The ‘Optophonic Piano’, Vladimir Rossiné, Russia and France. 1916


The Optophonic Piano
The Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano was a one-off electronic optical instrument created by the Russian Futurist painter Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné (Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944). Rossiné started working on his instrument c1916. The Optophonic Piano was used at exhibitions of his own paintings and revolutionary artistic events in the new Soviet Union, Rossiné later gave two concerts with his instrument (with his wife Pauline Boukour), at the Meyerhold and Bolchoi theatres in 1924. Rossiné was influenced by the ideas of Alexander Scriabin who connected sound and colour with music to produce a aesthetic synthesis – this current formed an important, almost mystical theme within Russian electronic music; through the photo-audio experiments of the 1930’s until the ANS Synthesiser (itself named after Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin- ANS) in the 1940s.

Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano
Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano
Detail of painted disk
Detail of painted disk
Vladimir Rossiné left the Soviet Union in 1925, emigrated to Paris where he continued to hold exhibitions of paintings and concerts of his instrument.The Optophonic Piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series revolving painted glass disks (painted by Rossiné), filters, mirrors and lenses. The keyboard controlled the combination of the various filters and disks. The variations in opacity of the painted disk and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell controlling the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating kaleidoscopic projections was used by Vladimir Rossiné at exhibitions and public events:
“Imagine that every key of an organ’s keyboard immobilises in a specific position, or moves a determined element, more or less rapidly, in a group of transparent filters which a beam of white light pierces, and this will give you an idea of the instrument Baranoff-Rossiné invented. There are various kinds of luminous filters: simply coloured ones optical elements such as prisms, lenses or mirrors; filters containing graphic elements and, finally, filters with coloured shapes and defined outlines. If on the top of this, you can modify the projector’s position, the screen frame, the symmetry or asymmetry of the compositions and their movements and intensity; then, you will be able to reconstitute this optical piano that will play an infinite number of musical compositions. The key word here is interpret, because, for the time being, the aim is not to find a unique rendering of an existing musical composition for which the author did not foresee a version expressed by light. In music, as in any other artistic interpretation, one has to take into account elements such as the talent and sensitivity of the musician in order to fully understand the author’s mind-frame. The day when a composer will compose music using notes that remain to be determined in terms of music and light, the interpreter’s liberty will be curtailed, and that day, the artistic unity we were talking about will probably be closer to perfection…”Extract of an original text by Baranoff Rossiné (1916) Copyright ©Dimitri Baranoff Rossine 1997 – Adherant ADAGP –
Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine - Russia, died Paris, France 1944
Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944


zdocuments of the collection of Dimitri Baranoff Rossine. Copyright © Dimitri Baranoff Rossine Paris 2010

Pravda. 2002.06.20/13:21

The ‘Theremin’ or ‘Thereminvox’. Leon (or Lev) Sergeivitch Termen, Russia. 1922

Leon Termen plays the 'Theremin' or 'Thereminvox' . Paris, 1927
Leon Termen plays the ‘Theremin’ or ‘Thereminvox’ . Paris, 1927

The principles of beat frequency or heterodyning oscillators were discovered by chance during the first decades of the twentieth century by radio engineers experimenting with radio vacuum tubes. Heterodyning effect is created by two high radio frequency sound waves of similar but varying frequency combining and creating a lower audible frequency, equal to the difference between the two radio frequencies (approximately 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz). the musical potential of the effect was noted by several engineers and designers including Maurice MartenotNikolay ObukhovArmand Givelet and the Russian Cellist and electronic engineer, Leon (or Lev) Sergeivitch Termen .

One problem with utilising the heterodyning effect (heterodyning is the effect where two high frequency signals are added producing a third audible tone which is the difference of the two high frequencies. This effect was the basis of many vacuum tube based electronic instruments.”) for musical purposes was that as the body came near the vacuum tubes the capacitance of the body caused variations in frequency.


Leon Termen realised that rather than being a problem, body capacitance could be used as a control mechanism for an instrument and finally freeing the performer from the keyboard and fixed intonation. Termen’s first machine, built in the USSR in 1917 was christened the “Theremin” (after himself) or the “Aetherophone” (sound from the ‘ether’) and was the first instrument to exploit the heterodyning principle.

