Arseny Avraamov

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Avraamov conducting Symphony of Sirens using two flaming torches, Moscow, 7 November 1923.[1]
Born April 22, 1886(1886-04-22)
Novocherkassk, Rostov District, Province of the Don Cossack Host, Russian Empire
Died May 19, 1944(1944-05-19) (aged 58)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Avraamov, c1920.

Arseny Avraamov [Арсений Авраамов] aka Revarsavr (Revolutionary Arseny Avraamov), Ars, Arslan Ibragim-ogli Adamov, was a composer, music theorist, performance instigator, expert in Caucusian folk music, outspoken critic of the classical twelve-tone system and commissar for the arts in Narkompros (the People's Commissariat for Education) just after the Revolution, who also helped set up Proletkult - encouraging the development of a distinctly proletarian art and literature. According to some of his own accounts his original name was Krasnokutsky [Краснокутский], although he denied it in other of his notes.[2]

Early years[edit]

From 1908–11 Avraamov studied the theory of music with professors Ilya Protopopov and Arseny Koreshchenko in musical classes of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. He also took private lessons in composition with composer Sergei Taneyev. As of 1910 he was involved in various publications as a musical critic under the pseudonym of Ars. In 1912 whilst in the Cossack military division he was arrested and imprisoned for propaganda. After escaping from prison he moved to Norway where he worked as a sailor on the cargo ship Malm Land. In 1913 he joined a travelling circus as a dzhigit-equestrian, acrobat and musician-clown. The same year he moved to St. Petersburg. To ease Avraamov’s ‘social adaptation’ composer Nikolai Roslavets wrote a letter of support for him, addressed to Nikolai Kulbin, in which he asked Kulbin to take care of his friend Arseny Avraamov ‘the skilled musician and the most talented journalist writing mainly concerning art’. Roslavets wrote further: ‘It is that Avraamov about whom I spoke with you when I stayed in St. Petersburg — the propagandist of the natural (overtone-based) scale in music and the inventor of corresponding musical tools’[5].[6]

Teaching and political activism[edit]

From 1916–17 he taught the course of Musical Acoustics at the Pressman Conservatory in Rostov-na-Donu city. Just after the October Revolution in 1917–18 he was the Governmental Commissar of Arts at Narkompros and head of the Musical Department of Proletkult in Petrograd. In 1918–19 he was the Head of the Art Department at Narobraz (Committee for Education) in Kazan. During the Civil War he worked as a cultural curator at the Political Department of the Red Army as well as an editor of the newspaper On the Guard of Revolution in Rostov-na-Donu, teaching there at the Conservatory as Professor of Ethnology and working for Narobraz (Muzo) until 1920. From 1922-23 in Baku he was a teacher at the Communist Party High School. He was also a cultural promoter at military courses for the Central Committee of AKSM (the communistic union of youth of Azerbaijan) in the city of Armavir.[7]

Music theory and performances[edit]

Avraamov during the Ultrachromatic Music performance. For his performances Avraamov used up to four retuned harmoniums or specially prepared pianos extending his fingers by means of small rakes, fastened to his hands. Moscow, c1923.

From 1914–16 in Petrograd Avraamov was a member of the editorial boards of the magazines Muzikalni sovremennik [Musical Contemporary Magazine] [1] and Letopis [Chronicle]. In parallel in Moscow he was an employee of Muzika magazine. As early as 1916, in the article "Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music", Avraamov predicted and explained different approaches to synthesize sound, including some of today’s latest techniques of physical modelling.[8]

In a series of articles from 1914–16 he developed the theory of microtonal ‘Ultrachromatic’ music and invented special instruments to perform it. Shortly after the October Revolution he proposed to the Commissar of Public Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, a project to burn all pianos — symbols of the despised twelve-tone, octave-based ‘well-tempered’ scale, which he believed had adversely affected human hearing for several hundred years. During the 1920s Avraamov experimented with ‘prepared’ pianos, harmoniums and various noise sources as well as a symphony orchestra to develop new approaches to organizing sound that are very similar to recent techniques of electroacoustic and spectral music. He explored new genres of music devised for urban contexts and presented them around the built environment, including the acclaimed Symphony of Sirens, performed in Baku in 1922.[9]

He also investigated the poetic structures of Imaginists Sergei Yesenin and Anatoly Marienhof (book Imazhinisty, 1921).

