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Eastern Bloc Disco Playlist (Nottingham Contemporary, 16 Jan 2016)

16 Feb

Generic Sleeve (Pronit)

Last month, to celebrate the opening weekend of Monuments Should Not Be Trusted (curated by Lina Džuverović) and expand on the display of Eastern Bloc 7” records included in Behold! The Markets Shall Erase Our History! (both exhibitions remain at Nottingham Contemporary until 04 March), an Eastern Bloc Disco was staged, featuring soul, rock, psychedelia, pop, folk and more, all released by the official state record labels of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany and the USSR between the early 1960s and mid-1980s. The session also included a live set from UrBororo, Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s new venture into “skewed filing cabinet swamp blues for corporate inflight listening” – an “objectively boring” band whose songs are made from an unlikely merger between the sounds of surf, grunge and punk, and whose lyrics are borrowed from a 1970s Management Self-Help guide.

The all-vinyl playlist for the night ended up looking something like this:

Marek Grechuta: W Pochodzie Dni I Nocy (Poland, 1974)
Raimonds Pauls/Margarita Vilcāne: Līgotāji (Latvia/USSR, 1974)
Izomorf 67: Barwy Dzwieku (Poland, 1967/8)
Raimonds Pauls/Nora Bumbiere: Divpadsmit Asaras (Latvia/USSR, 1974)
Blackout: Powiedz Swoje Imie (Poland, 1967)
Grupa 220: Negdie Postoji Netko (Yugoslavia, 1968)
Vera Spinarova: Andromeda (Czechoslovakia, 1972)
Krystyna Pronko: Po Co Ci To Chlopcze (Poland, 1973)
Czeslaw Niemen & Akwarele: Baw Się W Ciuciubabkę (Poland, 1969)
Josef Laufer & Their Majesties: Útěk z Hladomorny (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Flamengo: Kure v Hodinkach (Czechoslovakia, 1972)
C&K Vocal: Generace (Czechosolovakia, 1974)
Omega: Gyöngyhajú Lány (Hungary, 1969)
Romauld & Roman: Pytanie Czy Haslo (Poland, 1970)
Drugi Nacin: Zuti List (Yugoslavia, 1975)
Piotr Figiel: Dyplomowany Galernik (Poland, 1974)
Olympic: Ikarus Blues (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Locomotiv GT: Ringasd El Magad II (Hungary, 1973)
Hungaria: Koncert a Marson (Hungary, 1969)
Blue Effect: The Sun Is So Bright (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Olympic: Everybody (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Breakout: Gdybys Kochal Hej (Poland, 1969)
Illes: Nehez Az Ut (Hungary, 1968)
Karel Kahovec/Flamengo: Poprava Blond Holky (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
George & Beatovens: Lez Blazniveho Basnika (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
Martha & Tena: Boure (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Atlantis: Don’t You Break It Again (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
Petr Spaleny & Apollobeat: Kdybych Ja Byl Kovarem (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Sarolta Zalatnay: Betonfej (Hungary, 1968)
Halina Frackowiak: Wodo, Zimna Wodo (Poland, 1974)
Stan Borys: Wyplakalem Oczy Niebieskie (Poland, 1969)
Koncz Szusza: Visz a Vonat (Hungary, 1970)
Emil Dimitrov: Scherazade (Bulgaria, 1972)
Marta Kubisova: Tak Dej Se K Nam A Projdem Svet (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Hana & Petr Ulrychovi: A Co Ma Bejt (Czechoslovakia, 1970)
Angelika Mann: Wenn Ich Mal (DDR, 1974)
Arp-Life: Baby Bump (Poland, 1976)
Walter Kubiczeck: Tentakel (DDR, 1979)
Grupul Stereo: Coloana Infinită (Romania, 1984)
Izabela Trojanowska: Jestem Twoim Grzechem (Poland, 1981)
Grupul Stereo: Plopii Impari (Romania, 1984)
Chris Doerk: Glaub Nicht (DDR, 1974)
Vaclav Neckar & Golden Kids: Goo-Goo Barabajagal (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Czerwone Gitary: Coda (Poland, 1970)
Grupa ABC: Za Duzo Chcesz (Poland, 1970)
Marta Kubisova: Cervanky (It’s Not Unusual) (Czechoslovakia, 1968)

Generic Sleeve (Supraphon)

Through the evening, a muted playlist of videos also ran on a large screen, and everything shown at the event can be seen in the Eastern Bloc Disco playlist compiled here – between 2 – 3 hours of visuals in total, now available with their soundtracks intact.

