DIE MASCHINENANBETER - COLLAPSING RADIOFORCE MANTRAS
My project centres around exploringof hypnotic side of various voice communications between flight operationofficers and pilots of US & EU strategic reconnaissance aircrafts like TR-1(U-2),SR-71 etc.
It is based on unique taperecordings that were made by my brother Sergei Tolmachov between 1988 and 1989,during military service in USSR Air Defence Forces near Oranienbaum (St. Petersburg).
It is all started in summerof 1987 when my brother, being a student of Moscow Institute of Physics andTechnology (MIPT), drafted into military service. That was the only year in thewhole history of MIPT when direct recruiting of students was allowed (thanks tothe wisdom decision of marshal Yazov). After half a year of mastering the protocollanguage of radio communication within US&EU Air Forces in Kaluga, he moved toOranienbaum to apply theory to practice. The result is this tape which is approximately60 minutes long and contains multiple radio communications that were recordedduring manoeuvres of American and European strategic aircrafts.
In my project I use differentlayers that represent different realms:
It is reallydifficult to categorise the way these people communicate: it is not a regulartalk, it is not singing, it is not poetry reading, nor it is raping, but what Ican absolutely be sure that these people are true artists of spoken word who’venever considered themselves as such which is a paradox. They belonged to the “voice subculture” that wasnever exposed to the public hence abandoned, forgotten, unknown. They repeat their call signs, coordinates, messages overand over again on a daily basis through years which become so polished so fluidso musical so hypnotic that you can call it their daily mantras. Of course theyhave their own language (protocol) of communication, the language you aretaught to understand. But it is not about language in itself: just by listeningthe way they communicate you feel big culture of spoken word which definitelyhas a history yet to be explored. Sometimes they put aside call signcommunication protocol and start to joke or send love messages using ‘normal’English. They all know each other quite well although they are from differentcountries and continents (you hear different accents) and you fill that even inthat strict and confined community they play their roles with quite a joy. Itried to bring these jewels of spoken word from vanishing back to life.
I selected 11fragments from the tape (with the duration up to 10 seconds) that were used asmantras (consequently repeated fragment of voice communication with a slightdecrease of duration with every next loop until it finally ceases in time).Each point of mantra’s collapse is ended by the same mantra with the originalduration. All mantras are divided by continuous interlude radio speeches. Thesound that was digitized from the tape is used unprocessed (*).
(*) Voice of Jim Morrison’s ‘Bird of Prey’ inoutro was processed using Venec AP-01 effect processor to match this‘radioforce’ vibe.
Besides voice,this tape contains all kind of sound traces left from radio frequencies,distortions, additional sub harmonics caused by transmitting, receiving andrecording equipment.
Brother told methat after some time of hearing experience he, without any doubt, couldrecognise the type of aircraft just by initial sound it produces when it goeson air even before voice communication starts to emerge. Exactly: each aircrafthas its own sound signature, its own body language, if you will, constitutedout of radio transmitter power, types of electric circuitry that produces allkind of subtle distortion and adds specific sub harmonics, to name a few. Notto mention sound coloration added by receiving and recording equipment. Imagine tonnes of pure analogue circuitry bothon transmitting and receiving side that influences the character of sound. No existing monster modular analogue synthesisersever produced can compete with the richness of sound coloration produced bythese devices. Brother told me that most recognizable and powerful signaturehad SR-71 blackbird (which had really remarkablecall sign ‘SKYBIRD SKYBIRD…’). He described it as an approaching storm of verycondensed powerful low frequency sound that you cannot compare with somethingthat you’ve heard and something you’ll never forget. These simple guys of 18-20years old witnessed one of the last and amazing moments of analogue circuitryradioforce sound exposure to human being in its majesty and glory. Nowadays spreadaround all corners of former Soviet Union,they still remain witnesses in radioforce sound. This state of mind was described precisely byRene Fulop-Miller in his article ‘DIE MASCHINENANBETER’. Unfortunately, weaktape machines and worn tape couldn’t reproduce all nuances of that powerful sound.To reconstruct this layer of raw sound of electricity, I decided to use soundof soviet era analogue synthesizers, organs and drum modules that were producedduring 80s of last century. It is well known that major part of sovietsynthesizers were designed and produced at military plants in between seriousprojects (like constructing radio stations etc.) just to keep people busy. Consideredas toys by designers they were made from the same electrical circuits, used thesame ideas as their older brothers (all kinds of radio stations, transmitters, receiversetc.) and therefore share the same sound signatures. Brutal, raw, unpredictable,violent, lo-fi, harsh, electric, noisy: that are the words to describe thesound they produce. They had a bad luck to born at that time in that place,because musicians and composers of that generation didn’t take them seriouslyand tried to stay away from them as far as possible, considering them asjunk’n’trash and desired to get something more musical and sweet sounding fromUSA or Japan; and as a consequence they usually ended up at local barrelhouses ormusic centres ready to be dissected by trainees. But let’s bring them back to spotlight and allow them to speak for themselves while trying to understand their“body language” and decipher their sound signatures.