Sound synthesis: "Upcoming Science of Music" (1916)[edit]

In the 1916 article "Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music", Avraamov predicted and explained different approaches to synthesize sound. Dreaming of future possibilities of musical composition he wrote[10]:

"The timbre is the soul of a musical sound. To build abstract harmonic schemes and then ‘orchestrate’ them is not creative any more; in this way it is possible to reach a full decomposition of the process of musical creation down to the sequence of compositional exercises: to invent a sequence of tones, to incorporate any rhythm, to harmonize the melody obtained and, finally, to start its colouring, using an historically readymade palette... In the act of true creativity each sound should be born already incarnated...
And what if today it was already possible to transform the sustained chord of the flute timbre during ten seconds (absolutely imperceptibly for acoustical analysis) into the powerful tutti of brass winds, and then in three seconds to fade it imperceptibly into the quiet and clear timbre of the clarinet?...
And what about the wonderful timbres of vowels of human speech? Where are they in modern instrumental music? In Berlioz’s Mourning March? In Scriabin’s Prometheus? Limited with a modest range of voices of the chorus? And what if I need a scale-like passage on a timbre, ‘o-o-h’ upwards, up to the highest audible pitches? And not for the sake of a whim, but according to a clear creative necessity?"[11]

Being a good self taught acoustician (in his youth he took great interest in reading works by Hermann von Helmholtz[12]) Avraamov went much further — prior to the invention of the Theremin and thirty-five years before the creation of the first Electronic Music studio he suggested an approach to sample, analyze, process and resynthesize sounds. Avraamov noted: ‘By knowing the way to record the most complex sound textures by means of a phonograph, after analysis of the curve structure of the sound groove, directing the needle of the resonating membrane, one can create synthetically any, even the most fantastic sound by making a groove with a proper shape, structure and depth...’[13] Six years later a similar idea was proposed by László Moholy-Nagy.[14][15]

In his essay "Production-Reproduction" he suggested that ‘one undertake a scientific examina­ ion of the tiny inscriptions in the grooves of the phonograph in order to learn exactly what graphic forms corresponded to which acoustic phenomena’ and to start with ‘laboratory experiments: precise examination of the kind of grooves (as regards length, width, depth, etc.) brought about by the different sounds; examination of the man-made grooves; and finally mechanical-technical experiments for perfecting the groove-manuscript score.’[16] Avraamov went much further: he proposed a method of sound synthesis based on mathematical modeling of acoustical properties of sounding objects that is quite similar to today’s techniques of physical modeling.[17]

"Much more complex are the relations between music and mathematics when we move to the realm of timbre or sound colour. Here we have to take into account not only the arithmetic order of overtones, conditioning each particular timbre, but also the way of physical motion of the vibrating string, reed, air column. To express those values higher mathematics is required already. For example, here is the formula that expresses the motion of a violin string under the action of the bow:
Avraamov Arseny 1916 formula.jpg

Where P is an amplitude of fluctuations of the string in the middle, L is its length; T, t and A: periods of fluctuations of different points of the string; n: the number of oscillations of the lens of the vibrating microscope, used to observe the movement and so on.[18] Even more complex are the formulae of vibrations related to the basilar membrane of the cochlea of the organ of hearing as it perceives sound. All that has already been investigated, estimated and — alas! — lies shelved for decades without the slightest influence on art progress."[19]

Arguing in favour of the new forty-eight-tone microtonal ultrachromatic scale named the ‘Welttonsystem’, Avraamov intended to achieve the possibility of combining the well-tempered scale with the natural one based on series of overtones. Of all the early pioneers of microtonal ultra-chromatic music Avraamov alone pursued the approach of erasing the difference between the pitch-based harmony structures and the spectral tissue of sound. He envisioned future ultrachromatic musical instruments not so much as a way to reach the new microtonal harmony but as a way to realize new exciting possibilities of additive synthesis.[20]

