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V. Solev. Absolute Music by Designed Sound

Absolute Music by Designed Sound by V. Solev (Moscow)

American Cinematographer • April, 1936


        Top: By means of his
        discs, Sholpo obtains on the
        photograph ornaments with
        various "teeth" giving va-
        rious timbres, strength and
        pitch. I From Sholpo 's earl-
        ier works. )

        Bottom: Specimen of the
        ordinary "intensive" shadow
        recording, on which Yank-
        ovsky is working, obtaining
        the transverse bars by slid-
        ing copying paper.

THE recording of
sound upon the
sound path of a
moving picture film (a
narrow ribbon alongside
the picture I , is us-
ually done in the fol-
lowing way: a musical in-
strument is played in
front of the microphone,
the vibrations of the
microphone membrans
are transferred electrical-
ly to the lamp amplifier,
and further to the sound
tecording appa ratus
where different parts of
the scund ribbon are ex-
posed to different inten-
sities of light by means
of an oscillograph or
some other device. This
method involves a good
deal of time, and en-
counters considerable me-
chanical and electrical

From the very begin-
ning of the sound picture
epoch, A. Avraamov, the
Soviet musical theoreti-
cian, together with Pfen-
niger, the German, and
Sholpo and Voinoff, for-
mer co-workers of Avra-
omov, have wondered
whether it would not be
possible to throw light
and shade upon the
sound ribbon in a direct
manner, by photograph-
ing upon the sound rib-
bon certain ornamental
figures — drawings o r
cardboard or paper de-

At first, the sounds
obtained were mostly of
the flute timbre type.
Later, a three minute
"Hurdy-gurdy" item was
tried, and, the timbre of
the street organ, being
of simple construction,
turned out most success-

Then Voinoff made
his "piano," all of which
can be fitted into a neck-
tie box. Each of its keys,
i. e. each half-tone is
represented by a long
"comb," which is a
schematicized record of
the real piano. This
schematization did nor
harm the achievement of
the purpose. Voinoff
complains only about tbs
extreme bass notes,

which, he says, having lest some of the overtones, do not
sound as rich. Voinoff has not been able to add the neces-
sary little "teeth" to the large basic cnes.

Voinoff fits his "keys" or "combs" on to the regular ap-
pliance for multiplication photographing in such a way as to
have the "key" exactly on the sound ribbon during the pho-
tographing process.

In this manner he has succeeded in photographing two
three-minute items: a Prelude by Rachmaninoff, and a
fox-trot, "The White Monkey." The Prelude showed es-
pecially interesting results. The "designed music," (to be
more exact, it was music cut out of paper I, came out as
an abstract design of diverging circles and prisms. Voinoff
has also recorded a multiplication film, "The Thief," in
which he has preserved very exactly the rhythms of the
whole thing.

Artificial sound seems most suitable for accompanying
multiplication films. Its notes have no reverberation what-
soever, they do not create an acoustic "atmosphere" (i. e
a sound perspective for the picture to which they are at-
tached I .

Generally speaking, music sounds especially agreeable in
two cases. One case, for instance, occurs when, on putting
on head phone and hearing an orchestral broadcast with
the sound perspective of the concert hall fully preserved,
one feels as if one were actually present in the concert
hall. Or it may happen that the loud speaker in a room
creates the complete illusion of music being performed in
that very room. This is the case when the acoustics of
the radio studio and of the room with the loud speaker
somehow correspond to each other.

Radio utilizes this absence of reverberations in "de-
signed" sound very willingly. By broadcasting records of
"designed sound," radio, in reality, broadcasts music with-
out reverberation, while the listener hears it with the re-
verberations of his own room where the listening process
takes place. "The designed music of the radio" cannot
fail to harmonize with any premises. Any one who has
heard the "whispering" of radio heroes in some large halls
(a thing frequently encountered, for instance, in radio
plays I, knows well how falsely such acoustic absurdities

E. Sholpo, of Leningrad, has introduced methods some-
what different from those of Voinoff, and still more re-
fined. He makes his teeth not in the form of a comb, but
in the form of a round see-saw with teeth of different size
according to the pitch of the octave which the "see-saw"
must transmit. The higher the pitch, the closer together
must the teeth be. Within the octave, Sholpo regulates
the quantity of the teeth by means of a more or less fre-
quent circulation of the disk, in dependence upon which the
combs are photographed on the moving picture film with
more or less frequency. Recently, Sholpo has substituted
slots for teeth; this adds to his disks greater exactness and
practicability. Together with Rimsky-Korsakoff (the com-
poser grandson of the famous Rimsky-Korsakoff), he has
recorded on a film a number of items by Rimsky-Korsakoff,
and a few new works. Anyone who has heard the "March-
Trot" — a short jazz piece played on . . . birds' voices will




never forget it. "March-Trot" is a serious contribution to
the wealth of world music.
Timbrograms — Music of the Future.

