November 28, 2007
I came across this interview of Edward Artmiev by Anneliese Varaldiev from the Electroshock site and thought I’d include it in the ANS post…
“A . V .: What was the first piece of electronic equipment you used?
E . A .: It was in 1960, just after I graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. I met a man named Yevgeny Murzin, who had created one of the world’s first synthesizers. It was called the “ANS“, which are the initials of the great Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin. Murzin had completed this invention in 1955. Utilizing a series of optical generators, it produced a unique photo-electric system of synthesis, and even today, there is nothing comparable to it. I wrote my first composition specifically for this instrument in 1961.
A . V .: Did you ever study or compose for the Theremin?
E . A .: I was friends with Leon Theremin-1 spent a lot of time with him, in fact- but I never actually used the synthesizer he invented (called the “Thereminovox” in Russia) in my own work, because my introduction to electronic music was through the ANS synthesizer, and for me everything else paled in comparison.
A . V .: When did you decide to try using a synthesizer to create music for film?
E . A .: I composed my first film score in 1961, using the ANS synthesizer. It was a feature called “Meeting the Dream “, and I was asked to create aural settings for several of the film’s fantasy sequences-a job which today would be known as sound design. The first important cinematic work for which I used the synthesizer, however, was “Solaris “, almost ten years later. And although we also used an orchestra in that score, it too basically functioned as one gigantic synthesizer. Then, in the mixing, we combined the sounds of these two different elements-acoustic and electronic-to achieve a seamless musical texture.
A . V .: I know that you took on the role of sound designer in other films–a number of years, in fact, before this term was officially coined…
E . A .: Tarkovsky often said to me that, for him, it was more important for the composer to create an overall conceptual idea for all the sound used in a film, rather than to simply write themes or melodies that accompany the images. In “The Mirror “, for example, I had to create orchestral textures which were added to the natural, non-musical elements of the soundtrack, in order to give them a certain spiritual dimension that he wanted. The orchestra’s purpose here was to play the role of “living water” (a term in Russian folklore having to do with spiritual regeneration and renewal), m the entire picture there is only one actual music cue, in the usual sense of that term and even then I used variations on only a single chord-an E-minor chord, with constantly changing instrumentation-and this sequence is ten minutes long!
A . V .: I think your score for “Stalker ” is a perfect illustration of what you spoke about earlier–the idea that something completely new and unique can come about when the parallel lines of acoustic and electronic sound finally connect. Not just merge or collide, but truly connect…
E . A .: There were actually two versions of the score for “Stalker “. The first one was done with an orchestra alone-no synthesizer-but Tarkovsky rejected it, which surprised me, because he loved the idea of live music-making. The second version, which he accepted, was basically created on the Synthi-100 synthesizer, along with solo acoustic instruments that were extensively manipulated using various sound processors. At that time, Tarkovsky was very interested in Zen Buddhism, and wanted the music to reflect certain contemplative elements that are part of Eastern religion and philosophy. To achieve this quality, I borrowed from the Indian classical tradition of using a single basic tonality, whose rhythmic patterns are slowly and constantly changing, creating a background over which the melody of a solo instrument can soar.”
November 27, 2007
Location: Outside the Odeon Cinema, Oxford UK.
Walking out of a cinema in that familiar post film haze, the man next to me stepped out into the street and was hit by a taxi. The sound was a short but very loud bang followed by the smashing of glass (was he carrying bottles or was it the car headlights shattering on impact?). I was surprised by the solidity of the bang considering the softness of a human body against a metal surface and confused, the man had disappeared right in front of me. Where had he gone? was he under the car or had he bounced off the vehicle bonnet into the street? The taxi had come to an immediate halt some distance away (film sound effect of screaming tires) the driver gripping the wheel with both hands, staring straight ahead.
November 26, 2007
(Image: London Noise-map. The arrow points to my house)
” Noise can cause annoyance, interrupt conversation, disturb sleep and, in extreme conditions, cause physical damage to those affected. The types of noise that are experienced can be classified into some fairly broad categories. For example, occupational noise which is experienced at work, neighbour or neighbourhood noise and environmental (aka ambient) noise caused by transport and industry.”
My cousin does this – standing on a street corner all day in some bland suburb of London, microphone in hand, recording the average volume of environmental sound. The data is collected and projected over a London street map to form a graphic visualisation of the changing volumes throughout the city. this is part of DEFRA’s “National Ambient Noise Strategy” who’s aim is to provide us and ‘policy makers’ with a source of sound data for the whole of England.