Symphony of Sirens (1919–23)[edit]

Avraamov before the performance of the Symphony of Sirens. Moscow, 7 November 1923.[21]
Graphic schematic of the installation of the sirens mounted into the steam whistle organ "Magistral", a mobile instrument with which Avraamov proposed to perform his Symphony of Sirens, incorporating numerous locomotive whistles specially tuned in his 'Ultrachomatic' scale. The electrified musical keyboard that controlled the electric valves that in turn activated the whistles was to be mounted in the cabin of the locomotive driver. The factory sirens were the most popular sound sources in the early 1920-s, considered as a substitution of the former ‘bourgeois’ church bells and popular in construction of the new sound machines.

See also: Arseny Avraamov – Symphony of Sirens.

As part of his desire to remind the proletariat of their true role - their power to decide their own history - Avraamov conceived a monumental proletarian musical work for the creation of which he would use only sounds taken directly from factories and machines. To this end, he organised several monumental concerts, which he called Symphony of Sirens [Simfoniya gudkov, Гудковая симфония], inspired by the nocturnal spectacles of Petrograd (May 1918) and by the texts of Gastev and Mayakovsky. He eventually took these concerts to a number of Soviet cities celebrating the anniversaries of the October Revolution: Nizhny Novgorov (1919), Rostov (1921), Baku (1922) and finally Moscow (1923)[22]. The most impressive and elaborate of these concerts was held on 7 November 1922 in the harbour of Baku in Azerbaijan. For this, Avraamov worked with choirs thousands strong, foghorns from the entire Caspian flotilla, two artillery batteries, several full infantry regiments, hydroplanes, twenty-five steam locomotives and whistles and all the factory sirens in the city. He also invented a number of portable devices, which he called Steam Whistle Machines for this event, consisting of an ensemble of 20 to 25 sirens tuned to the notes of The Internationale. He conducted the symphony himself from a specially built tower, using signalling flags directed simultaneously toward the oil flotilla, the trains at the station, the shipyards, the transport vehicles and the workers' choirs . Avraamov did not want spectators, but intended the active participation of everybody in the development of the work through their exclamations and singing, all united with the same revolutionary will. Avraamov reflected on the potential of music, and the influence of the sounds that define our environment - their importance and the role they had to fulfil after the October Revolution - an aspect of his thinking which helps us to understand the ultimate meaning of the composition of the Symphony of Sirens:[23]

"Music has, among all the arts, the highest power of social organisation. The most ancient myths prove that mankind is fully aware of that power (...) Collective work, from farming to the military, is inconceivable without songs and music. One may even think that the high degree of organisation in factory work under capitalism might have ended up creating a respectable form of music organisation. However, we had to arrive at the October Revolution to achieve the concept of the Symphony of Sirens. The Capitalist system gives rise to anarchic tendencies. Its fear of seeing workers marching in unity prevents its music being developed in freedom. Every morning, a chaotic industrial roar gags the people. (...) But then the revolution arrived. Suddenly, in the evening - an unforgettable evening - a Red Petersburg was filled with many thousands of sounds: sirens, whistles and alarms. In response, thousands of army lorries crossed the city loaded with soldiers firing their guns in the air. (... ) At that extraordinary moment, the happy chaos should have had the possibility of being redirected by a single power able to replace the songs of alarms with the victorious anthem of The Internationale. The Great October Revolution! - once again, sirens and work in the cannon whole of Russia without a single voice unifying their organisation".


In 1923 Avraamov returned to Moscow. Homeless and having no means of subsistence, he spent his nights in the legendary Pegasus Stall — a cafe run by a group of Futurists: "The only advance payment I received from publishers I have spent on an overcoat etc. It was necessary. I eat at the Pegasus Stall — the cafe of the Imaginists — gratis, on account of future blessings, lodging for the night in a separate cabinet — in a word, I am sharing the stable with Pegasus"[27][28]

From 1923-26 in Moscow he worked at GIMN (The State Institute for Musical Science) and in 1926-31 in Leningrad at the State Institute for History of Arts. In summer 1927 Avraamov was officially sent to the International Exhibition (Frankfurt am Main, Germany) on the new technological advances in music, together with Leon Theremin and other exceptional musicians and researchers.[29]

