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  1. Having read the Daughtry paper considering samizdat and magnitizdat in light of one another, a few things are on my mind. I’m interested in how the “practice” of a musical tradition and the corresponding material “object” of that music can intersect. Avtorskaia Pesnia (“guitar poetry,” roughly) is an interesting case because its practice is so intertwined with a material object (the magnitizdat reel-to-reel tape tradition) yet it retains its ideological substance despite reproduction. The object and the practice coexist, whereas in many musical traditions one is dominated by the other.
    I’m thinking of some American mainstream pop for example, where the recording of a single is the defining document and performance is a novelty (generally). Chamber music, on the other hand, is an example of the opposite case (again, very generally speaking), where the live performance is most important and recording is secondary (in reductive terms, a piece of music for chamber ensemble or orchestra has a live “premiere” while a recording of pop music has an album “release” date).

    In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin writes:

    “[…] technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.”

    Magnitizdat fits interestingly into Benjamin’s dialogue precisely because it doesn’t lose its value through mass dissemination. Rather, the messages and ideals embodied in the songs and words of Galich, Vysotsky, and Dulov, for instance, are more widely and precisely delivered. Reproduction in the case of magnitizdat also opens the field to subjectivity, as we talked about a bit in class. One could listen to this music and hear the “dissidence” or the “entertainment” or some mix of the two as they wish, which is a fairly radical notion when compared to the habits of presentation and interpretation in socialist realism.
    Amateurism is another of the radical qualities of the magnitizdat tradition, and is also proof that lack of technical skill isn’t an assault on musical “purity.” Instead it seems to actually lend concision and directness to the music and words. The writers/musicians behind avtorskaia pesnia were inevitably building their own unique language. We saw this sort of invention-from-scratch in East Side Story as well. In regard to the eastern European film industry’s relationship with the Hollywood tradition, one of the actresses interviewed said: “we had to be pioneers.” What’s clear after seeing the film and listening to the magnitizdat recordings is that this “pioneering” or “amateurism,” or whatever one might label it, appeals to the masses, perhaps because the lack of artistic elitism brings it closer to the surface and makes it more relatable, and it becomes an effective and entertaining way of communicating an ideology to a large population.

    1. Following up our past three weeks of discussion, this week seemed to sort of illuminate what was “really” going on in at least a section of music making in the Soviet Union. Perhaps this is because we read accounts of and learned primarily about the people living and consuming and making music on a smaller scale than the composers we had previously discussed. Or perhaps these closer accounts were just more easily digested, but I think this very idea that a discussion of popular music — or music that was made for entertainment of the people — is illuminating something that has gone previously unsaid in our discussions of classical music and the warring compositional styles of the time is indicative of the larger thematic problem we have continued to analyze, and that Henry brings our attention to, that the music of the people was the true art of this state, so perhaps we too can learn the most, or perceive a different approach to understanding the music of a socialist era from exploring the stuff made for and/or by the people.

      Daughtry’s analysis and overview of the magnitizdat recordings was helpful to understand the actual substance of these recordings, which were highlighted by somewhat untrained voices, “accidental” dissonance, and involved lyrics, elements that ultimately created an intimacy that came to be associated with this genre, and clearly held stake among the people who came to idealize this intimacy and artistry in the tapes themselves, and their dedication to their somewhat underground circulation. I found it especially interesting that this sort of musical imagery of intimacy was calling on the home, since most of the tapes were played in the home as well as created in homes: spaces independent of the state, protected.

      The magnitizdat are somewhat enigmatic though: they are not necessarily banned, yet they are not state sanctioned and are accompanying a world where VIA groups were flourishing. Furthermore, they are not necessarily oppositional, yet many of their poetic narratives are each able to be read as an narrative against certain socialist ideals. But of course, this depends on the context of the listener, the way the content is received…

      This reminded me of the older woman filmmaker in East Side Story, who’s interview in the last few scenes of the movie was juxtaposed against the woman who had grown up watching the soviet musicals. In the end of the movie she said that she truly hated the musicals, and disdained to watch them, that she at one time in no way considered these works as art. On the other hand, the woman who had grown up on this entertainment thought that this was the quintessential experience of growing up in the socialist world, and that itself made it art. Later, the filmmaker somewhat retracted her statement and said that perhaps the ability of these musicals to appeal to the masses and their ongoing relationship with the leadership and moods of the regime, and their reflection of the true nature of the soviet state in fact made these musicals a very profound art form.

