The 100th anniversary of Shostakovich's birth has provoked the expected hornet's nest of debate as to his real ideological intentions. Those who paint him as the musical safety valve of a desperate, hunted samizdat culture have not adequately explained yet just how and why he, Prokofiev and Khachaturian, the most high-profile victims of socialist realist philistines, were so rarely in any mortal danger at the heart of one of history's most thuggishly murderous regimes. Indeed, reading most literature on the topic, starting with Boris Schwarz's mighty Music in the Soviet Union 1917-1970 (1973) remind one of how much easier composers had it than writers or painters. No notable Soviet composer suffered the sordid fate of the Nazis' Jewish victims, Haas, Krasa and Ullmann, in Terezin.
This kid-glove approach might also explain the extraordinary musical career of another Soviet musician whose 70th birthday falls next year. Eduard Artemiev has dabbled in rock music, screechy musique concrète, megalomaniacal open-air cantatas and above all - and most inimical to Soviet orthodoxy - abstraction since 1960 and has emerged into the newborn Russian Republic a legend in his own land, but still scandalously unheralded in the West. He is known, if at all, for his sublime electronic scores to the great Andrei Tarkovsky cinematic epics of the 1970s, Mirror, Solaris, and Stalker. Beyond that? Shameful ignorance.
'In the Brezhnev era,' Artemiev told an interviewer in the 90s, 'musicians were left alone compared to other artists.' The same could be said for musicians during the Krushchev thaw when the absurd musical prescriptions of Tikhon Khrennikov's 1949 edicts were relaxed. This was when Artemiev, from the Uralic town of Novosibirsk, fetched up as a student of the conservative Soviet trusties Partshaladze and Shaporin at the Moscow Conservatoire. His graduation piece, a cantata entitled I Was Killed Near Rzhev, was a copybook, boilerplate piece of rousing, bathetic nothingness about the Great Patriotic War or some other 'struggle'. But despite the years of terror - or perhaps because of them - music in Russia still had atavistic links with the past, and not just the Rococo yearnings of Tchaik and Rimsky. There was also a harking back to the fantastical, exponential growth in futurism and radical music of the 1900-1914 peiod, in which the work of Aleksandr Scriabin (1872-1915) and his radical, theosophically-derived synaesthetic theories on sound, light and colour headed a ferment in Russian artistic life.
Artemiev, a bright young man, met an engineer named Evgeni Murzin. He takes up the story; 'Murzin had created one of the world's first synthesizers. It was called the ANS, affectionately replicating Scriabin's initials. 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. Murzin termed his device "the photoelectronic optical synthesizer of sound". This photoelectronic principle of Murzin's implies the graphic imaging of soundings on a special plate, covered by a solid layer of black...' Light = colour = sound = the future. Pure Scriabin, in other words.
But there were other deserving modernists hard at work in the supposed jackbooted ghetto of duffelcoated Soviet conformism; Lev Termin and his Theremin; Alexander Volodin, a scientific pioneer of sound synthesis and instrument designer, and Andrei Sholpo, creator of the primitive variaphone synthesiser.Lilia Suslova writes; 'the first creative experiments on the ANS were by A.A. Volkonsky (1958), followed by enthusiastic contributions from Alexander Nemtin (the author of a valiant but doomed attempt to realise Scriabin's giant Mysterium), Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke.
Murzin lent Artemiev a book, The Foundations of Acoustics, on which he was to be tested if he were to proceed down the then fantastically-radical path of electronic music. The multimedia of the Silver Age radicals was also in the air. Artemiev; 'cinema was also a lucky chance. It was a double luck [sic]: thanks to the work in cinema I did not have to quit composing. Here, helped by the support of my teacher Nikolai Nikolaevich Sidelnikov, I met Alexander Alexandrovich Rumnev, a mime, a prominent actor. He was the only teacher of pantomime in the VGIK (Vseruskij Gosurdarsvenij Institut Kinematografii). In 1960 he set up his own theatre of pantomime, and I wrote pieces for him. There I met Alexander Orlov, who later became a director, and I worked a lot with him. He brought me to the cinema, to director Samson Samsonov. And for the first time I wrote a proper film score, for a movied called Arena. But even before this I was using electronics in the cinema, again by chance. Vaino Muradeli composed music to a film Toward the Dream at the Odessa Film Studios. He needed some pieces of 'fantastic' music, and he invited me as a partner. The amazing thing is that he put my name in the film credits, together with his own name... '
A brief technical exposition of the ANS (now resident in Moscow's Scriabin Museum) is in order. Before the composer is a row of levers, on the end of every one of which is a chiselled blade. When necessary the colour could be removed (with the chisels), to obtain 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 - i.e. 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, allowing the composer to make various changes in the character of created sound signals, i.e. to correct the sound picture in accordance with authorial choice. The ANS' optical sound generators make it possible to obtain 720 'sinusoidal' tones and compose from them oscillations of potentially infinite complexity. The main sound range of the instrument is a division of octave on 72 steps.
