ANS Synthesizer 1964 - 71

Electroshock Presents: Electroacoustic Music Volume IV: Archive Tapes Synthesizer ANS 19641971.
Electronic works by Oleg Buloshkin - Sofia Gubaidulina - Edward Artemiev - Edison Denisov - Alfred Schnittke - Alexander Nemtin - Schandor Kallosh - Stanislav Kreitchi.
Electroshock Records ELCD 011. Duration: 72:07.

Historical issues of electronic and electroacoustic music are always welcome. They tend to feel very fresh and original, since they were achieved at the beginning of an evolution, at the very start of a tradition, when the composers tried out new ideas of sound and the treatment of sound through machinery that was developed simultaneously.
Russia has had a mystical feel attached to its name and reputation all through the Soviet era, when the country was cut off from the world in many respects, and when many cultural phenomena by sheer necessity were referred to the sub-cultures. This applied to literature, poetry and other disciplines as well. The good thing that these circumstances achieved was that culture – the written word, the spoken word, paintings and so on – took on an immense meaning, a severe meaning, a weightiness never arrived at in a democratic country, where anyone can say anything without anyone listening. In Russia and the Soviet Union the word was gold; something to treasure. Exchange the word “word” in last sentence with the word “art”, and you’ll have a pretty good hunch of how culture survived in Russia during the Communist reign.
The rightfully paranoid atmosphere in Russia during those decades even rubbed off on visitors. I and two friends of mine went to Russia and the Soviet Union in 1973, during the Brezhnev era, staying in Moscow for a while before taking a train down to Armenia. We went to the Synagogue of Moscow to see if we could find some dissidents, and we did. Those were mostly kids, trying to find ways of receiving Rolling Stones records through contacts in the West, and we got their addresses in Moscow. However, so great was the feeling of being watched and monitored that we – shamefully admitted - didn’t dare keep the papers with the dissident addresses, but flushed them down in the toilet at the huge hotel where we were staying… This may sound reckless in retrospect, but the feeling that society back then in Russia transmitted was such…

At the beginning of electronic music the basic principles of musical or other formal education, academic or otherwise acquired, were the same, but there was no easily purchased machinery. In fact, there was no machinery at all, made with the purpose of making electronic music, the way we look at it today. There were some primitive electronic instruments, like the trautonium, for instance, which was constructed by Friedrich Trautwein in Berlin, but they were very limited and of no use to a composer with the intent of shaping a new sound world, even though some composers incorporated the sounds of some of those early instruments in their compositions, or even composed directly for the instrument itself, as did Paul Hindemith in 1930, when he composed “
7 Trios for 3 Trautoniums” and “Langsames Stück und Rondo für Trautonium”. The trios were performed in Berlin at an “electric concert” in the summer of 1930, with Paul Hindemith at one of the instruments. The trautonium was made up of tone-generating oscillators that were manipulated by way of a metal wire strapped across a board with a metal rail. You pressed the metal wire down on the rail in different places, thereby generating different pitches from the oscillators. There were other experiments being conducted elsewhere at about the same time, or as early as in the 1920s. In Russia a Mr. Leon Theremin built an electric instrument named after himself, as did Mr. Martenot in Paris, when he constructed the Ondes Martenot, which was quite widely used for a while. This was a time of experimentation, and over in Russia after the 1917 revolution there even were concerts on factory whistles.

I do not really know how electronic music fared in Russia during the heaviest Communist reign. In the beginning of the Communist era, in the 1920s, there was, as said, much experimenting taking place in Russia. There was no end to the ingenuity, until Stalin in his private paranoia started killing people off.
No matter how electronic music fared – it might have been accepted? – the iron curtain had banged shut, and not much was known outside Russia of what was going on inside the country. Remember for example the fate of the genial pianist Svjatoslav Richter, who became known in the West very late, and only toured a few times outside Russia during the iron years.

Electroshock Records of Moscow has released a CD with pioneering electronic music from the period 1964 – 1971, which is a period when the somewhat lighter hand of Nikita Krushchev was replaced by the much sturdier and more repressive totalitarian reign of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. This CD is a great revelation to the world outside of Russia, giving insights to the experimentation of sound during that important period, when so much was happening in the U.S.A. (San Francisco Tape Music Center) and Europe (The Stockhausen adventure in full swing and Rune Lindblad conducting his experiments in Gothenburg).
The CD that
Electroshock has released in a limited edition – hopefully to be reprinted, though this is denied so far from Artemiy Artemiev of the company – is called “ANS; Archive Tapes 1964 – 1971”. The ANS was (is) a machine for synthesizing sounds. I have not as yet understood how it is constructed and how it works, but it is used by the composers on this CD. The machine, which was constructed by the Russian scientist Evgeniy Murzin from 1937 to 1957, was built in one copy only, which is kept at the Lomonosov University in Moscow.

