The songs “Kino” are about melancholy, determination and change
You can talk about music from different angles: about how many albums were recorded, about the meanings of the lyrics, about the biographies of composers, and so on. But it is much more important to understand the connection between sensations and the musical means by which the composer achieved the emergence of certain sensations.
When we listen to the songs of the Kino group, we usually have feelings of melancholy, cold determination, brutal calmness, composure and desire to change something. To understand how the author achieved this emotion, you need to understand a few basic concepts.
There are several important layers in music: mode, rhythm and chords. In short:
- A fret is a set of sounds within the music that form a special ecosystem.
- A uniform pulsation – or just a pulse – is almost always there: this is what we usually want to clap to.
- Rhythm is an ornament in the background. Rhythms are very different, but they can be divided into several types, and each of them will have a fairly predictable effect on our body.
- A chord is a combination of several sounds put together. But you can not just play together so that it sounds good. No, these are strictly defined notes. The chords can be compared to the colors in the picture: which are more, the music sets such a mood.
The composition of the instruments, words, musical symbols are also important, but more on that later.
How is the “Star Called Sun” similar to church singing?
It is customary to say about the Kino group that their songs are extraordinary and ingenious. Now we are going to experiment. First, we will listen to “A Star Called The Sun”, and then I will spoil it a little and make a regular normative song out of it. So we will see what is so abnormal and genius in her.
If you do a little music, you probably know that this song has the following chord progression: Am (A minor), C (C major), Dm (D minor), G (G major).
Only the last, fourth chord is special here. If we leave the first three, and replace the last, we get a completely different mood. From the first chord there is an accumulation of tension, and at the end – in theory, in normal songs – there should be something bright, with peppercorns. And Tsoi is not so – instead of adding a spice, he uses a cool and calm chord.
Song in minor key. In general, there are three types of minor: natural, harmonic and melodic. Choi uses the first of them. Previously, natural minor was used in folk and church singing. Therefore, there are no nervous notes in it. In the natural minor key, the natural mode is used – this is a system of relationships between sounds that is felt without emotional differences. But for all other normal songs, the use of a harmonic minor is characteristic, where there is a spike and an interrogative intonation at the end.
It turns out that “A Star Called The Sun” due to its natural harmony feels like a song without emotional changes. But thanks to the rhythm in her, it seems as if the tension accumulates a little, but does not spill out anywhere. Therefore, after listening to such a song, we are like a barrel of energy – we were not allowed to release it. That is why we feel determined.
How “Change” gives a sense of stability
The rhythm in the song “Changes” is even, but it has one peculiarity. In general, everything in music tends to be “square”: four chords are often used in a circle, and the lines of songs turn into the edges of a square. Composers try to fix it a little – they try to delay the melody after the fourth chord or put a long note at the end in the voice. Then we don’t have the feeling that the song is chopped.
Tsoi, on the contrary, emphasizes the discontinuity of the musical blocks and their orderliness – it scares me a little. The voice also lacks any vocal tricks – it just sings in the middle register and does not add expressiveness to the voice. The strong beats in the melody coincide with the strong beats of the accompaniment – this just creates a feeling of chopping.
In addition, the first beat is emphasized both in the voice and in the drum kit. I studied as a composer, and they told us all the time that we shouldn’t do that, otherwise it’s too bold an accent. And Choi does not follow these rules, and this is his originality.
There is something else interesting about the chorus of this song. It is built around a repeating motif that ends at the end of each line. That is, for us it feels like a period is put at the end of each line of the chorus. For choruses, this is not very typical – in any normative song, it becomes a kind of long final phrase. In “Changes” it is different – here several times systematically something comes to an end, and this creates a feeling of static and confidence.
“Change” is a subdominant chord, this is the very same chord. “Demand” is a continuation, “ours” – the tension is growing. “Hearts” is a tonic. I used to say to my students this way: the tonic happens for the first and third time, you can’t put it at the end, because we need the song to continue, so that people want to listen to it. And Tsoi did not do that – this is where talent manifests itself when breaking the rules sounds great.
What do a Pack of Cigarettes and a flying DVD logo on an old TV have in common?
“A pack of cigarettes” – all kind of unstable. There are similar notes in the waves of the melody, but they seem to fall on different beats all the time and fit into the accompaniment in different ways. As if our chords go in blocks, and the melody goes one and a half chords. And then, when she went the second time, she came into contact with her in a different place. Like an old screensaver on a TV.
And what happens when Choi enters? He seems to be doing it too early. In general, there is a feeling that everyone is playing something to themselves, and then Tsoi comes in – he, for example, went for tea – came back and just starts singing. We could have different feelings from this: for example, that they are in complete chaos there, or that they are jazz improvisers. But we get the feeling that they are just all very closed in themselves. It seems that in the chorus they seem to converge, but also not particularly.
