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Samuel Riley

Music, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

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

This project investigates the cultural and political significance of late and post-Soviet experimental music by following the career, networks, and collaborators of Sergei Kuryokhin (1954-1996). Kuryokhin was a key figure in the music culture and artworld of Leningrad/St Petersburg, with an output straddling the aesthetic boundaries of free improvisation, rock music, and other exemplars of ‘Contemporary Music’ (in its broadest sense). These strands were all presented together in the in the spectacle of his group Popular Mechanics, a postmodern orchestra known for 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’.
My thesis begins in the late 1970s – situating Kuryokhin’s early recordings within transnational discourses about the status of European free jazz alongside late Soviet contexts of production – through to the mid-1990s, where I speculate on the nature of what Kuryokhin’s persona and aesthetic project represented to the figures of the self-proclaimed ‘Conservative Revolution.’

Research Area

  • Music
  • Musicology


2022 'Fantasy, Spontaneity, […] Liberation: Popular Mechanics on Soviet Television', Documenting Jazz, Jazz Heritage Wales/ University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 9-12 November.

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 Music and Philosophy, University of Nottingham


School of Arts, Languages and Cultures Postgraduate Bursary, University of Manchester.
Philip Weller Dissertation Prize, University of Nottingham.
Music Prize for Overall Finalist, University of Nottingham.
Outstanding Undergraduate Performance in Philosophy, University of Nottingham.