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I am deeply indebted to the research of of the , Moscow. Without Smirnov's careful work in preserving and archiving from the 1920's to the 1960's, most of the information on the pioneering Soviet electronic music instruments, film sound and writings (as well as several surviving instruments) would be lost forever. Smirnov offers several extremely interesting on the of Soviet electronic music instruments, Lev Theremin and the interrelationship of espionage techniques and art. I can highly recommend these lectures as well as his to academies, universities, symposiums or festivals. An introduction to Smirnov's work on graphical sound can be found .
I would also like to thank the owners of the website for their exhaustive collection and documentation of vintage electronic music instruments, especially those invented . I consider their page, along with Andrei Smirnov's, to be one of the best resources for starting an investigation into the history of optical synthesis technology.
This history was compiled for the project, as part of a residency at the media arts laboratory, in Berlin, Germany over the months of Oct-Dec 2007, and at during the last two weeks of February 2008. I am grateful for their support of this project as well.
Further research has been added over time between 2007-2010, and this "paper" has formed the basis for a lecture on the history of optical sound and graphical composition which I have given at numerous universities, festivals and arts centers since then.
Berlin, February 2010
The technology of synthesizing sound from light is a curious combination of research from the realms of mathematics, physics, electronics and communications theory which found realization in the industries of motion picture films, music, surveillance technology and finally digital communications. As such, it's history is an interesting cross section of 20th century history, reaching from the euphoria of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century inventors (who often struggled between "scientific" and "supernatural" explainations of their work) through the paradigm-smashing experiments of the Soviet avant-garde in the 1920's and 1930's to the cynical clash of ideologies of the Post-war years and finally to the dawn of the digital era in the 1970's.
This history has its fair share of eccentric and fascinating characters, such as Lev Theremin--the inventor famous for the musical instrument that bears his name, and who was kidnapped to build espionage devices for the USSR, Arseny Avraamov--the artist who once employed an entire city, as well as the guns of the local army regiment, to realize one of his compositions, and Daphne Oram--the first woman to create and run a sound studio, as well as the first woman to "design and build an entirely new sound recording medium" (Jo Hutton in ). There is quite a bit of work left to do, particularly in recognizing and translating the legacies of the Russian avant-garde artists such as Boris Yankovsky, Evgeny Scholpo, Nikolai Voinov and the forementioned Avraamov, whose works are largely unknown outside the former Soviet Union. A forthcoming article on "Russian Graphical Sound" for the Computer Music Journal by Andrei Smirnov could be one of the biggest English-language breakthroughs in this area.
Quite clearly, the connection with filmmaking is very close. Optical sound technology was developed first solely for recording soundtracks for early "speakies", and every one of the Russian innovators used their graphical sound techniques to provide music scores for the kino. But the connection with the "Visual Music" movement in cinema is also very close, with perhaps the works of Norman McLaren providing the strongest bridge. But the "direct cinema" techniques of many filmmakers from the 1920's and 1930's on through the 1960's and 1970's show more than a casual relationship with the techniques of direct optical sound synthesis. The works of Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Stan Brakhage, John Whitney, Hy Hirsch, Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Larry Cuba and many others all reflect an ongoing lineage of this "visual music" tradition. (The "" screening programs, available from the of Los Angeles, provide the most comprehensive overview of this fascinating film history, and the website gives an excellent synopsis and timeline as well.)
My hope is that this small survey sparks more interest in all of these inventors, composers and artists and their incredible works, as well as provide a historical context for the TONEWHEELS performance.
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is a blend of speech, layers of multi-tracked free improvisation using unamplified objects and modified instruments, field recordings and computer generated synthesis. Speech content is derived from a collage of original writing and Police Training Manuals, pulp potboilers, recipes, menus and information relating to the North Sea fishing economy. For almost 20 years Adam and Jonathan Bohman, and Richard Thomas have worked together, as live performers in the large ensemble The Bohman Extended Family as well as in other splinter groups and ad hoc formations. This is their first LP as a quartet. is a solo percussionist, composer and improviser from Barcelona. He focuses on contemporary and experimental music and is active in the international improvising music scene.
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