I do not want to go intechnical details about the way all sound surfaces for each mantra wereconstructed, which deserves special detailed description. As opposite to most early & modern loop based music that you can visualise as planets (each onerepresenting particular instrument) rotating in sync with each other on fixed(usually equal in radius) orbits (representing loops with sound ‘events’ spreadacross their trajectories) with a fixed speed, I choose more loose model wereyou can have all degrees of freedom: you can increment/decrement the radius oforbit in sync or independent of current radius (duration) of mantra, you canspeed up or slow down rotating ofplanet, you can scalably shrink or expand events that are spread across orbit. You can do these movements in sync with othertrajectories (tracks) or independent: the possibilities are limitless. You canthink of it as a sound spirograph. These days it is easy to implement thismodel in such environments as PureData, Max/MSP, Supercollider etc., but themost interesting and difficult part was to apply this model to soviet synthesizersthat originally didn’t have even CV input. All synthesizers were recapped andMIDIfied with the help of electric wizard Aleksey Taber (Moscow). Some of them has quite extended listof MIDI parameters. All sound surfaces wereconstructed by superposition of looped midi patterns that continuously evolve (**)in time in various ways and follow mantras’ collapsing process. All sounds wererecorded using soviet analogue synthesizers, organs, drum modules that wereproduced during 80s of XXth century.
Synthesizers: Maestro,Polyvox, Alisa 1387, Ritm-2;
Organs: Faemi-M, UNOST 1132, Lel 22;
Drum modules: Lel UDS, RMIF ELSITA.
And of course I dropped a bitof acid with TB-303: remember summer of love in 1988-1989 (time when all taperecordings were made).
Noeffects, sophisticated mixing etc. were used for the analogue instruments.Each track is dedicated to the audio output of particular instrument.
Each sound surface for anaccompanied mantra uses not more than 8 instruments.
(**) I tried to experiment with all possiblecombinations of patterns’ motions, starting from that all patterns areretriggered in sync with the beginning of next mantra’s loop and gettingshorter with each mantra cycle, up to completely independent ‘spinning’ of patterns in regard to each other. Noteswithin pattern may stay fixed on their initial positions, or shrinkfluidly with scaling effect according to the current mantra durationwith the same/different scale factor per pattern. Sometimes shrinking of thepattern happens with the multiplication of scale by 2, 3 or 4. Content ofpattern and its sound character can develop as well. At the same time I didn’twant it to sound “experimental” and complex both in terms of structure andsonic character.
The whole visual sequenceis a history of Soviet era cosmic and sci-fi movies from 20s to 80s of XXthcentury compressed into 30 minutes.
Each mantra evolvesalongside film footage from a particular movie. Each short video story exploresparticular aspects of all kind of different relationships between MAN and MACHINE.
The idea was to keep the‘outer tissue’ of the movies as intact as possible to keep this feeling thatmontage is linear as within a particular movie so throughout consecutive orderof movies in time.
But it is not just about history:it is more like a research that helps observer to watch (in a short period of time and in an unobtrusiveway) how different symbols and ideas takeshape, develop, mutate and reappear from movie to movie. It is a research, theresults of which are expressed via the same media and metalanguage as the subjectof a research.
Intro (and outro) video isbased on drawings of USA & EU aircrafts made by my brother’s comrades fromthe same military division.
The idea of this project isto bring together above mentioned realms including all related notions,objects, ideas, people, sounds etc. (that are initially seems not related toeach other) and remelt them at such a degree that they are no more perceived aseclectic parts but rather as solid bases of another consistent cyber space,where you can easily reconnect and reunite them with each other in single spaceand time..
It is dedicated to allpeople that were united in radioforce communications both on transmitting andreceiving sides.
Special Thanks to Francis Vanhoutte,Alex Kazantsev, Johan Dehandschutter, George De Decker, Aleksey Taber, ClaesBuckwalter, Sergei Tolmachov.