I’m fascinated to receive an invitation from Artsy about helping to share the work of John Cage. Of course, I’d be delighted! It turns out I learned something – I had no idea that Mr Cage, in addition to being one of the most inspirational and experimental musician/composers also made works on paper and in other forms.

“Everything in the world has its own spirit, and this spirit becomes audible by setting it into vibration” said Cage. This concept was a particular inspiration for my 20 year work Singing Bridges, making music with the vibrations of bridge cables. It’s curious to see the plexigram pieces dedicated to Marcel Duchamp, who famously said “The only works of art America has given the world are her plumbing and her bridges.”

There does seem to be a curious synergy between M. Cage, M. Duchamp and the music of bridges.

I’m already a fan of Artsy for their excellent contemporary take on collecting video art and selling art work on instagram, although I have yet to reach these exalted heights in terms of becoming collectable, it’s good to see someone make a living from their work – being a posthumous success as an artist is seriously overrated.

Here’s to vibrations, spirit and new ideas!

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”
-John Cage

Here is the Artsy listing, I’ll be curious to see more of these intriguing works.

“We strive to make all of the world’s art accessible to anyone online. John Cage was not only a revolutionary composer but also an innovative artist, and Artsy aspires to be a leading resource for learning about Cage’s art. Our John Cage page provides visitors with Cage’s bio, over 20 of his artworks, as well as up-to-date Cage exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist & category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond our Cage page.”


One of the most influential composers of the 20th century and a leading figure in the post-war avant-garde, John Cage was a music theorist, writer, and artist, as well as a composer. His most famous piece,4’33” (1952), consisted of musicians doing nothing but listening to the sounds in a room for the duration of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. For Cartridge Music (1960), he amplified small household objects in a live performance. Influenced by Indian philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and Duchamp’s readymades, Cage championed chance procedures in music, incorporating found sounds, noise, and alternative instruments into his compositions. Two important early collaborators were the painter Robert Rauschenberg and the dancer Merce Cunningham, who was also his romantic partner for most of their lives. Cage published his first book, Silence, in 1961 and, in the 1970s, began to transform literary works, including those of Joyce and Thoreau, into music.

Andrey Smirnov, Moscow, 2011

Graphical (drawn) Sound is a technology for synthesizing sound from light that was invented in Soviet Russia in 1929 as a consequence of the newly invented sound-on-film technology which made possible access to the sound as a trace in a form that could be studied and manipulatedIt also opened up the way for a systematic analysis of these traces such that they could be used to produce any sound at will…

The first practical sound-on-film systems were created almost simultaneously in the USSR, USA and Germany. In Soviet Russia Pavel Tager initiated developments in 1926 in Moscow. Just a few months later in 1927, Alexander Shorin started his research in Leningrad.


Tager’s system, the Tagephon, was based on intensive variable density optical recording on film while in Shorin’s Kinap system the method of transversal variable area optical recording on film was realized.

By 1936 there were several main, relatively comparable trends of Graphical Sound in Russia:
– Hand-drawn Ornamental Sound, achieved by means of shooting still images of drawn sound waves on an animation stand, with final soundtracks produced in a transversal form (Arseny Avraamov, early Boris Yankovsky);
– Hand-made Paper Sound with final transversal soundtracks (Nikolai Voinov);
– The Variophone or Automated Paper Sound with soundtracks in both transversal and intensive form (Evgeny Sholpo, Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov);
– The Syntones method, based on the idea of spectral analysis, decomposition and resynthesis, developed in 1932-1935 by a pupil of Arseny Avraamov, the young painter and acoustician Boris Yankovsky.

At exactly the same time very similar efforts were being undertaken in Germany by Rudolf Pfenninger in Munich and, somewhat later, by the animator and filmmaker Oskar Fischinger in Berlin. Among the researchers working with Graphical Sound after World War II were the famous filmmaker Norman McLaren (Canada) and the composer and inventor Daphne Oram (UK).