When you study the list of composers on this CD who utilized the ANS synthesizer you’re bound to grasp for air. Did you hear electronic music before by, for example, Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke? This CD is a great treasure!

The first track is Oleg Buloshkin’s “
Sacrament”. It is a short (3:34) piece, beginning with a soft pulse on a backdrop of “space sounds”, they way they appeared in old space movies, but soon overtones of very rich spectra draw a melodic line of great beauty, while the pulse gets stronger. The feeling is that of enchantment, of s silvery, forested magic; a Russian fairytale. Toward the end the pulse rhythm moves in the direction of African tribal dances, incredibly, inside the space feeling, as if picked up the scanning devices of stellar travelers.

Sofia Gubaidulina

Sofia Gubaidulina is next with her “Vivente – Non Vivente”; an allusion on Shakespeare’s text. Gubaidulina’s piece is longer – 10:44 – and seems to be the first grand Russian effort at an electronic composition, if indeed the sequence on the CD is chronological. (I miss the exact dates of all pieces, which are not given. It is important to give all details when issuing historical material)
A strangeness – an estrangement – hovers over this piece too, and one wonders if that is an effect of the ANS synthesizer or the Russian iron curtain confinement – or both. Anyhow, this is great music, displaying intriguing sound webs, ominous and dark, like a scene out of Tarkovsky’s “
Stalker”; a feeling, which gets even stronger when angelic (?) voices are detected deep inside the murmur and swooshing of electronic sounds. A female voice flutters around like a butterfly deep inside the echoing layers of sound, as from a witch way inside your subconscious. The witch’s laughter gets hysterical, merging with the bubbling and crushing electronics of Gubaidulina and the ANS synthesizer. Extended, elastic events render a backdrop of some stability, of a weighty succession through the sounding space, while shorter, fluttering disturbances move in faster figures up front. A beautiful wind-chime tingles and tangles like church bells on the loose in your right speaker, while female “aahs” swirl through space at left. I only wish Sofia Gubaidulina had composed more for the electroacoustic medium. She’s great at combining electronics and sampled concrete sounds.

Track 3 constitutes Edward Artemiev’s “
Mosaic”; a four minute event, also simultaneously displaying slow background sound curtains, slowly shifting – and closer, faster sounds, all moving. Artemiev’s music here is very spatial, rich in events, rich in timbres. This is in fact a very timbral music, layered, shifting like the light shining through a lava crust or the layers of ice shifting, building up and falling down, at the time of spring when the ice of the sea breaks up at shore. The title – “Mosaic” – is a hint that this shifting effect was intended by the composer.

No. 4 is also a piece by Edward Artemiev, called “
12 Looks at the World of Sound”. This is – as the title indicates – a very mixed bag of sounds, though seamlessly attached to each other, mixed and redistributed. It begins with a jew’s harp, probably recorded in the Tuva region of overtone singing and beautiful horses. A world of indigenous shamanism opens inside your mind at the continuation of the piece, through an inward Bardo Thödol journey, in which you are shown all the good and bad you caused in the shadowy world of the living.
Staccato incidents shift with long, bending, bulging sheet steel sections of sound, and you float through it all like a flake of fur tree bark blown off a tree, filmed in slow motion.
Hectic and disturbing metal workshop sounds emerge out of a hazy, giant construction hall, where beings circle their objects like bees in a hive.
The view shifts into the sewer pipes of the city, where dreamy, ghostly shadows drift in oblivion. The sounds are distant, as if heard through long, endless catacombs.
Later on Artemiev sounds like Konrad Boehmer or Gottfried Michael Koenig, in metallic, scraping, over-powering shrills.
Avalanche murmurs invade the space, as small sparks of electricity ping and sparkle through your cerebral cortex.
This Edward Artemiev work is very imaginative, very inventive.

