Ô Canada! La Première Partie

Ta da!  See, I DID manage to get around to writing at least about SOMETHING from Canada!  And I’ve optimistically labelled it the first part.  The second, though, might be well after my thesis submission date in September.  But this, at least, should at least make people think this blog is actually being used 😀

So, this first part?  The most important, to be honest, as without this bit, I never would have gone (although I expect I would have gone sooner or later; I mean, I already want to return!).  This part is my brief conference report.  I had to write it as part of my conditions of funding from BASEES so I thought I may as well replicate it here, with some additions.

Boundaries and Ties: the Place of Metal Music in Communities’, Victoria, BC, Canada, 9th-11th July 2017.

I was awarded a BASEES Postgraduate Research Grant, the Graduate School Travel Prize from the University of Nottingham and funding from the Partridge Bequest held by Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Nottingham to attend and present my research at the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) biennial conference, held this time in Canada.  Having never presented my research outside of my own University, nor having been outside Europe in my life, it was an exciting experience!  The two-and-a-half day conference was supported by keynotes from Keith Kahn-Harris, one of the founding members of ISMMS and Brittney Slayes, lead singer of Victoria-born power metal band Unleash the Archers.  Panels were parallel to give more time and breadth to the programme and included categories such as local & global metal communities, performance, resistance, scene construction and ethics.  Presenters were from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, including cultural studies, musicology, anthropology, religious studies and history, as well as independent scholars and industry professionals.

My research concerns the first album of Russia’s leading heavy metal group, Aria, and I presented a basic overview of late Soviet cultural history as well as insights into my research on themes and influences in the album.  I was the only person presenting on Russia but other researchers presented on cultures as disparate as Japan, Madagascar, Austria, and Indonesia, proving that metal music and culture is a global phenomenon.  I connected with researchers in Birmingham who hope to extend their ‘Home of Metal’ study out from there to other ‘homes’ of metal across the world.

In the evening of the first day there was an opportunity to go to Unleash the Archer’s album release gig in Downtown Victoria, and on the final day there was a special screening of the documentary film ‘Blekkmetal’ about the origins of Norway’s black metal scene, set against the backdrop of the 2015 festival of the same name.  This was followed by a Q&A session with two of the producers.  In the evening there was an opportunity to experience more of the local metal scene in an ‘all-ages’ gig at a local community centre.  The ISMMS AGM was also held during the conference and I participated in this as an ordinary member. There were also plenty of opportunities for networking and sightseeing: on one occasion I happened upon one of the locals down at the beach:


North American River Otter

I was heartened by the interest in my research, and I was able to reconnect with friends I first met in Hull in March 2016.  I was impressed by the range of different approaches and projects metal scholars are undertaking and managed to speak with most people about their research.  I was also in charge of live Tweeting the conference using ISMMS’ official Twitter profile (@ISMMSOfficial), which was challenging but very useful for making me think differently about the papers being given.

Overall, I think the conference was a very valuable experience: not only was it an excellent opportunity to present my research to the ‘metal’ side of my field, but it was also an exceptional chance to travel well outside of my comfort zone!  I did, in fact, experience ‘culture shock’: because Victoria is an English-speaking part of Canada, the difference in culture was, in a way, surprising, as everywhere else I have been are predominantly foreign-language based foreign cultures!

I made many new academic friends at the conference, people who are researching new and exciting things and people who are very interested in my research.  I have opened up some opportunities for myself in future research as well as in the opportunity to become more involved with the administration and promotion of ISMMS, once my MA is finished.  I also pushed my boundaries by experiencing music I don’t generally associate with (extreme metal) and research that is unusual and innovative, pushing the boundaries of academic thought (especially Gemma Antonelli’s paper on self-mutilation in performance).

Thankyou very much to BASEES, the University of Nottingham Graduate School and my Russian and Slavonic Studies ‘family’ for granting me the financial opportunity to undertake this groundbreaking trip!  It was beyond worth it!

Don’t hold your breath for the next instalment: my list of ‘urgent things to do once my thesis is handed in’ might already need to be split into ‘super urgent’ and ‘can wait until after Christmas 2017’…!


My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

(Postgraduate) Welcome Week: A Re-Starting Student’s Perspective

Last week was Week One at the University of Nottingham, when students arrive or return to study.  I was in the odd situation of returning to start: I graduated in 2006 but came back this year to start my Masters.  So while I am back in familiar territory, many things are new and even Week One itself was rather unusual.

The sports hall at University Park is currently under renovation, which meant Freshers’ Fair was all up the creek as the fields the marquee has been on for the past eight years was full of construction paraphernalia.  Back in 2002, the Fair was held in the (unextended) Portland Building, but there weren’t 271 societies to squeeze in, so space was at a premium this year as we returned: RPGSoc were initially supposed to be outside with standing room and an allocated interaction space for an hour a day in the Hobbies room, but the atrocious weather on Monday was a godsend: we set up the little table in the room and did what we usually do, only with the ‘come and have a go’ space we’d always wanted.  Our allocated outside space didn’t go to waste either: we sent some LARPers out to show off our ‘public’ face too.

Other than standing around catching the eyes of introverted geeks and asking them what sort of roleplaying appealed to them, I actually had things to do.  As a part-time student, everything there was a bit weird too.  I don’t think I was truly required to attend anything, as they expected me to be away working but as I always have Week One off, it seemed daft not to get involved as much as I could.  I attended four Welcomes: two aimed primarily at Research postgrads, one for just the half-dozen new Russianists (although one was continuing from undergrad and I was sort-of a returner) and one for all CLAS (Cultures, Languages and Area Studies) postgrads.  There was also a welcome party thing for all Russian students, where I met lots of new people, hopefully didn’t scare too many and drank rather a lot of wine.