All those engaged in work on "artificial sound," have
until very recently recorded it by means of lines (trans-
verse recording!. At Potilikha, in Moscow, there is a man
called Tager, who has discovered unexpected opportunities
in shadow recording ("intensive," nuance recording).

Tager's strips of shadow correspond to Shorin's "teeth."

By photographing them on a different scale, Yankovsky
has obtained a different pitch of sound but in the same
timbre as the design taken as the basis. Naturally, he
chooses, for the starting point, the most richly sounding
note of each instrument.

The fact that Yankovsky's "timbrograms" promise to fur-
nish sound of any pitch with the timbre of the best note
of the instrument is of tremendous importance in principle.
It is known that the higher the pitch, the poorer is the
timbre of any musical instrument. (The extreme upper
notes of the piano, for instance, are quite "dry). This
phenomenon takes place because the material used in the
making of the instrument (wood, copper, etc.) reflects dif-
ferently in each case sounds of different pitch. Various
instruments made of various materials and of various forms
possess greater or lesser quantities of fully sounding oc-
taves. The piano sounds well within a big range; other
instruments are considerably poorer in good octaves. All
depends upon the instrument.

One might say that Yankovsky creates "multiplication in-
struments" which are not dependent upon any acoustic
whims, simply because, once and for all, the best sound
is taken as the basis.

This possibility is far more interesting than abstract re-
search for "new sounds," in which up to now the workers
in the field of the "designed sound" have been engaged.
Regardless of whether it has been a long or a short pro-
cess, whether it has come easily or has involved a tre-
mendous amount of time, labor, and patience of audiences,
the fact remains that during the centuries of its existence,
our orchestral practice has chosen the timbres most ac-
ceptable to our ears, (just as Oriental practice has chosen
its own timbres I .

The modern symphony orchestra is very rich in sounds,
and it is impossible to discover immediately something
utterly different in this line. The point is, that by no means


        E. Sholpo of Leningrad, sketching the slot-
        teeth on his discs. These figures are then pho-
        tographed on the sound path of a moving pic-
        ture film. It would be truer to speak of "photo-
        graphic sound" than "designed sound."


every instrument of the
orchestra is in harmon-
ious relations with its
neighbors. Orchestra in-
struments do not repre-
sent a finished system;
especially important is
the fact that the range
of possibilities is differ-
ent in all instruments.
These are the gaps that
Yankovsky promises to

Sholpo of Leningrad
also is seriously thinking
of changing over to the
field of Yankovsky's
"timbrograms." For
they can be utilized on
the multiplication film
apparatus, as well as for
the recording of the pa-
per designs in motion, as
has been done by Sholpo.
Musical Horizons.

What does "designed sound" sound like?

It would be wrong to
suppose that the very
first steps open up possi-
bilities for altogether new
timbres. These have nor
been obtained. Until re-
c e n t I y , instrumental
technique was groping
its way towards new
sounds. Nevertheless, ex-
perience in the field is

During the nineteenth
century alone there were
twelve thousand patents
dealing with musical
technique. The choosing
ot new sounds, new tim-
bres, and improvement
of the already existing
ones has, therefore, been
a cease'ess process. If

it were possible to get altogether fantastic timbres, they
would fail to stir the listeners aesthetically.

But it would be an altogether different matter if we should
succeed in getting series of intermediary timbres, for in-

Continued on next page


        Top: Early attempts to
        produce "designed sounds."
        These designs gave a timbre
        of the "hurdy-gurdy" type —
        simple and bare.

        Center: How the sound
        of a French Horn arises and
        continues. The periods ap-
        pear almost instantaneously
        and die away with a singing

        A piano gives a much
        shorter period.