"Practically having no temperation,' wrote Artemiev, 'the ANS exceeded most commercial synthesizer of that time (for example, Moog modular synthesisers) 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)." He has also commented: "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, the ANS made it possible to use artificial voices and noises of various constructive processes."
By 1968, La Stampa could claim that "Moscow is... one of the leading centres of electronic avant-garde". Pierre Schaffer, Francis Dhomont and Stockhausen now had serious competition. From being a musical nation where styles of composition and performance often predated the Great War, the USSR was suddenly a vanguard nation; the regime of Sputnik, it was confidently asserted, was still thrusting forward with big shiny biceps into a glorious socialist millennium of space-age stainless steel.
It couldn't last. The dead hand of Brezhnevism and its consonant economic, cultural and scientific scleroses may have spared music its worst excesses, but electronic experimentation received an official cold shoulder. But despite the advent of the reactionaries in the late 1960s, Krushchev and Kosygin's relative liberalism had also allowed musicians exposure to other elements, notably western ones. It seems incredible that Artemiev, even in the 21st century, can call Andrew Lloyd-Webber a 'genius' but, Jesus Christ Superstar had a clearly extraordinary effect on him. Artemiev's student days had seen signs of a potential bifurcation of musical traditions in the USSR (thought unified in the service of socialism since 1917), in which academic classical pedagogy, folk research, electronics and even western music became discretely knowable and distinct entities. Artemiev, as with many of his contemporaries, Schnittke included, was fascinated by the possibility that these musical discourses could run in parallel and cross over. With Lloyd-Webber's work - not to mention pirate recordings of early Western prog rock - he realised that music was a Babel of voices, all with different spiritual, emotional and political dimensions as well as their own artistic vernacular.
Even much later, he told an interviewer of how his thought-processes developed;
"For a long time I completely did not take part in the Union of Composers. Long ago I understood that I will not find a common language with many of my colleagues, when I have gone into the "not encouraged" electronic music scene... and then later rock music. I knew little of what my colleagues are doing, with the exception of my close friend Vladimir Martynov, with whom I have personal and creative links. I have listened with half an ear to what's happening in the Union of Composers, and I have occasionally visited the concerts... I had a period in my life, when everything being connected with acoustic music and academic performance couldn't satisfy me. So, at that time I have immersed into the rock music. Now I want to do something for an orchestra, but connected with electronics, the aesthetics and instrumentation of rock. A strongly scattered field of interests, styles, directions and currents are at present in the modern music. Music has disintegrated into a thousand streams."
In 1970, he met Tarkovsky, who handed him the script of Solaris. It was to be the start of a curious relationship in which the two men rarely met, but when they did, it was generally at moments of common artistic inspiration of the highest order.
"Interestingly, that in the course of work on Solaris Andrei told me a lot about his vision on the role of the composer in his cinema. In the composer he sought not the author of music, but the organiser of audio space of the film. And what is more, he needed the composer for supporting with music some scenes which emotionally he could not manage or did not manage so far to bring to the audiences using the language of cinema.
Here we are back at the concept of music as a linguistic analogue of scenography and emotion, redolent of Rimsky and Scriabin (at a pinch, of Mussorgsky's Pictures). This, of course, prefigures the work of Vangelis on Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1981) in which the Greek (Artemiev's only equal in the use of electronics as emotional and scenic ciphers) was consulted as to creating the entire sonic space of the future LA using electronic effects.
