If you're expecting a tidy, chronological history of Russian electronic music from Elektro Moskva, you'll be disappointed. However, if an impressionistic history about mostly obscure inventors, musicians, and instrument collectors narrated in a hilariously lugubrious and heavily accented voice-over intrigues you, you'll be engrossed by Elena Tikhonova and Dominik Spritzendorfer's documentary.The film begins with this poetic preamble: “A ghost had been creeping around Soviet Union for quite a while--the ghost of Communism. Lenin proposed solution: Communism is power plus electrification of the country. The ghost would get a huge electric shock and come to life. The switch was turned on, but the ghost never came to life.” Aaannnddd you're hooked. Physicist and inventor Léon Theremin is the catalyst for the Soviet Union's music technology, birthing his namesake instrument in 1920. Its eerie, pliable tones went on to embellish everything from classical music to psychedelic rock. He also developed a TV transmitter at the Polytechnic Institute, which was initially used for border control purposes. Thus a pattern was established in the Soviet Union where technology created to bolster the state and the military intersected with musical endeavors. With research for the space program and defense industry consuming most resources, electronic musicians and instrument-builders relied on junky, cast-off materials. Their ingenuity resulted in synthesizers that generated strange sounds, but were chronically unpredictable—like life in Moscow and Russia, according to the sardonic narrator. Said narrator also intones, “Synths made from waste parts... just produced cosmic sounds. Some of these sounds were banned for ideological reasons.” This is a fascinating tidbit—tones that the government considered subversive—that isn't really probed further. Elektro Moskva devotes many scenes to musician/tinkerers constructing makeshift synths from dubious materials. These instruments may be cheap, but they're scarce, too, and therefore treasured with a passion beyond their actual worth. This became especially true under Leonid Brezhnev's administration, when only Houses of Culture could afford proper electronic instruments. Experimental musician Alexey Borisov recounts how “a fun group of guys” who were electronic musicians and synth-builders boosted the scene in the late '70s and early '80s. “They were from the KGB,” he says, laughing. “They stole everything they could from KGB headquarters. Without theft, Soviet technology wouldn't have developed at all.” Elektro Moskva is an enlightening look at an infrastructurally creaky superpower populated by a handful of extremely resourceful folks hell-bent on making electronic music by any means necessary. It's an inspirational work that ends with Theremin's final interview, fading to black on his hacking cough. recommended

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