Slava Ranko ‘Arctic Hysteria’
Adolescent Records, 1981
electronic // industrial // experimental
Slava Ranko is the nom de plume of Don Philippi, a man who was many things: a political activist, musician, and most famously, a literary translator.
But as a musician, he was classically trained in the shamisen and chikuzen biwa, which are each traditional stringed instruments from Japan. And at some point in San Francisco in the late 1970s, he combined his proficiency in ‘biwa' with synthesizers to perform under the name Slava Ranko, and released this sole, mind-melting experimental album, “Arctic Hysteria," in 1981.
Several of the compositions involve some sort of Japanese sound top of eerie ambient textures. More often than not, the two elements operate almost completely independently, almost in opposition to one another. Sometimes the synths flare up in piercing squelches and the frequencies make it nearly unbearable.
As such, this is a challenging listen, though that’s apparently his intention. In the liner notes, he writes, “what I want is the terrifying, the menacing, the cruel, the chaotic, the darkly exciting, the ecstatic, the irrational."
Check, check, check, check, check and check.
Speaking of the liner notes, it’s worth adding that they make this an even more intriguing and sinister artifact. There’s a plea, of sorts, attributed to 'Slava Ranko,' that begins:
I knew ever since childhood that something was wrong. So did my parents…I realized that I had been a mistake. I was born in the wrong place, probably in the wrong body. They knew it too. It bothered them, and they sometimes torrid to blame me for what had gone wrong.
Now that I have killed them, they can rest easy. The wrong has been righted..
Um, yeah. The whole album is even more chilling when taken in full context. It sounds like music that’s summoning some sort of natural disaster.
A few remaining originally sealed copies have been floating around, and I picked up this at Other Music the last time I was there. Glad I did. This is one of the most downright eclectic pieces of music I’ve heard all year.