      I think in the end (of at least week 3), all of these discussions point us to the idea that two spheres ultimately governed the socialist world: “official,” versus “reality.” There was official art, and there was art that depicted reality (another interesting dialogue that is scratched in East Side Story), and somehow these two things remain and are separate, which is truly jarring, especially from a Western point of view. The music created in this time reflects the high tension socialist regime and the politics of building of a system that required mass support, and we are left asking the question of the functionality of art as bound to a cultural construction and reflection, or if art can be received independently. But for now, the catchy melodic lines of the musicals and the enigmatic flimsiness of magnitizdat engaged a mass of people wading through a difficult and charged political atmosphere.

  2. Daughtry seems worried that the reader will perceive magnitizdat (illicitly dubbed tapes of a form of informal and poetic Russian music) as solely a form of dissidence against the oppressive Soviet regime, and forget its significance as an art form and pastime. Daughtry is also careful to specify that magnitizdat at the time of Soviet rule had a specific meaning that has changed post-Soviet rule, as the nature of dissidence has changed, and yet the music retains its importance as a highly personal folklore for Russian people who engage in the tradition. I do not think there is necessarily a conflict between the personal significance of the music and its political implications, but rather I think there is an intrinsic relation between the two. That is to say, I imagine that living in a climate where anyone could be questioned by the KGB for the spread of samizadat (sort of the literary version of the magnitizdat) probably had a psychological impact on these music-makers, which has been translated through their verses, their notes, and their intonatsia. As a side note, I wandered around on the http://www.bard.ru and http://www.bards.ru sites and there are some interesting tracks.

  3. I think something really interesting for me in the film was the idea of comparison between East and West. Throughout the film, the actors kept saying they were referred to as “the Doris Day of the East,” “The Elvis of the East”, etc. For me it’s surprising that in an empire as huge and powerful as the Soviet Union there is still the expectation of a comparison to the West. With all the power that East Germany wielded economically and in a militaristic context, I think it speaks to the importance of art that because of the focuses of communism, they were so “behind” in the art scene of the time.

    This is not to discount the value of the films and music that were made in East Germany and the rest of the communist and soviet territories during this time. As the women interviewed in the last half of the film spoke about, these films nonetheless played an important role in bringing a life of more than just terror and work to the majority of the population. I think there is something unique also, as the actress said in one of the final scenes, about films made under such difficult circumstances. At that point, the struggle to make this art in a society that is against you becomes such an important task, both for those involved in the production and for those who are watching.

  4. After watching East Side Story I was struck by the prevalence of the meta-narrative in responses to Soviet demands on art. In particular I am thinking of Gottfried Kolditz’s response in the form of Midnight Review. The issue of being forced to produce an appropriate Soviet musical is narrativized. The conflict the writers and director are experiencing become the subject of their art. This technique also seems to surface in the magnitizdat recordings of Galich singing “After the Party”. Keeping in mind that Daughtry stresses that the logocentrism of Soviet culture led to the prizing of magnitizdat lyrics over melody, we can look at the textual component of “After the Party”. It becomes clear that it is a “meta poem” of sorts. The poet reflects that “my somewhat muffled voice will enter the unfamiliar house.” He allows himself access to his own audience and overhears their conversation that is happening after “he’s been dead for a hundred years”. Midnight Review and “After the Party” can’t be directly compared. Midnight Review was a Soviet commissioned musical that was attempting to please the regime while Galich’s “After the Party” is, as Daughtry says, “a wistful performance” that hints at an “exceedingly bleak picture of the future” (42). Galich by the very virtue of his medium, magnitizdat, is perceived as embodying a more oppositional art form. However, I think it is interesting to note how pressure and Soviet censorship seems to have encouraged a meta-response in both of these works. The only way to tell truth is to explain your very own difficulty in telling the truth. It is as if the only subject matter worth treating is the difficulty in making art. I would ask others if they see this trend in other works we have listened to or read about?

