Heinali: Kyiv Eternal Album Review

When Oleh Shpudeiko bought a handheld recorder to capture the sounds of her hometown of kyiv, she hardly imagined the importance such recordings would one day have. It was 2012 and Shpudeiko, who makes experimental electronic music like Heinali, became interested in the concept of acoustic ecology, that is, the relationship between a place, its sounds and its inhabitants. Recorder in hand, she toured the city in search of its “sound marks”: birds singing in the OV Fomin Botanical Garden; the characteristic beep of the cash registers of Silpo, a Ukrainian supermarket chain; the nightlife of Borshchahivka, a bedroom community full of old khrushchevkas, low-cost apartment blocks common in the former Soviet Union. Shpudeiko continued to record for the next decade, building his sonic map as Kyiv underwent radical changes in the years following the Maidan Uprising. Then, in February 2022, Russia invaded the Ukraine, shattering the normalcy of everyday life and, along with it, the familiar fabric of kyiv’s soundscape.

In eternal kyiv, Shpudeiko folds her archival field recordings into a love letter to the city of her birth. The album was inspired by a journey home after briefly fleeing Kiev air raids, in the initial phase of the invasion, to take refuge in Lviv. “kyiv was more alive than ever, but I wanted to protect him from harm, comfort him,” she says. “This was a city where I had spent 37 years of my life. So this album became a hymn to this part of my identity.” That “anthem” takes the form of a luminous web of atmospheric abstractions interwoven with processed piano, wordless vocals, and synths.

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The album proceeds like a loosely structured travelogue. It begins with “Tramvai 14”, taken from recordings Shpudeiko made on the Kiev light rail tram system: Doors ring; a station announcement is played in Ukrainian and English; a saturated stream of what could be pedal steel, reminiscent of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ Apollo: atmospheres and soundtracks, spreads like a pastel mist over the rattle of the train wheels. There are hints of history embedded in the reverie: English-language ads, added when kyiv hosted Eurovision in 2017, offer insight into the city’s contemporary self-conception as part of Europe. “Stantsiia Maidan Nezalezhnosti” goes inside the metro stop at Maidan Square, where the footsteps and sounds of the metro are barely audible under a warm, steamy hum. Shpudeiko does not dwell on the many associations that could be attached to Maidan Square: the “Dignity Revolution” in 2014, which ousted Russian President Viktor Yanukovych; the many residents of the city who took refuge underground in early 2022, turning subway stations into underground tent cities. The atmosphere is hazy, almost blissful, like a freeze frame of a shoegaze song.

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