Edison Denisov

Edison Denisov’s “Birds Singing” opens with a sonic view of a northern forest lake, where all kinds of birds gather, like cranes, wood-peckers, wader birds, crows and so on – in a pristine, un-touched, un-altered landscape. The famous Swedish composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl also used nature sounds in his rare electronic venture “Altisonans” (1966).
Moose are also heard in Denisov’s composition, conversing loudly in the echoing forest. A whippoorwill – a nightjar – whirs from afar inside the woods. This scenery is lightly mixed with electronic sounds, but mostly Denisov just uses the natural sounds of all these beings to create this world of sounds beyond the human world. It’s a pity that Denisov’s piece is so short – 5:05 – and I haven’t heard of any other piece by him in the electronic vein.

Alfred Schnittke

Alfred Schnittke participates with his “Steam”. Alfred Schnittke became famous in the West for his meta music and his uninhibited mix of styles from different periods. This is the one and only electronic piece I’ve hard of him.
It approaches in brittle overtones from afar, gradually extending its presence, spreading out to encompass the whole listening space, though arriving from the left, slowly involving the whole area. Layers of overtone sounds amass, as if you were listening to Folke Rabe’s “
Was??” in an echo chamber.
The sound thins out momentarily, distancing itself, but hovers over the horizon like a trembling wave of an oscilloscope. Much energy is at work, no doubt, to fill the horizon like this. Almost industrial sounds of grinding steel against steel follow, much in the tradition of the Romanian avant-garde, which, however, is of a later date than this Schnittke piece.
Since many of the composers on this CD produce these extended lines of overtonal successions, I suppose the ANS synthesizer was particularly well suited for this – or was that just a common style during those years? Folke Rabe did it in Sweden in 1966, without any knowledge – as far as I know – of the ANS synthesizer in Moscow.

Track 7 is “
Tears” by Alexander Nemtin. This sounds a lot like some of the experiments of the 1950s at the WDR studio in Cologne, with distant low-fi industrial sounds arranged in layers and sections, not without electronic charm. Apparently this piece is taken directly off a vinyl, since you can hear the minute crackling and hissing of the surface – which makes this piece almost even more desirable, deducing that it was in the knack of time to be able to save it for future listeners.

Track 8 also features Alexander Nemtin. The piece is – luckily - very short – 2:30 – and utilizes Johann Sebastian Bach’s “
Chorale Prelude in C major” – or actually simply plays it via the ANS synthesizer. I do not see the significance of such an effort, but nonetheless, here it is. Maybe it’s a Russian comment on the American Bach issues using the Moog synthesizer – which ever came first. It’s not interesting, anyway, at all.

Schandor Kallosh’s “
Northern Tale” is the more interesting, emerging in thin, brittle, sharp soundings, sprayed with showers of pea-like gushes over kitchen tables, evolving inside a magically revolving eternity of space, really giving you the sense of immense distance and the immediate closeness of yourself in yourself in yourself in yourself.
This piece too appears to have been taken off a vinyl.
It interests me a lot, because the handling of the material is extremely inventive, at one time appearing in the guise of a rock ‘n roll mimicry, and shortly thereafter in a distant reverence to Rostropovich and his cello, far inside the electronic layers of sound. Kallosh has applied his imagination in an impressive way, even utilizing a short loop of a woman’s voice in a rhythmic way that so far, to my knowledge, only Steve Reich in his “
Come Out!” (1966) has done, in that same manner.

Stanislav Kreitchi is a very interesting composer, who has kept on working with electronics. Elsewhere on this site I have reviewed his CD “
Ansiana “ (Electroshock Records ELCD 016), released in 2000. Here we listen to a younger Kreitchi, in a piece called “Voices of the West”. This is taken from a vinyl as well, so I suppose the original tapes are lost. Kreitchi works with melodic and non-melodic material in a curious mix, utilizing a short feedback, immersing parts of the event with metallic high-pitch screeches of the rusty hinges of a door. The piece is only 2 minutes long.

The 11th track is a joint effort by Edward Artemiev and Stanislav Kreitchi; a sound track piece for the movie “
Cosmos”. Artemiev has done much music for movies, for example for the Tarkovsky cult movies.
It’s clear that this track too is ripped off a vinyl, but, like I said before, it only heightens the experience of exclusiveness.
The “
Cosmos” music is strange blending of melodious music and electronics, and I suppose it would have been hard to have a purely experimental, electronic soundtrack for a movie. The work is about twelve minutes long, and you have time to seep into the atmosphere of the piece. Which is a dreamy state of mind, a dreamy state of space, and how could it be different with a movie title like “Cosmos”? The music is enjoyable, even if not equaling the best of either Artemiev or Kreitchi.

The CD as such is a must, so I hope it will be reprinted, no matter how definite the negative message from
Electroshock may sound at the moment.