Radio music[edit]

In 1927 Avraamov emphasized the importance of developing ‘Radio-Musical Instruments’. He noted in one of his articles[30]:

"Our press responded chillily, avariciously and unsympathetically to the largest event of an expiring musical season — Rosfil [Russian Philharmonic society]’s demonstration of the amazing invention of the young Soviet engineer L. S. Theremin.
Although it is not an absolute ‘novelty’ — Theremin already showed his musical ‘machine’ in Moscow several years ago in its first, embryonic edition, it is also the truth that since then a lot of scientists and technicians in Moscow and Leningrad have been working on similar technical projects — but only by Theremin and only in the last years has it been possible to develop his invention to that level of artistic-musical importance which allows us to qualify his ‘lecture-concert’ as the biggest musical event of our days.
The prospects opened to music by Theremin’s invention are really boundless. His ‘Theremin’ is not a simple ‘new musical instrument’ as our muscritics are thinking, no, it is a solution to the huge social-scientific-art problem; it is the first big step into the future, into our future — it is a social revolution in the art of music, its revival.
All that ‘mushroom-like’ young growth, which was recently precisely and angrily described on these pages by L. Sabaneev in his ‘Letter from Paris’ (#18, pp 14-15) — is a natural product of the rotting of the top layer of the European cultural ‘ground’, it is that ‘magnificent moss, growing on a rotten stump’ about which we have already been hearing for a long time from Romen Rollan, who is far from LEF and not a communist.
The development of the Theremin is the first real mine under the basis of the former musical world and simultaneously one of the cornerstones of the basis of the future. It won’t be a primitive-handmade Symphony of Sirens! The full freedom of timbral and intonational nuances leads to:
* An extension of the European tonal system, which has brought out today’s music in the above mentioned deadlock.
* A connection with the grandiose art of the East, hitherto not able to be realized because of the well-tempered twelve-tone system.
* An all-time deep synthesis with the art of words, for speech intonations and timbres covering the Theremin range, and, lastly, he creation of an absolutely new, unprecedented ‘differential’ music (Differenz-Musik) — grandiose harmonious ‘glissando’ in parallel and counter movement, without having already mentioned the enrichment of means even within the limits of old [musical] forms.
The sensitivity and accuracy of the electro-device will, at last, allow close engagement with the problem of the ‘duplication’ of music, its automation, without an inevitable decrease of the ‘quality of art production’ — it is a really unique opportunity for the true ‘democratization’ of musical art. I have purposely stopped only on a social-musical problem to emphasize the absolutely insufficient keenness of our musical criticism: chasing ‘the Marxist approach’ to music for every ‘less than pin head’ occasion... it (criticism) has managed to pass by indifferently, ‘not having noticed’ such an elephant[31] as the performance of L. S. Theremin."[32]

Film sound research (1929–36)[edit]

From 1929–30 he worked at the Sovkino factory as a composer of the first sound-on-film movie Piatiletka: The Plan of the Great Works as well as at the Soiuzkino factory as a musical adviser for the film Olympiad of the Arts.[33]

Piatiletka (1930)[edit]

On 29 February 1930 Avraamov was invited to take part in a discussion at ARRK (The Association of Workers of Revolutionary Cinematography). He had to present his views on the first Soviet experimental sound film Piatiletka: Plan velikih rabot [The Plan of Great Works] by Abram Room, in which he was involved as the chief of the composer’s brigade. Somewhat earlier in 1929 Room wrote: "The visual material played for us a secondary, supporting role, being an outline for sound design... each of us had to apply himself to the theory of radio and acoustics"[34].[35]

The audience was both large and active in the discussion. As a composer and sound designer, Avraamov, a convinced champion of sound synthesis, had to explain his thinking. Because the conference was transcribed in shorthand, we are fortunate to learn the recipe of his sound ‘kitchen’. Avraamov explained:[36]