The original Theremin used a foot pedal to control the volume and a switch mechanism to alter the pitch. This prototype evolved into a production model Theremin in 1920, this was a unique design, resembling a gramophone cabinet on 4 legs with a protruding metal antennae and a metal loop. The instrument was played by moving the hands around the metal loop for volume and around the antennae for pitch. The output was a monophonic continuous tone modulated by the performer. The timbre of the instrument was fixed and resembled a violin string sound. The sound was produced directly by the heterodyning combination of two radio-frequency oscillators: one operating at a fixed frequency of 170,000 Hz, the other with a variable frequency between 168,000 and 170,000 Hz. The frequency of the second oscillator being determined by the proximity of the musician’s hand to the pitch antenna. The difference of the fixed and variable radio frequencies results in an audible beat frequency between 0 and 2,000 Hz. The audible sound came from the oscillators, later models adding an amplifier and large triangular loudspeaker. This Theremin model was first shown to the public at the Moscow Industrial Fair in 1920 and was witnessed by Lenin who requested lessons on the instrument. Lenin later commissioned 600 models of the Theremin to be built and toured around the Soviet Union.


Termen left the Soviet Union in 1927 for the United States where he was granted a patent for the Theremin in 1928. The Theremin was marketed and distributed in the USA by RCA during the 1930’s as a DIY kit form or as a finished instrument ( later aficionados of the instrument included Robert Moog who made and sold transistorised Theremins in the 1950s). The heterodyning vacuum tube oscillator became the standard method of producing electronic sound until the advent of the transistor in the 1960’s and was widely used by electronic musical instrument designs of the period.

The Theremin became known in the USA as a home ‘novelty instrument’ and featured in many film soundtracks of the 1940-50’s, it also appeared in several pop records of the 1960’s but never overcame it’s novelty appeal; used for effect rather than as a ‘serious instrument’, most recordings employ the Theremin as a substitute string instrument rather than exploiting the microtonal and pitch characteristics of the instrument. Leon Sergeivitch Termen went on to develop variations on the original Theremin which included the “Terpsitone“, The “Rhythmicon“, the “keyboard Theremin” and the “Electronic Cello”.

Theremin Orchestra, Carnegie Hall. C1930
Theremin Orchestra, Carnegie Hall. C1930


Images of the Theremin

Promotional brochure for the RCA Theremin

NKVD Photograph of Lev Sergeyevich Termen (Russian: Ле́в Серге́евич Терме́н) (27 August [O.S. 15 August] 1896 – 3 November 1993),
NKVD Photograph of Lev Sergeyevich Termen (Russian: Ле́в Серге́евич Терме́н) (27 August [O.S. 15 August] 1896 – 3 November 1993),

Biographical Information: Leon Sergeivitch Termen. 1896 – 1993

The story of Lev Sergeivitch Termen is like some nightmarish John LeCarre novel. Prof. Termen was born in the Russian city of St Petersberg in 1896, he would become one of the most important pioneers in the development of electronic music through his instrument the Thereminvox (commonly referred to as the Theremin). Prof. Termen first invented a prototype Thereminvox in 1920, he worked upon his invention for the next few years, whilst also relocating from Russia to New York. A US patent was granted to Termen for the invention of the Thereminvox in 1928. Termen set up a studio there catering to high society patrons from whom he would extract the moneys he used to continue his experiments. His New York studio apparently was kitted out with a variety of devices, that in the late twenties must have seemed like pure science fiction: a variety of electronic audio devices; electronic lighting shows; an electronic dance platform; even a prototype colour television system.

Lev Termen and Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore
Lev Termen and Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore

In 1938 Termen was rumoured to have been kidnapped in the New York apartment he shared with his American wife (the black ballet dancer, Iavana Williams) by the NKVD (forerunners of the KGB). Infact he returned to Russia for tax and financial problems in the USA as well as his concerns over the coming war.

“I left New York because at that time the war was coming. The military troops of the fascists were approaching Leningrad, and so on. I asked to be sent to the Soviet Union so as to make myself useful, I asked many times. For a whole year I asked to be sent back. The war had already started, and they didn’t send me, they didn’t send me. Then at last they permitted me. They assigned me to be an assistant to the captain of a large motor ship. So I went home, but they did not take my wife.”


Termen's American born second wife, the dancer Lavinia Willaims
Termen’s American born second wife, the dancer Lavinia Willaims

On his return He was accused of propagating anti-Soviet propaganda by Stalin. Meanwhile reports of his execution were widely circulated in the West. In fact Termen was not executed, but interned in Magadan, a notoriously brutal Siberian labour camp.

