The ‘Vibroexponator’ Boris Yankovsky, Russia 1932

Boris yankovsky in 1939

Boris Yankovsky in 1939

Boris Yankovsky (1904-1973) worked with the Multzvuk group as a pupil of Arseney Araamov at Mosfilm, Moscow from 1931-32. However he grew disenchanted with what he considered to be an over simplified way of approaching acoustics. Yankovsky realised that pure uniform  waveforms do not represent timbre and that a more complex spectral approach needed to be developed. In 1932 Yankovsky left Multzvuk to pursue his ideas of spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis . His project was based on his belief that it is possible to develop a universal language of sounds using combinations of hand drawn spectral ‘sound objects’ (similar to the much later cross-synthesis and phase-synthesis techniques).

“I found the idea of synthesis while I was laboriously working on ‘drawn sound’. And this is the chain of my consideration:
The colour of the sound depends on the shape of the sound wave;
Graphical colour of the sound wave could be analysed and represented as the Fourier series of periodic functions (sine waves);

Consequently the sound wave could be re-synthesised back with the same set of sine waves. Nobody did this before the invention of graphical (drawn) sound just because there was not a technical means and  methodology for sound reproduction from such graphical representations of sound. As with electrons (the neutrons and protons) the number of which defines the quality of the atom, so do the sine waves define the quality of the sound – it’s timbre.

Drawn scale with angles to create pitch shift

Drawn scale with angles to create pitch shift

The conclusion: why not initiate a  new science – synthetic acoustics?
It would make sense if we could define (at least in draft) a sort of periodic table of Sound Elements, like Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. The system of orchestral tone colours has gaps between the rows that could be filled by a means of synthesis, like the gaps between Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements have been filled with the latest developments in chemistry [...] It is obvious that the method of selection and crossing of sound and instruments, which is similar to the method of Michurin (Ivan Michurin Russian Biochemist and Horticulturist), will give us unprecedented, novel ‘fruit hybrids’ that are technically unobtainable for a usual orchestra [...]
(Yankovsky 1932-1940; 15,45)

“It is important now to conquer and increase the smoothness of tone colours, flowing rainbows of spectral colours in sound, instead of monotonous colouring of stationary sounding fixed geometric figures [wave shapes], although the nature of these phenomena is not yet clear. The premises leading to the expansion of these phenomena – life inside the sound spectrum – give us the nature of the musical instruments themselves, but “nature is the best mentor” (Leonardo da Vinci) […] The new technology is moving towards the trends of musical renovation, helping us to define new ways for the Art of Music. This new technology is able to help liberate us from the cacophony of the well-tempered scale and related noises. Its name is Electro-Acoustics and it is the basis for Electro-Music and Graphical Sound”.
Yankovsky 1934

To implement these theories yankovsky invented the Vibroexponator; No images or diagrams have survived but the Vibroexponator appears to be a process using a modified rostrum animation stand that allowed the photographed ‘spectral templates’ to be translated into audible sound and then combined into complex sound.

“The Vibroexponator is a complex, bulky tool for optical recording of synthetic sounds to the soundtrack of ordinary 35mm film by means of a specially produced intensive negatives. the instrument is partly mechanised and provides various motions to the original negative. The automation of the direction control is partially broken and requires extra repairs and maintenance, [...] The slide copying tool is intended for production of intensive negatives from films with transversal soundtracks. it too is a massive construction. The gearbox at least a 100-fold safety factor and a great power”

Nikolai Zimmin from the MINI institute describes the Vibroexponator in 1939

Yankovsky spent the next decade working on his spectral theories and building a ‘Syntone Database’ of his spectral templates by recording and analysing hundreds of samples of instruments from Bolshoi Theatre as well as samples of vowels and speech.

Slide copying machine tool diagram

Slide copying machine tool diagram

Political repression in the USSR stopped the funding of Yankovsky’s work until 1939 when he met the young inventor Evgeny Murzin who shared Yankovsky’s vision of a universal synthesis tool (which later emerged as the ANS Synthesiser) . Yankovsky together with Murzin and Yevgeny Sholpo formed the ‘Laboratory for Graphical Sound at the Institute of the Theatre and Film’ where he completed the final version of Vibroexponator. Further development of the instrument and of Yankovsky’s theories of spectral sound was halted by the outbreak of World War Two, Yankovsky never returned to graphical sound.

The Multzvuk group

Multzvuk group was formed in 1930 by Arseney Araazamov to conduct research into graphical sound techniques. The group was based at the Mosfilm Productions Company in Moscow (one of the leading film production companies in Moscow, renamed Gorki Film Studio in 1948) and consisted of composer and theoretician, Arseney Araamov, cameraman and draughtsmen  Nikolai Zhelynsky, animator Nikolai Voinov, painter and amateur acoustician Boris Yankovsky. In 1931 the group moved to ‘NIKFI’,  the ‘cientific Research Institute for Graphic Sound’. Leningrad, and and was renamed the ‘Syntonfilm laboratory’. In 1932 NIKFI stopped funding the group who then moved to Mezhrabpomfilm and finally closed in 1934.

From 1930-34 more than 2000 meters of sound track were produced by the Multzvuk group, including the experimental films ‘Ornamental Animation’, ‘Marusia Otravilas’, ‘Chinese Tune’, ‘Organ Chords’, ‘Untertonikum, Prelude’, ‘Piruet’, ‘Staccato Studies’, ‘Dancing Etude’ and ‘Flute Study’. The Multzvuk archive was kept for many years at Avraamov’s apartment, but destroyed in 1937.


Electrified Voices: Medial, Socio-Historical and Cultural Aspects of Voice … edited by Dmitri Zakharine, Nils Meise

Graphical Sound Andrey Smirnov, Moscow, 2011

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)