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Samuel Riley

Music, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

The Ways of Freedom: Experimental Music in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, 1980-1996

My project aims to explore the cultural and (bio)political significance of late and post-Soviet experimental music by following the career of improviser, composer and avant-garde pianist Sergei Kurekhin and his collaborators. Following his first solo release, The Ways of Freedom, in 1981, Kurekhin became a key figure in the informal music culture of Leningrad/St. Petersburg up until his untimely death in 1996. Kurekhin is perhaps best known musically as leader of Pop Mechanics (Pop-Mekhanika), a spontaneous postmodern orchestra known for its absurd theatrics, ever-fluctuating membership, and rapid shifting of styles within single performances; fusing high- and low-brow, old and new, in an eclectic collage that emphasised the ‘in-between’. Pop Mechanics offers the nucleus to a network of improvising musicians active in this period, with a notable number of musicians and artists of the 1980s Leningrad scene that were, at one time, part of the ensemble.  

The temporal span of Kurekhin’s output offers a lens through which to better understand, contrast and compare cultural production during perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union. Studying the music, theatrics and lifestyles of Kurekhin and Pop Mechanics offers new insight into Soviet decline and illuminates what followed – demarcating a distinction between late and post-Soviet culture. 

Research Area

  • Music
  • Musicology


2022 'Free Jazz and the Soviet Critic: The Mixed Avant-Garde in Leningrad, 1977-1982', Royal Musical Association Annual Conference, Durham University, 8-10 September.

2022 'Free Jazz and the Soviet Critic: Efim Barban, Sergei Kurekhin and New Jazz', Music Since 1900, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 17-20 June.

2022 'Against the (Third) Stream: Gunther Schuller meets Efim Barban, June 1978', Midlands4Cities Research Festival, 13-16 June. 

2022 'Changing the Music Itself: Valentina Goncharova and Late Soviet Subjectivity', Women and Gender in Art Music of the Eastern Bloc: Current Perspectives, Future Directions, RMA Study Day (Online), 1-2 April.

2021 'Ways of Freedom? Late Soviet Experimentalism, Stiob, and the Politics of Indistinction', SMI/ICTM-IE Plenary Conference, Trinity College Dublin (Online), 27-30 May.

2019 'The Circuit Became the Score: The Ontology of David Tudor's Electronic Music', BFE/RMA Postgraduate Research Conference, University of Sheffield, 10-12 January.

2020 MusM Musicology, University of Manchester

2019 BA (Jt. Hons) Music and Philosophy, University of Nottingham