In the words of the music critiic Annaliese Varaldiev on Stalker:
This music possesses a kind of hallucinatory resonance and clarity - in terms of pure aesthetic intention, it is perhaps closer to something like the Allegri Miserere (Artemiev's solo flute line is reminiscent of that composition's sublime soprano solo) or to the Japanese sacred pieces that Tarkovsky would use as source music m his last film. The Sacrifice, than to any conventional notion of what a motion picture soundtrack should be. (It is also interesting to note that in the late '70s, when Stalker was made - a time, conversely, when post-production sound in Hollywood was becoming increasingly departmcntalizcd and fragmented - Artemiev was eradicating the boundaries between music and sound with his work on this film: many of Stalker's otherworldly effects, which give the impression of subtly manipulated production sound, were actually created by him on the synthesizer, and therefore serve as both extension and counterpoint to the purely musical ideas.).
"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 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 - in 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- E-minor - with constantly changing instrumentation-and this sequence is ten minutes long!"
Tarkovsky was, in Artemiev's recollection, as difficult, diffident and enigmatic as he apparently was to almost everyone else who met him.
In Mirror and Stalker it was easier. Andrei and I seemed to gradually adjust to each other, become closer at heart. I always was astonished with how he was making his pictures not allowing a slightest mistake. In the time of Solaris and Mirror, I recollect, each part had to be written from beginning to end - such was the equipment. Only in Stalker we already had an opportunity to work on the system allowing to insert music, speech, noises from a moment we needed. Before that we had to run a part about twenty times to allow the director and sound technician to learn it almost thoroughly and only after all that we could record. In the case of any inaccuracy everything had to be done again and again. The story of composing the music for this picture, perhaps, was the most complicated because Andrei lacked for a long period of time any clear understanding of what its musical atmosphere ought to be like. I remember that soon after I received the script of Stalker Andrei called me and told me that he would know exactly where the music was to go only after finishing the shooting. However, having shot all the material, he continued to search and was explaining to me that he needed some combination of the Orient and the West recollecting along with that the saying by Kipling about the incompatibility of the Orient and the West... that they can only co-exist but will never be able to understand each other. Andrei desired this thought be resonating throughout Stalker distinctly but he could never get it right. Then he suggested trying European music on Oriental instruments or, vice versa. This idea seemed to be curious and I brought a wonderful melody to Andrei, named Pulcherrima Rosa by an anonymous 14th century composer, a motet. Having heard this theme, Andrei immediately decided to take it but warned that in such original form it was just inconceivable in the film. It ought to be given in an Oriental colouring. "You know, I have some friends in Armenia and Azerbaijan. What if we would summon musicians from there and you would write the melody Pulcherrima Rosa for them and they would play it improvising on this theme?" We decided to give it a try. A performer on the tar was invited from Armenia. I have made the orchestral development of the theme, when tar was leading the main melody. Andrei came to the recording, listened attentively, and rejected the record, having said, that this was not what he wanted. We stopped the recording, and rethought it. And I do not know how did we find it; possibly Andrei himself had mentioned something about the necessity of creation of a state of some inner calmness, inner satisfaction in the film, being similar to that is could be found in Indian music. I knew what to do. In general, I do not like to use open methods both in cinema and in other musical genres. On the contrary, I try to mask technique so that the listener doesn't understand how I put it together. But, obviously I had to on this occasion. So, I took a well-known Indian musical device as a basis of the musical solution of the film. It is constructed on the distinguishing of one base tone, which is usually entrusted to the performers on the Indian vina and tampur. In the background to this drone, there's improvisation on the tar (a multinational instrument, which is used not only by Indians, but also by Iranians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Georgians). I decided also to add a transverse flute. Nonetheless, later I came to the conclusion, that such a straightforward connection of European and Oriental instruments was just too corny, too obvious a contrast. Then I turned to electronics and passed the music through effects channels of the EMS Synthi-100 synthesizer [an extraordinary sport of the imported technology of a primitive Taylor synthesiser from the UK], having invented many various and unusual modulations for flute. The tar was recorded at one speed, and then it was lowered so that the "life of one string" could be heard, which was incredibly important for me.
"Later on Tarkovsky tried to remove music from the films. He told me about it: "music is needed in cases when it patches up emotional holes, and it is impossible to repair them with any other means". Also, here one can attribute the cases, when he exhibits the pictures of old masters: here he needed the illusion of recreation of the roots. Cinema is a very young art, but he wanted that it would be comprehended as a ancient ones - painting, music, literature. And knowingly he used the symbols, which put him on a rank with the "eternal". Really, there are no music in his last films...the only occasion when Tarkovsky came to a record, was Stalker. Here he was worried. In this film Andrei gave a considerable attention to the main musical theme, where he assumed to hear some "state", characteristic to the Oriental music, with the elements of intonation of the medieval European music. It was a task which led me to a dead end. And there I made the most serious mistake in my life. After long and fruitless thoughts, I decided that the "European theme" will be performed by an Oriental folk instrument accompanied by the symphony orchestra. Tarkovsky came, listened to the music and said that it was completely unsuitable in spirit. But the complete record was already made. So, in order to avoid a scandal, he signed that he accepted all the music. Later, the additional financial means to redo it all were obtained. The film was shot twice, and the music was written twice. The second time I composed music in a spirit of a meditation. This is where rock music helped me out..."