 “I was arrested, and I was taken prisoner. Not quite a prisoner, but they put me in a special lab in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. There I worked in this lab just as others worked. [Airplane designer] Andrei Tupolev was imprisoned in such a way too, if you know about that. He was considered to be a prisoner, and I was considered a prisoner too…At one time, on the way to the laboratory, I was sent to a camp, where they did road construction. I was assigned to be supervisor over the prisoners. From there, after eight months on road construction, I was sent with Tupolev to the Aviation Institute. Many important people worked there: [Missile designer] Sergei Korolyov worked there for me.”

Leon Termen interview By Olivia Mattis and Robert Moog 1992

Termen was put to work on top secret projects by the Soviet authorities  (together with Andrei Tupolev, Sergei Korolev, and other well-known scientists and engineers)  which culminated in his invention of the first “bug,” a sophisticated electronic eavesdropping device. Termen supervised the bugging of both the American embassy, (and perhaps, Stalin’s private apartment). For this ground-breaking work he was awarded the Stalin Prize (first Class), Russia very highest honour.

After his rehabilitation Termen took up a teaching position at the Moscow conservatory of music. However he was ejected for continuing his researches in the field of electronic music. Post war Soviet ideology decreed that modern music was pernicious. Termen was reportedly told that electricity should be reserved for the execution of traitors. After this episode Termen took up a technical position, and worked upon non-music related electronics . Ironically his invention the Thereminvox, was becoming vastly influential in America, a development of which he was completely unaware.Before his death in 1993 Prof. Termen made one final visit to America lecturing, and demonstrating his Thereminvox.



“PULLING MUSIC OUT OF THIN AIR: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEON THEREMIN”By Olivia Mattis and Robert Moog. February 1992 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

‘Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture’. 2008 by Thom Holmes

‘Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia’. 2013. by Andrey Smirnov.
‘Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Music in American Life)’. Feb 2005. Albert Glinsky

The ‘Terpsitone’ Leon Termen, USA & Russia,1932

Termen's Terpsitone 1936
Termen’s Terpsitone 1936

The Terpsitone, named after the muse of dance Terpsichorè, was a dance controlled instrument using the same capacitance principles of the Theremin. The Terpsitone was designed built by Leon Termen for his wife who was a dancer. The Terpsitone removed the control antena of the Theremin and replaced it with a large metal sheet hidden under the floor. Movements of the dancers in the area above the sheet caused variations in pitch of the Terpistone’s oscillators due to the capictance of the dancers bodies. This instrument was used for several ‘exotic’ dance, music and light shows throughout the 1930’s.


“During his long and bright life, Leo Sergeyevich Termen made numerous discoveries and inventions. Among the different kind of brilliant inventions was the Terpsitone – which makes it possible for dancers to combine movement of body with music and light. Idea of the Terpsitone occured to L.Termen at the beginning of the 20th century, probably, immediately after the creation of Thereminvox. But as opposed to the Thereminvox where the pitch of tone and loudness depends on the position of the hands of the musician, the Terpsitone frequency and amplitude of sound are determined by a change in the position of entire body of a dancer. The operating principle of the Terpsitone is very similar to the operating principle Thereminvox, based on obtaining audio beat-frequencies, formed by theinteraction of high-frequency fluctuations of two oscillators. One has frequency rigidly fixed, while in the second is variable. In the second oscillator the frequency depends on a change in the distance between the capacitor plates of oscillatory circuit. One of the capacitor plates is an isolated, metallic plate placed on the floor of dancing hall, and second facing the body of the dancer. By moving through the space the dancer affects a change in the capacity of oscillatory circuit and, correspondingly, a change in the difference audio frequency. This signal is amplified and sent to the loudspeaker. Thus the motions of the dancer is converted into sound, which change synchronously with a change in the position of body.

The possibility of adding automated colour is an additional special feature of the invention. The “visual sound display” is a panel with  lamps, painted in different colours where the lamps light up to the motion of the dancer, moreover lamps with the specific colour corresponds to each note. However, this is ensured partially mechanically.

