Edward Artemiev: Interview:  

Archie Patterson: When did you first started making electronic music in the USSR?

Edward Artemiev: It was a long time ago. In 1960, right after my graduation from Moscow Conservatoire, I met Eugene Murzin an outstanding inventor, creator of the unique photo-electronic synthesizer ANS (one of the first synthesizers in the world) and founder of the first Experimental studio of electronic music in Moscow. This particular meeting has predetermined my further creative destiny. A talented scientist and passionate music lover, E. Murzin became my teacher in electronics, acoustics; he has joined me to exact sciences, electronic technology, practice of stereo sound recording. Now we can say, that the history of Russian electronic music began from putting into practice Murzin's electronic device - ANS synthesizer, named so after the famous Russian composer A. N. Skriabin. Eugene finished construction of his apparatus in 1955. First creative experiments on ANS were made in 1958 by composer A. Volkonsky, and a little bit later the work with the synthesizer was continued by O. Buloshkin, A. Nemtin, S. Kreichi, S. Gubaidullina, A. Schnitke, E. Denisov, Sh. Kallosh and myself.

E. Murzin has named ANS as "the photoelectronic optical synthesizer of sound". It is based on a photoelectronic device. Photoelectronic principle of synthesis, used by E. Murzin, implies the graphic imaging of soundings on a special plate, covered by a solid layer of black colour, which he has very exactly called "the score". Before the composer is a row of levers, on the end of every one of which is a chisel. In the needful places the colour could be removed (with the chisels), and then one could get a system of splits of a definite configurations: more rich sound required to draw a line (instead of a point), and a chord required to put several points in different places. Received this way splits, points and lines served for a regulation of brightness of light rays, directed on photoelements through rotating discs - frequency modulators. By the effect of light there appeared electric current, which was later transformed into current. "The Score" also played a role of operative memory, letting composer to make various changes in the character of created sound signals, i.e. to correct the sound picture in accordance with the author idea.

Optical sound generators of ANS synthesizer (and their number is 720) make it possible to obtain 720 sinusoidal tones and compose from them oscillations having any level of complexity. The main sound range of the instrument is a division of octave on 72 steps (144-step temperation was also possible). Practically having no temperation ANS exceeds most commercial synthesizer of that time (for example, module synthesizers of the MOOG type) by its unlimited polyphony, and possibility of strictly scientific synthesis (knowing spectral composition of the timbre, it could be exactly reproduced on the keyboard of the device). A composer, working on the score of the synthesizer, is like a painter; he paints, retouches, erases and deposits code pictures, immediately carrying out an auditory control of the result. The sounds, being completely unusual by their spectra on the glass of the score. The device, which has a memory system, can remember these elaborations, so that to use them later. Having no limitations in the timbres and their changes, ANS makes it possible to use artificial voices and noises of various buildings in the works.

The first thing I did when I started working on ANS was recording my several compositions for piano on this grand apparatus and believe or not but it was a real miracle when the graphics began playing sounds. My first piece composed especially for ANS and performed on this particular synthesizer was "Star Nocturne" (1961).

A. P.: At the time you began I think electronic music was not well known even in the Western world. What were the early influences for you musically that led you to create this new form of music using some of the first electronic instruments?

E.A.: I would divide on three parts the music in its present state. There is a large, even the main part of musicians, composers and artists, which had a traditional training, and they have an academic school. There is a lesser part of authors, who are making their creative search in completely different area - electronic music, and they as if do not come in contact with the academic school. And the third part is rock-musicians.

So did it happen, that the "academic" musician almost are not aware of the events, taking place in the "electronic" area, for them it does not exist, they neglect it or are making some timid attempts to contact this area. Though - and this is already quite clear - during the last twenty years the electronic music comes as an avalanche, and one can not just neglect this fact. From the other side, the musicians and more often technicians - engineers, which deal with new electronics in its extreme form - the avant-garde one - do not look for the contacts with traditional academic school. It is like two poles. What concerns the rock-musicians, they use the both approaches, but in a definite context.