It could be said in western terms that Artemiev was by now a fully-fledged postmodernist, despite the fact that even the idea of postmodernism was unknown in the Soviet Union. Although in a privileged position in Soviet cultural circles - he and his friends could listen to certain permitted western records and import musical equipment - he had, by a route unknown in the west, stumbled upon the hybridising tendencies that informed western progressive rock.
"From the mid-70s Artemiev's style underwent a change in the direction of a "new simplicity". The dialogue between the academic tradition and rock aesthetics tended to meet other, more global tasks: to assimilate the styles, genres. Resonant with those tasks was also his desire to try his hand at an openly emotional, intuitive self-expression. Polychromaticism of timbre still preserved its significance for the composer, however, the traditional elements of writing were more actively introduced, accompanied with a new sense of melody, rhythm and harmony."
The cultural continuities and dialectics that made taste in the 1960s and 1970s were not entirely absent from the USSR - a thriving underground rock scene was always in attendance - but the development of tastes and discourses were quite different. Only behind the Iron Curtain, for example, could a rock record of the gigantic perversity of Artemiev's Ode To The Herald Of Good (1980) have been made. Commissioned by the IOC and the Party organisers of the Moscow Olympiad of the same year, it is one of the most monumentally bizarre recordings ever made by a rock band. The 'instrumental ensemble' (the term 'rock band' was forbidden) Boomerang was assembled and took the stage to play the soundtrack to the opening ceremony of the Games; operatic soloists and massive choirs intoned the plaititudinous texts of Pierre de Coubertin in the enormous cauldron of Moscow's 100,000-capacity Lenin stadium while Boomerang churned away in the foreground, virtuosically pounding out a surreal blend of western influences - anything from Mantovani to King Crimson while the EMS Synthi gurgled away non-stop. Artemiev cites Genesis, Procol Harum, Gentle Giant, Yes and Led Zeppelin among contemporary influences. 'O, Sport!' hollers the tenor lead, over and over again. Honest.
If this was meant to present the USSR as a happening place, it was a monstrously tragic error; yet in retrospect, what is striking about the performance, and the accompanying CD, is the fact that it sounds, to Western ears, utterly incongruous yet oddly assured. This is a quality that is often cited by those who have discovered the wonders of Gorizont, Gunesh or Arsenal on 'official' Melodiya LPs of the 1980s. Mess and In Spe, two Estonian bands, produced some of the most radically weird progressive rock of the era, yet in the USSR must have been regarded as positively straight-laced. These bands were the respective brainchilds of electronic maestri Sven Grunberg and Pëëter Vahi, both of whom created - and still create - music of integrity and interest which owes everything and nothing to the western subversion that must have crackled through the ether under their nylon bedclothes all those years ago. Vahi's band, In Spe, on their second album, recorded a Concerto for Typewriter...
Artemiev, meanwhile, shacked up with a new patron, Nikolai Mikhalkov with whom he had first worked in 1974, and also cultivated ties with his brother Andrei, better known in the west as Andrei Konchalovsky. Some of the most remarkable of his 140 film scores were devoted to the brothers' work, not least the Oscar-winning Burnt By The Sun. Konchalovsky helped Artemiev create his first opera, based on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment at the turn of the millennium, the composer having contributed pieces to his Duet For One, Homer and Eddie, and a full score for a dreadful film adaptation of Homer's Odyssey (Artemiev's no snob - he's even chucked pretty little cod-minuets into straight-to-video schlock like the Corman-produced Burial of the Rats). After perestroika, Artemiev could afford to commute between LA and Moscow. But this did not hamper the processes of his magpie mind. As Susalova maintains, "There is a new quality perceptible in the works written in the late 80s: a blending of the democratic aspirations inherited from the aesthetics of the 70s with the ideas of avant-garde, of the rational with the intuitive... n a variety of proportions and combinations the synthesis of "musics" was realised in his quasi-symphonies The Seven Gates into the World of Satori and Peregrini, in the poems to Lithuanian texts White Dove, Summer, Vision, in the music for the films Sibiriada (actually a Konchalovsky serial), Fox Hunting, The End of Eternity, Moon Rainbow and the cantata Warmth of Earth.