The Terpsitone in the acoustic laboratory, Moscow, 1966 consists of:

1) the electronic-music block, which works on the principle of Thereminvox with heterodyning high frequencies, with the device for vibrato and by a change in the loudness of sounding loudspeaker

2) An  electrical capacitance dancing platform with the size of 2 X of 1,8 X of 0.2 meters with that placed under it along entire its length and width by the electrode, connected through the resonance involving system with one of the high-frequency generators of musical block;

3) A dynamic loud-speaker with control of intensity and timbre. A Range-tool for the performance of melody by the motions of arms, head and legs of the dancer who stands on the platform – 2 octaves. More low-pitched sounds correspond to the locked position of hands and housing of that dancing, high to a maximally opened position, with the large external overall sizes. This experimental device adapts for training the executors of this new form of choreographic- musical skill. Are developed also the electrical circuits of the additional devices:

3.1) movement of executor forward gives audio gain, and its presence in the background ceases sound by means of the electrical capacitance influence on the electrode, fastened on the rear wall of dancing platform

3.2) the invariability of the pitch of tone with the displacement of that dancing and the appearance of that corresponding to the position of the executor of the new height of sounding with the cessations of motion.

Executors: Heads by the laboratory of acoustics and sound recording – Yurchenko A.D, the supervisor of sector – Termen L.CH., engineer – Rudakov YE.A., engineer – Matveyev V.N., technician

Termen’s “Terpsitone” by gimazutdinov K.N., Kazan, NII – SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE “Prometheus”, 1996



The ‘Sonar’ Nikolai Anan’yev , Russia, 1933

The Sonar 1933
The Sonar 1933

The “Sonar” was a monophonic heterodyning vacuum tube instrument developed by Nikolai Anan’yev at the GIMN Acoustic Laboratory in the USSR from 1930. The Sonar used the same  heterodyning principles of Termen’s Thereminvox but with the addition of a fretted fingerboard to vary the pitch of the oscillator. This addition made the Sonar more popular (at the time in the early Soviet period) with musicians than the Thereminvox due to it’s familiarity and playability. The Sonar was said to have been able to reproduce violin like timbres as well as simple speech phrases such as “mama”, “papa” as well as conventional instrumental sounds and became known for it’s use in ‘proletarian’ outdoor events. Anan’yev  gave over six hundred concerts to around five hundred thousand people with the Sonar during his lifetime.


Sensor Technology and the Remaking of Instruments from the Past. Emmanuelle Gallin, Marc Sirguy

Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th-century Russia. Published by Walther König, Köln. Edited by David Rogerson, Matt Price. Foreword by Jeremy Deller. Text by Andrei Smirnov.


The “Ekvodin”, Andrei Volodin , Soviet Union, 1931

Designed and built by the Russian inventor Andrei Volodin (1914-1981) the Ekvodin was a sophisticated and versatile electronic keyboard instrument. The instrument was unique at the time in allowing the player a high level of control over the timbre and shape of the sound. Apart from the standard keyboard manual the player was given extra control with various knee levers, sliders and foot pedals. The player could add vibrato effects to the note by manipulating the pressure sensitive keyboard directly. The instrument was also one of the first instruments to include what would become a standard feature in much later synthesisers, a bank of preset sounds which was said to accurately imitate musical instruments of the symphony orchestra including percussion. Volodin continued developing the instrument throughout the 1940s which culminated in a commercial model in the 1950s. However Volodin’s instrument was at the mercy of the Soviet Government who decided to stop funding the project in the mid 1960s after only twelve of the instruments were sold. Volodin continued research into musical acoustics and teaching at the Moscow State Conservatory as well as privately developing a polyphonic version of the Ekvodin and other electronic instruments, none of which were ever built.