        Bottom: Multiplication film
        for television ("the March
        of the Chess Figures") to be
        broadcast with "artificial


148 American Cinematographer • April, 1936


Stance timbres between those of wood and brass winds, with
different sordines. In this case, "designed sound" has
justified itself from the very first steps of its existence.
Even a few years ago, sounds of the type of different wood
wind instruments were obtained. Such intermediary tim-
bres are today often obtained by Voinoff, to say nothing of
Sholpo of Leningrad, who has been working by a more subtle

The dream of the symphony orchestra reformers, who
have in vain struggled for some degree of smoothness of
transition between different instrumental groups, may be
realized by means of synthetic music, particularly by the
music of Yankovsky and Sholpo. The simplicity of the
photo-copy method used by Yankovsky, together with the
rapidity of Sholpo's methods promise to do very much in
this direction.

The dearest dreams of the "automatisators" of music
may become a reality. The violin will walk across the viola
and the cello directly beyond the double bass. The lowest
sounding brass wind instrument, the tuba, will rise above
the highest brass wind — the trumpet. Triangles will sing,
not ring. The piano, preserving the crystal clearness of its
sound, will sound as prolonged as the harmonium, with its
sound rising from the most tender pianissimo to colossal
force. The flute will go down beyond the bass clarinet.
The bassoon piccolo will go up beyond the flute piccolo.
There will be smooth modulations from the violin to the
clarinet, to the horns, to the percussion. The gaps be-
tween the violins, the wood and the brass wind instruments,
between the bow, the percussion, and the plucked instru-
ments, and even choruses will be done away with. These
groups of instruments are not so far apart in regard to
timbres. The "multiplication" orchestra of the future can
be clearly foreseen even now, in the form of an unbroken
continuation of timbres, from the tenderest flute to the
double bass, without any parasitical soundings.

At present there does not exist an instrument which apart
from musical sounds, (i. e. those with regular wavelike vi-
brations) does not produce also sounds of a disorderly, noise
like character. The whistling of the winds, the rustling of
the violins . . . Violing noises for instance form a relatively
large Dercentaqe of violin sound.

Analysis of phonograms will allow us to overcome this,
also. The noise "teeth" might be removed from the phon-
ogram of the given instrument. Later, one might use the
phonogram cleared of them.

We will get rid of the negative aspects of the sordines
which have introduced new noises into the brass instru-
ments since their appearance.

We shall know what it is that distorts to shrieking point
the sounds of the cornet-a-pistons and the English horn in
its higher registers. These instruments might be introduced
into the regular symphony orchestras.

The lower notes of the bass tuba, for instance, have a
very poor sound. It has been known for a long time that
they are very poor in overtones but nothing could be done
about it. Yankovsky has looked at the phonogram of the
tuba; — yes, in the lower notes there are only large and in-
frequent "teeth" and very few little ones. But isn't it
possible to draw them or to photograph on a larger scale
the picture of the richer middle register notes? Yes, that
is what Yankovsky is doing now. The new member of the
orchestral polyphony is ready.

A problem of this sort would probably alarm even Prof.
Sarnett, the French transformer of musical instrtuments for
the radio. It seems as if he does not go beyond the im-
provement of the transmission of that which the orchestra
already possesses. Basic change in the acoustics of the in-
struments themselves lies beyond his purpose.

The fullfreedom of the technique of interpretation prom-
ised by "designed sound," might bring to life a number of
instruments, such as harps, which are beginning to become

        Left: It is difficult to analyze a curve of this
        type into a series of others. It was thought that
        it would give a complicated sound, but practice
        did not bear this out. Everything, depends, it
        seems, on the presence of small "teeth."

        Top center: Experiments made by Avraamov
        and Yankovsky showed that a profile usually
        sounds like a violincello. The profile is taken in
        such a way that the black silhouette corres-
        ponds to the white one, in accordance with
        the law of sound reco rding which says that
        phases must follow each other alternately

        Lower center: Two sound tracks obtained by
        photographing Sholpo's discs (each track gives
        a different timbre of sound).

        Right: Natural sound track of a piano on a
        cinema film. It can clearly be seen how the same
        group of "teeth" repeat itself at definite intervals
        (the film moves so rapidly that every sound has
        time to be recorded in the form of several "per-
        iods." making it easier to distinguish its boun-
        daries from those of neighboring sounds. I


obsolete. Trumpets will play without stops for breath. A
fairy like accumulation of "orchestra" tempo might become

By building a chord out of tones of any pitch, it will be
possible to create altogether new harmonies, outside the
reach of present day instruments.