Hana a Petr Ulrychovi a Vulkán: Sen (Supraphon, 1967)

6 Jan

This is a very early song by Petr Ulrych, performed with Hana Ulrychova and Vulkán, that predates the more famous collaborations with Atlantis of the following year. Sen (Dream) is the b-side of a 7″ single issued on Supraphon in 1967, the a-side being Seď a Tiše Poslouchej (Sit Quietly and Listen). Sen explores a theme of insomnia while hinting at a love story in the background, as though the song’s protagonist conflates sleep and the dreams it might bring with an absent lover who, like the branches of those trees, fails to knock at the door as she hopes and so, paradoxically, keeps her awake by not disturbing the silence or appearing at her window: that curiously aural image of the ‘angelus bell’ underscores this atmosphere of expectation by registering as sound even as it goes unheard. The Czech lyric can be read on the Ulrychovis’ own website here and the song itself, with its hypnotic sleepwalking twang and touch of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams about the arrangement, can be listened to here.

Sen (Dream)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1967)

Come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

These branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
do not come knocking or press their leaves to glass,
do not fall straight into the room where I’ll sleep.
How can I sleep when it starts to seem like this?

I don’t even look: if sleep doesn’t stay, I’m alone, afraid.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

The day has been waiting. All day the evening comes.
I wait so long for the dream that evening brings
but these branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
do not come knocking or press their leaves to glass.

They do not lean on shadows in the room where I’ll sleep.
How can I sleep when it starts to seem like this?
When, in the moment I dream, I wake and want to talk?
So I wait again today, and then again all day, and then?

Then, come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

Do I sleep, after so long waiting, so long alone, afraid?
It seems these branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
will not come knocking or press their leaves to glass,
will not fall through the room where I’ll sleep tonight.

Come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.


Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: Láska (Trezor, 1969/1990)

14 Feb

February 14 seems as good a time as any to add this fairly straightforward love song from Hana a Petr Ulrychovi’s Ulysses-themed Odyssea LP, simply titled Láska (Love), to the site. The original Czech lyric by Petr Ulrych can be read here and a live version of the song (performed by Ulrych with Atlantis in 1970) can be heard here. The version on the Odyssea LP itself has a more elaborate arrangement, courtesy of the Gustav Brom Orchestra.

Láska (Love)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1969)

The air melts, slides into a thousand words.
They fall to the ground, rise to our necks,
haunt those who strangled the songs
we heard in childhood on the lips of the dead.

Their echoes circle, each sounding emptier,
more hollowed-out, than the one before.
I’d rather not know, wait for life’s return,
for the freedom of those human words.

It’s simple as the sun at noon, a song like this.
It will rise and fall if you’ll only sing.
For I’m a simple girl, hiding myself away,
feel everything, but keep it concealed in myself.

I’m simple as the flower, as laughter,
a welcome smile or the autumn sun that shines
when early frost descends from the sky.
I’m a simple girl. This is a simple song I sing.

But I don’t know yet if she’s the one.
I’m troubled, lost inside a maze of words.
She holds me in orbit like a turning moon.
I’m quiet as the wings of owls at night.

High in the clouds something stirs, says:
‘thou shalt not look here’, suggesting sin.
I wake with a head full of wicked thoughts.
Was it that Commandment put them in?

It’s simple as the moon at night, this song.
It will shine and set if you’ll only sing.
For I’m a simple girl, bashful and vain,
know everything, but keep all I know to myself.

I’m simple as the flowers, as stars,
as welcome sleep or the warmth on my skin.
Winter snow descends from the sky.
I’m a simple girl. This is a simple song I sing.