"I should also say that I don’t see any contradictions at all between music and noise. Most so-called noises that have been used in the film have not been reproduced by means of noise instruments, but rather have been reproduced by musical means by real musical instruments.
The harmonium has played a huge role in this business: we can produce the sound of a dynamo-motor, taking, for example, an interval of a semitone in the low register.
The sound of the flight of an aeroplane has been produced by reproduction, also using a harmonium, of an interval of a fourth. In this case we get a non-sounding vibration (beating), i.e. a sound which is typical of the flight of an aeroplane...
Naturally, it would be a real challenge to record factory sirens and hooters as a chorus. I have started to search for ways in which to musically replace this chorus of hooters. In fact, this task is simple enough. Factory hooter is a very imperfect organ pipe... We had an acoustic table. We took a whole set of organ pipes in the register required for factory hooters, factory whistles, etc. We added some pipes of such a type that could be used as a solo. At the beginning of the hooter solo, an howl is heard: ‘ouuu...’” To reach this effect, it was necessary to use an organ pipe with a lowered internal key...To receive a powerful effect like that of a real factory hooter, we had to locate the microphone very close, at a distance of just a few centimetres.
To reproduce the noise of industry more complex approaches are applied. For example, there are sounds of the smithy with two working sledge-hammers. Both of them are produced by very complex chords — by using four grand pianos which have been specially prepared.
In one variant in which the grand piano definitely prevailed, the powerful impacts were similar to steps, with a very harmonious complex of sounds, but at the same time they were absolutely not decomposable on musical elements.
The theme of ‘Industry’ is constructed on a very special sound complex. It is based on a quartet of grand pianos which gives a rhythm of hammers. The basic development is musical — it incorporates a huge set of instruments, almost a full symphonic orchestra, even with two harps.
Let’s look at how in my system we can create bells. I conducted this experiment at the Parisian exhibition. There I simply wished to make a joke, to finish a concert with the ‘International’. I presented it as if the sound of the chiming clock on Spasskaya Tower (in Moscow Kremlin). When on this expanded piano (four grand pianos) you take chords, you hear sounds that cannot be distinguished from the bell sound of a chiming clock.
The possibilities offered by synthetic sound reproduction are vast. There have certainly been moments when we were compelled to apply clean noise effects. It is possible to produce perfectly any noise, for example, by means of a microphone. It is enough to take a piece of paper and to start to rustle it [demonstrates] to produce noise.
When we were very close to deadlines we sometimes applied clean noise effects, but anyway, this was not characteristic. My principle position follows on from my acoustic approach, which erases a contradiction between musical and noise effects. Both are organized sound, but organized differently. Clearer composition led to a musical effect, which became more complex, and when explored further, led to effects of the noise kind.
I did not want to involve any conventionally organized music in the film (slipping into melodic symphonic moments)... I wished to avoid entering into music absolutely. Abram Room agreed on this, but then under the influence of criticism, he gradually started to become frightened. When chiefs and VIPs came to listen, all of them were obviously in favour of classical music. This audience made a helpless gesture and shrugged their shoulders, saying: ‘It’s just chaos...’
We had to compromise..."[37]

Hand-drawn ornamental sound[edit]

In 1930 Avraamov was the first to demonstrate experimental sound pieces produced purely with drawing methods. Having made drawings of geometric profiles and ornaments, he then shot still images of these drawn sound waves on an animation stand. On 20 February 1930 Avraamov mentioned a new trend in his lecture to the sound-on-film group at ARRK.[39] On 30 August 1930 during the First Conference on Animation Techniques in Moscow, Avraamov demonstrated artificial drawn sound pieces in his presentation ‘Ornamental Sound Animation’. According to Vladimir Solev: "Five years ago, at the very beginning of sound-on-film, at a conference, the theorist-composer Arseny Avraamov was the first to demonstrate experimental pieces, based on geometric profiles and ornaments, produced purely with drawn methods. Later his former assistants found their own specific methods."[40] In October 1930 the new technique was described in the article "Multiplikacia zvuka" [Animation of Sound] by E. Veisenberg.[41] Two months later in December 1930, one of the founders of the new technique, filmmaker Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, wrote in his article "O zvukovoi risovannoi filme" [About Drawn Sound Film]: "With the invention of new drawn sound techniques (developed by Arseny Avraamov in Moscow, Sholpo and [Georgy] Rimsky-Korsakov in Leningrad) we are achieving a real possibility of gaining a new level of perfection: both sound and the visual canvas will be developing completely in parallel from the first to the last frame... Thus drawn sound film is a new artistic trend in which for the first time in our history music and art meet each other."[42] According to an article published in 1931:[43]

