What does Heinali sound like?
Modular synths for emotionally connected.
The review of Heinali – Live from a Bomb Shelter in Ukraine
I’ve long been a fan of Heinali’s modular synth compositions. He has a deft hand at creating stunning soundscapes from mournful drones to expansive symphonic cascades of bleeps. You are never sure where his music will take him next and modular synths aren’t often something you’d automatically associate with dynamic expression.
‘Live from a Bomb Shelter in Ukraine’ is an album that should never have needed to exist but the fact it was made at all is a testament to a collection of people. Since May this year, Heinali has worked with the Live from Ukraine volunteer team to livestream various concerts from a host of Ukrainian artists. The idea is part fundraiser, part morale boost and part artistic reclamation of their craft. Playing from a bomb shelter out to the world whilst the world is falling into chaos around you is a horrifying backdrop and yet each artist’s performances take on a nuance of their own.
Heinali’s use of modular synths starts off like a mournful drone organ. For the first few minutes, it’s as if we are honouring the devastation around us. The bass fuzz of the synths feels dusty and dystopian. They are joined over time by other twinkling synths that glisten and sparkle and as they gather speed, momentum and force, it’s the numb beauty of these synths that take over. Around the 13-minute mark, the darkness gives way to something more like a rising from the ashes. This then collides with warning signal bursts before the fuzzy synths switch frequencies and pan outwards like a blast wave crossed with a solar flare. The closing few minutes remind me of Scottish bagpipes and how they are used for traditional funerals. Heinali doesn’t make the performance sound or feel overtly mournful but instead, it feels like a cathartic honouring.
Heinali, real name Oleg Shpudeiko, has written about his experience:
“Explosions woke us in Kyiv at 4 am. That day and the following day, we did not sleep. I took several shirts, underwear, papers, and my modular system. On the road to the Polish border, my mother lost consciousness. On the road to the Hungarian border, our car drifted into an opposite lane of a serpentine, narrowly escaping lorries floating toward us half sideways in a sudden snowstorm.
We were the lucky ones. They crossed the border, and I spent the next month in Lviv as the battle of Kyiv was raging. At my friend’s music school, we organised a series of fundraising broadcasts with performances of Ukrainian musicians who, like I, fled to Lviv. As the air raid alarms grew more frequent, we had to cancel or postpone live streams until we settled on broadcasting the next performance from a bomb shelter nearby.Heinali
It took two 50m Ethernet cables, coupled together and shielded from the rain with a plastic bag. And fixing the issue with the electricity. I played a set based on Organa, an album I had worked on for the past year until the Russian invasion brought it to a halt. It reimagined the XII and XIII century polyphonic compositions of the Parisian school in modular synthesis. A genuinely bizarre juxtaposition, considering the circumstances.
But when I started playing, something happened, and for these twenty minutes, I felt like I reconnected, for the first time since the invasion, with the part of myself I thought was gone for good. Tatyana, one of my friends present, put this feeling into words: “Heinali’s music miraculously fits the bomb shelters and transforms them into a sacred space of Roman catacombs.”
That night I returned home and checked the news. It was the Bucha massacre. And the miracle quickly dissipated as I felt like every one of these people was me. And they were all of us.“
The live performance captures a certain stillness in a wartorn world. It has left a lasting impression on me. You can support Musicians Defend Ukraine in a number of ways. Regardless of the circumstances, this is a beautiful piece that works without the backdrop it has been born from. No one else does modular synths quite like Heinali.
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