It's hard for many listeners to take in this monumentally bizarre work. The current writer is often reduced to incoherence when asked to describe it (and hopes he does better here). Ostensibly an interpretation of Yuri Rytkheu's jejune verses, in a suitably optimistic socialist-realist stamp reflecting the dialectical ascent of man from creation to 'fulfilment' (i.e. communism), it contains influences of Tchaikovsky, Yes, ELP, the far East, nursery rhymes, King Crimson and Burt Bacharach. It was recorded in 1985, but even ten years previously would have sounded recondite. Melodiya released it on LP the following year and French label Musea have now made a CD available to western listeners.
Boomerang are out in force again, and Igor Len - himself a formidable synthesist, as witnessed on his icy, unsettling Melodiya LP Here - Sergei Saveliev and Yuri Bogdanov handle keys, the latter also doubling on electric guitar; Jeanne Rozhdestvenskaya is the occasional vocalist, making a sighingly pretty but curiously hermaphroditic sound in the mould of a Westenra or Haslam. Odd, chromatically melodic leaps - as at the beginning of "What Am I?" (track 2) evolve into soaring showstoppers. The Synthi bubbles and boils and shrieks. There are placid arpeggios over which instrumental aurorae shimmer with an oddly discoloured light. The finale, "Hymn to Man" is a thrilling series of tension-and-release episodes worthy of Khachaturian (or Glazunov) before a handbrake turn into an entirely different key and down through the faders to nothingness.
Around the same time Artemiev was working on a concert piece to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Premièred in Bourges in 1989, it was well-received. A critique by Jorge Peixinho in the Lisbon daily Diario de Lisboa (27.10.89) read "... the work Three Glimpses on the Revolution by Russian composer Edward Artemiev [is] a real discovery: his powerful music, built with great skill, is remarkable for outstanding accomplishment. This is a work of typically Russian composer brought up in the traditions of Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Shostakovich… This is a music of epic might and undoubted expression".
Artemiev, since then, has decelerated. The film work in LA was piecemeal, derisory by his standards - but it paid the bills. Ocean, his Tarkovsky tribute, has yet to find a place in the orchestral repertoire; but this may be something to do with the fact that his M.O. is of a piece with a time and place long since forgotten. In the late 50s and early 60s, in Moscow as much as in London or LA, things were falling apart, centres didn't hold. People did unorthodox things for the simple reason that they found, with incredulously childlike joy, that they could. This, of course, was the cultural compost that nurtured progressive rock music in the west, and Artemiev, in his own way, is a perennial hybridiser as much as Fripp or Eno. Now, sadly, society and culture tends to view these interesting people much as it regards lepidopterists or fell-runners or beekeepers; picturesque but ultimately boring and inutile outsiders. The fact that Artemiev has never abandoned Russia for Hollywood's machine means that his music still - 16 years after the fall of the USSR - remains contingent and difficult to obtain in the west.
His son Artemiy, another electronic artist, although of inferior gifts, now runs Electroshock Records, devoted to marketing the best of Russian electronic music. Three Eduard Artemiev sets, Moods and Impressions; a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating swatch of pieces from Solaris, Mirror and Stalker; also, the fantastically odd Ode To The Herald of Good can be acquired here. Musea Records are responsible for the sale and distribution of Warmth of Earth.
He deserves to be heard; he deserves to be rewarded.
BLOGGER'S NOTE: The interview materials are taken from the www.electroshock.ru website. I have taken the liberty of smoothing the English syntax on occasion. Readers wishing to read the full unvarnished text of each should visit www.electroshock.ru, clicking on 'Eduard Artemiev' and then 'Interviews'.
Lilia Suslova: A Breakthrough to New Worlds of Sound, Musical Academy #2, 1995
Annaliese Varaldiev: from 'The Mix'
Tatyana Egorova: "He always has been, and will remain, a creator...", Musikalanya zhizn, 1988
Galina Drubchevskaya: Eduard Artemiev - "I am sure there will be a creative explosion", Musical Academy #2, 1993
Archie Patterson: An Interview with Eduard Artemiev (source uncredited, likely www.eurock.com)