"Composer Arseny Avraamov at the scientific research institute conducts interesting experiments with the creation of hand-drawn music. Instead of common sound recording on film by means of microphone and photocell, he simply draws geometrical figures on paper before photographing them onto the sound track of the filmstrip. Afterwards this filmstrip is played as a common movie by means of a film projector.
Being read by photocell, amplified and monitored by loudspeaker, this filmstrip turns out to contain a well-known musical recording, while its timbre is impossible to associate with any existing musical instrument. Comrade Avraamov is now conducting a study into the recording of more complicated geometrical figures. For instance, recording graphical representations of the simplest algebraic equations and drawing the molecular orbits of some chemical elements. In this research the composer is assisted by a group of young employees from the Research Institute for Film and Photography. By the end of December Avraamov will finish his new work and show it to the film community. Quite possibly abstracts of ‘Hand-Drawn Music’ will also be presented in a radio broadcast."[44]

Oskar Fischinger’s statements, first published in 1932, were quite similar: "Between ornament and music persist direct connections, which means that Ornaments are Music. If you look at a strip of film from my experiments with synthetic sound, you will see along one edge a thin strip of jagged ornamental patterns. These ornaments are drawn music — they are sound: when run through a projector, these graphic sounds broadcast tones of a hitherto unheard purity, and thus, quite obviously, fantastic possibilities open up for the composition of music in the future"[45].[46]

As a result of the fashion for microtonal ‘ultrachromatic’ music, most Russian approaches to synthetic music production and related tools were microtonal. Most discussions were focused on possibilities for achieving the natural (overtone) scale and related harmony, keeping all advantages of the equal-tempered scale. There were numerous systems of harmony developed that were based on the new equal temperaments. Among them were the forty-eight/ninety-six-step scale by Avraamov (which he named the ‘Welttonsystem’), the seventy-two-step scale by Boris Yankovsky, the forty-one-step scale by Pavel Leiberg, and the Ober-Unter-Tone Harmony system by Samoilov.[47]


In the autumn of 1930 Avraamov founded the Multzvuk Group. His research was focused mainly on harmony in the new microtonal ‘Ultrachromatic’ music. To produce his first drawn ornamental soundtracks he had a small number of staff: a special draughtsman, operator Nikolai Zhelynsky, animator Nikolai Voinov, and acoustician Boris Yankovsky, who was responsible for the translation of musical scores into Avraamov’s fortyeight-step microtonal Welttonsystem, as well as into Andrey Samoilov’s Ober-Unter-Tone Harmony system. The final scores were coded in Yankovsky’s seventy-two-step Ultrachromatic scale with the dynamic shades indicated in terms of light exposure (a diaphragm of a movie camera) and speed variations indicated by the number of frames. Yankovsky was also involved in acoustical experimental studies, developing methods for the synthesis of sounds with glissando, timbre cross-fades and variations and polyphony by means of multiple shooting on the same optical soundtrack (a type of multi-track recording).[48]

A year later in the autumn of 1931 the Multzvuk Group moved to NIKFI (The Scientific Research Institute for Cinema and Photography) and was renamed the Syntonfilm Laboratory. In December 1932 NIKFI stopped supporting Syntonfilm and the group moved to Mezhrabpomfilm where in 1934 it was closed as it was unable to justify itself economically.[49]

From 1930-34 over 2,000 metres of ornamental sound tracks were produced by Avraamov’s Multzvuk Group and Syntonfilm, including the experimental films Ornamental Animation, Marusia otravilas, Chinese Tune, Organ Chords, Untertonikum, Prelude, Piluet, Staccato Studies, Dancing Etude and Flute Study. The whole archive had been kept for several years at Avraamov’s apartment, where it is thought that in 1936-38, during a trip by Avraamov to Caucasus, it was burned by his own sons, making rockets and smoke screens with the old nitro-film tapes, which were highly flammable.[50]


