Can you sing "Das Kapital" by Karl Marx? And if so, what does it sound like? In his daring project "Marxophony", Alexey Kokhanov musically approaches the book that everyone is familiar with but very few have read.


Using his voice, electronic effects and a twinkle in his eye, he liberates "Das Kapital" from the myth that has grown up around it, especially in his native Russia. He is supported by sound artist Adam Asnan and his experimental recording and amplification techniques. In his performance, Alexey Kokhanov deals with disappointment and mistrust in Marxism as well as painful memories of the Soviet ideology. The album "Marxophony" creates an exciting new musical form between contemporary song, improvised music theatre and experimental reading.

In a way, the music has emerged from the words. The poetic passages have become like songs, like catchy tunes for me. They sound like poetic verses, have their own rhythm and influence the music a lot.
Alexey Kokhanov on the connection between text and music


How did you come to Karl Marx and his book "Das Kapital"? Was there a particular trigger for wanting to pursue this?


The starting point was a concert request from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow for September 14, 2017, which also happened to be the 150th anniversary of the first edition of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. I had not read the book myself before, but I thought it was a good occasion to deal with it because of its worldwide significance and also its topicality.


How did you get from there to the musical project "Marxophony"?


First, of course, I read the book. I was immediately surprised by how many poetic passages there were in the text, with beautiful images and metaphors, such as the "golden eggs" that the use value lays, or the table that begins to dance. These images helped me a lot to understand the text. At the same time, I also came across phrases that seemed very familiar, that I had heard or read somewhere before.

A reference to your country of origin, Russia? You once described "Marxophony" as an emotional confrontation with the past and the ideology of the Soviet Union?


I was born in 1981, so I grew up in the Soviet Union and I remember the socialist ideology very well. It's ingrained in me like a physical trauma. At that time, Marx, together with Lenin and Engels, formed the triad in the socialist pantheon. When I was 12 years old, I read "The Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which deals with the horrors of the gulags as closed islands and the extermination of entire social classes planned by Lenin. When I had a fever for a week afterwards, it felt like a physical release of this terrible ideology.


Has your relationship to Marx changed since you've been living in Germany?

Yes, definitely, but there was a change before that. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, for me, and I think for many of my generation, everything associated with communism suddenly had a taste of totalitarianism. That caused a strong rejection in me. Capitalism, on the other hand, now represented the ideal world in my eyes. When I moved to Europe and finally to Germany, this world view began to falter. Of course, this black-and-white thinking and generalization has nothing to do with reality, just as little as communism with the Soviet Union.

Let's talk a little bit more about the album. How did you structure it? Is there something like a musical structure?

There are six parts, which are numbered and divided, but also follow a development. They don't follow the chronology of the book in terms of content, but rather the musical form, which builds tension and then leads to a kind of collapse at the end. I think of the six parts as songs, which is why I gave them titles.

As a singer and performer you work with very different forms of expression. Could you describe how you approached the text artistically?

In the beginning, I was thinking primarily of the spoken text when I set it to music. But as I worked on it, more and more singing was added. I worked a lot with improvisation, which developed more and more into a fixed structure, also in terms of tonality. It's still all in my head and there's no score, but I could well imagine that one will come, so that others can perform the piece at some point.


How are the lyrics and the music related?


In a sense, the music emerged from the language. The poetic passages have become like songs, like catchy tunes for me. They sound like poetic verses, have their own rhythm and influence the music very much. Lyrics and musical structure always meet in very different ways, it's like a game with shapes, sometimes the structure, sometimes the text has the upper hand. Of course there are big differences between spoken and sung words, but also between languages. In the beginning everything was in Russian, the German came later.


You had the support of sound artist Adam Asnan on Marxophony. How was the collaboration with him and how did he influence the album?

Adam definitely plays an important role in the album and has influenced the music a lot. He has a radical musical approach as an improvising artist and manages to create a very special atmosphere with his sounds. With his ideas Adam developed and expanded the existing concept. For me the idea of "Marxophony" became even clearer and the project more complete. So I am very happy and grateful to have worked with him.

Politics or the confrontation with political conditions plays a big role in the piece. Does this apply to your work as a musician and your artistic identity in general?

"Marxophony" is already a special piece for me, which first of all stands on its own. I couldn't make a piece like this about any other book. The performance is also very different from my other works. I thought a lot about the extent to which it is really political. For a long time I thought "Marxophony" wasn't political enough, too superficial. Now it is definitely political for me personally, but more in an abstract musical sense. For me, improvisation is a very honest genre, which is an important counterweight to the elitist structures of Western classical, but also contemporary music.v


You once described "Marxophony" as overcoming a cultural trauma. Would you still say that? And do you see a political message for the future in it?

I have the feeling that traumas, or at least their triggers, are often seen as isolated events. But for me, it's more like a stored painful memory that lasts for a long time and that you have to deal with again and again. While Putin is currently talking about the fact that the biggest trauma was the collapse of the Soviet Union, for me it is exactly the other way round, namely my childhood, which I had to live through there. Through the confrontation with that time, "Marxophony" is for me also a processing of that trauma.


The fetish character of the commodity and its secret

At first glance, a commodity seems to be a self-evident, trivial thing. Its analysis reveals that it is a very tricky thing, full of metaphysical subtleties and theological quirks.

Insofar as it has use-value, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether I consider it from the point of view that it satisfies human needs by its properties or receives these properties only as a product of human labor.

It is clear to the senses that man, through his activity, changes the forms of natural substances in a way that is useful to him.

The shape of the wood, for example, is changed when you make a table out of it.

Nevertheless, the table remains wood, an ordinary sensual thing. But as soon as it appears as a commodity, it turns into a sensual supersensual thing.

Not only does he stand with his feet on the ground, but he turns himself upside down in the face of all other goods and develops crickets from his wooden head, because more whimsical than if he began to dance of his own free will.

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The money puzzle

The commodity is first of all an external object, a thing which by its properties satisfies human needs of some kind.

The nature of these needs, whether they arise from the stomach or the imagination, for example, does not change the matter.

"As values, all commodities are only certain measures of fixed labor time."

Thus, a use value or good has a value only because abstract human labor is objectified or materialized in it.

A Money Song

Hence the enigmatic nature of the equivalent form, which is the

bourgeois, raw gaze of the political economist,

as soon as this form confronts him ready in the money.


Then he seeks the mystical character of gold and silver

away by giving them less dazzling merchandise

and with always renewed pleasure the catalog of all the

of the riffraff, which at the time played the role of the

commodity equivalents has played.


He does not suspect that even the simplest value expression, such as 20

cubits of canvas = 1 skirt, the puzzle of the equivalent form to

solve there.



Deep silence reigns in the water,

Without movement the sea rests.

And sorrowfully the skipper sees

Smooth surface all around.


No air from any side,

Deathly silence terrible.

In the vast expanse

Reget no wave itself.

Participating artists

More artists

Natalia Pschenitschnikova (voice recording track 5 and 6)

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