest thing we ever did in terms of the speed and the ease which with things came together. We’d write back and forth and send things to each other, it was like ‘hey Carl, here’s what I worked on for the art’ and he immediately loved it. We were really on the same page. Anyone reading this interview who doesn’t know Carl’s work should get some immediately! It is wonderful and moody - just like Carl.”
and he followed that up with another comment: “It was as if we were recording together on some spiritual level even though we were 2000+ miles apart, it felt more like we were in the same room together.”
I also followed up and asked him if he’d do another project with Beta Cloud again in the future and he replied: “I would love to work with Carl again if the fates move that way. People drift forward and back and magical things happen when things are just right for them to happen. I don’t like to force things; they happen when they are meant to.”
Next up, I asked about what influences led to their contribution to the split CD, “Venera 13”, a long, blissfully groovy-noisy track, to coin a phrase. I wanted to know how much of it was pre-planned and how much was pure improvisation. Here’s how Leonid answered that one: “Some was written, we went into it with structural ideas more than anything. Most of what we do is discussed, but very little is written ahead of time. We have a connection that seems to do most of that work for us. It was brought together with concepts and then the rest flowed very naturally from there.”
After learning about their songwriting techniques, I asked a question regarding the legendary Lou Reed noise maker, Metal Machine Music -with Korolev Zond’s own metallic-noisy-edginess, I couldn’t help thinking of Metal Machine Music, so I asked straight up if they were at all influenced by this gem as well as if there were any other influences that they looked to for inspiration and I was pleasantly surprised by the response: “Metal Machine Music was a big influential album for me. I remember being blown away by it the first time I heard it, its raw power. It was probably one of the first albums to make me think in terms of texture and depth more than melody. Other than that, other influences include everything from John Cage, Xenakis, Takemitsu; they run the gamut from early avant-garde composers up through the obvious Merzbow, bastard noise masonna, noise influences. There are all sorts: even ABBA and James Brown!”
I then asked if he’d always been a creatively bent person, if he had been making music for a long time, a lifelong thing or if he had other plans and I also asked if his parents had had any influence on his life, growing up - did they want him to be a lawyer, doctor, scientist, civil servant, etc? But it sounds like Leonid was lucky to have grown up in a family with good parents who just wanted their son to do well in whatever it was he chose to pursue. Here is how he put it to me: “I have always wondered how things work; as a young child I would take things apart and my parents would yell at me! Once I started putting things back together and building little instruments to amuse myself. The idea behind sound captured me and took me to another place. While other children were singing songs I was dropping coins in cans and banging on the tractor with sticks. My father never wanted me to be a farmer, we were very poor and he always wanted a better life for my siblings and me. I think he wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer; perhaps in the future I will work towards something like that, but for now I am content to create while I still have it in me.”
My penultimate question was a softball: “What can one look forward to in the near future from Korolev Zond? What’s coming next from the inner workings of your temporal lobes?”
He replied with, “We are always working on something in some capacity, we have just started work on a new album, but we are not planning on discussing the subject matter until it is finished. Mystery makes it
more interesting; sorry - ha ha ha!”
Lastly I asked his/their opinion about the future of the distribution and marketing aspects of music, sort of getting into the biz aspects of it all, the democratization of music and books via the internet, the new and more convenient avenues of selling one’s music, the ability to compete head-to-head with major labels as long as you’ve got a product that’s good enough and has legs, word-of-mouth and internet chatter alone can take you at least a great distance in the beginning, if not longer.
Anyway, here is what Leonid had to say about all that: “There are aspects of the age of digital distribution that I really like and some that I dislike. The freedom for anyone with an idea to be able to put it out there on the web now is really exciting to me, but it is sad to me that there is no longer any desire to own a hard copy of a release, it seems that the younger generation feels entitled to the fact that they can hear or see anything anytime they want. It takes some of the magic out of the music experience that I grew up with. When I was young it was exciting when you or a friend got a new record; we’d sit around for hours listening to it over and over again, soaking up every note; that meant more to us. I think, though, that it is OK as long as people remember that just because they’re listening to it for free doesn’t mean that it has no value.”
Amen to that!
It seems that Korolev Zond is a fascinating breed of music makers. They fill the void of overdone drone-ambient anthems, in a way they hold up a prism to a sometimes overdone white light, providing a wide spectrum from which to build.
The other member of KZ is Mr. Vadim Istomin, who, when these questions were posed was not around to put his two cents’ worth in, but as tight as those two seem to be, I’m sure Leonid was confident that he spoke for Vadim as well; Leonid and Vadim go back a long way - they‘ve been best buddies since they were five years old! They used to have a third member: Huric Sunduljian played violin with KZ for a while, but alas, he’s just moved back to his beloved Latvia. So, for now it’s just the two long-time best pals, out in their newly discovered paradise: Montana, Big Sky Country. But don’t let that fool you, their music still has that stark, icy Eastern European aura to it.