This photoelectronic instrument takes its name from the initials of Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (ANS), whose creative work and ideas about synthesizing the different arts inspired the young inventor Eugeniy Murzin. In 1938 Murzin invented a design for composers based on synthesizing complex musical sounds from a limited number of pure tones; this proposed system was to perform music without musicians or musical instruments. The technological basis of his invention was the method of photo-optic sound recording used in cinematography, which made it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to realize the opposite goal - synthesizing a sound from an artificially drawn sound wave.
Despite the apparent simplicity of his idea of reconstructing a sound from its visible image, the technical realization of the ANS as a musical instrument did not occur until 35 years later.
Murzin was an engineer who worked in areas unrelated to music, and the development of the ANS synthesizer was a hobby and he had many problems realizing on a practical level.
It was not until 1958 that Murzin was able to establish a laboratory and gather a group of engineers and musicians in order to design the ANS.
One of the main features of the ANS is its photo-optic generator, which Murzin designed in the form of a rotating glass disk with 144 optic phonograms of pure tones, or sound tracks. The narrow tracks that proceed from the wide track at the edge to the center of the disk correspond to the 144 pure tones. The track nearest to the center has the lowest frequency; the track nearest to the edge has the highest. A unit of five similar disks with different rotating speeds produces 720 pure tones, covering the whole range of audible frequencies. To select the needed tones, a coding field (the "score") was designed in the form of a glass plate covered with an opaque, nondrying black mastic. The score moves past a reading device made up of a narrow aperture with a number of photoelectric cells and amplifiers.
Scraping off a part of the mastic at a specific point on the plate makes it possible for the light from the corresponding optic phonogram to penetrate into the reading device and be transformed into a sound. The narrow aperture reads the length of the scraped-off part of the mastic during its run and transforms it into a sound duration. The nondrying mastic allows for immediate correction of the resulting sounds: portions of the plate that generate superfluous sounds can be smeared over, and missing sounds can be added. The speed of the score can also be smoothly regulated, all the way to a full stop. All this makes it possible for the composer to work directly and materially with the production of sound.
Twenty bandpass amplifiers are on the left side of the main front panel. In the center of the synthesizer is a reading device (on the left) and the pitch scale and coder (on the right). The black board on the right side is the operating field, or the score. On the lower front panel are keys for controlling the 20 bandpass amplifiers and a joystick for controlling the tempo. The ANS synthesizer contains 720 pure tones and an operating field with scales for pitch and duration. This number of pure tones makes it possible to obtain a high density of synthesized sound and a smooth variance of pitch. The minimum interval is 1/72 of an octave, or 1/6 of a semitone, which is only just perceptible to the ear.
Such a precise gradation of the pitch makes it possible to synthesize a greater number of sounds per octave than the traditional Western musical scale's 12 semitones.
The most curious properties of this synthesizer are its graphic method of coding sounds on the operating field, or score and the possibility of hearing the result immediately. For traditional composing, the operating field has a pitch scale similar to a piano keyboard, with a special coder for setting pitch, duration, volume and timbre. To obtain a more precise coding of the pitch, every semitone on the pitch scale can be divided into six parts.
The performance tempo depends upon the code-reading rate and can be varied without changing the pitch and timbre of the sounds. The graph of the coded melody looks like its notation in music. The horizontal axis represents time in seconds; the vertical, pitch in semitones.
E. Murzin made only one copy of ANS & it's still alive. It's placed in the Moscow Lomonosov's University. And many famous Russian composers such as Edward Artemiev, Oleg Buloshkin, Vladimir Martinov, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke, Alexander Nemtin created their music on this first Russian synthesiser. Or maybe the first synthesiser in the world?