  5. Musical theatre and the Soviet Union is not something I would ever have thought would go together. I was struck with the interviews that were shown throughout the film, particularly with the woman from, “Little Mouse” she just seemed so proud of her accomplishments within a genre of art that was very regulated and hard to accomplish. The budgets were low and the lighting only lasted about seven minutes but they just kept working. It was actually kind of inspiring to see them create something out of suck dark times, even though it was politically corrupt I have to applaud the artists that continued working hard in a field that didn’t get much recognition.

    The film itself was entertaining, the “peasants” choreographed wheat “dance” was fascinating to watch. I can imagine that these films really did inspire real workers to keep working. Although that particular film emerged when the peasents were dying of famine. “My Wife Wants To Sing” would be an interesting film to screen at one point, just because it was almost banned. I would love to see it and compare why it was controversial. We might not have time to do it in class but maybe we could watch it as an optional activity?

  6. The juxtaposition at the end of East Side Story between the older filmmaker and the younger woman who grew up on the musicals, which Gemma mentioned in her post, has got me thinking about what constitutes ‘art’ in society, a theme which we’ve definitely explored if not explicitly. As I recall it, when the older film-maker was qualifying her disdain for the soviet musicals, she says that later in her life she came to realize that they were necessary for the peoples’ “survival.” Whether it was needed for their literal survival could be debated, but we can assume she at least meant ‘survival of the soul’ or ‘preservation of happiness’ or something like that. But I think that while one person could call it happiness, another could call it a distraction, a distraction from a society which at times lacks the necessary happiness for survival, as the older filmmaker suggested. I’d like to compare the example of the musical to the magnitizdat we learned about this week, particularly the dissident variety like that of Galich. This type of music/poetry (art) delivers a message of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the status quo, but it also brings happiness to the sub-culture of people who relish the intimate performances, grainy recordings, and various social aspects of the art-form. Although it’s maybe not ‘high-brow’ music, it is a high form of art in my opinion because it carries a constructive, political message while also bringing happiness to the masses.

  7. When watching East Side Story in class, I appreciated its ability to capture the human experience and interaction with entertainment and leisure under Socialism. Our readings over the past few weeks have emphasized the significance of creating music “for the People;” however, we have not yet heard from the People. I agree with Gemima’s comment that our discussion of popular music culture, whether it concerned musical film, comedy, or the production and distribution of samizdat and magnitizdat in the Soviet Union, has shown us what government propagated classical music and “fakelore” could not. Though the composition of My Wife Wants To Sing lacks the Amateurism of Aleksandr Galich’s “After the Party,” both offer citizens of socialism a connection to their culture beyond the ideology of the Party. Though that is not to say that the DEFA musical films were not imbued with socialist ideals (gender equality, value of work, etc…). I was also interested in the differences in style and content between the films produced in the USSR and those produced in the GDR. An example of this would be the fact that there was no dancing in farms or factories within Soviet films. Instead, the act of working was choreographed to accompany the music.
    I was also interested in the fascination with film celebrities within both regimes, such as the recognition that people named there children after their favorite actors and actresses. I also found that insight into the relationship of the individual to leisure and entertainment was greatly emphasized in the interview with Brigitte Ulbrich, who recounted the joy and hope that films such as My Wife Wants to Sing and Hot Summer had on her and her family.

  8. I found this week interesting as the first time there has been a serious discussion on the part of the readings about the entertainment value of the music as well as its political message. In the Daughtry article on Magnitizdat two of the three case studies performed on songs were found to be at least equal parts entertainment and political message (subversive or not is another question) if not purely entertaining. This was brought up again in East Side Story, which we watched on Wednesday. The musical was popular as a political power, with stirring songs of man and his tractor taking the starring role away from a typical love story. However there were also a great deal of musicals which were purely entertaining, with only the thinnest veil of socialist rhetoric allowing them into theaters. The desire of the people to be transported from their own lives into the world of fantasy provided by musicals was particularly interesting for me, considering the readings we have done previously regarding the strict regulations on the musicians and their representations of the fantastic. I suppose what both these musicals and some of the Magnitizdat did was turn the every day into something fantastic or wondrous, young people on a road trip could be turned into a wild adventure just as the factories and women in the workforce. The homemade aspect of Magnitizdat granted the artists with the opportunity to subvert the system in a way that films that were produced by the major soviet film studios never would have. While recordings were more likely to be entertaining bordering on subversive, the films were entertaining bordering on propagandistic. The commonality of their efforts to entertain were what struck me most as a new development.

