Like in the most part of the world, first use of electronic music, or more like "sounds" at that time, was associated mainly with TV and cinema needs. Easy-listening classical and pop music performed on early synths, often with orchestra played on TV and radio stations a lot. A model of those times electronic music could be an orchestra of electronic musical instruments guided by Vyacheslav Meshcherin (Ансамбль В. Мещерина
). Many of you also probably know Eduard Artemyev
, famous composer of Solaris / Stalker / Mirror soundtracks and electromusical composer.
Information space of USSR was quite closed from broad foreign influences, so russian electronic music was developing based on its own traditions. And appliances and instruments as well, with "Yunost" (Юность) as one of the most representative. That's a synth that could behave 'electronically' enough, if treated a special way. Often desired sounds were achieved by connecting to self-made distortion boxes or a manually manufactured wah-wahs.
Since 1985, ignoring the pressure of the administration of Rock Laboratory (a semi-professional organization, initiated in 1985 by Mnistry of Culture, KGB and Komsomol in order to unite and control numerous underground rock groups), membership in which allowed musicians to perform legally, some bands started to abandoned traditional rock instruments (except for guitar) and started using exclusively drum machines, keyboards and synthesizers. Examples of this can be found on some early Ночной Проспект
(Night Avenue), Взвод Василия Чкалова
(Vasily Chalkov's Squad) and Василий Шумов
Electronic arsenal of those bands was for sure far from perfection. They used variants of Soviet electronic organ FAEMI, different cheap Casio synths and Vermona instruments (made in GDR). In the 80s soviet industry also launched various keyboards on the market, including the best known Elektronika instruments, electric organs Lel’ (Лель), as well as Polyvox synthesizer, resembling the legendary MiniMoog. However, these instruments, in spite of their low prices and therefor accessibility to general music scene, were quite unreliable in operation, unpredictable in controlling and rough-sounding. Ironically, only by the end of 90s could people appreciate all highs of these instruments, even naive sound of Polyvox could easily compete with Richard D. James creations. Since then, soviet synths became particularly demanded for creation of industrial and experimental music, and turned into highly collectible rarities.
In the 80s garage bands recorded on tape, using a UHER and NOTA reel recorder, and used similar scheme for perfomances, playing guitars and simple synths live. This practice later by the end of 80s later was adopted by various pop groups (Ласковый Май
), who applied complete lipsing instead of playing live just anything at all.
By the end of 80s electronic scene was established in Moscow. It mainly inclined to pop forms, but also revealed some innovations and searching for independent ways of playing and composing electronic music, which is rather reasonable, if to remember for how long soviet music was secured from direct foreign influences. One of the main references for Russian musicians was Depeche Mode, whose popularity was, and still is,immense. Among all others, it would be right to mention such bands as Биоконструктор
of Vladimir Ratskevitch Владимира Рацкевича, Доктор
, Вторая Группа
of Alexei Tegin, duo Прощай, Молодость
, Союз Композиторов
of Alexander Sinitsyn, Метро
of Yuri Tsarev. Many popular rock bands like Центр
and Звуки Му
experimented with electronic sound a lot, and finally moved to electronic field for good. In Leningrad there were at least two most notable projects: Новые Композиторы
and avant garde Сергей Курёхин
. Rather strong electronic scene was in Baltic republics, for instance, estonian Sven Grunberg
, latvian Zodiac
(their LP was in almost every soviet family) and lithuanian Арго
Early russian electronic bands faced many problems at concerts. First of all, acoustic systems of those days were of poor quality and mainly designed for rock instruments, if not to say for folk concerts. On the other hand, the audience was very skeptical about electronic music and just couldn’t apprehend experimental forms of music, neither could do different party experts and musicians attesting new bands. Comparing to mobile rock-bands, electronic musicians with their synthesizers looked awkward and ambitiously. It took a long time for them to plug and tune and, in the result, they sounded unconvincingly and flabby. That resembles Ralf Hutter's stories, doesn't it?
With the fall of Soviet Union, attesting commitees vanished, musicians could play independently and support themselves financially as well. Although, history of soviet electronic music stops here.
To be continued ...
by Aulis Vierhovssen for "russian electronic music"
using interview of Alexei Borisov