Ornamental Sound

The ornamental sound technique, developed in 1929-1930 by Arseny Avraamov, was similar to German animator and filmmaker Oscar Fischinger’s sounding ornaments first presented in 1932. In 1930, however, Avraamov was the first to demonstrate experimental sound pieces – based on geometric profiles and ornaments – produced purely through drawing methods. This was achieved by means of shooting still images of drawn sound waves on an animation stand.


In December 1930 Mikhail Tsekhanovsky wrote in his article About the Drawn Sound Film: “with the invention of new drawn sound techniques (developed by Arseny Avraamov in Moscow, Sholpo and [Georgy] Rimsky-Korsakov in Leningrad) we are achieving a real possibility of gaining a new level of perfection: both sound and the visual canvas will be developing completely in parallel from the first to the last frame […] Thus the drawn sound film is a new artistic trend in which for the first time in our history music and art meet each other.” [2]

In autumn 1930 Avraamov founded the Multzvuk group at Mosfilm Productions Company in Moscow. To produce his first drawn ornamental sound tracks he had on staff a special draughtsman, cameraman Nikolai Zhelynsky, animator Nikolai Voinov and acoustician Boris Yankovsky who was responsible for the translation of musical scores into Avraamov’s microtonal Welttonsystem as well as Samoilov’s Ober-Unter-Tone Harmony system. The final scores were coded in Yankovsky’s 72- step ultrachromatic scale with the dynamics and speed variations indicated by the number of  frames. Yankovsky was also involved in the production of

acoustic experimental studies, developing methods for the synthesis of sounds with glissando, timbre crossfades, timbre variations and polyphony by means of multiple shooting on the same optical soundtrack (alternative to multi-track recording which was not available yet).

From 1930-34 more than 2000 meters of sound track were produced by Avraamov’s Multzvuk group, including the experimental films Ornamental Animation, Marusia Otravilas, Chinese Tune, Organ Cords, Untertonikum, Prelude, Piruet, Staccato Studies, Dancing Etude and Flute Study. In autumn 1931 the Multzvuk group moved to NIKFI (Scientific Research Institute for Cinema and Photography) and was renamed Syntonfilm Laboratory. In December 1932 NIKFI stopped supporting Syntonfilm and the group moved to Mezhrabpomfilm where in 1934 it was closed as it was unable to justify itself economically. The whole archive was kept for many years at Avraamov’s apartment, where in 1936-37, during Avraamov’s trip to the Caucasus, it was burned by his own sons, making rockets and smoke screens with the old nitro-film tapes, which were highly flammable.

Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of the new technique, people involved in it had to be skilled not only in music, but in acoustics, mathematics, sound-on-film technology and engineering. As a result even skilled journalists often could not understand the physical meaning of the phenomena under consideration or specific technological ideas. Having no developed terminology, many mistakes and unexpected “puzzles” appeared in their writings. Moreover, there were several known research groups – competitors in Russia and Germany working in parallel. It led to a very specific problem – encryption of the information. For instance, in the well-known photograph Oscar Fischinger holds ‘fake’ rolls made by his Studio for publicity purposes as he did not want his competitors to learn his actual techniques. He never used rolls as large as this – they were fakes. [3] Yankovsky had a very special way of making notes on his ideas. It is impossible to understand the construction of his tools from reading one description without referring to several other manuscripts that offer important keys for understanding it.

Syntones and Audio Computing

In 1931-32 Boris Yankovsky (1904-1973) was on the staff of the Multzvuk group. In 1932, however, disappointed with its Ornamental Sound approach, he left the group. Unlike most of his colleagues he understood that the waveform does not represent the tone colour uniformly and that only the spectrum of sound developed in time with all the nuances of its temporal transitions can give a complete picture. Of all the early graphical sound pioneers, Yankovsky alone pursued the approach of spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis. His concept was based on the belief that it is possible to develop a universal library of sounds similar to Mendeleev’s table of chemical elements. His curves were spectral templates, semiotic entities that could be combined to produce sound hybrids. As an option he developed several sound processing techniques including pitch shifting and time stretching based on the separation of spectral content and formants, resembling recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. To realize these ideas he invented a special instrument, the Vibroexponator – the most paradigm-shifting proposition of the mid-1930s.

