domingo, 7 de abril de 2013

The Beating Mechanical Steel Heart of History: "Baku: Symphony of Sirens" (Гудковая симфония) by Arseny Avraamov

Arseny Avraamov, pseudonym of ARSENY Mikhaylovich Krasnokutsky (b. Novocherkassk/Rostov 1886 - d. Moscow 1944), was a composer, music theorist, performance-instigator and commissar for the arts in Narkompros (the People's Commissariat for Education) just after the Revolution, and helped set up Proletkult - encouraging the development of a distinctly proletarian art and literature. As a musician, he was involved in the debates on microtonality and in the 1920s, proposed to the People's Commissar for Education (Lunacharsky) an order to burn all pianos, because he considered the piano to be symbolic of the well- tempered system of tuning (popularised by Bach), which mutilates people's and composers' musical sense. His later experiments with "drawn sound film" (or "synthetic sound") led, in the early 1930s, to the creation of the first synthesised sound recording on film. Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music (1916), had predicted synthesised music and outlined his point of view on the future of the Art of Music thus: "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 sounds by forming a groove with the appropriate structure of shape and depth". He directed an International Musical Exhibition (Frankfurt) on the new technological advances in music, together with Leon Theremin and other exceptional musicians and researchers. He also investigated the poetic structures of Imaginists Sergei Esenin and Anatoly Mariengof (book Imazhinisty, 1921). 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.

Avraamov conducting Symphony of Sirens using two flaming torches, Moscow, c.1923.

To this end, he organised several monumental concerts, which he called "Symphony of Sirens" (Гудковая симфония), inspired by the nocturnal spectacles of Petrograd (May 1918) and by the texts of Gastef 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). 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" Some years before, Avraamov, in his article:

"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

Graphic schematic of the installation of the sirens mounted into a steam locomotive, for the interpretation of the Symphony of Sirens (1922-23)

Arseny Avraamov conducting his "Symphony of Sirens", Moscow 1923
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 cannon work in the whole of Russia without a single voice unifying their organisation".

This recording was made taking close note of Avraamov's instructions, originally published in Turkish in Baku's three local newspapers on 6 November 1922, the day before the event:

Manuscript of Arseny Avraamov's score for the opening of the Symphony of Sirens. Sirens (top), motorized guns (centre) and cannons (below). Moscow, 1923

On the Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution
Instructions for the "Symphony of Sirens" 

"On the morning of the Fifth Anniversary, on 7th November, all the ships from Gocasp, Voenflat, and Uzbekcasp, including all small boats and vessels, will gather near the dock of the railway station at 7:00 a.m. All boats will receive written instructions from a group of musicians. After that, they will proceed to occupy the place assigned to them near the customs dock. The destroyer Dostoyny, with the steam whistling machine and the small boats, will be anchored further up, in front of the tower.

-At 9:00 a.m., the whole flotilla will be in position. All the mobile machines, local trains, battleships and repaired steam machines will arrive at the same time. The cadets from the courses of the Fourth Regiment, the students from the Azgo Conservatory, and all the professional musicians will be on the dock no later than 8:30 a.m.

-At 10:00 a.m., the troops, the artillery, the machine guns, and the rest of the vehicles will also get into position, following the orders received. Airplanes and hydroplanes will also be ready.

-No later than 10:30, those in charge of making the signals will take their positions at the regional and railway terminals.

-The midday cannon has been cancelled.

-The squad in charge of the fireworks will give the signal to the following vehicles for their approach to the centre with the minimum possible noise: Zykh, Bely Gorod, Bibi, Abot and Babylon.

-The fifth shot will give the signal to the first and second district of the Black Quarter.

-The fifteenth shot, the districts, planes taking-off. The bells.

-The eighteenth shot, the sirens of the square and the steam machines located there. Simultaneously, the first company of the Military Academy will move from the square to the docks playing the march "Varashavanka".

-AH the sirens sound and end at the twenty-fifth cannon shot.


-The triple chord of the sirens will be accompanied by a "Hurrah" from the docks.

-The steam whistling machine will give the final sign.

-"The Internationale " (fourtimes). In the middle, a wind orchestra plays "La Marseillese " in combination with a choir of automobiles.

-The whole square joins singing in the second repetition.

-At the end of the fourth verse, the cadets and the infantry return to the square where they are greeted with a "Hurrah

-At the end, a festive and universal choir with all the sirens and alarm signals plays for three minutes accompanied by the bells.

-The signal for the end is given by the steam whistling machine.

-Ceremonial march. Artillery, fleet, vehicles and machine guns receive their signals directly from the conductor on the tower. The red and white flag, is used for the batteries; the blue and yellow, for the sirens; a four-coloured red flag for machine guns, and a red flag for the individual interventions of boats, trains, and the automobile choir. At a signal of the battery, "The Internationale " is repeated twice throughout the final procession. The fire of the engines will have to be stoked for as long as the signals are maintained.

All the above instructions are directed to the high level ranks and for their irrevocable execution under the responsibility of its authorities: military, Azneft, Gocasp, and related educational institutions. All participants must have with them their respective instructions during the celebrations".

The master of TSOK is M. Chagin.

The organiser of the "Symphony of Sirens" is Mr. Avraamov.

by Miguel Molina Alarcón, London, 2008

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