Dear Peter and Carman,
After finishing the recording (on the 25th of December) we are very pleased with its outcome. Much better than the live performances, due to new sources found since, and due to better balance (more control). Enthusiasm ends up being 40 minutes long, as I look back over your letter I see that you request 60, which I agree is reasonable for the cassette medium. Then we racked our brains momentarily for the thing to fill out 60 minutes with and came to the obvious conclusion. Enthusiasm 1993 was written before Enthusiasm, yet while still under Vertov's influence. Later, the latter we decided better fit the title. We concluded that Enthusiasm 1993 could and should be presented in a singular form, a live recording. In fact, it is nearly all audience: they became a very important part of the piece due to the controversy it created (which we didn't expect entirely). Listen to it first, then read the following paragraph which briefly describes the scene; I think it would be good to appreciate it as a sonic event alone once at least (that is how we try listen to it now).
Enthusiasm 1993 was performed as part of a festival where each group was given only 15 minutes. Most of the other music was of an improvisatory nature, quite different in form and language than what we wanted to put across (purposefully). The piece does not have any performers in it (other than the audience as it turned out) after we start the machinery going. We then just leave. The machinery is two turntables playing hypnosis records (at once), a metronome counting seconds, plus a timer that turns on after a few minutes a bare bulb and a third turntable with a hypnosis record. The audience was divided in reaction throughout: half wanted to stop it, half appeared to be defending the piece's right to enfold. There were heckles and then defensive counter-heckles. There is a little "hoot" when the light comes on automatically. Later, someone unscrewed the bulb. Later still, someone screwed it back in. You can hear the metronome pulse speed up due to an audience member's interaction, and then resume counting seconds (or so) due to another's. Suz and I stood way at the back throughout so as not to be recognized or called to comment. It was fun. I guess what I like best about the recording is how the audience noise level slowly raises during our 15 minutes.
So, in the end, it works out well to have the two pieces paired.
At the time of this writing, I am just mastering the dubbing cassette, but have no idea of what the cover will be like, nor the accompanying text. So I'll give a bit of the story behind Enthusiasm and some of the reasons why we are so interested in Vertov's work. I was watching his film Man with a Movie Camera again two days ago and was again very impressed by his language: the images of this silent film never speak directly (and there are no intertitles), but only have meaning in relation to the other images immediately adjacent. In other words, the meaning is somewhat linear, but resides on a different level, as implied, than the images themselves. As it is in this film, each "element" of meaning (i.e., part, word, or sentence of the linear "story") requires several of many separate shots to get across.
It is an interesting multilevel, multipaced movement. Anyway, that just describes one aspect of Vertov. [I am listening back to the dub at this moment and the last thing is the announcer at the show saying loudly "Crawling Avec Tarts"...I wonder if it is too obnoxious?] To continue...Vertov might be considered to be a dogmatist, but I think that is unimportant or irrelevant. If any thing he is an idealist...not a bad thing. His ideas and images are brilliant. As regards politics, socialism (or bolshevism, or whatever) was a different thing then than it is now. It is hard to understand his almost naive descriptions of political ideals. But they are easily subservient to his creative ideals (no matter that they may have been meant to be in the service of a political system [I footnote here that I am mistrustful of all "systems", especially political]; so was Eisenstein, whom Vertov assailed in writing for his lack of inventiveness.) And the concept of "montage" ranks among the greatest intellectual advancements (intellectual recognition, really) in recent history.
Enthusiasm is a film made by Dziga Vertov in 1930. It is the first sound film made in Russia. The film exists, and is even available on videotape, though I haven't seen it for a long time. There are various notes on it, including the text upon which our piece is based, in his book Kino Eye. I don't personally own this book at the moment; a room mate now absent owned the copy from which we photocopied the text. So, much of what I am about to recount is either from nonspecific recollections of reading through the book, or from correspondences realized later upon reflection.
Vertov is actually a failed sound collagist. This is significant. He made attempts at composing with sounds found on "stenographic recordings" (which, at that time, would have been on discs). But he was unable, in the mid 20s, to get a decent recording quality even after just two generations of montage. So he turned to film, which was much more flexible and had a higher fidelity, even if it was in a medium for a different sensory organ. His desire to work with his conception of combinatorics was that strong. He made several silents, including newsreels (Kino Pravda) and Man with a Movie Camera mentioned above, before 1930, when had arisen the first opportunity to make a sound film. By that time, he had conceived of film as having two separate "pillars", the image and the sound track, which could be asynchronous but related. In Kino Eye are reproduced each of the two pillars of Enthusiasm, the visual track entitled Symphony of the Donbas, and the audio track called Sound March. Each text is a description of the action, either in visual or sonic terms depending on the case, which he would later enact in his film. Each is a separate, though related, composition.
Our take on this is as follows. First, we completely ignored Vertov's realization of the text Sound March used in the film Enthusiasm, and based our piece on the text alone. We chose to use disc recordings as the primary sound source as a tribute to Vertov's sincere attempt to do so (and given up well before the subject film was conceived). We decided that since the abstract text alone was to be our basis, we would 1) not try to synchronize anything with the film or original soundtrack, and 2) not try to use sources that are historically and locally relevant to Vertov's time and place. These considerations are also practical: we have not seen Enthusiasm for quite a while, and just plain found it more interesting to base the source selection on what we had available from our collection (this has changed, incidentally, from the earliest performances (as mentioned above) as new sources have been found). As it ends up, many of the sources locate our version in France and Mexico during the 50s and 60s, though with great variation.
Though I do not remember if it is explicitly stated in the supplementary text of Kino Eye, the story told in Enthusiasm is pretty clear irregardless of the abstract nature of the text of Sound March. It basically describes in sound the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, and through the direct action of the people in the street, the rise of Bolshevism, a scene occurring about 12 years prior to the composition of the text. The text is in four sections (as our rendition of it is), roughly describing:
I. Russia before the October Revolution, with religion as one of the dominant ideological powers II. The beginnings of strikes and termoil, army divisions reconsidering their allegiances
III. The destruction of icons, removal (by force) of all vestiges of the previous order, beginnings of the restructuring of the ideological order
IV. Further construction of the Soviet state.
Again, this is just what I glean from the text (it is also simplified: much more is described). Now that the composition is finished, I want to end my abstinence and review the film (I actually have a copy of it somewhere on videotape), and reread Kino Eye, just to see what corresponds and what doesn't. Variations will be interesting; the last thing I would want to do is simply "perform" the text literally and with strict respect to Vertov's realization.
Michael Gendreau 12.30.94
1.3.95 [Watched Vertov's Enthusiasm two nights ago; some major differences between our soundtracks (i.e. interpretations of the text "Sound March"):
1. Vertov very rarely has simultaneous events in his sound, almost everything is sequential.
2. Although he follows the text overall quite closely, he often shifts back and forth over a series of sonic images, whereas we simply more forward (even skipping over things).
3. His ending (the last section) is much longer than ours, and is more optimistic in tone, lots of farmers dancing, etc. (ours isn't unhappy, but contains more "factory" sounds, as opposed Vertov's use of "farm" sounds (though the farm activity depicted is rather factory-like)).
4. His "church" sections (I and II) are more ridiculous, more so than the text might indicate they should be (though there is some indication).
5. He doesn't explicitly divide his piece into sections (i.e., with a pause or a symbol).]
1.8.95 Write soon. We hope all is well and happy with you two, sincerely,