And all the musicians, in addition to different chords and melodies, also differ in the length of the motive. But at the same time, they do not get out of the general pulse and keep an even rhythm. Therefore, this inconsistency does not bother anyone. As if they can stand for hours, pluck guitars, hum something. This mood is also transmitted to the listener – I withdraw from this song into myself.
Do the songs “Kino” have a deep meaning
I roughly figured out the points by which we usually classify a song as a “text with deep meaning”. The resulting list is:
- description of tragic events – for example, war;
- play on words;
- strong metaphor;
- lack of metaphor, everyday descriptions. This is the whole metamodern – everything is so simple that it has a deep meaning. This happens, for example, in the lyrics of the song “Electric Train”;
- words occupy a significant part of the meaning of the song, are in the foreground;
- something that we do not understand – it seems to us that we understand it in our own way;
- lack of commonly used words.
The texts of the Kino group flirt with the listener, balancing on the verge between the absence of a metaphor and a complex metaphor. This technique leaves us room for our own interpretation and perfectly resonates with the culture of metamodernism – inverted irony. For example, you can look at the song “Blood type on the sleeve”.
For some, this song is deep, for others, everything is on the surface. For some, this is a song about a real war – perhaps these people themselves had such an experience, so it automatically resonates with them. And someone, with whom it does not resonate directly, began to look deeper for the meaning – and finds in it an internal war. Of course, the phenomenon of authority also plays a role – perhaps if Tsoi had not overgrown it, we would not have been looking for anything here.
Russian music of the XX century
To understand why a particular composer is considered a genius, you need to listen not just to his works, but pay attention to what other authors wrote at the same time.
To better understand how the formation of Russian rock took place, let’s go over the general history of Russian music. Folklore remained a popular form of singing in the Russian countryside until the 1930s. Then, due to historical events, people gradually pulled from villages to cities, and traditions began to gradually erode.
There was an interesting period between folklore and modern music making, which we tend to forget about. This is the period of urban romance: a strange mixture of classical works that were common in cities, song traditions that were brought from the villages, and gypsy romance. The result is a unique, semi-academic and semi-pop genre. Pop music of the 90s later grew out of it.
As the young city fellows who sang the city romance grew old, a bardic song flowed out of it. Then one of the branches went to the prison chanson. In Russia, a very rich, interesting – albeit aggressive – with unique meanings and a large number of modulations in harmony, prison chanson. I am delighted with this every time, but giving a lecture on this genre does not seem ethical.
Then, in the 60s, skiffle fever occurred – this is what the early Beatles got into. In short, the world is crazy about the fact that you can play music very simply – for example, instead of a drum kit, use a grater for washing clothes. People discovered DIY euphoria and began to reveal their creativity, even without a special education. From here came Russian rock and Russian pop.
In order to understand what is special about Kino, let us listen to their contemporaries.
For example, Aria’s “Careless Angel”.
Here the text is more complicated, and in general it is a completely different genre – a ballad. Although both “Aria” and “Kino” were fed by the Leningrad rock club. In “Careless Angel” the standard rhythm, the structure is clear – at the end of the verse everyone understands that now there will be a chorus (and not like in the same “Electric Train”, for example, where the chorus starts completely unobvious). Here “Aria” wrote in a human way, not like Viktor Tsoi.
Or the song “Spindle” by the group “Alisa”.
The rhythm is freer, the harmony is more pop. Before resolving the accumulating tension, I definitely use a sharp chord – everything is like with people. This chord, combined with old instrument samples, sounds a little nostalgic.
Another example is “DDT” and the song “Rain”.
Here the rhythm relaxes a little. Harmony is totally different from what is in “Kino” – here it reminds me of something from pop music. They are so melancholic, sad that they really want it to rain. And I also hear the motives of this song in Svetlana Loboda’s song “Your Eyes”.
“Nautilus Pompilius”, song “Goodbye America”.
The structure of the song does not cultivate one material for us, as Tsoi does, but simply shows its diversity. Therefore, it does not look like “Kino” either.
Directness, simplicity, monotony – what the descendants took away from “Kino”
There were many collectives that began to imitate the Kino group. What the descendants took from them:
- the absence of metaphors resonated very much with our present day – after the postmodern era we have a request for simplicity and straightforwardness;
- a straight rhythm came into vogue;
- natural harmony (one in which there is no sharp note; where there is a natural harmony);
- monotony: there is a lot of minimalism in academic modern music, there is a demand for repetition and for body relaxation and some kind of very strong immersion in oneself;
- there are no protest meanings and in general some meanings have clearly disappeared: now there is no point in imitating Tsoi in this – the time is not right and Tsoi is no longer there.
Quite a lot of such groups have appeared. My favorite example is Guerak. Just listen and you will understand.
The full lecture can be viewed here.