EKVODIN is a professional musical instrument intended for universal use in various ensembles and orchestras and for solo performances including concerts with the accompaniment of piano and other instruments. The EKVODIN is suitable for different musical genres.The sound is produced in the EKVODIN on purely electrical principle. The instrument is noted for wide variety and brightness of timbres, broad range and high limit) power of the sound, and also for rational and highly-developed system of reproduction means (vibrating keyboard, loudness pedals, portamento, etc.). This ensures expressiveness and accuracy of performance. The profession of a piano player is closest to that of a man playing the EKVODIN. This similarity, however, does not determine the application of the EKVODIN which is, first of all, an ensemble and orchestra instrument.The EKVODIN comes in two design versions : one-voice and two-voice versions. A thoroughly developed system of timbres, varied with the aid of a special switch (and also depending upon the methods of performance), makes it possible to obtain an expressive and pleasant sound. The EKVODIN imitates quite fully the sound of symphonic orchestra instruments (bow, wood and brass groups, as well as certain percussion and pizzicato instruments) and also folk instruments. The EKVODIN allows to obtain sound personality in new timbres of modern style. The instrument can be used in mixed ensembles and orchestras for supporting and emphasizing different groups of solo parts performed on the usual (mostly string and brass) instruments, when their natural power is not quite sufficient for overruling the orchestra and for creation of new sounds. In incomplete orchestras and ensembles the EKVODIN can handle practically any part (the two-voice will handle two parts) of the bow, wood or brass groups. A special ensemble consisting of EKVODINS allows to obtain, for a very small number of instruments (sextet or octet), a multifarious, fluent and high – power sound in original and common timbres.Both design versions of the instrument come in semi-stationary (dismountable-transportable) construction and high-class finish. The extension loudspeaker unit, supplied with the instrument, can be located independently up to a distance of 5 m. The loudspeaker unit is installed depending upon the location of listeners. When carried or transported from place to place, the instrument is packed in two units of suitcase type. For operation the instrument is connected to alternating current mains (127 or 220 V).

The EKVODIN is not sensitive to fluctuations of the mains voltage. The one-voice version weighs about 35 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 90 VA. The output power of the sound channel reaches 10 V. The two-voice version weighs about 65 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 200 VA. The output power is up to 10 Win each channel, the timbre setting being independent for each voice. To double the. power of solo parts and timbre effects the voices can merge in unison, octave and two octaves.

Details from the Moscow Theremin Centre


Theremin Centre, Moscow. interview with A.Smirnov by Simon Crab
Theremin centre website:
Volodin, A. “Generation of sounds controlled by the force of the blow on the keys of electronic musical instruments (Electropiano),” Invention certificate, No. 66, USSR Cl. 154 (1946).
Volodin, A. “Acoustical-psychological aspects of the evaluation of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 7th USSR Acoustical Conference (L., 1971).
Volodin, A. “Electrical synthesis of musical sounds as a basis for research on perception,” Voprosi psychologii, No. 6, p. 54-69 (1971).
Volodin, A. “Multifunctionality of the formants of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 8th USSR Acoustical Conference (M., 1973).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology and age physiology, No. 2 (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Psychological aspects of the perception of musical sounds,” Candidate dissertation (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology, p. 3-5 (M., 1974).
Volodin, A. “The role of harmonic spectrum in perception of pitch and timbre,” in Musical Art and Science, issue 1, p. 11 (M., 1970).

The ‘Variophone’ Yevgeny Sholpo. Russia, 1932

Sholpo's Variophone
Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

Developed in the Soviet Union in 1932 by Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Sholpo and Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov at the Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad after several years research into performer-less music; the Variophone was an photo-electrical electronic instrument. The particular method used by the Variophone was a type of optical audio recording designed to allow the composition of lengthy polyphonic pieces of music. This was achieved by cutting sound waves into cardboard discs rotating in synch with a 35 mm movie film. This was then re-filmed and played back on a normal movie projector that and amplified through a speaker. In a simple ‘overdubbing’ process the process could be repeated to create multiple layered tones.

Soundtracks were able to contain up to twelve voices, recorded as tiny parallel tracks inside the normal soundtrack film area. By 1931 with the help of Rimsky-korsakov, Sholpo produced soundtrack to the film ‘The Year 1905 in Bourgeoisie Satire’ and again in 1932 a synthesised soundtrack for ‘A Symphony of Peace’ and many other soundtracks for films and cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. At the end of the long 1941 Siege of Leningrad, the Variophon was destroyed during a missile attack. After World War Two, Evgeny Sholpo became the director of the new ‘Scientific‐Research Laboratory for Graphical Sound’ with Boris Yankovsky at the State Research Institute for Sound Recording, in Leningrad..

Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone
Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone
Early version of the Variophone
Early version of the Variophone

The fourth and final version of Variophone was never finished, despite promising experiments in musical intonation and the temporal characteristics of live musical performance. The laboratory was moved to Moscow and Sholpo was removed from his position as director. In 1951, after a long illness, Evgeny Sholpo died and his laboratory was closed.Archive material from the Variophone was recently transferred in 2007 to the Theremin Center.

