solarisI 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.

mirrorA . V .: I know that you took on the role of sound designer in other filmsa 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 forStalkeris a perfect illustration of what you spoke about earlierthe 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.”

An excerpt from Artemiev’s soundtrack for ‘Solaris’ (13.2MB MP3 File)

ans4Sitting in a forgotten room under the streets of Moscow in the Zoological University basmement is a large iron machine. The machine has been looked after and protected from demolition for the last fourty years by it’s guardian, Stanislav. the machine, called ‘ANS’ , looks like an old printing press, it is black, and smells of oil and ink. the ANS takes time to start up when its fabric covered cables are connected, its cogs spin and the glass plates whirr. It hums loudly.

The function of the ANS would be impossible to determine from it’s appearance: The only part of the machine that gives a clue to it’s intended purpose is a small ‘piano’ keyboard vertically positioned next to a greasy inked glass plate: The ANS is infact a musical instrument, an early synthesiser, conceived by the jazz loving military scientist Yvgeny Murzin during the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ in Russia). Murzin’s ambition was to create a universal instrument that would combine the visual and audio aspects of composition in one machine(Murzin christened the machine the ‘ANS’ after Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin who’s synaesthetic theories were very influential in the USSR at the time), freeing the musician and composer from the restaints of standard composition and giving them an unlimited palette of sounds.

(image:Miles Miles holding a glass disk from the ANS dec 2001)

ans2The basic theory of the machine was to rebuild a sound from it’s visible image – echoing Scriabin’s ‘colour organ’. At the heart of the machine was the sound generator: 144 glass disks, each disk containing multiple pure sine waveforms which when spun at varying speeds produced multiple and complex combinations of tones. The sound was created by directing a light beam through the spinning glass disk to a photo-electric cell – which in turn created a voltage tone output whcih could be heard through a set of speakers. Incredibly, each of the 144 glass discs were hand drawn, in itself a phenomenal task which took many years to complete.

Following Murzin’s light-to-sound design of the ANS was the control mechanism. The composer simply wrote into a glass plate covered in black ink – the higher the line the higher the pitch (generated from the glass disks) the lower the line, the lower the pitch. The horizontal axis of the plate represents time, so the length of the line determines it’s longevity. To play the composition a ‘light reading head’ traveled over the inked plate and picked up a light beam shining through the lines made by the composer ( interestingly, the speed of the ‘play head’ could vary without altering the pitch or timbre of the piece a unique and powerful musical and composition tool). The vertical keyboard manual when presssed created straight lines in the ink – therefore producing fixed interval tones.

ans1The ANS project was not supported by the state and Murzin had continual problems self financing the instrument. As well as co-opting friends and colleagues to help out, the sheer size of the machine was a major issue and it was only until 1958 that the ANS found a secure home – oddly enough in the Zoological University. It was here at the University where the instruments was pressed into military service. Dolphins it was agreed would be useful weapons – planting mines, locating enemy ships and so-on, if only they could be understood (and vice-versa). The ANS with it’s unlimited range of sounds and timbres was seen as a viable way of decoding and learning dolphin language:Photographic images of dolphin calls were drawn on the the ANS plate, analysed, altered and presumably played back to the dolphins…

stalker

While all this delphinic research was going on the ANS was beginning to be used by a new generation of electronic composers ( including Edward Artemiev – composer of soundtracks to Tarkovsky’s films ‘Stalker’ and ‘Solaris’, Oleg Buloshkin, Vladimir Martinov, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke, Alexander Nemtin and Stanislav Kriechi – the ANSs’ keeper) who had realised the potential of the instrument.