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Graphical sound or drawn sound techniques are a consequence of the sound-on-film technology and based on the creation of artificial optical polyphonic sound tracks on transparent film. The first practical sound-on-film systems were created almost simultaneously in the USSR, USA and Germany. In Soviet Russia Pavel Tager initiated the first developments in 1926 in Moscow.
In 1927, just over a few months later, Alexander Shorin started his research in Leningrad. The popular version of his “Shorinophone”, widely used for field and studio sound recording, was based on a mechanical reproduction of gramophone-like longitudinal grooves along the filmstrip. Another version of Shorin’s system – “Kinap”, mainly used for sound-on-film production, was based on a variable area optical recording on film – “transversal” recoding as it was called in Russia.
As far back as 1916, in the article “Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music”, Arseny Avraamov proclaimed his view on the future of the Art of Music: “By 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 most fantastic sound by making a groove with a proper structure of shape and depth".
In October 1929 the first film-roll of Piatiletka. Plan velikih rabot ("Plan of Great Works") movie by A. Room was developed. The group working on this film included the painter, book illustrator and animator Mikhail Tsekhanovsky as well as talented inventor and engineer Evgeny Sholpo. But the most outstanding participant in the project was Arseny Avraamov - composer, journalist, music theorist, inventor, one of the most adventurous people of his time, performance instigator, irreconcilable foe of the classical twelve tone system (based on well-tempered scale), promoter of the ultrachromatic “Welttonsystem”, developer of experimental musical instruments and tools, and author of the storied Symphony of Factory Sirens.
The crew members were amazed with the view of the first sound track they ever saw and Mikhail Tsekhanovsky had voiced the idea: “what if we take some Egyptian or ancient Greek ornaments as a sound track, perhaps we will hear some unknown archaic music?”. Each crew member immediately recognized in the new optical film sound process a means to effectively realize their long-standing ideas: Arseny Avraamov - to develop further his concept of ultrachromatic “Welttonsystem” and to explore the sonic qualities of new ornamental sound; Evgeny Sholpo – to develop his “performer-less” musical tools. The next day they were already furiously at work on experiments in what they referred to variously as “ornamental”, "drawn," “paper”, “graphical”, “artificial” or "synthetic" sound.
On the 20th of February, 1930, just a few months later, Arseny Avraamov mentioned a new trend in his lecture for the sound-on-film group at ARRK (Avraamov 1930). In October, 1930 a new technique was described in the article “Multiplikacia Zvuka” (the Animation of Sound) by E. Veisenberg (Veisenberg 1930).
At exactly the same time similar efforts were being undertaken in Germany by Rudolf Pfenninger in Munich and, c. 1931-32, by Oskar Fischinger in Berlin. According to Oskar Fischinger’s statements from his article “Sounding Ornaments”, first published in German in 1932 and distributed worldwide, “Between ornament and music persist direct connections, which means that Ornaments are Music. If you look at a strip of film from my experiments with synthetic sound, you will see along one edge a thin stripe of jagged ornamental patterns. These ornaments are drawn music - they are sound: when run through a projector, these graphic sounds broadcast tones of a hitherto unheard of purity, and thus, quite obviously, fantastic possibilities open up for the composition of music in the future”.
According to an article published in 1931, Avraamov’s approach was similar: “Composer Arseny Avraamov at the scientific-research institute conducts the interesting experiments on a creation of the hand-drawn music. Instead of common sound recording on film by means of microphone and photocell, he simply draws on paper geometrical figures, then photographing them on sound track of the filmstrip. Afterwards this filmstrip is played as a common movie by means of film projector. Being read by photocell, amplified and monitored by loudspeaker, this filmstrip turns out to contain a well-known musical recording, while its timbre is impossible to relate to any existing musical instrument.
Comrade Avraamov conducts now a study in recording of more complicated geometrical figures. For instance, to record graphical representations of the simplest algebraic equations, to draw molecular orbits of some chemical elements. In this research composer is assisted by a group of young employee of the Research Institute for Film and Photo. By the end of December Avraamov will finish his new work and to show it to the film-community. Quite possibly the listening of the abstracts of “Hand Drawn Music” will be organized in radio broadcast” (Kino 1931).
National Film Board of Canada
In the 1950s, National Film Board of Canada animators Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart began their own experiments with graphical sound, adapting the techniques of Pfenninger and Russian artist Nikolai Voinov. McLaren created a short 1951 film Pen Point Percussion, demonstrating his work. In 1971, McLaren created the short graphical sound film Synchromy.
- Fischinger, Oskar. "Klingende Ornamente." Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Kraft Und Stoff. No. 30, 28 July 1932
- Hobbs, Graeme. "‘Every Film is a kind of Dance’: The Art of Norman McLaren". MovieMail. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- McLaren, Norman. "Pen Point Percussion". Short documentary film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
- Clark, Ken (Summer 1987). "Tribute to Norman McLaren". Animator (19): 2. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- Fischinger, Oskar. Klingende Ornamente (Sounding Ornaments). Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Kraft Und Stoff. No. 30, 28 July 1932. Online at CVM Fischinger Research site.
- Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p. 292 (in Russian)
- Levin, Thomas. 2003. Tones from out of Nowhere: Rudolf Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound. Grey Room 12 (Fall 2003): p. 32-79
- Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007
- Smirnov, Andrei. Boris Yankovsky: Leben im Klangspektrum. Gezeichneter Klang und Klangsynthese in der Sowjetunion der 30er Jahre. pp. 97–120; Tim Boykett/Andrei Smirnov. Notation und visuelle Musik. pp. 121–126. Klangmaschinen zwischen Experiment und Medientechnik. (C)2010 transcript Verlag, Bielefeld. Aus:Daniel Gethmann (Hg.)
- Smirnov, Andrei. Son produit par la lumiere et le papier. Article in the catalogue of the exhibition "Vois ce que j'entends" at the Centre des Arts Enghien-les-Bains, France. pp. 16–27, ISBN 978-2-916639-17-8
- Andrei Smirnov & Liubov Pchelkina. Les Pionniers Russes de'l ART du SON. Experimentations musicales. Article in the catalogue of the exhibition "LENIN, STALIN and Music", pp. 96–105. Musee de la musique, October 12, 2010 - January 16, 2011. Cite de la musique, Paris. ISBN 978-2-213-65566-6
- Excerpt form Carburettor Suite by G.Rimsky-Korsakov, created with Variophone in 1935
- Excerpt form Prelude by Chopin, created with Variophone in 1935
- Excerpt form Rhapsody by List, created with Variophone in 1935
- Excerpt form Sterviatniki soundtrack by E.Sholpo and I.Boldirev, created with Variophone in 1941
- Umatic media group, A Brief History of Optical Synthesis
- Watch the 1971 graphical sound film Synchromy, National Film Board of Canada