Atlantis/Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: Odysseovo ztroskotání (Trezor, 1969/1990)

16 Nov

As noted previously, the debut LP, Odyssea, by Atlantis with Hana and Petr Ulrychovi was shelved in 1969, though completed and ready for release, and only appeared in 1990 after the Velvet Revolution. The record itself is something of a one-off, a concept album based on the voyage of Ulysses, beginning with the long, part-spoken, part sung narration of the song below, Odysseovo Ztroskotání (Ulysses Shipwrecked), and continuing through various stages of the Homeric material until the record’s final track, Za Vodou, Za Horou (For Water For Mountains), evokes the landscape of a homecoming.  This opening song sets the scene, however, with ten minutes of material that draws on the Odyssey itself, giving voice to Ulysses in turbulent waters, as he, in turn, asks his listeners to place themselves into his own circumstances, as a traditional storyteller might. The arrangement is by Gustav Brom and the album was produced by Michael Prostějovský. The song can be heard here, and the Czech lyric is available to read here.

Odysseovo Ztroskotání (Ulysses Shipwrecked)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1968)

Mother, do you feel the cold extending from the forest?

On land, you are secure in a thousand ways:
it’s easy to plan, to do something good the same day.

It’s easy to talk the same language as your friends.
There’s warmth on land, food, women to love.

But now I’m floating on the deck of a battened ship,
my hand on this rudder in an open sea.

On land, you will never understand how fast
the ocean’s feelings change, from anger to anxiety.

Steamers pass, the aluminium shell of a pail is pierced.
Water leaks while wind argues with a churning sea.

You will never know that change, that anxiety,
when all the certainties you found in books are gone.

Come night, you are still afloat. The stars hold their places
in the vast night sky. In that silence, all feels good.

Even then you keep the life-jacket on, clutch the flare
like a talisman, consume ten pills to keep out cold.

You can’t relax. Is there a single moment you might be sure?
This battered boat can barely clear the waves

when the sea stays calm: what hope now it moves again?
Your lungs call out. You think of lifeboats, steamers,

imagine harbours, solid earth beneath your bare feet.
Each thought drowns in the thunder of wheels

of that engine room, in the whistles of inconsistent steam,
in the lightning and rain, in your useless prayers.

Planks creak. Plates spring leaks. Your teeth chatter.
Understand: no certainty you’ll survive, beyond the hope, exists

even though your body knows, in every cell, it wants to live.
Iron birds close their jaws on the sky’s black hooks,

the sun absorbs all light like a funeral hearse
driving slowly through a dark forest of levers, wheels…

This is the way my mind goes, thinking of its journey home.
Iron birds fall from black hooks. There is water here.

Can I bring you water? There is abundant food…
I could sleep here forever, forget and forget.

This is the way my mind goes, thinking of its journey home.
May I bring you water? I’ll sleep forever. This is all.

Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: 13HP (Supraphon, 1970)

15 Nov

The title track from Hana and Petr Ulrychovi’s 1970 album 13HP is lyrically fairly slight, stretching to not much more than ten lines, some of these repeated. The gist of the piece is a kind of quirky folk song, revolving around a winter landscape, an almost obsolete car, and a view through the windows of a hall. The Czech lyric runs as follows:

Za teplým oknem vládne mráz a svítí jíní
má píseň vzpomíná když bloudí ztichlou síní
ze starých záclon spřádá lanoví lanoví lanoví
a příběh zašlých dnů vám nepoví nepoví nepoví

Podivný příběh starých brzd a zašlých pístů
podivných aut co jezdí k určitému místu
kde není slyšet skřípot soukolí soukolí soukolí
a chladný dotyk hlíny nebolí nebolí nebolí

Za teplým oknem vládne mráz a svítí jíní
má píseň vzpomíná když bloudí ztichlou síní…

The final version, however, is changed very substantially from this, which would more literally be translated as something like the following:

Hot and cold, the window foregrounds light hoarfrost.
The song remembers wandering in the silent halls
where old curtains are woven – tied, tied, tied –
where the story of bygone days is told, told, told.

The strange story… of old brake pistons, bygone
cars – strange themselves – that drive to a place
where you hear the screeching gears, gears, gears,
and the cold dirt doesn’t hurt, hurt, hurt.

