“Piano” is bookended by sketches on a partly-ruined piano in a war zone – messages over an army radio heard crackling in the background. In between, there is the warmth of a 1920s German instrument in the artist’s Kyiv flat and grantmother’s house before the war. Ukrainian artist John Object is now living mainly as PFC Timur Dzhafarov, deployed to the front. In sounds, images, and words, he has opened up about what that reality means.
Photo of the artist by Ievgen Borysovskyi. All other images here provided by Timur from his time while deployed; the ghostly monochromatic ones come from a thermal scope.
Track titles with Timur’s notes:
“vomit the heart forget the mind” – March 2023, near the frontline at Bakhmut, Ukraine
“No Heart” – last pre-war Kyiv recording at our apartment
“Yes I Would” – 2014-ish, piano at my grandmother’s, features additions on an Oberheim OB-12, now sadly sold
“We Will Never Meet Again” – at home in Kyiv, 2021
“I’m Still Here” – Kyiv home recording, 2021
“hell is real” – probably 2016-2017, from when I used to play piano at grandma’s when visiting for dinner
“Sky as Photograph, Moon as Cigarette” – 2021 Kyiv home cozy times, edited at my ex-girlfriends place, title based on a misremembered Protomartyr quote from You Always Win
“Forever Forgive” – first piece written on the 1920s German piano Max had in his apartment, hungover after we got drunk and I spent the night, I moved into that apartment soon after and lived there until the war started; if you listen carefully you can hear Max doing the dishes in the kitchen
“If Yes” – first grandma’s place piece, I think, probably 2017-ish, very simple, was interrupted by the door buzzer
“Don’t Look Now” – 2021 Kyiv home recordings period, unfortunate choice of sound effects to add, maybe just prophetic, it was in the air
“east piano” – wartime recording, March 2023, first evening at the abandoned house near Bakhmut, trying out the piano for whichever keys are still alive, you can hear laughter of my brothers in arms
Made public this week, this is an album that is earnest and intimate – more vulnerable than most any release you’ll hear this year, more the sense you’re in the room with the artist. Each track, spontaneous as it is, manages a succinct poignancy. Any sour pitch becomes intentional, every hesitation falling into forward gestures. And they’re deep and diverse – a series of emotional postcards. I remember personally the music I’d make when my family left me alone with our piano; this has that freeness. And of course that’s just the freedom and comfort of home that has been robbed by Russian war.
Some tracks cut off with notes still resonating or mid-phrase; mic positions change and tonal qualities with them. Birds sing in the background through an open window. “Yes I Would” melts into electronics. Some ideas interrupt others or catch something mid-phrase – a call left lingering, the way inner thoughts catch like prickly burrs or float away on a breeze. Timur sometimes stops to cough, or sniff, or breathe. A phone rings, and you feel it disturb the music.
I say all of this because I feel the need to play these tracks on repeat. If any of you tuned into our Ukraine Resistance Radio project, you heard his voice message and track; we already couldn’t stop listening to that. The full-length “Piano” is a work that even if it was captured in a moment, replays again and again. I want to hear it once more, just as I find myself looking for Timur’s Twitter or Instagram posts. I think we all want to go back to the music world as it was before the full-scale invasion and know we can’t. John Object, the experimental artist, was just named a SHAPE+ platform artist – but that person is simultaneously serving in the defense of Ukraine as PFC Timur Dzhafarov.
And so contained in these tracks is a second contradiction – that this is a reality that a lot of us are privileged not to share. We all are called on to tread differently. We need to listen to people in Ukraine and not only Ukraine – everyone who lives with occupation, with war – sometimes with our occupation and our war, paying the price for our empires, the ones that we often do not control but do profit from at someone else’s expense, on someone else’s land.
Truthfully, it’s hard to make sense of all those conflicting realities – read Timur’s Twitter feed for his ongoing diary of having to live with that. But this is what makes music and sound important – for a moment, at least, it puts us in the same space, and we feel something that words can’t circumscribe.
And then, I hope, those feelings drive us to do something material and give something back – not sympathy or other useless expressions, but work out what it is that we can do that might actually make some difference.
Timur’s notes on the album:
I am still a soldier in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Russians are still trying to kill as many Ukrainians as they can. War is in full swing, I am here, I am a very different man. I have been promoted to Private First Class. I have been at the frontline near Bakhmut and near Energodar. I have seen Russians aim their rifles and their artillery at me. I have been hit with shrapnel in my bulletproof vest and I slept in a hole, and I lived in the same pair of boxers for a week. I have done my duty to my utmost ability and I have contributed directly to the Russian losses, while remaining unscathed. I left the trench near Bakhmut on the morning of my 28th birthday, after almost joining Club 27 the night before. I have been promoted to an intelligence position and now I am further away from the frontline, in a forest, on a computer, during my night shift, typing this. I have not left this forest in months.
This is a compilation of my quick piano excercies that I liked to do before the war. I lived with my friend Max in a nice old building in the centre of Kyiv and we had high ceilings and little money and a 1920’s German piano. I would often venture into his room and sit down with my little Zoom recorder or iPhone and try to come up with a tiny piece over the course of ten minutes. It always worked. I always loved it, and these would usually end up on my John Object 2 or John Object 3 SoundCloud accounts, but to be honest, they feel as important to me as anything I’ve ever done. This is real.
The opening and closing pieces were recorded in March of 2023 near the frontline at Bakhmut. Upon my unit’s arrival, we found a house that was inhabited solely by a gang of stray cats, smelled horrible, but was empty and had an old Ukrainian piano, used primarily as a shelf. My unit immediately started asking me to play, but sadly, many keys on the piano were out of order, out to lunch, missing in action. I did what I could, though, and it makes sense to me. Anyway, I’m rambling.
While I’m at a laptop and have internet, here it is.
Please know that Ukrainians are real people who are being killed by Russians every day. Russians are also, sadly, real people, and they do this willingly. Believe me.
Glory to Ukraine.
PFC Timur Dzhafarov, a.k.a. John Object
Please do support Timur’s work and spread the word about it:
Side note: if you’re a Ukrainian experimental artist, we also do invite you to send us a track to Ukraine Resistance Radio. We’re building a network of artists across the country, from the front lines, from the diaspora, and from those displaced by the war, and it’s been an honor to hear and share your work; more is coming. (So far we’ve done broadcasts on radio and community radio in Lithuania, Germany, France, Canada, and the Netherlands.) Submission form:
Open call [UA/EN]