The map, though fascinating, seems to me to be of little value because volume is not the only parameter in determining the annoyance factor of ‘noise’. Equally relevant are duration, repetition, pitch, timbre, time( the noise of the city animated over one day), and frequency. And, DEFRA assume that all noise is inherently annoying. My thesis is that the map should become a tourist map of London defined by it’s unique sound as much as by it’s geography, architecture and so-on. At the same time as capturing volume data, all other aspects of noise can be measured and visualised giving an invaluable and unique ongoing audio-visual symphony of London.
London is noise:For instance where i live in east London ( marked a dark brown on the map for ‘reasonably quiet’ ) is bathed in an ever present low volume but high pitched susurrus generated by traffic on the A12 – the sound spill from the motorway gives this area a unique feel and interestingly where the noise peters out, the social demographic radically changes. Time plays it’s part: in the morning the low almost inaudible mumbling of the underground trains at 6am in Whitechapel and the sounds of the first aeroplanes circling the city, a descending tone as they drop down to Heathrow (Sarah says the sound of the banking planes changes from summer to winter and that the winter sound she finds depressing – i had never noticed the difference). Each city has it’s own audio fingerprint: the time i spent in Lisboa had the backing sound of the Ponte 25 Abril (inaudible to the Lisboans), the sound of angry bees made by cars on the resonating bridge (i heard this sound again later in Oxford where the noise from the unusually corrugated surface of the a34, several miles away, drove my friend from his rented, supposedly tranquil rural bolthole). Hanoi is the scooter horn and the early morning rumble of a single advancing tidal wave of noise as the traffic en mass, enters the the sleeping city.
November 22, 2007
This wednesday was the annual ‘away day’ for Space Studios trustees (of which i am one) board i.e. a 7 hour board meeting discussing Space Studios policy, strategy and future direction. The venue for the meeting was the newly acquired ‘Malthouse Studio’ in Barking which is intended to become the cultural hub for the Thames Gateway development in the east of London. In the near future Space will redevelop the adjacent ‘Icehouse’ building and build new premises to lead the creation of the ‘Thames Gateway Cultural Quarter’
“The Malthouse, Barking is a newly refurbished warehouse in Barking set in the heart of an ambitious creative industry regeneration scheme for East London. Situated on the river Roding, the local environment is visually rich in the industrial heritage of the East London river basin and canal network. It has excellent transport links being near A13 and Nth Circular jct and Barking underground (District and Hammersmith&City lines) and 10 minutes walk from the town centre.”
” About SPACE:
Founded in 1968, SPACE is an arts educational charity which produces dynamic environments where individuals and communities can engage in creative processes. SPACE supports the production of art through the provision of studio space, widens participation in visual arts & media and fosters creative potential of individuals and communities.
Our mission is to provide ‘space to create’: supporting the production of art through the provision of creative space; ‘space to engage’: widening engagement in artistic practices; and ‘space to develop’- supporting the development of creative individuals and communities.
SPACE fulfils its mission through the provision of affordable, accessible studios and production facilities to over 600 artists, designers and makers across London. And through delivering an innovative programme of Exhibitions, Media Arts commissions, community based collaborations, events, International Residencies, training & professional development courses.”
Excerpt from Space Studio press release.
November 22, 2007
Today sunseastar release their first record ‘Fjærland’ – the result of a years worth of location recording and intensive audio processing by Andy Wilson and myself. The fruits of this anachronistic endeavor can be can be purchased from Dirter Promotions. More details on the sunseastar website
Excerpt from the sleevenotes
“Crab and I had worked together in his group Bourbonese Qualk before starting sunseastar as a separate project with its own agenda. The idea was inspired by listening to Xenakis and thinking about a physicists’ joke about how uncanny it is that nature can solve differential equations instantaneously. The stochastic processes Xenakis uses to construct his music are all around us anyway. From this thought came the idea of taking a short cut around the hard work Xenakis had to do, and making musique concrete based directly on the sound of chaotic processes – the sound of chains rattling, of rain falling, of a field of sheep sounding their bells together, of the sea crashing on the shore, of insects moving through grass.”