Variophone diagram
Variophone diagram
Tone discs
Tone discs

Sholpo's Variophone
Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

In Russia from the 1920’s until the  1970’s there was a particular interest in photo-electrical synthesis; probably due to the influence of the theories and writings of Alexander Scriabin who proposed a uniting theory of sound and light.  The first ‘drawn’ soundtrack ever created by the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov who produced film soundtracks created by photographing series of drawings such as “Plan Velikikh Rabot” (Plan of great works) and “Kem Bit” (‘who to be’) in 1930. Boris Yankovsky was developing a more complex spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique, resembling the recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. This process was also seen as a way of liberating the composer from the practical restrictions of instrumentation and musicians:

While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesised soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates.”
Smirnov, Andrey, 2011 “Graphical Sound”

Sholpo's drawing of waveforms
Sholpo’s drawing of waveforms

The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960’s by Daphne Oram in England.


Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007

Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p.292

“Sound In Z: Experiments In Sound And Electronic Music In Early 20th Century Russia,”  Andrei Smirnov, Koening Books, ISBN 987-3-86560-706-5


The ‘ANS Synthesiser’ Yevgeny Murzin. Russia, 1958

The ANS Synthesiser
The ANS Synthesiser at the Glinka Museum Miscow.

The ANS Synthesiser takes it’s name and inspiration from the Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (A.N.S.), whose mystical theories of a unified art of sound and light had a huge effect on avant-garde composers and theoreticians in Russia during the early Soviet period. Murzin’s objective was to build an instrument that combined graphics, light and music that gave the composer an unlimited palette of sound and freed them from the restrictions of instrumentation and musicians; a direct composition-to-music tool.

The ANS was a product of a culmination of several decades of exploration in sound and light by composers and artists such as Andrei Aramaazov, Boris Yankovsky, Evgeney Sholpo and others. To generate sound it uses the established photo-optic sound recording technique used in cinematography; this technique makes it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to realise the opposite goal – synthesizing a sound from an artificially drawn sound wave.

One of the 44 photo-optical glass disks of the ANS
One of the photo-optical glass disks of the ANS

One of the main features of the ANS that Murzin designed is its photo-optic generator, consisting of rotating glass disks each containing 144 optic phonograms (tiny graphic representations of sound waves which, astonishingly, were hand drawn on each disk) of pure tones, or sound tracks. A bright light beam is projected through the spinning disks onto a photovoltaic resulting in a voltage tone equivalent to the frequency drawn on the disk; therefore the track nearest to the centre of the disc has the lowest frequency; the track nearest to the edge has the highest. Given a unit of five similar disks with different rotating speeds the ANS is able to produce 720 pure tones, covering the whole range of audible tones.

The ink covered coding field of the ANS
The programming field of the ANS

The composer selects the tones by using a coding field (the “score”) which is essentially a glass plate covered with an opaque, non-drying black mastic. The vertical axis of the coding field represents pitch and the horizontal, time in a way that is very similar to standard music notation. The score moves past a reading device which allows a narrow aperture of light to pass through the scraped off part of the plate onto a bank of twenty photocells that send a signal to twenty amplifiers and bandpass filters. The narrow aperture reads the length of the scraped-off part of the mastic during its run and transforms it into a sound duration. The minimum interval between each of the tones is 1/72 of an octave, or 1/6 of a semitone, which is only just perceptible to the ear. This allows for natural glissando effects and micro tonal and non-western scale compositions to be scored. The ANS is fully polyphonic and will generate all 720 pitches simultaneously if required – a vertical scratch would accomplish this, generating white noise.

Stanislav Kriechi at the ANS
Stanislav Kriechi explaining the coding field of the ANS

The non-drying mastic allows for immediate correction of the resulting sounds: portions of the plate that generate superfluous sounds can be smeared over, and missing sounds can be added. The speed of the score – the tempo of the piece – can also be smoothly regulated, all the way to a full stop via a handle at the front of the machine.

Murzin built only one version of the ANS, a working version currently resides at the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow. Martinov, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke, Alexander Nemtin.