Thursday I had my ‘admin’ day: I attempted to pick up my student card but Student Services was so rammed I didn’t bother; I found out where the SSAGC (Social Sciences and Arts Graduate Centre), had coffee and biscuits with people much older and much younger than me and introduced myself to lots of postgrad History people; I also had a look around and ate my lunch in the CLAS study area at the bottom of Trent where the Language Learning Centre (not the Language Centre) used to be.

All that remains before I really push on is to get together with my fellow Russian postgrads to find out what’s going on and have my first supervision on Friday.  And that is the scariest part for me: real supervisions with people who care about something I actually care about too!  Wish me luck!

Ice dragon

The Three Metal Operas, Part One: Treasures of Epidemiia

In this post I would like to introduce Epidemiia in the same way that I discovered them: though their metal operas.

Epidemiia are a power metal band from Moscow. I first discovered them by picking up a CD in one of St. Petersburg’s ‘505’ outlets in 2004. I was attracted by the stylised dragon design and because I recognised the name of Ariia’s then lead singer, Artur Berkut. I had some experience of rock opera, but metal opera was a new thing to me. Power metal was something I had only got into more recently too: as a classic metal fan I had only in the last year been exposed to such bands as Iced Earth and Helloween.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaiia Rukipis' album cover

A stylised gold dragon with participants’ names and bands around the edge

I was hooked: as a fantasy fan in general, the language, themes and characters were instantly appealing. The music was great too: powerful, expressive, emotive. This was their first metal opera, El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’, ‘The Elven Manuscript’. I chose the transcript as my language project for my final semester at University, which was when I discovered the Dragonlance references. This is a series of books set in Krynn, one of the worlds associated with Dungeons & Dragons. I am familiar with it although I would not call myself well-read in the series.

Briefly, the story follows a half-elf called Dezmond as he tries to save his world, Eniia, from invasion by the evil Deimos who lives in the sister-world to Eniia. The songs are good, but not outstanding, and the storyline is excellent.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaia Rukopis' - Skazanie Na Vse Vremena album cover

The dragon is now ‘stained glass’ and the names are gone

After this I looked at Epidemiia’s other albums and found I enjoyed them. A second metal opera, following directly on from ‘The Elven Manuscript’, was released in 2007. I unfortunately did not manage to get a physical copy of this until recently, but I downloaded the transcript and lyrics. It is called El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’: Skazanie na Vse Vremena (The Elven Manuscript: A Story for All Time). This time, Dezmond and Torvald (his human friend) must help Deimos prevent an invasion to his world, Ksentaron, by the daemoness Minatrix who has sought help from Deimos’ erstwhile companion Skai, the blue dragon. The songs are better, in my opinion, and the storyline is not as strong but carries quite well.

Epidemiia: Sokrovishche Enii

A whole new style for a whole new outing

Finally for the trilogy, Sokrovishche Enii (Treasure of Eniia) was released in 2014. With the weakest storyline but the best songs, it follows on again from the previous opera but less directly as it takes a tangent and follows the gold dragon Giltias and dwarf Drogbar as they investigate an unused portal between Ksentaron and Eniia. It features a star-studded cast and was performed in full in Moscow and St. Petersburg during 2014: I was lucky enough to see the latter (a review for a later post).

I hope this post has given you an insight into Epidemiia and my opinions on their Metal Operas. If you would like more information, you can visit their official site at www.epidemia.ru but it is all in Russian; Wikipedia carries an article in English at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemia, as well as a page on the first metal opera, but there is little else English-language out there for non-Russian speakers. Hopefully I can add some useful insights for the English-speaking community into my favourite power metal band!

All pictures from epidemia.ru; click album covers to go through to the corresponding page

And so it begins…

On Monday 22nd June I received my offer to start a Masters at the University of Nottingham, researching Russian heavy metal.

If you’ve made it this far, then that’s a good sign!  It means you’re not one of the many doubters (most of whom are more than willing to confess they know nothing about the Arts Postgraduate Research system) or you are, but curiosity has overcome your disgust!

This means that, from September, I’ll be back to being a student in the University where it all started.  I will confess now to feeling like I was 18 again, receiving an email with the congratulatory but guarded tone of the standard offer letter.  Of course, this being nine years post-graduation (from the subject), my offer was unconditional this time and I don’t need to sort accommodation or travel, nor funding and things (at least not this year).

I do, however, have to negotiate a day off a week at work. I hope this will give me enough time to dedicate to my Masters research, as I am carrying out the course as part-time study.  I cribbed off this website and, working for eight hours each study day plus another nine-ish hours per week will cover the apparent 1800 hours recommended (as far as I can determine) for the course.

The research itself will involve me looking at the influence of politics on the lyrics of Ariia’s first album, Megalomania, written and recorded on to cassette tape in late 1985. At the time, heavy metal was still banned in the Soviet union, and Gorbachev’s perestrokia reforms hadn’t even begun to take hold. But change was in the air. Ariia (Ария) are arguably the most successful Russian heavy metal band, and while this album was not the first heavy metal album to be written and recorded (I think that honour goes to Black Coffee), another is supposedly the first to be officially released in 1987 at the lifting of the ban.

ARIA logo

And why start this now? Because now it’s official and I will be doing this. When it was still merely a possibility, there wasn’t much point in posting in this blog. But now, now things are official, now all the hard work over the past 6 years has come to fruition, it’s live.

Or should that be alive?