ANS synthesizer

From Monoskop
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ANS synthesizer is a photoelectronic musical instrument created by Russian engineer Evgeny Murzin from 1937 to 1957. Murzin named his invention in honour of the composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (ANS). Scriabin (1872 - 1915) was an occultist, Theosophist and early exponent of colour-sound theories in composition; hence the tribute.


The technological basis of his invention was the method of photo-optic sound recording used in cinematography (developed in Russia concurrently with America), 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.

In this case the sine waves generated by the ANS are printed onto five glass discs using a process which Murzin (an optical engineer) had to develop himself. Each disc has 144 individual tracks printed onto it, producing a total of 720 microtones (discrete pitches) available to the user. These are arranged vertically from low frequencies at the bottom to high frequencies at the top. The convolved light is then projected onto the back of the synthesizer's interface.

This consists of a glass plate covered in opaque black "mastic" which constitutes a drawing surface upon which the user makes marks by scratching through the mastic, and therefore allowing light to pass through at that point. In front of the glass plate sits a vertical bank of photocells which send signals to band-pass amplifiers, each with dB trim switches.

The glass plate can then be scanned left or right in front of the photocell bank in order to transcribe the drawing directly into pitches. In other words, it plays what you draw. This process can be aided with a step geared motor drive (strangely similar to an engineering lathe) or can be performed manually. The speed at which the score scans has no relation to pitch, but serves only as a means of controlling duration. The ANS is completely polyphonic and will generate up to all 720 of its pitches simultaneously if required.

The operational principle of the ANS relies on the same basic concept that John Whitney was using to produce some of his experimental film soundtracks in the mid-20th century


In 1958 Murzin established a laboratory and gathered a group of engineers and musicians in order to design the ANS.

The Synthesizer was housed in the electronic music studio situated above the Scriabin Museum (just off of the Arbat in central Moscow) before moving to the basement of the central University on the corner of Bolshaya Nikitskaya. It was saved from the scrapheap thanks to Stanislav Kreichi who persuaded the university to look after it.

After several years at the Theremin Centre, the ANS (there is only one - the original was destroyed and this is the improved version) is now located in the Glinka Museum in Moscow.

  • The ANS was used by Stanislav Kreichi, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina and other Soviet composers. Edward Artemiev wrote many of his scores to the movies of Andrei Tarkovsky with the help of the ANS.
  • The first LP to feature recordings of the ANS Synthesiser were released as a vinyl LP Musical Offering on the Russian Melodiya label (C60 30721 000) in 1990 and contains works from 1968-1970 by Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubajdullina and Alfred Schnittke. [1]
  • Recordings by Stanislav Kreichi - "Ansiana" and "Voices and Movement" - as well as earlier works ("Electroshock Presents: Electroacoustic Music") - using the synthesizer are available on Electroshock records. [2] ANS sampler
  • A soundtrack for the film "Into Space" (1961) in collaboration with Edward Artimiev remains unreleased.
  • In 2002 BBC Radio4 broadcast a programme about the ANS by Isobel Clouter as part of her "Soundhunter" series.
  • In 2004, the British experimental group Coil released CoilANS, a box-set of experimental drone music performed on the ANS.
  • The Norwegian artist Zweizz released a cassette in 2007 where side B is made entirely out of ANS recordings.