"Designed sound" also makes it possible to give melody
and harmony "glissando" fashion (i. e. sliding up and down,
like the howling of the wind). This sliding of the vocal
tone is frequently used in singing, especially in Gypsy and
Persian singing. The Hawaiian guitar has something of
the kind. "Designed sound" offers the possibility of such a
sound to any other instrument. (This has been done, by

Continued on page 154

Absolute Music by Designed Sound

Continued from page 148

the way, in the "March-Trot" of Rim-
sky-Korsakoff and Sholpo).

All the possibilities of quarter tone
music, of the performance of music of
any nationality in its original form, etc.,
of course remain open.

Music acquires unheard-of force of

Furthermore, a chord of more than
ten sounds per second can be heard dis-
tinctly only by very few musicians pos-
sessing an absolute ear. Very well,
then! Let us turn it into a new timbre.
The regular timbre complex (the basic
tone plus the over-tones) reproduces in
the miniature the full chord, not only
statically but also dynamically. (At
each of its notes, the over-tones repeat
a certain musical phrase I . Here is, there-
fore, a new path towards purely organic
experimentation in search of new tim-

One more thing. Music can be de-
termined in regard to five relationships:
pitch, loudness, technique of perform-
ance, timbre and polyphony. In regard
to the last relationship, "designed sound"
will apparently be greatly helped by con-
stantly improving the technique of the
"re-recording" of sounds. By means of
special apparatus for "re-recordings,"
done purely electrically without any
acoustic hindra nces, all the sounds are
re-recorded upon one phonogram of nor-
mal width.

Some day perhaps, by means of re-re-
cording, "designed sound" will enter in-
to the regular symphony orchestra. It
might enter the orchestra either as an
unusual "soloist," or as a modest incog-
nito, instead of some instrument which
in its normal state can not fulfill the de-
sires of the composer (see the use of
harps in Wagner's music).

"Designed sound" permits combina-
tions of any timbre with any method of
producing the sound. The piano will be
able to sing; the flute will ring like the
plucked instruments. . . . Mr. Disney, can
you imagine mewing in the voice of the

dog, or barking in the voice of the cat?
Can you imagine the tune of a French
chansonette sung in the timbre of a
roaring lion? "Synthetic" singing (with-
out words) is not far off.

As far as speech imitation is con-
cerned, its realization will involve prob-
ably more time. Even in regular sound
recording, music, thus far, gives better
results than speech. The choirs of the
angels need not fear unemployment as
yet. For the multiplication film, how-
ever, there is a possibility of smooth, un-
noticeable transition from the timbre of
the human voice into a melody of mu-
sically fixed tones, from musical tones
into noise-like sounds and vice versa, as
a combination of music and noise. Final-
ly some voices, such as the natural bark-
ing of the dog, will be reproduced in the
near future. The dog's voice vibrates an
octave that makes the "bark."

It is curious that work on the analysis
of the phonogram has originated in the
Soviet Union not only in the fields of
cinema or the radio (where a small group
of people has also been working on "de-
signed sound") but in purely musical
circles. The State Music Publishing
House has recently brought out in book
form a posthumous work by Prof. Rabot-
nov — "A Treatise on the Investigation
of Phonograms," dealing with vocal parts
in particular. The work is devoted to
the analysis of the disk records for the
phonograph. Prof. Rabotnov analyzes
the forms and conditions of the origin of
the little furrows characteristic of the
vocal parts. Prof. Rabotnov has accom-
plished that, of which once upon a time,
Mogoli-Nagi, the photo-innovator,

From the literature on the subject, it
is known that researches dealing with
vocal parts were carried on in England
a few years ago by Mr. Humphreys for
the practical purpose of adding sound to
films. Unfortunately, however, results
of his work, have not as yet been pub-

Most difficult to reproduce is the hu-
man voice with its sounds passing from
one into another, and the singing qual-
ity of the violin. The striking of the
bow upon the strings calls forth such a
number of overtones as is impossible to
produce in some other mechanical fash-

Where can "designed sound" be
heard? It is included occasionally into
the broadcasts of the Leningrad radio-
stations. Special little films with "de-
signed sound" have just been made for
Soviet television. The experimental
radio-station in Moscow, which after
midnight (Moscow time) transmits oc-
casional television programs, is soon to
include in its programs small multiplica-
tion films accompanied by "designed
sound". The first number is the "March
of the Chess Figures" with music from