In 1935 in one of his manuscripts Yankovsky wrote: ‘It is important now to conquer and increase the smoothness of tone colours, flowing rainbows of spectral colours in sound, instead of monotonous colouring of stationary sounding fixed geometric figures [wave shapes], although the nature of these phenomena is not yet clear. The premises leading to the expansion of these phenomena – life inside the sound spectrum – give us the nature of the musical instruments themselves, but “nature is the best mentor” (Leonardo da Vinci) […] The new technology is moving towards the trends of musical renovation, helping us to define new ways for the Art of Music. This new technology is able to help liberate us from the cacophony of the well-tempered scale and related noises. Its name is Electro-Acoustics and it is the basis for Electro-Music and Graphical Sound’.


Read the full text by Andrey Smirnov here – and more in his book with Jeremy Deller, Sound in Z Experiments in sound and electronic music in early 20th-century Russia, published May 2013:

“Russia, 1917 – inspired by revolutionary ideas, artists and enthusiasts developed innumerable musical inventions, instruments and ideas often long ahead of their time – a culture that was to be cut off in its prime as it collided with the totalitarian state of the 1930s.

Andrey Smirnov’s account of the period offers an engaging introduction to some of the key figures and their work, including Arseny Avraamov’s open-air performance of 1922 featuring the Caspian flotilla, artillery guns, hydroplanes and all the town’s factory sirens, and Alexei Gastev, the polymath who coined the term ‘bio-mechanics’.

Shedding new light on better-known figures such as Leon Theremin (inventor of the world’s first electronic musical instrument, the Theremin), the publication also investigates the work of a number of pioneers of electronic sound tracks using ‘graphical sound’ techniques.

Sound in Z documents an extraordinary and largely forgotten chapter in the history of music and audio technology.” 

These are prints made on paper that are actual sound recordings. One, from 1806 is the “oldest known inscription of audio ‘waveforms,’ not recorded automatically but drawn by hand”. I have a project on hold with artkillart who first told me about the possibilities of printing an audio record onto paper/card, and finding this today reminded me that we still need to make that work. For now, listen and marvel at this extraordinary archive of audio preserved in book form.

Extracting Audio from Pictures

Patrick Feaster
POSTED BY  ⋅ 06/20/2012 ⋅ 9 COMMENTS


This isn’t just a pretty picture.  It’s a bona fide sound recording—a “record.”  In fact, it might arguably be the oldest “record” in the world that you can listen to today!

Let me clarify—I don’t mean it’s the world’s oldest sound recording.  But nowadays when people use the word “record” colloquially to refer to sound media, they typically mean the specific format that includes LPs, 45s, and 78s—that is, the kinds of grooved disc you’d play on a “record player.” Technically, these “records” are based not on the phonograph Thomas Edison unveiled in 1877, but on the gramophone invented by Emile Berliner in 1887.  The gramophone disc dominated the worldwide recording industry for much of the twentieth century and still has currency in the twenty-first, for instance in the art of turntabling.  The distinctive crackle of its surface noise is stamped in the popular imagination as the quintessential “old recording” sound.

So what are the oldest known “records” in this sense—that is, the oldest known gramophone recordings, as opposed to the oldest sound recordings in general?  The first commercially available gramophone discs were manufactured and released in Europe in the summer of 1890, and numerous examples are available for listening (here, for example).  In addition to these, a few experimental gramophone discs from 1887 and 1888 survive at the Smithsonian Institution and elsewhere, but attempts to play these haven’t been very successful, and no intelligible or identifiable content has been recovered from them to date.  Finally, some other very old gramophone recordings have come down to us only in the form of prints made on paper,like the one on the fourth floor of Wells Library.  This isn’t a unique situation.  Many important early motion pictures that didn’t survive in the form of actual films were nevertheless preserved as paper prints deposited for copyright registration purposes with the Library of Congress and later retransferred to film for projection and preservation.  Similarly, I’ve found that paper prints of “lost” gramophone recordings can be digitally converted back into playable, audible form.