November 22, 2007
Continuing the ANS story, Here’s a pretty exhaustive list of recording featuring the ANS Synthesiser, I’ve not included Artemiev’s film soundtrack work for Tarkovsky as I’ll cover this in a separate post. if I’ve missed anything, please let me know…
“Musical Offering” 1990
The first LP to feature recordings of the ANS Synthesiser were released as a vinyl lp “Musical Offering” on the Russian Melodiya label (C60 30721 000) in 1990 and contains works from 1968-1970 by Edison Denisov , Sofia Gubajdullina and Alfred Schnittke
Edison Denisov “The Singing of the Birds,” (excerpt) 4k m3u file
Sofia Gubajdullina’s “Vivente-nonvivente” (excerpt) 4k m3u file
Alfred Schnittke’s “The Stream” (excerpt) 4k m3u file
The Russian Electroshock label issued a series of electro-acoustic sampler records, the fourth being devoted to archive recordings of the ANS Synthesiser as well as two works by the composer and ANS expert Stanislav Kreichi:
ELECTROSHOCK PRESENTS: “ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSIC VOL. IV. ARCHIVE TAPES. SYNTHESIZER ANS. 1964-1971” – 1999
(Electroshock Records ELCD 011)
“Electroacoustic Music Volume IV” is a collection of tracks dedicated to ANS, the first Russian synthesizer, created by Evgeniy Murzin over a 20 year period (1937-1957). Murzin only made one copy of the ANS and the 12 tracks on this disc were recorded by Russian musicians between 1964-1971, hence the sub-title “Archive Tapes Synthesiser ANS”. The tracks are all spacey electronic excursions and I can imagine the music must have been quite mind-blowing for its time. Far from being simple exploratory noodlings and knob-twiddlings by the curious, the contributors are clearly familiar with their instrument and have produced well thought out creative compositions. And given the context of the time it was recorded the music is quite impressive and should appeal particularly to those interested in the history of electronic music.”
- Oleg Buloshkin – Sacrament [3:34]
- Sofia Gubaidulina – Vivente-Non Vivente (“Alive & Dead”) [10:44]
- Edward Artemiev – Mosaic [4:00] 7.6MB MP3 Download
- Edward Artemiev – 12 looks at the world of sound [12:52] 17.7MB MP3 File Download
- Edison Denisov – Birds singing [5:05]
- Alfred Schnittke – Steam [5:50]
- Alexander Nemtin – Tears [4:41]
- Alexander Nemtin – I.S. Bach: Choral Prelude C-Dur [2:30]
- Schandor Kallosh – Northern Tale [5:38]
- Stanislav Kreitchi – Voices of the west [2:00] 7.9mb MP3 file
- Edward Artemiev & Stanislav Kreitchi – Music from the motion picture “Cosmos” [12:15]
- Stanislav Kreitchi – Intermezzo [2:00]
November 19, 2007
The intention of these series of posts is to document sounds that have remained in memory. Not sounds that are particularly pleasant or trigger ‘Proustian Resonance’ but unique sounds that once heard are never forgotten (therefore impossible to reproduce or record). If i get enough – and please add your own – i’ll organise them into a top ten ‘mnemaudio’ chart.
The MRI Scan
Andy (Wilson) and I regularly cite the MRI scanning machine as a prime influence on sunseastar’s music having both been fortunate enough to witness the machines unique timbre up close (…are sunseastar the only group where all members have had brain scan?). The Magnetic Resonance Image Scanner is a medical device used to generate images of the soft tissues of the brain for the diagnosis of illnesses. The unfortunate patient is strapped to a horizontal bed which is introduced slowly into the small cavity of a large metal wheel – a very claustrophobic and alarming experience – you are allowed a view of your feet via a mirror near your head but apart from that you can see nothing. The staff switch the machine on and leave the room with unsettling haste.
The sounds come in a series of about six sequences ( different angles of the scanning device through the head?) of a few minutes each over a total of thirty minutes (in my case). The noise is very impressive due to it’s volume and unexpectedness – It’s very loud and very close and, because you are strapped in to a small space, there’s no way to get away from it:
“Due to the construction of MRI scanners, they are potentially unpleasant to lie in. The part of the body being imaged needs to lie at the center of the magnet (which is often a long, narrow tube). Because scan times may be long (perhaps one hour), people with even mild claustrophobia are often unable to tolerate an MRI scan without management.”
The noise can be described as a high volume grating mechanical ‘GRRRR’ of regular but varying tone on each pass. If this sound came from any other machine it would be an indication that it was about to fail with catastrophic and lethal effect – which is quite alarming considering it is inches from your unprotected face:
“Acoustic noise: Loud noises and vibrations are produced by forces resulting from rapidly switched magnetic gradients interacting with the main magnetic field, in turn causing minute expansions and contractions of the coil itself. This is most marked with high-field machines and rapid-imaging techniques in which sound intensity can reach 130 dB – equivalent to a jet engine at take-off.”
November 15, 2007
“The Herald of Free Enterprise sinks, Piper Alpha and Kings Cross burn. These temporarily grab the headlines that sell the newspapers that fund the next catastrophe. Elsewhere the scientists sell us failsafe mechanisms that snap, the artists cast over us the spell of beauty, the shopkeepers flog us shoddy goods. The Religious meekly offer up tolerance and all the time the politicians remind us we’ve never had it so good. Four screws instead of six for maximum profit, and the wing drops off. Lest we forget, we should try the war criminals of the future now.”Summer 1988.
