Andrey Smirnov – Polyrhythmoform #1

Photo by Katy Otto.

Russian researcher and musician Andrey Smirnov has composed a piece to be performed on the original “Rhythmicon”, an instrument created by Leon Theremin in 1931 for composer Henry Cowell. The Rhythmicon, also known as the Polyrhythmophone, is regarded as the world’s first electric rhythm machine. The piece, titled "Polyrhythmoform #1" was commissioned by CTM Festival and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in collaboration with Deutschlandradio Kultur for their joint “Technosphärenklänge” series, and premiered in April 2016.

Through his Sound in Z publication (Walther König 2013) and the accompanying “Generation Z” exhibition, which was presented at CTM 2014 in Berlin, Smirnov has brought to light the largely forgotten work and fate of the community of sound researchers, sound experimentalists and inventors active during a Russian period of revolution, war and dictatorship in the early 1900s. As the inventor of the Theremin, the first commercially distributed electronic music instruments in the world, Leon Theremin is the most famous representative of this generation of “machine music” apologists that was driven by socio-political utopias. Incompatible with the ideas of an increasingly totalitarian state, his legacy and that of his many contemporaries, has largely been deleted from the country’s history. Leon Theremin was interned in 1938 for “anti-Soviet propaganda”. His musical instruments and inventions were destroyed, and Theremin was instructed to develop eavesdropping techniques for the KGB. Following 27 years of internment camps and forced labour, Theremin could finally find employment at the Moscow Conservatory in the mid-1960s, where he began to work again on his instruments. Even though electronic components were hardly available at that time in the USSR, Theremin managed to assemble a third version of his “Rhythmicon” from shotgun parts. This third version is the only fully functional version of this revolutionary music machine, and is included in Smirnov’s collection.

In addition to the performance of his composition for Rhythmicon and computer titled, “Polyrhythmoform #1”, Andrey Smirnov developed a lecture about Leon Theremin and the history of the Rhythmicon in the context of the artistic avant-gardes of post-revolutionary Russia.

As a further output of this project, Andrey Smirnov created a radio piece for the “Klangkunst” broadcast of German national radio Deutschlandradio Kultur, that introduces the listener to the discourse on rhythm that led to the development of the Rhythmicon.

Andrey Smirnov is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, composer, researcher, author and technologist. He is founding director of the Theremin Center for Electroacoustic Music at the Moscow State Conservatory and a lecturer at the Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia. Since childhood, Smirnov has collected documents and artefacts on the history of electronic music in the Soviet Union. Upon becoming Andrei Volodin’s assistant (inventor of the Ecvodin synthesiser and one of the key figures in the development of electronic music in the Soviet Union), Smirnov obtained access to even more people and historical documents and combined public and private archives to reconstruct the Soviet Union’s forgotten and long-lost history of electronic music.

Images – Lecture at HKW Berlin 2016

Rhythmicon. Photo courtesy of Andrey Smirnov
Photo by Udo Siegfriedt.
Photo by Udo Siegfriedt.
Photo by Udo Siegfriedt.