“I began experimenting with the ANS synthesizer when I joined Murzin’s laboratory in 1961. The most attractive method of composing for me was the freehand drawing of graphic structures on the score, including random and regulated elements, which are also transformed into sounds, noises and complex phonations. This offers new possibilities for composing, especially using variable tempo and volume. […]

An example of an ANS score, picturing graphic structures that were drawn freehand on the mastic-covered plate. In 1961 I composed the music for the film Into Space. Artist Andrew Sokolov’s cosmic paintings appeared as moving images in the film, smoothly changing into each other and dissolving into fragments by means of cinematic devices. The light and color of Sokolov’s cosmic landscapes generated complex phonations and sound transitions in All this makes it possible for the composer to work directly and materially with the production of mind. The movement of the cosmic objects on the screen initiated the rhythms of my music. I tried to express all this by tracing it on the ANS’s score, making corrections after listening to the resultant sounds in order to gradually obtain the suitable phonation. I finally felt that the sounds produced by the ANS synthesizer on the basis of my freehand graphic structures correlated perfectly with the pictures on the screen. From 1967 to 1968 I experimented with moving timbres on the ANS and studied different modes of animating electronic sounds. During this period, I composed the following pieces for performance on the ANS: “Echo of the Orient”, “Intermezzo”, “North Song” “Voices and Movement” and  “Scherzo”. All of these were composed traditionally for orchestra previous to my work with the ANS. When I coded these orchestra scores on the ANS, I wanted to solve the problem of animating electronic sounds, so that the phonation of the ANS could approach that of the orchestra. These pieces appeared on a recording entitled ANS, which was produced in 1970 by MELODIA record label.

Later I used the ANS to help me compose the music for a puppet show that incorporated the use of light called ‘Fire of Hope’, which was based on Pablo Picasso’s works. The play was performed in 1985 at a festival in Moscow and in 1987 at a festival in Kazan by the Moscow group Puppet Pantomime, under the artistic direction of Marta Tsifrinovich. My composition Variations, written for the ANS, was also performed during the 1987 Kazan festival.

In 1991, I began working on the music for the slide composition ‘Rarschach Rhapsody’ by P.K.Hoenich, who is known for his light pictures created with sunrays. The composition consisted of 40 sun projections with abstract and half-abstract forms. ‘Rorschach Rhapsody’ was performed at the symposium of the International Society for Polyaesthetic Education in September 1992 in Mittersill, Austria. In 1993, I collaborated with Valentina Vassilieva to compose a suite of 12 pieces entitled The Signs of the Zodiac. These compositions used the ANS along with the sounds of voices, natural noises and musical instrumentation. I am currently working on a fantastic piece named “An Unexpected Visit,” for ANS synthesizer with transformed natural noises and percussion instruments”

Stanislav Kreichi 2001

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Murzin. Russia 1914 - 1970
Yevgeny Alexandrovich Murzin. Russia 1914 – 1970

Biographical Information:

Murzin began his academic life studying municipal building at the Moscow Institute of Engineers. When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941 he joined the soviet Artillery Academy as a senior technical lieutenant. During his time in military service Murzin was responsible for developing an electro-mechanical anti aircraft detector which was later adopted by the soviet army. After the war Murzin joined the Moscow Higher Technical School where he completed a thesis on Thematics and was involved in the development of military equipment including an artillery sound ranging device, instruments for the guidance of fighters to enemy bombers and air-raid defence systems.

Murzin had a reputation as an admirer of jazz but when a colleague introduced him to the works of Scriabin, Murzin became obsessed with the composers work and synaesthetic concepts. It was these ideas that inspired Murzin to begin his ‘Universal Synthesiser’ project around 1948 which was to lead to the ANS synthesiser some decades later. Murzin presented his proposal to Boris Yankovsky and N.A.Garbuzov at the Moscow Conservatory where, despite initial reluctance, he was given space to develop the instrument. Despite almost universal disinterest in his project Murzin continued over the next decade to develop the ANS prototype with funds from his own finances and working in his spare time with the help of several friends (including composers E.N Artem’eva, Stanislav Kreychi, Nikolai Nikolskiy and Peter Meshchaninov).

The first compositions using the ANS were completed in 1958 and exhibited in London and Paris. The ANS was moved to the Scriabin Museum in 1960 (ul. Vakhtangov 11, Moscow) and formed the basis of the USSR’s first electronic music studio which was used throughout the sixties’ by many world famous composers including Schnitke, Gubaydulina, Artem’ev, Kreychi, Nemtin and Meshchaninov.

Murzin and the ANS
Murzin and the ANS


Andrei Smirnov: Sound in Z – Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music The Theremin Institute, Moscow

Boris Yankovsky “The Theory and Practice of Graphic Sound”. Leningrad, 1939-1940

“Composer As Painter” excerpt from “Physics and Music”, Detgiz, 1963
Bulat M. Galeyev, “Musical-Kinetic Art in the USSR,” LlonardoU, No. 1, 41-47 (1991)