I consider, that a new music - the principally new one - can appear as a result of the combination of electronics ( I mean not only the instruments, but also a new acoustics, and all the things, which electronic technique will give us) and the academic school, traditional acoustic instruments. For me, this is the main direction, and it can absorb all the rest, depending of personality and conception of either, one or another author.

Creative work in the field of electronics - and this is not yet completely estimated - is in many respects indebted to the rock-music, its practice of approaching of the performers, its energy, its living sounding, living emotions.

I had a good academic school. But meeting the opera "Jesus Christ - Superstar" became decisive factor for me (I consider this opera as one of significant phenomena of the 20-th century), and I can say, that I was formed as a composer in many respects thanks to the rock-music. There were practically no electronics in opera. But there was completely different vision of traditional Bible themes, which were always solved in academic way, beginning with the works of Claudio Monteverdi, and maybe earlier, and concluding with Shoenberg's works ("Aaron and Moses"). I have always lacking open emotional string, power and energy. All this I have hear in the rock-music, and this has shook me. The rock-music has taught me not to be ashamed of emotions - you do not need to hide them!

Rock-musicians have created a principally new "sound" - the bright one, with shining sounds, a melted gold - this is my perception of this. Now it lives in my subconsciousness, which is very important for my creative work.

There were two turning-points in my music career. The first one was in 1958 when I heard composition "A Hammer without Master" by Pierre Boulez. It impressed me greatly and influenced on my wish to discover different sound spaces.

The second one was at the end of 60-s when I heard music of such rock groups as "Pink Floyd", "King Crimson", "Genesis", "Yes", "Gentle Giant", "Led Zeppelin".

In my compositions I often use instruments and manner of presenting sound material from the "arsenal" of rock music. Even more I use all this stuff for cinema-music (soundtracks). If we add to this mixture my electroacoustic predilections then I can say that I'm existing in some three-dimensional musical space. I think that this helps me to work with such absolutely different film directors as Andrey Tarkovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov.

A.P.: How did you manage to get access to equipment and recording facilities back then?

E.A.: My familiarizing to electronic music has coincided on time with the appearing of the first synthesizers and I have passed rather long way from "drawing" sounds on ANS and exploring analog keyboards like Moog to computer technologies and it's impossible for me to prefer this or that period in my activity because the process of composing electronic music depends on unique individual opportunities of the apparatuses You're playing and working with. Two-dimensional field of performance and synthesis of sound appears while You are working on ANS and this particular field allows the author to see his composition wholly in its dynamics and spectral structure. Besides all this is united in performance macro graphics and I must say that the opportunities of editing here are great. (Recently I visited laboratory, where ANS stands and could be convinced, that the reserves of this machine are farly from being exhausted.)

As for analog synthesizers then I can say that attractive sides of analog synthesis are both special qualities of a sound and very convenient, accessible and evident way of real time controlling. And, at last, computer technologies step by step assimilate all achievements in area of electronic music uniting them in the system that controls the synthesis of sound, space and performance.

The shortcoming of this technology (I hope a temporary one) I consider excessively complicated, multistage and labor-intensive program access to all elements that form a nature of sound, its synthesis, edition, processing, etc.

The field of electronic music extends avalanchely and this process is irreversible. It absorbs everything, that is connected to a sound. Today, when we speak about modern music environment, we mean thousand of schools, currents, directions that are separated from each other and mostly disorganized and I think, that now the means and technology of electronics are capable again to unite them all in one powerful river - river of music, same integral as it was in Motzart's times and it will be really new music, music that always was born together and on the basis of new technologies. Thus, for example, Bach's music became possible thanks to tempered clavier.

Really, amazing changes took place in this sphere for more than 50 years. Having begun with laboratory researches in the field of synthesis of sound, we now have such technology and tools, which allow us to solve any creative task. Moreover I think that the present level of technology and engineering outstrips the most courageous imaginations of musicians. So now a composer again has appeared as though before a clean sheet of a musical paper. There is an infinite field lays before You. All You have to do is to create. Everything is possible here.