  9. The surge of amateur music, magnitizdat, came at a time when music was very structured and this new form was often seen as a statement against the socialist powers. We learned from watching “An East Side Story” that musicals, even though not many were made, were actually accepted by Stalin. Grigori Alexandrov made the first Soviet musical called “Jolly Fellows,” which was originally banned until Stalin decided that these comedic films could be the new form of propaganda. Soviet musicals always portrayed people happily working, and if the characters worked hard then they would be rewarded. While the musicals were commissioned by the state and accepted by Stalin himself. magnitizdat was not. However, both forms of music/entertainment were still made for the proletariat, as Soviet music should be. And though they were both significantly different than the classical Symphonies of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, arguably these forms of music, whether they were state sanctioned or not, were more effective at reaching the masses than classical symphonies.

  10. East Side Story opened my eyes to a different kind of Soviet Union, not one covered in snow, dreary and cold. But rather a Soviet Union that enjoyed having fun and went to the beach or at the very least they enjoyed watching people do that on the movie screen. Even though all these horrible things were happening, especially so in the purge era, they were able to enjoy a musical and have a little fun. The Avstorskaia pesnia too have a fun aspect to them, Vysotskii particularly. Although the Avstorskaia pesnia does offer a more intimate portrait than popular film. The timeline of the “bards” arising in the 1960’s, is an interesting parallel compared to the folk music revival in America that peaked in the early 1960’s. Considering the fact that many of their earlier folk song artist in the beginning of the movement in the 40’s were leftist, and sympathetic to a degree towards the Soviets. It seems as if the cross pollination between the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II had far reaching implications on both countries popular cultures.

  11. I was surprised to learn how different music came to be under the “de-Stalinization” process. It was particularly interesting that amateur-ness became an aesthetic and that musicians were not expected to be professionals or composers commissioned by the government. The lyrics/text took privilege over the music. Rather than continue having only a few composers who were censored by the government to write music, writers of literature and theater, actors, urban men, and technical Intelligentsia, etc. were the authors who participated in this new time of music. This music was circulated through reel-to-reel recording, which allowed it to be rapidly distributed.

    In the first recording that we listened to Heroic Discourse, Aleksandr Galich is explicitly oppositional and openly critical of the regime. One of the characters in the song is worried that the author’s jokes and his act are risky. However, another character responds to say that “The author has nothing to fear: He’s been dead for a hundred years.” This represents an example of “resistance after death” and how these authors no longer feared the government’s critique.

    There was the potential to read this new music as oppositional, but not all popular music was oppositional.

    Daughtry asks the question of whether this music is explicitly oppositional to the state or if it is just for fun. He says that ultimately it depends on the subjectivity of the listener, not the nature of the genre, but rather how it is received.

  12. Daughtry states that Magnitizdat “often took place outside the boundaries of dissidence, in the vast gray area that lay between illegal opposition and active promotion of the regime” (Daughtry, 31). While the writer directs this quote towards the practice of Magnitizdat, I think that it can also be applied to the music of state-sanctioned Soviet composers. Both the music of the genre of Avtorskaia Pesnia and the state-sanctioned music of Soviet composers were subject to Zhdanov’s ambiguous notion of “Socialist Realism,” but were not equally penalized. Similarly, the film “East Side Story” highlights the censorship of the state and the government’s installation of strict ideological standards in the arts. It showcases various films and musicals that were created under Stalin’s rule. During the film, the narrator expresses that many of these films provided people with happiness that removed them from the harsh realities of life. While the films exude outwardly propagandistic messages, I guess that this would not matter to the average citizen watching them. Similarly to what Daughtry says in “Sonic Samizdat,” this ultimately depends on the subjectivity of the viewer in how they interpret meaning. When discussing both the music and films of the Soviet Union, I cannot help but to think how this censorship by the government creates a sense of inauthenticity in these art forms.

