It’s synthesis from paper – sounds crafted quite literally by hand, using drawn animation, then optically synthesized. But after this 4K restoration, it’s clear how much these 1930s inventors were ahead of their time.

Adam Maciaszek released this 4K restoration today:

I first saw this animation, like a lot of people, via Moscow-based historian Andrey Smirnov, who writes the following description of artist Voinov for Austria’s Institut für Medienarchäologie:

Nikolai Voinov (1900-58) began his career as an animator in 1927. In 1930 he was involved in the production of the first drawn ornamental soundtracks at Avraamov’s Multzvuk laboratory. In 1931 he left and started his own research at the Cartoon Studio of the Moscow Film Factory as a developer of ‘Paper Sound’ techniques. These were based on the synthesis of sound waves by means of paper cutouts with the carefully calculated sizes and shapes produced by his newly invented tool, the Nivotone. (Andrey Smirnov)

You get a full roster of paper-optical synthesis. (It’s hard to even know what to call that – it’s essentially a hybrid of optical-analog synthesis machines and traditional cell animation or other hand-drawn techniques.)

That includes:

Variophone – Evgeny Sholpo, 1930 Leningrad / Lenfilm (who also works with the legendary Georgy Rimsky‐Korsakov

Working directly on optical track of the film – Arseny Avraamov (who also had his own 48-tone microtonal system) – he worked across the USSR and Germany

Paper sound techniquesNikolai Voinov (Nivotone)

Anushen Ter-Ghevondyan – Armenian composer and audiovisual inventor based in Yerevan at the Soviet studio there (I have fairly sketchy notes, presumably worth a separate research), also worked with paper, animation, and optical synthesis

And another time we could talk about Boris Yankovsky and spectral analysis, as it also seems fairly futuristic now.

The variophone itself was tragically lost in a missile attack in the Siege of Leningrad, meaning this is another thing to blame on Nazis this week – although futuristic electronic music sometimes had the Soviet bureaucracy as a foe, too. (So it is with those who advance culture, I’m afraid, generally.)

But then again, this history never really ends. We can still look to odd artifacts and history cropping up from dusty archives, impassioned devotees of its secrets championing research and creation, and the still untapped potential of novel concepts connecting sound and image in novel inventions.


By the way, if you think it’s all been done before… not necessarily. People still come up with crazy ideas like the ones in this paper. (It is related to the above in that it uses paper as a kind of score for synthesis, unrelated in that their notion was to crumple up the paper and use that as a way of defining sound.)

Real-time sound synthesis for paper material based on geometric analysis [PDF]

Let’s all stay crazy.