A.P.: What was the relationship between the government and arts/music scene in those days? It seems to me the Soviets might have considered music, as a form of bourgeois entertainment and not like it - was this true?

E.A.: The musical life in the former Soviet Union during Brezhnevs' regime was supervised not so strictly as literature, painting, theatre, cinema and musicians had the complete information that occurred in other countries. It is enough to tell, that we could order to Soviet people working abroad notes, LPs, books on music and on this government didn't pay special attention. Even some so-called "home-clubs" of various music orientation (avant-garde, jazz, rock and classical music) appeared in Moscow at the end of 60-s'. It happened so because average people couldn't afford to buy highly qualitative equipment and LPs of foreign musicians. Such LP costs 50 rubles per copy, that made practically a half of the average salary of the engineer of those years (the salary of the average Soviet citizen was 110-120 rubles.)

In general as I stated above rock music influenced me greatly. Under its influence I composed cantata "Ode to Herald of Good", which was ordered by Olympic Committee on opening ceremony of Olympic games in Moscow in 1980, cycle of instrumental-vocal poems " The White Dove", symphonic picture "Ocean".

Soviet government, management of the country and its various institutes supported those musical directions and styles which are based only on classical traditions. That's why only such kind of music was played, broadcasted and propagandized on radio, TV and in concert halls. In Soviet times jazz and rock music were always associated with bourgeois culture and that's why words of well-known Communist writer Maks Gorkiy: "Jazz - is music for thick people" were famous during the days of Soviet regime.

A.P.: Was there such thing as a "commercial" market for music produced in those days? Were there record stores? Did the music get played on the radio?

E.A.: Of course there were no "commercial" markets during Soviet era at all. Even the concept "the commercial music market" didn't exist. All country worked and lived by The Plan and this Plan was created by the government on every five years period. By the same Plan "Melodya" (our unique and only recording label in the country) could published and issued only the strictly certain amount of LPs and MCs, The Ministry of Culture bought only the strictly certain amount of compositions and etc. So the state dictated stylistics, genres and direction of all musical production in the spirit of Marksists aesthetics. The state was the unique and only customer during the days of Soviet regime.

A.P.: I believe the record label Melodya was owned by the government. Was there any limits on what type of music could be released, or perhaps there was much more freedom of musical expression than I might imagine?

E.A.: Really, there was only one recording label in the country that published and issued music on LPs and MCs. Its name was "Melodya" and it was owned by the government. Central office was in Moscow and it had branches in all Soviet republics. There was also so called "Art Council" that gathered once in a month for listening and selection compositions for publication on "Melodya". In those times mainly classic music both domestic and foreign was issued on this recording label. I can't say that they didn't publish modern music at all. Sure they did but they issued strictly limited edition of jazz, pop and, very rare, rock music. Such modern genres of music were considered to be alien music that carried a certain harmful ideological influence to the hearts and souls of Soviet working people.

A.P.: After Glasnost, did the situation change radically in terms of more freedom for production, distribution and sale etc.?

E.A.: Two most important things happened in times of "Glasnost": 1). The opening of information gates and 2). appearing of the opportunity to communicate freely in all areas of human activity. If "Perestroyka" never happened then I'm sure that I would never received an opportunity to work in Hollywood and to have lawyers and managers abroad. As for distribution and sales then I think that it's better to ask my son Artemiy about this. He is doing a great job with his label "Electroshock Records" and he is doing it well.

A.P.: Do you still work on new music today, or do you leave that to your son Artemiy?

E.A.: "I'd Like to Return" was my last composition in the field of electro-acoustic music. I composed and recorded it in 1993. Almost 10 years break in the work in this genre is connected with the fact that I gave all my heart and soul to finishing an opera "Raskolnikov", based on motives of the novel by F. Dostoyevskiy "A Crime and Punishment" which I completed in 2000 and considered to be may be the basic product of my life. Besides during this break I scored several Russian, American and European feature films. But, perhaps, mostly corrected explanation of my temporary withdrawal from electro-acoustic music scene was the necessity of judgement of my passed way and preparation for the new projects in the area connected to audiovisual performances.


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