Full Stereo (Полное Стерео)
The entirety of chapter 2 of our translation of Alexandr Kushnir’s book 100 Tapes of Soviet Rock (100 Магнитоальбомов Советского Рока). Archives can be found here and recap of Chapter 1 is here.
Thanks to everyone supportive of this venture.
Up until the early eighties many musicians continued to record with primitive equipment. “Guitars would be plugged into the microphone input of magnetophon, using sound overload as fuzz – recalls sound engineer Lesha Vishnya while talking about recording of Последний Альбом (Last Album, 1983). In place of a bass drum a box hit by an enema stretched over a screwdriver was used. Instead of high-hat we were using vocals saying “tch-ch”. There was no working bass drum. These were very cool times…”
Indeed, the culture of rock sound didn’t exist in the country. Situation was made worse by a silent ban system for harsh and loud sound, one that was applied all over the place for “official rock bands”. Clear example – Shadows copyists Poyushchiye Gitary (Поющие Гитары / The Singing Guitars) who didn’t use any sound editing on principle. During the concerts timbres on the console were pushed down to the very limits and the highs and the lows seemed cut off as a result, while the middle of the environment was filling with characteristically sterile vocals. There was no energy and dynamics in music so refined.
Rise of magnetophon culture really peaked in the 80s – in between “monoseventies” and computerized 90s. Few years before Moscow Olympics modern recording equipment went on sale. Taking over the scary machines like Dnipro, Romantik and Chaika were reel stereo magnetophones with 19th speed of recording/reproduction: Rostov, Yupiter, Mayak, Nota. In place of a tape that was rough and tearing apart, made out of di and tri-acetate, audiophiles had reels with type 10 tape in their shaky hands. Few know that the original versions of Sinii Albom, Treugolnik and Tabu were recorded on the ordinary tape made by Shostkin manufacturing association Svema sold by the store around the corner.
The fact that the government agency situated right next to Japanese consulate could record “unruly” rockers demands an explanation of its own. At the end of the 70s theatre institute looked almost like an epicenter of the creative cyclone that had a lot of freethinkers suckers into it. In particular, housed there was Commission for complex investigation of human potential by USSR Academy of Sciences where all kinds of studies were carried out – including UFO issues, specifics of birth in the water, development of national yoga system or programs for accelerated learning of foreign languages.
There were no identification marks outside – oddly enough, inside of the building were actual cashiers. Beatles music was flowing softly from somewhere – apparently as means of advertising and the way to attract nonexistent customers. As the story goes, upon hearing a magic word from the Colonel one of the cashiers silently went into the utility room and soon came back with all the needed equipment. Despite the ostensibly broken cash register, the price of radio goods from the underground was corresponding with a national one. “I never saw such shops since” – recalls The Colonel.
While reminiscing about the development of Ural rock its impossible not to mention Urfin Juice / Урфин Джюс – wonderful band that, for a long time, employed no sound engineer. The issues of searching for its own sound were solved by musicians without any sense of inferiority, using the “here and now” principle. By hook or by crook the band managed to make it into government studios whose staff would convert into rock religion in a matter of hours. Everything else was “all about the technique”, as the saying goes.
Bandcamp Navigator, May 2020: From Athens, GA Thrash to Soviet Classic Rock (via Bandcamp Daily)
Joanna Stingray – the woman who smuggled punk rock out of the USSR (via Marc Bennets / The Guardian)
Beautiful electronic easy listening music from the USSR (1960) (via David Pescovitz / BoingBoing)