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CTM/Transmediale 2014: Back when Russia was cool

The week-long digital art/music festival opened on Friday with a new (and free!) exhibition full of hands-on sonic Soviet bliss. Check back on our blog for updates from CTM and Transmediale through the fest's end on Feb 2.

Michal Andrysiak

On Friday night, the digital music/art geekfest known as Transmediale/CTM opened with the Kunstquartier Bethanien exhibition Generation Z: ReNoise: Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology in the Early 20th Century. Unlike many of the festival’s events, this one’s free and open to the public till February 23. Don’t miss it!

Hey, remember when Russia used to be cool? That’s the question Generation Z: ReNoise, whose opening at Bethanien kicked off Transmediale/CTM on Friday night, seems to ask. Back before it was imprisoning Pussies, the exhibition reminds us that the the Russian state was geeking out over theremins.

It’s a fitting start to CTM, because practically none of the music we’re about to hear over the next week would exist had the early Soviets, still giddy off post-Revolution fumes, not decided to do a little experimenting. Even if you’re already read up on the brilliant, wacky, decades-ahead-of-its-time sonic innovation going on in Russia pre-1930, it’s fairly stunning to see it all presented in one place. There’s the 17-key Rhythmicon (the world’s first electronic drum machine!), rare film soundtracks for variophone, an early graphic score player, (including an 8-bit-sounding rendition of Ride of the Valkyries!), and of course a good deal on the theremin itself, including early prototypes and one you can actually play. Speaking of which, the unquestionable highlight here is the ReNoise section, a room full of DIY wood and metal proletarian noise instruments reconstructed by artists/researchers Konstantin Dudakov-Kashuro, Peter Aidu and Evgenia Vorobyeva, presented for the public to bang on to our hearts’ content.

The exhibit doesn’t skimp on follow-up, ending with a section that details the post-totalitarianism fates of all these innovators – none of them particularly happy. Driving the point home is the quote, “The state has a cudgel in its hands that you use to hit just once, but on the head.” It’s attributed to… Vladimir Putin, in 2000. Yikes.

It’s running through Feb 23 (neatly coinciding with the Sochi Olympics, in case you want to take your frustration with the current state of things in Russia out on said noise instruments), so there’s no excuse for missing out. Just be sure to go early, lest the legions of Berlin sound artists overheard at the opening saying “Dude, I’m totally gonna come back here to record later!” actually make good on their threat.