In 1935 Avraamov, composer and politician Boris Krasin (one of the founders of the Union of Composers) and the scholar Alexei Ogolevets founded the Autonomous Research Section (ANTES) at the Union of Composers in Moscow. ANTES was intended to develop research into new tonal systems, new electronic musical instruments and Graphical Sound and Syntonfilm. Among the participants in ANTES were some of the best researchers and inventors of electronic musical instruments of the time including Andrey Volodin (the Ekvodin Synthesizer), Alexander Ivanov (the Emiriton), Konstantin Kovalsky (the Theremin), and Nikolai Ananiev (the Sonar). Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov was the head of the ANTES branch in Leningrad. ANTES was the last significant manifestation of creativity with its roots in the forward-looking 1920s. On 28 January 1936 the infamous Pravda article "Confusion instead of music"[51] vilifying the music of Dmitry Shostakovich was published, initiating a war by the totalitarian State on the freedom of artistic expression. Although the article was anonymous, many historians assign its authorship to the head of the Committee of Arts and the communist party functionary Platon Kerzhentsev. After the death of Boris Krasin on 21 June 1936 ANTES was closed and all experimental projects lost their funding and support.[52]

Folk music research (1936–38)[edit]

Avraamov then moved to Kabardino-Balkaria -- the Soviet Republic in the Caucasus Mountains. As an expert in folk music specializing in the Caucasus region, he saw it as his mission to revive the musical culture in this small mountain country.[53]

Late years[edit]

In 1938, Avraamov returned to Moscow in the middle of Stalin’s Great Terror. In some fatal synchronicity with Leon Theremin and many other outstanding scholars and artists, he found himself in a cultural desert, filled with fear, ignorance and indifference. Shortly after his return many of his former colleagues from Kabardino-Balkaria were arrested. His documents, which he had left there, disappeared together with other archives, confiscated by NKVD.[54]

In July 1940 one of the leading Russian composers, former futurist Mikhail Gnesin, wrote a letter of support for Avraamov. As he asserted: "Arseny Mikhailovich Avraamov is one of the most outstanding figures in Soviet musical art I have ever met in my life... A. Avraamov should also be recognized as a founder of Soviet musical acoustics. The majority of Soviet scholars in the field of acoustics (even having different convictions) are his pupils, or have begun their work under his influence."[55] It was in vain, however, as for the Soviet State of the late 1930s his merits and past achievements were no longer important. At this point he was practically lost and destitute, living with his wife and ten small children in a single room of his Moscow flat, trying to survive without a regular job, and having only a small pension. On 19 May 1944 Arseny Avraamov died.[56]