  13. I touched last week on the idea of resistance to communist ideologies through music; to this theme, Daughtry’s article was a particularly interesting and insightful read. Any Foucauldian analysis of power begets an examination of resistance; and, as, as very clearly demonstrated by Daughtry, what constitutes resistance is ultimately up for debate.

    It was fascinating to watch how musicals were adapted into a socialist paradigm. Particularly striking was the choreography (where physical labor replaced dance), and the Doris Day of the East cheerfully singing in the name of increased labor productivity. Best surmised, I think, by the narrator was they remarked, “Jean-Luc Godard once said the history of film was the history of boys photographing girls. But Stalin had another fantasy—boys photographing tractors.”

  14. I think that the minimal censorship on the magnitizdat recordings may have been, in part, due to the genre’s lack of musical formalism. Because it was a new and relatively simple (when compared to symphonic music) genre, Soviet Bard’s (and authorities) had no precedent for musical form and thus the authorities had a less strict notion of musical dissidence within the avtorskaia pesnia movement. It was harder to discern whether a particular piece was going against Soviet musical traditions and values. If symphonic music strayed too far from the formal ideals and expectations, its dissidence could be more easily pointed out due to the large backdrop of music for comparison. Daughtry notes that the avtorskaia pesnia movement gave Soviet citizens “an unprecedented opportunity to collectively imagine and build progressive relationships that challenged the unified authority of the regime” (38). Through the creation and distribution of magnitizdat recordings, common Soviet people were given an outlet that, by definition, had to be free of censorship simply because every aspect of it – from musical form to consumption – was so new. This is similar to the way that modern laws need to be created when new technology is released; preceding laws are not insufficient inasmuch as they are incompatible with new phenomena.

    The shift toward novelty was also interesting to note in Wednesday’s movie, the East Side Story. I liked to hear about how Stalin shifted his preferences from imperialistic movies featuring war heroes, to comedic movies. In order to appeal to a wider audience, he had to change his views. It was also interesting to see how the movies strayed away from purely choreographed dance (dance for the sake of dance); the film dances were always linked with some type of proletarian work (e.g., the farm workers pitching hay while dancing).

  15. We have, in a sense, been viewing the music conversation (its history in the Soviet State in the 20th century) chronologically, and from this viewpoint I construe that, as Gemma says, the official music of the Soviet Union was to some and at times a delicate compromise between the emotional state of one’s artistic reality, and the the exacting political atmosphere whose constraints seemed to bring about art forms all their own. The magnitizdat recordings, as Daughtry relays to us, were tokens of rising amateurist motivations in the face of the debilitating politics behind music production. The results of those recordings- fairly dissonant, nearly adolescent-sounding works whose newness and ingenuities in fact spare them the critiques done unto most precedents- is a self-made work of the people, insulated by an untouchable social justice rooted in newly formed, unique, tenants only recognizable in the accompanying new musical/political language the project used. In short, the project and similar recordings, all made in the home, found protection in their newness, and so rode at the edge of a forward-moving, radical, social current in Soviet music. A similar freeness was elemental in the film industry’s productions which advanced the same wave via a different medium. The East German production of “Heisser Sommer” in 1968 if anything brought the ‘cult’ out musical ‘culture’ in a transformative way just as had in similar ways previous works of the GDR film industry like “Geliebte weiße Maus.” (1964) The main actress was heralded like a western icon. There were many films in East Germany as well such as “Divided Heaven,” (1964) whose contents bespoke the stringency of the regime while protesting the alternative through bold guises. Such films came to a halt under the scruples of the Stasi or GDR Boards of Review. But rarely was ever fully extinguished the zeal to react, wherefrom (I believe) come the origins of critical and eventually fatal conceits against the regime within the artistic sphere, (and especially by Gorbachev’s time, where walls are coming down left and right)…

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