What remains of
old russian music.
Parts of this description might be made up but presented as facts.
In April 2022, over the Easter holiday, I visited my family in Italy. I was crate digging in my father's vinyl collection, and a record with the title Old Russian Music, printed in 1984 by Melodia, got my attention. The record contained a collection of russian choral music from the 17th and 18th century.
Founded in 1964, Melodia remained the Soviet Union's sole record label until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. All the recordings released in the country during those years came through Melodia, allowing communist censors to exercise strict ideological control over all issued music. On the back of the Old Russian Music record there was a short paragraph in english.
The words "instill" and "testimony" bothered me, but I couldn't tell the exact reason. I asked myself what's the value of a testimony when nobody else is allowed to speak, and when that testimony is crafted with the specific aim of instilling something. I also wondered whether these words where carefully chosen to pass the Melodia censorship.
I decided to do something with this record, but I didn't know what exactly. So I brought it with me in Graz, along with an old General Electric dictaphone from 1964 that my father used, in his twenties, to record university classes. The dictaphone was not working, and I thought I could try to repair it. The battery holder was completely oxidised, and also a few other contacts. After polishing them and replacing the damaged battery holder with a new one, the old dictaphone was - sort of - working.
To test it, I plugged in my vinyl record player with the Melodia record playing. When I listened back to the tape recordings, the chorals were almost unrecognisable. So probably the dictaphone was not really working. Nevertheless I liked the precarious sound character coming from it, and I liked the idea of altering that original Melodia record to let other kinds of voices speak. I thought I could create alternative sound testimonies by deliberately altering the original one.
I introduced other kinds of manipulations: I used, for example, adhesive tape to force the record into short repetitive loops. I particularly looked for looping points at which the original source was less recognisable - in between choral pauses, or in sustained notes.
I recorded multiple loops thorugh the dictaphone, which amplified the original noisy character of the old vinyl record. I then passed the recordings into my laptop and mixed them to create longer sound testimonies.
Each testimonmy is composed of three sound loops, crossfaded and combined at different points. The three testimonies are what remains of the Old Russian Music record after its deliberate manipulation. They are also sonic testimonies of what is lost when sources are manipulated for a specific aim. I looped the chants marked in red.