For Richie Culver and Pavel Milyakov to call their first collaborative project A Change of Nothing is a gesture both wryly paradoxical and unflinchingly diagnostic.
The EP marks in sound and spoken word a soul-searching response to periods of extreme transition, an intricate and melancholy reflection on just how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. In Culver’s case this preoccupation is something that has long been a source of inspiration for the artist. In his infamous visual works his autobiographical vignettes of outsider observations and junkie proverbs are scrawled and sprayed across canvas, fleeting and fraught glimpses of a difficult past.
The hard fought journey from battling drug abuse, alcoholism and homelessness to family life, sobriety and making art for a living has always been the backbone of Culver’s work and the same applies to his recent excursions into music. “Like my paintings, some of which take 10 seconds, 20 seconds, it’s taken 40 years of experience to be able to do these things. I wanted to bring that concept into making music,” he explains. “I feel like I’ve got a language that’s coming together.”
The same visceral immediacy of his paintings crackles through DID U CUM YET / I’M NOT GONNA CUMhis debut collaborative project with kindred spirit Blackhaine, as well as in Post Traumatic Fantasy, a singular assemblage of modulated speech and spirallic DIY electronics for Superpang. A Change of Nothing introduces a new perspective with Milyakov, also known for his work as Buttechno. “Pavel is someone that I’ve been watching and listening to for years,” explains Culver. “I wanted to keep the project in that pocket, it was a natural progression for my sound.”
Starting life as a series of sketches, Culver reached out to Milyakov with the project, and it was the music’s continuity with Culver’s visual art that resonated with the producer. “When I pick artists to collaborate with it’s always about experiencing the same feeling but with different approaches,” says Milyakov. “When he sent me the audio recordings, they reflected the same attitude. You can hear the same kind of phrases, it’s the same language that he uses in his paintings.”
Running Culver’s initial recordings through a series of bespoke and borrowed Max/MSP patches, Milyakov crafts a dense and evocative soundstage for Culver’s blood letting, rendering decades of pent up anxiety, paranoia and depression in tense oscillation and restless granular pulse.
For Milyakov, too, A Change of Nothing arrives at a time of severe disruption and abrupt transition. Forced in the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to abandon his home and studio in Moscow to relocate with his Ukrainian wife, Milyakov spent the following months traveling through Europe. “A lot of crises have happened in my eyes,” he explains. “I saw the tanks that hit the White House in Moscow when I was a kid. I lived through the nineties, which was the darkest period. I had always wanted to leave Russia, but the start of the war made my stay there completely impossible. I condemn the Russian war against Ukraine and I stand against the Russian regime and its imperialistic colonial ambitions towards Ukraine and other neighboring countries.”
Describing his experience living in Russia as “dark and gloomy from the start,” Milyakov channels trauma past and present into A Change of Nothing, a weary lament and defiant transmission in the face of continued adversity. Orchestral swells of noise and cavernous reverb situate Culver’s doom-laden intonation, cold pockets of ambience and void drones, like a horror OST sounding deep within a sea cave, the occasional clank of processed percussion echoing off damp stone.
This eeriness is occasionally dispersed with moments of illumination; a short burst of aquatic surf guitar warble, a low ebb of industrial whir broken by a sequence of crystalline synth smashes, iron lung bass throbs pierced by granulated high-end, chains dragged over concrete, each presenting a fleeting flash of something resembling hope amidst darkness. Swinging from desolate resignation to a narcotic detachment disguising crippling uncertainty, Culver draws from a deep well of pain without romanticising the process, communicating rawness without wrath, struggle without shame.
Devastating snapshots of oil rigs in the bleak North sea, the unchanged bedroom of a dead son and hitting rock bottom yet continuing to dig ring out across this uncertain sonic terrain. Yet, while never shying away from dwelling in utter despair, both artists allow themselves to excavate an escape, to make space for forward progression. Culver promises a change of season and a change of clothes, demonstrating a dogged will to survive. Milyakov builds to cathartic washes of powdered glass noise and transcendent cacophony, finding release through amplification.
Both paradox and diagnosis, A Change of Nothing reveals how far both artists have come while remaining able, at least in part, to stay the same.
A Change of Nothing will be released on July 29th, 2022 by Participant, on limited edition chrome cassette tape, and digital download via the Participant Bandcamp. The release will be accompanied by a film directed by multimedia artist Max Kreis.
All proceeds from A Change of Nothing will be donated to Livyj Bereh, a volunteer group from Kyiv working across multiple regions in Ukraine to supply food to those displaced and to repair buildings destroyed by Russian bombardment.
Text by: Henry Bruce Jones
Participant is a record label and creative studio run by filmmaker William Markarian-Martin and conceptual artist Richie Culver
Artist: Richie Culver & Pavel Milyakov
Release: A Change of Nothing
Format: Limited edition chrome cassette tape, Digital
Release date: 29th July