Hot and cold, the window foregrounds light hoarfrost.
The song remembers wandering in the silent halls…

Perhaps in this case, though, the more literal approach was left behind when I came to develop the version here, as something at the heart of Petr Ulrych’s slight song seemed to hint at another layer beneath that strangely mixed surface. The end result is the version here, more loosely based on Ulrych’s words than the literal take above, but perhaps a happier fit with my own purpose of making an adaptation that allows the song to breathe a little, as a lyric to be read rather than sung, and as a construct in a different language and context.

In other words, this final version of the song has departed a good deal from its source, as many of these versions have, but maybe there’s a chance here – helped by the brevity of Ulrych’s lyric – to show how this process of remaking tends to unfold as the versions are added to this site: a kind of ‘showing the working out alongside the solution’, which I remember being required to do in Maths exams. The song itself, as arranged by Otakar Petrina, can be heard here.

13HP (Thirteen Horsepower)

(after Petr Ulrych/Otakar Petrina, 1970)

My song remembers wandering quiet halls,
windows facing light hoarfrost,
watching a story’s strangeness grow:
a car with stubborn brakes and gears
that drives to strange places
at the strangest hours,
wheels sliding in deep snow
yet muffled by the silence there.
We are behind cold glass, see hoarfrost
glitter on the world outside,
white woodland build a bright hall
where clouds, like curtains,
blink, shiver and reveal the moon.
And it’s strange to be here
at this late hour, cold and quiet.
I look out on bright frost,
hear songs echoing in quiet halls,
remember where that old car’s story ends.

Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: Leží Nade Mnou Kámen (Trezor, 1969/1990)

4 Aug

An odd but lovely song from the Ulrychovis’ 1969 album Odyssea, which was shelved at the time of its recording and left unreleased until 1990. The lyric (like that of the previously featured Ticho) is somewhat oblique, though rich in implication and symbolism, and while this version is fairly loose, hopefully it conveys something of the general mood. The Czech lyric is here and the song itself – with an arrangement by Gustav Brom – can be listened to here.

Leží nade mnou kámen (Place Your Stone Upon Me)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1969)

Why do you look at me? Let me breathe.
Lift the stone that lies on my chest.

Place your weight upon me, a hundred years of sin.
Let laughter sound, tight in my throat.

A wall’s stones are written with words like these:
I will no longer eat. You will never sleep.

Morning comes on the heel of night.
There is peace, now, and there is order here.

Order falls like rain on a gravel path.
Dark clouds disperse in the skies ahead.

But why stay here, listening to these shadows?
After all, you know you will never speak.

There are windmills turning phantom sails:
shadows in bushes, ghosts of light.

A wall’s stones are written with words like these:
Place your stone upon me. I will not eat.

Lift the stone. Its laughter is inside my throat.
Why do you look at me? Let me breathe.

Atlantis/Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: Za Vodou Za Horou (Trezor, 1969/1990)

8 Jul

Not much need for explanation in this hymn to a landscape, beautifully sung by Hana Ulrychova and – like Ticho initially recorded for Odyssea, the shelved 1969 debut LP by Atlantis and brother and sister duo Hana & Petr Ulrychovi (the LP finally saw the light in 1990 on Supraphon’s Trezor imprint, set up mainly as a home for the reissue of long-banned and previously unreleased titles from the label’s late sixties and early seventies catalogue). A version of the song recorded for TV broadcast in the early 70s can be seen here, and the original Czech lyric can be read here.

Za vodou za horou (For Water, For Mountains)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1969)

for water for mountains it slowly dawns
that water and mountains house singing birds
for water and mountains grant us views
for water and mountains sound with trains

you find the water-shadow of an innocent girl
ghost-herds and gold-mines goat-herds and grass

soft wedges and echoes flood the glassy hours
when light breaks on sleep and you calmly rise

for in water and mountains gods might live
for in water and mountains is soft grass grown
for in water and mountains it slowly dawns
that water and mountains sound with trains

in all these white distances your sleeping face
is all the innocence I’ll know or might hear sung

you trace a wet shadow at the river’s edge
a young girl’s footprint pressed in water on stone

for in water and mountains it slowly dawns
that water and mountains house singing birds
for water and mountains might grant us views
where water and mountains sound with trains