Russian Avant-Garde on the Radio

It’s my great pleasure to announce the return or the Russian avant-garde, at least on air and online – unfortunately only in German, though: Today, Friday April 20 my feature “Die Medienkunst der russischen Avantgarde” will be broadcast. Therefore I had the great pleasure to talk to some terrific researchers and experts on Russian art, media and cultural history: Siegfried Zielinski, Berlin based media-archaeologist and theoretician, Sylvia Sasse, professor for Slavic literary studies at the University of Zurich, the historian and musicologist Boris Belge (Basel) and the Chlebnikov expert Andrea Hacker (Bern).

Some of the Russian Kubo-Futurists, around 1912

The reason for this radio show is the broadcasting of Andreas Ammer’s and FM Einheit’s terrific interpretation of Arseny Avraamov’s „Symphony of Sirens“, the loudest composition in music history, which was staged October 2017 in Brno, Czech Republic. Last Friday a recording of this unique performance has been broadcast by the radio drama department of Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), which is still available on its website in different mixes: A binaural mix for headphones, a 5.1 mix and a documentary film of the performance in Brno.

In addition to this feature the BR asked me to interview Andreas Ammer and FM Einheit about the performance, their interpretation of Avraamov’s concept and the different mixes of Avraamov’s “Symphony of Sirens”. Our talk entitled “Hupenkonzert” (“Concert of signal-horns”) is still available as podcast. And at the artmix.galerie of BR you also can find the podcast of my interview with Klemens Gruber, an expert on the Russian avant-garde and professor for intermediality at the University of Vienna. With Gruber I spoke about the ongoing relevance of the artistic experiments of the Russian avant-gardists and about their nephews and nieces in the second half of the 20th century, like Yoko Ono, Radio Alice and Alexander Kluge. Last but not least at the artmix.galerie you also can find the lecture “Music made out of Noise, Light and Paper” of the Russian composer, artist and researcher Andrey Smirnov about his research on the experiments in sound and electronic music in early 20th century Russia.

My interest in the Russian avant-garde is strongly related to the research for my PhD project about noise and the epistemology of radio art. Thanks to the great opportunity to talk to such experts like Zielinski, Sasse and Gruber I learned so much, e.g. about the avant-gardists fascination for the machine and new media, about artistic research, alienation and “art as device” (Victor Shklovsky) and first and foremost about why we still should study these intriguing works of art like Velimir Khlebnikov’s poetry, Kazimir Malevich’s famous parinting “Black Square”, Dziga Vertov’s movies, the  fotos and designs of Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, the literature of Vladimir Mayakowsky, the plays of Sergei Tretjakov, the theoretical texts of the Russian formalists like Viktor Shklovsky and Roman Jakobson, etc. etc..

Poster by Alexander Rodchenko from 1924, advertisement for „books in all fields of knowledge“

I hope I managed to share a least a bit of these insights in my radio feature. The rest will become part of my book.

If you understand German and have some spare time to delve into probably the most exciting and intense times of 20th century political, cultural and art history – I can guarantee you some hours of intellectually stimulating listening pleasure: A trip back in time, when art still wanted to be so much more than just entertainment and a “safe investment”.

In case you also read German and would like to delve even further into the topic, I can recommend these fine books to you (also some English ones):

  • Boris Belge: Klingende Sowjetmoderne. Eine Musik- und Gesellschaftsgeschichte des Spätsozialismus. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau, 2018.
  • Inke Arns, Igor Chubarov, Sylvia Sasse (ed.): Nikolai Evreinov – The Storming of the Winter Palace. Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes 2017. (Also German version)
  • Boris Groys / Aage Hansen-Löve (ed.): Am Nullpunkt. Positionen der russischen Avantgarde. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2005.
  • Klemens Gruber (ed.): Dziga Vertov zum 100. Geburtstag. Maske und Kothurn. Köln/Weimar/Wien: Böhlau, 1996.
  • Klemens Gruber (ed.): Verschiedenes über denselben. Dziga Vertov 1896 – 1954. Maske und Kothurn. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau, 2006.
  • Bengt Jangfeldt (ed.): Roman Jakobson – Meine futuristischen Jahre. Berlin: Friedenauer Presse, 1999.
  • Douglas Kahn, Gregory Whitehead (ed.): Wireless Imagination. Sound, Radio and the avant-garde.Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1992.
  • Wolfgang Mende: Musik und Kunst in der sowjetischen Revolutionskultur. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau, 2009.
  • René Fülöp Miller: Geist und Gesicht des Bolschewismus. Darstellung und Kritik des kulturellen Lebens in Sowjet-Russland. Zürich: Amalthea-Verlag, 1926.
  • Andrey Smirnov: Sound in Z. Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia. London: Sound and Music, 2013.
  • Siegfried Zielinski: Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. (German original 2002)