“On Saturday the fourth of June 1988, as the sun set on the Bluecoat courtyard in central Liverpool there occurred an hour long incident. A monumental barrage of sound, light, image, daring, dance, fire, music, speech and performance. A spectacle based on the African Vimbuza ritual, designed to strengthen us all in the fight against those evil and negative spirits that have polluted the world sporting the brand names of Colonialism, Market Forces and Incentive, but all the time disguising the real sponsors: Greed and Negligence.”
…I’m sitting with Miles Miles on top of a high empty plinth outside St George’s Hall in the centre of Liverpool. A swarm of military vehicles followed by a troupe of Ghanaian dancers and manacled slaves slowly process around the ornate Victorian buildings. My friend Artmy Troitsky (Russian rock journalist, author of several books, one time boss of Playboy Russia and now head of MTV Russia) is standing, a little nervously, Nelson like on the top of a fifty metre high column declaring sections of ‘Das Kapital’ in Russian through a megaphone (the synbolism!). Bourbonese Qualk supply the soundtrack to the event -Miles and I are playing guitars lying flat on top of the plinth and manipulating the sound with some basic technology:
1. Take 1 old Mirage Sampler (The Bourbonese Qualk 8 bit standby of the day).
2. Sample random bits of live guitar…
3. Overload the basic sequencer function by pressing the ‘play’ button repeatedly in quick succession…
4. All going well the Mirage starts generating random granular type sequences based on live guitar samples.
‘Urban Vimbuza’ was a series of urban performances ( hate that word) in Liverpool during the late Eighties. The fact that they were in Liverpool (Liverpool was a long way away during the eighties) and that they were focussed on controversial and confrontational subjects meant they were ignored by the rest of the country -this was during the height of the Thatcher regime. Vimbuza scrutinised racism, capitalism, slavery, terrorism, violence, hypocrisy and threw it back in the face of an ever widening consumer society. The spectacle (i use the word knowingly) succeeded because it drew on genuine anger and spontaneity while remaining completely independent from political or artistic control. The events were co-ordinated by the ‘Stress Block’ a loose conglomeration of Liverpool musicians, artists and activists overseen by ‘Kif’ at his Bold Street apartment and studio – Kif’s other role was the policy maker and policy upholder, sound engineer and DJ for Bourbonese Qualk, more of him later…
Here’s a recording of ‘Rhythmic Stress’ from 1989:
November 13, 2007
Last Tuesday I was on the Eurostar heading south to Bruxelles when i was supposed to have been on stage with Andy Wilson as part of sunseastar’s third live outing…which was just as well as it turns out.
Jean-Hervé Peron of Faust (or, NotFaust) was headlining the night but had been deserted by his band. His solution was to imperiously co-opt the support acts into an ad hoc backing group, briefed just before the gig started with precise musical instructions (“in the second part make the sound of an exploding star…”) as a background for his “old hippy songs” (not my description) . At that point i would have gone home. Andy, who is made of sterner stuff saw the set out and said that some of it was “not that bad”.
November 5, 2007
The visit i made to Moscow in December 2001 was the occasion of Bourbonese Qualk’s last real performance, that is to say the last performance Miles Miles and i made together. We were asked to perform as part of the Foundry’s ‘TooMuch Spirit’ event at the DOM in Moscow. I don’t know why we were selected for this event, the cast list for the trip consisted of a select bunch of London artists, alcoholics, poets, psychotics, musicians…and us… I also used the trip as a chance to continue research on the (still ongoing) book on the history of electronic musical instruments by visiting Andrei Smirnov of the Termen Institute – the worlds expert on Russian Electronic Music – which included a trip to see the ANS Synthesiser (see previous post)
So far so good. what i hadn’t reckoned on was Miles’s revelation on arrival in Moscow that he was completely addicted to heroin (something he had previously kept quiet about) which meant that if he was to perform as a human being let alone as a musician he would need a regular supply of smack (purchased on terrifying visits to Chechnyan drug dealers). I also hadn’t reckoned on finding myself in the beginning of an unexpected mental breakdown and psychotic crisis (brought on by events i won’t go into here). No wonder people mistook us for Russians.
(image: Bourbonese Qualk. Moscow 2001. L-R: Miles Miles, Simon Crab)
The Bourbonese Qualk performance was, um, adequate considering the circumstances and possibly a little ambitious. Miles was hesitantly playing guitar and trumpet while i was manipulating his performance in real-time using a program i had written in ‘Super Collider‘. The software was a granular synthesis application that allowed me to loop, reverse, alter the pitch of the live sound and mix the resulting sound into a coherent stream*. ( Super Collider was the programming language we used extensively on the ‘On Uncertainty’ album).