The Soviet Synthesizer That Bridged Electronic Music And The Occult

Boing Boing on a bizarre, pioneering musical instrument, suppressed in its day, which built on occultist concepts and attempted to unify the senses:

You don’t play the ANS synthesizer with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones. It’s a nearly forgotten Russian synthesizer designed by Evgeny Murzin in 1938. The synth was named after and dedicated to the experimental composer and occultist Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915).

Today it sits behind a rope at the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture, almost forgotten and seldom used. A few artists have recorded albums with it over the years, mostly notably the late occultists/electronic musicians Coil who traveled to Russia in 2002:

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  • DoctaFoo

    it reminds me of the sound you get when you circle your finger on a glass of water. How strange!

  • Calypso_1

    This is fantastic!  I’ve never heard of this synth. Time to build a new toy for the studio.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rthoneunomia.celine Threedinium

      If you’re gonna make one of those are you going to adapt it? Don’t know much about the electronics but I’m curious to know how one of those could be improved right off the bat.

      • Calypso_1

        Primarily I am thinking of an analog voltage controller for synths that I already have.  That would be a prototype to use the technique of the drawn disk/light slit/photoreceptor setup.  You could then use it to control whatever parameter (oscillator, filter, etc) that you wished.  I’ll see what I can do with that and then think about something closer to the original model.

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  • JaceD

    “… you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones”

    Amazing. Why is this instrument so unknown and so unused?

    • http://www.facebook.com/rthoneunomia.celine Threedinium

      If the history of how synthesisers started out is anything to go by, they never would have got famous until somebody hugely known popularised them. Most likely the bands that recorded with the thing never made it as big as say, Gary Numan who it seems to be the reason that synthesisers hit the market at all. Looks like we owe it all to Gary :*)

      • JaceD

        Ah good ol Gary Numan. I agree, someone needs to build one of these and get it out there it could make for a very interesting live show. The sounds themselves aren’t overly special, but the way it’s played and the visual effects are and especially the fact this instrument was created decades before it’s time.

      • Calypso_1

        Tangerine Dream – they lead the way for synths into a much wider audience.

      • Krautrocked

        Numan? No. Try Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. And Brian Eno and David Bowie. 

        • Calypso_1

          and they were begat by Stockhausen.

  • Brother

    you can do that with a computer, make the images trigger notes. Analog hardware is cooler tho 

    • Calypso_1

      yeah but 1938,  mastic covered glass disks w/ photocells…this is some serious retrotronics

      • Brother

        its def way more stylish.

  • Calypso_1

    http://www.soundandmusic.org/features/sound-film/sound-soviet-science-fiction
    here is an good article on the use of synths, including the ANS in soviet sci-fi…
    Unfortunately the vids are down due to ©

  • Lifobryan

    This is just awesome. Reminds me a bit of what Barry Spinello was trying to do in the late 60s. He hand-painted images onto clear 16mm & 35mm movie film, and projected the film on a regular movie projector. The optical reader on the projector would read the hand-painted marks as a soundtrack (sort of the way the glass reader in the Russian synth worked). So you would “hear” the sound made by a shape or visual pattern, and then see the shapes & patterns projected onto a screen at the same time. It certainly didn’t sound pleasant – kind of like rhythmic, tonal farts. But the idea to use movie film as a musical instrument is fascinating & trippy. It’s impossible to find his stuff online, but occasional art-house cinemas show his film “Soundtrack.”
    http://handmadecinema.com/mobileview.php?id=70

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