The inspiration for our project (and our name) comes from post revolutionary Russia, specifically 1920s Moscow and the artists, scientists and musicians working in experimentation labs investigation graphical sound and developing noise machines. Their work is largely unknown particularly in the West. Having attended a talk from Professor Andrey Smirnov in Berlin in 2013 for the launch of Generation Z exhibition and ‘Sound in Z‘, his book that charts this period of history and the early experiments in electro acoustic machines; we became fascinated by this historical period and the radically experimental and groundbreaking work undertaken by these lost pioneers of sound art.
In August 2015 we embarked on research trip to Moscow to uncover the stories behind this group of artists and scientists and see the noise machine objects and archival graphical scores. The trip was part of our research for the ‘Play the Collections’ residency at the National Science and Media Museum, one aim was to film and record sounds and imagery that would feed into our final show at the museum. Having contacted Andrey Smirnov who kindly said he would meet us in Moscow- this was a huge adventure!
Andrey Smirnov + the Rhythmicon
We met Andrey at the Moscow State Conservatory where the archives are kept. Andrey is the director of the Theremin Centre which was located at the Conservatory but has now closed, he explained how the noise machines and artefacts from the Generation Z exhibition (including Theremin’s Terpsitone and Rhythmicon) are now stored at a gallery in the suburbs called Ground and his mothers house. This non recognition of the historical and cultural importance of this archive by the national body seemed incredible to us, that the government and state institutions simply didn’t recognise the value and heritage of these electronic objects of musical and scientific importance.
We heard the story of the ANS synthesizer being moved out of the Conservatory and literally pushed down the street at a moments notice when Putin came to power, moving the army bureaucrats into the Conservatory and some of the musical academics out. We had a glimpse into how the avante-garde and the experimental are still marginalised even in contemporary Russian society. The opportunity to play Theremin’s Rhythmicon was thrilling, this machine was designed to play multiple rhythms at the same time and perform a feat unmasterable by human beings. Andrey demonstrated the mechanism and played the instrument then we were allowed to play this original noise machine. See the flying rhythmicon animation below.
ANS Synthesizer at the Glinkha Museum
First day in Moscow and we visited the Glinka state museum, housing a wonderful collection of musical instruments of Russian culture. Of particular interest to us were the electronic pieces. We were wowed by the ANS synthesizer, an early example of a graphical Theremin.
Electromagnetic Field Recording
Moscow is a city bathed in lights and frenetic with electricity. Using guitar pickups we rode the metro and walked the streets of the city, tuning into the electromagnetic waveforms all around. There were lots of surprises, the underlying hum and drone of the town interspersed with bleeps, buzzes and surges of passing electric buses, transport and cables; here is a sample from our Metro journeys…