From Scriabin to
The ANS Synthesizer and the Politics of Soviet
Music between Thaw and Stagnation
Peter J. Schmelz
Leon Theremin (1896–1993), known in Russia as Lev Termen, is the name most often associated with electronic music from the former Soviet Union. In 1920 Theremin developed his eponymous instrument, played by a performer who conjured sounds seemingly “from the ether,” gesturing with her hands near, but not touching, a small box with protruding antennae.1 After securing Lenin’s imprimatur and the admiration of Soviet listeners—scientists and workers alike—Theremin predictably embarked on a Soviet agitprop tour. During his Soviet demonstrations, local newspapers touted the Theremin, or the “Termenvox” as it was called by the Russians, as a “musical tractor coming to replace the wooden plough” and proclaimed that “the problem of producing the ideal instrument is solved.”2 Yet upon Theremin’s return to the USSR after his decade-long United States residence (from 192738) as both inventor and Soviet spy, he was dispatched to the Kolyma Gulag camp and his instrument was all but forgotten. Like many aspects of Soviet society, experiments in electronic music halted under Stalin, and the Soviet Union was not to witness an invention similar to Theremin’s until the late 1950s, when the first Soviet synthesizer was developed. And like the Theremin—famously used by the Beach Boys in their 1966 number one hit “Good Vibrations”—this synthesizer, the ANS, was lauded by Soviet officialdom and in the end was appropriated by rock musicians. In the process, it played a
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Publication information: Book title: Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties. Contributors: Robert Adlington - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2009. Page number: 254.
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