  1. Smirnov 2013, p. 149
  2. Smirnov 2013, p. 30
  3. Smirnov 2013
  4. Alarcón 2008
  5. RNB (Russian National Library), dept of manuscripts, file 124, unit of storage N3.
  6. Smirnov 2013, pp. 30-31
  7. Smirnov 2013, p. 31
  8. Smirnov 2013, p. 31
  9. Smirnov 2013, pp. 31-32
  10. Smirnov 2013, p. 28
  11. Smirnov 2013, p. 28 Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  12. Curriculum Vitae of Avraamov-Krasnokutsky. RGALI, fund 984, op.1, 46, pp 2-3. Quoted in Kinovedcheskie zapiski 53 (2001), p 297
  13. Avraamov, "Upcoming Science of Music", p 85. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  14. Smirnov 2013, pp. 28-29
  15. Alarcón 2008, pp. 19-20
  16. Moholy-Nagy, "Production-Reproduction", De Stijl 5:7 (1922).
  17. Smirnov 2013, p. 29
  18. This formula is quite mysterious. In the original text not all the variables are explained. The role of the bow in supplying energy to the process is not clear, for example. It should be considered as part of a rough proposal rather than a well-defined solution, but the concept nonetheless remains ahead of its time.
  19. Smirnov 2013, p. 29 Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  20. Smirnov 2013, p. 30
  21. Smirnov 2013, p. 149
  22. According to Andrey Smirnov, the 1922 Baku performance was the first in series, followed by the second one in Moscow the next year.
  23. Alarcón 2008, pp. 19-20
  24. Smirnov 2013, p. 150
  25. Smirnov 2013, p. 151
  26. Smirnov 2013, p. 153
  27. Rumiantsev S. Ars Novi, Moscow, Deka-BC, Moscow, 2007, p.108. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  28. Smirnov 2013, p. 32
  29. Smirnov 2013, p. 32
  30. Smirnov 2013, p. 43
  31. Avraamov refers to the popular fable Lubopitni [The Curious] by Ivan Krilov (1814). 'Not to notice an elephant' has the same meaning as "to visit Rome and not to notice the Pope".
  32. Avraamov, "Vozrozhdenie muziki. Thereminvox", 1927. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.Smirnov 2013, pp. 43-44
  33. Smirnov 2013, p. 32
  34. Abram Room, "Nash opit" [Our experience], Kino 2 (1930), p 13. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  35. Smirnov 2013, p. 159
  36. Smirnov 2013, p. 159
  37. Shorthand records of the lecture by comrade Avraamov at ARRK, 20 February, 1930. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.Smirnov 2013, pp. 159-164
  38. Smirnov 2013, p. 179
  39. Shorthand records of lecture by comrade Avraamov in the group of sound cinema of ARRK, 20 February 1930. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  40. V. Solev, "Syntetichesky zvuk", Kino, 31 July 1935, p 4. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  41. E. Veisenberg, "Multiplikacia zvuka", Kino-Front 52 (20 October 1930), Leningrad, p 3. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  42. M. Tsekhanovsky, "O Zvukovoi Risovannoi Filme", Kino I Zhizn, Moscow. 1930, No. 34-35, p.14. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  43. Smirnov 2013, pp. 177-178
  44. ‘Drawn Music’. Kino, Moscow, 16 December 1931. Trans. Andrey Smirnov.Smirnov 2013, p. 178
  45. Oskar Fischinger, "Sounding Ornaments", Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 8 July 1932.
  46. Smirnov 2013, p. 178
  47. Smirnov 2013, pp. 178-181
  48. Smirnov 2013, p. 181
  49. Smirnov 2013, p. 181
  50. Smirnov 2013, p. 182
  51. "Confusion instead of music. About the opera Ledi Makbet Mtsenskovo uyezda (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District)", Pravda, 28 January 1936.
  52. Smirnov 2013, pp. 181-182
  53. Smirnov 2013, p. 32
  54. Smirnov 2013, p. 32
  55. Gnesin M. Recommendation letter of 10.07.1940. Courtesy of Oleg Komissarov (Avraamov’s grandson). Trans. Andrey Smirnov.
  56. Smirnov 2013, pp. 32-33


Manuscript of the first page of Avraamov's research paper "Analysis of French Horn Overtones Produced with all Positions of Valves", Moscow, 1932.
Manuscript of the first page of the article "Reconstruction of the Art of Music", Moscow, 1934.
  • "Smychkovyy polikhord" [Смычковый полихордъ], Muzikalni sovremennik [Музыкальный современник] 3 (1915), pp 11-17. (Russian)
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  • "Gryadushchaya muzykal'naya nauka i novaya era istorii muzyki" [Грядущая музыкальная наука и новая эра истории музыки; Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music], Muzikalni sovremennik [Музыкальный современник] 6 (February 1916), pp 84-86. (Russian) [2]
  • "Клин — клином…", Музыкальная культура1 (1924), Moscow, pp 42-44.
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  • "Vozrozhdenie muziki. Thereminvox" [Возрождение музыки. Терменвокс; The Rebirth of Music. The Theremin], Rabis [Рабис] 23 (1927), p 8. (Russian)
  • "Научная организация художественного материала", Советское искусство 4 (1928), pp 72-75.
  • "Syntonfilm", Proletarskoe kino 9-10 (1932), pp 47-51. (Russian)
  • "Синтетическая музыка", Советская музыка: Орган Союза советских композиторов 8 (1939), Moscow: МУЗГИЗ, pp 67-75. [3]


See also[edit]