Some Other Early “Recordings” at IU – Listen to these on their website
Here are a few other snippets of audio obtained from high-resolution scans of books in the IU Bloomington Libraries.


Year: 1806

Lilly Library: Q113 .Y77 (two copies, one previously owned by Ian Fleming)
Thomas Young, A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts(London: Joseph Johnson, 1807), Volume 1, Plate XXV, Fig. 353.
Significance: Oldest known inscription of audio “waveforms,” not recorded automatically but drawn by hand.  (The book is dated 1807, but the engraving itself is dated 1806.)

Year: 1877

Wells Library (oversized): Q1 .S45 n.s.,v.37 1877
“The Talking Phonograph,” Scientific American 37 (December 22, 1877), 384-5, on page 384.
Significance: Print made from a plaster cast of a fragment cut from the sample tinfoil recording Thomas Edison used to demonstrate his phonograph for an audience outside his laboratory for the first time.  I’ve inserted silences to represent the missing content (which is a majority of it).  The direction of recording is anybody’s guess, so what you hear might be played backwards.


Year: 1878
ALF (Geosciences): Q1 .A5 ser.3,v.16
E. W. Blake, Jr., “A method of recording Articulate Vibrations by means of Photography,” American Journal of Science and Arts 116 (July 1878), 54-59, on page 57.
Significance: Oldest known publication of a recording of recognizable phrases in the English language (“Brown University”; “How do you do?”); also the oldest known publication of a photographic recording of airborne sounds (Image above)

D2T (Digital-to-Tangible)– Services

This is a truly beautiful concept, and one of the few dealing with how to preserve our digital lives in a way that is aesthetically and philosophically satisfying. I have piles of receipts that seem like junk, imagine having these significant moments of consumer life redrawn into a tangible artwork. Gorgeous.

Un-Digitization (UN-DI) service “D2T” (Digital-to-Tangible)

Ever wondered what will happen to your digital documents in the future or how long can you store a thermally printed receipt? Our most common data storing technologies are unsuitable for storing data for more then a couple of years. It’s evident that the majority of digital data we produce today will not be accesible in the future (and it seems that most people are quite unaware of this). This is why we atOre.e Refineries have kicked off a service targeted for people who want to encapsulate their digital (and otherwise fragile) data into formats which last trough the ages. We call this process Un-Digitization (UN-DI) and the service is called “ D2T (Digital-to-Tangible)– Services“.


An UN-DI (Un-Digitization) of a receipt documenting a performance at a restaurant. (Click here to view bigger)

People treat receipts as neutral documents but looking at them closely one can find symbols and signs which tell of a bigger story. They are compressed with information on economical legislation, they can be directly linked to global payment card systems and they tell a lot about the digital technologies involved in trade and global logistics. It’s not surprising that people tend to store some important receipts for other then taxation purposes too. They are proof of rites of passages.. I could imagine someone framing a receipt they got when buying their first car for example.

Here’s what we’ve dug up on the subject of digital data storing on delicious and please contact Ore.e Ref. if you need the D2T services. To learn more on the receipts documenting a performance at a restaurant look up Framer Magazine Issue 2# “Paying the Bill without Money” (page. 102).


Working with D2T we’ve discovered that the more beautifully data is stored the more likely it is to last. In the example above a mondane un-digitized Ikea receipt has reached new aesthetic heights. I plan to continue with the Ikea theme but even in it’s current form “Ikea 4#” receipt is likely  to be considered more valuable then a tagless usb-stick. We haven’t bumped into other studies or research on the subject of “Beauty and Digital preservation“. But it seems like a no-brainer that beautifully encapsulated data is better protected then ugly data. So far the only popularly known experiment which somewhat touches the subject has been WD’s efforts of embedding Morse code in their hard-drive casings. Memory-stick designers and hard-drive designers will surely catch up with this subject soon.


An UN-DI (Un-Digitization) of a receipt documenting a performance at a restaurant. (Click here to view bigger)