(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
Sergey Kuryokhin: Improvisations and Performances
Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov were another stylish duo. While Kumpf knew most musicians from previous sessions, he met these artists for the first time. They left a long-lasting impression on him, whether because of the way they looked or because of their bizarre instrument – the utiugon. He dedicated to them the first paragraph of his article published in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten.
Kumpf’s article presents a picture of Novikov and Sotnikov standing next to the utiugon and begins
Dull, shrieking and rattling patterns of sound are echoing out of the speakers while the various metal parts are set vibrating. The two ‘zero musicians’, as they are called by their colleagues, practise a denial of all melodic and rhythmic conventions. But despite their rebellion they prove to have a sense of musical communication and sensitive interaction.
The last sentence of the paragraph sounds quite dramatic: “After the concert, the two musicians go back home – no one knows where they live and when they will show up again.” The addresses of Timur Novikov and Ivan Sotnikov were, of course, very well known to everybody else, especially the address of Novikov’s squat on Voinov Street, transformed into a private gallery. It was another one of the “unofficial” meeting places and was later known under the name of “ASSA Gallery”.
The name utiugon [утюгон] comes from “utiug“ [утюг], or flat iron, and in this case specifically refers to vintage cast iron flat irons. In his lecture at the Pro Arte Institute, Saint Petersburg, in March 2002, Timur Novikov explained it in the following way: “The utiugon was a sound generating device. It was a tabletop from which irons had been hung on special strings; the irons swung freely and hit each other. It sufficed to push this contraption once for it to produce very strange sounds for half an hour, sounds that were amplified electronically.” In his interview with Ekaterina Andreeva from 2004, Arkady Dragomoshenko also stresses the fact the flat irons did not have to swing continuously to produce sounds: “The utiugon was humming and the jittering sound of music was progressing on its own. One just had to touch the edge of the table from which the flat irons were hanging on strings. It could play on its own and resonate up to half an hour.”
I am not sure how to interpret Dragomoshenko’s statement “One just had to touch the edge of the table”; it sounds as if the table had the properties of a modern touch screen. Perhaps he referred to the knife stuck into the edge of the tabletop. When pressed and released, it would start vibrating. On the other hand, half an hour seems to be an exceptionally long resounding time for a vibration induced by a single impulse. The same goes for the flat irons. They might be hitting each other a couple of times “when pushed once”, as Novikov stated, but are definitely too heavy to be freely swinging back and forth for any considerable amount of time.
Vladimir Boluchevsky (left). Ivan Sotnikov and Timur Novikov “playing” the 'utiugon˚ with a stick and a bow
In fact, Hans Kumpf’s pictures show Sotnikov “playing” the flat iron with a stick and Novikov moving a bow across one of the strings.
This type of manipulation can also be seen in the video from 2009 The First Russian Analogue Synthesizer, showing an utiugon replica. We do not hear it playing “on its own”. To produce vibrations, artists Oleg Kotelnikov and Ivan Sotnikov are both continually operating the instrument, beating the wood with a hammer, playing the strings with a bow and pushing the flat irons to keep them swinging like a pendulum. Yet, the sound is rather dull and not at all “shrieking“, as described by Hans Kumpf (in German “kreischend”).
Film still from the video
Video of an ‘Utiugon’ performance with a replica of the first ’utiugon’
I originally associated with “shrieking” the wailing pitch recorded by Hans Kumpf during 1983 session, going up and down like a slide whistle or sine wave, and thought it came from the loudspeaker box of the amplifier connected to the utiugon via a contact microphone.
Vladimir Boluchevsky, Timur Novikov, Arkady Dragomoshenko (bottom right)
But when I asked Dmitri Pavlov, a composer familiar with electronic instruments, to listen to the recording, he found this highly unlikely. In a talk I had with Oleg Kotelnikov in October 2017, Kotelnikov confirmed that the utiugon does not produce any high tones, and I have now come to the conclusion that the shrieking sound must have been produced by Grebenshikov’s transistor radio, as Pavlov had suggested.
Boris Grebenshikov (with radio) and Ivan Sotnikov (with utiugon)
Kumpf’s pictures show Boris Grebenshikov holding the popular Soviet VEF 202 radio first produced in 1971. It could receive long waves, medium waves and short waves – the classic radio to listen to BBC and “The Voice of America”. The fragment of Kumpf’s recording I used for a four-minute video see video >> stars with a collage of the “overdrive sine waves” and some faint radio music; obviously Grebenshikov is turning the tuning knob to catch a radio station.
Boris Grebenshikov (with radio) and Ivan Sotnikov (with 'utiugon˚)
However, my limited technical knowledge does not allow me to determine whether this overdrive sound was possibly created as a feedback between the radio and the utiugon amplifier. In this case it might have come from the utiugon’s loudspeaker.
Whatever the case, the sound is quite rhythmical, which makes it clear that someone is trying to create a “melody” with the help of a controller. The role of the flat irons in generating this sound remains less clear. Perhaps Boris Grebenshikov could help to solve the riddle.
There is a comedy by Nikolai Kolyada from 2013 called “Скрипка, бубен и утюг” – “Violin, Tambourine and Flat Iron”. The title (probably based on a Russian idiom) expresses the idea that when selecting items for a given purpose, one starts with an object of the highest standard, and is then rapidly reducing the requirements, going down the scale of excellence. Incidentally, the last in the row is the flat iron. It fits the idea of the utiugon quite well: if you can’t have the Stradivari, you just fix strings to flat irons. The utiugon is a sarcastic statement.
Evgenij Kozlov drew my attention to the fact that the neologism utiugon not only rhymes with samogon [самогон], home-made vodka – both have the stress on the last syllable –, but also shares its meaning of a self-produced item that skilfully uses domestic resources. Perhaps the term utiugon was even created in phonetic analogy to samogon, but the suffix “on” in utiugon is also typical for argot or slang, while samo-gon has as second component “gon” (the first component being “samo” = self).
“Gon” is a noun related to the verb gnat’ = to distil (which is one of its meanings). Although strictly forbidden by law, producing samogon was a wide-spread activity among the Soviet population. Ingenious machines were set up on gas or electric cookers, connecting kettles, pots and bottles of all forms and dimensions with rubber, plastic or metallic hoses and other devices. The utiugon, in turn, might be considered an ironic modification – actually, not so much of the violin, but of a popular Russian instrument, the balalaika.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Ivan Sotnikov, Timur Novikov (standing at the 'utiugon˚)
The first utiugon had three flat irons, each attached to a guitar string, and the balalaika also has three strings and a wooden body. The utiugon is even similar in size to the contrabass balalaika. It is a modification because the balalaika has a triangular shape and the utiugon has a rectangular shape, but most importantly because the body of the utiugon is solid instead of hollow – like a semi-acoustic guitar it needs an amplifier to make the wood vibrations audible.
Technically speaking, the utiugon is an amplified string instrument rather than a synthesizer, since the sound itself originates in an “old-fashioned” vibration of the strings and the knife. In other words, with the utiugon, the sound is not generated by an alternating electric current, which is the principle of a synthesizer; it is only electronically transformed. The definition of the utiugon as an analogue synthesiser in the 2009 video is perhaps simply a reference to the odd combination of such traditional elements as wood and iron (=analogue) with modern technology (electronic amplifiers). Yet it has little to do with the definition of an analogue synthesizer. All synthesizers were analogue – circuit-based – before digital signal processing was technically possible and led to digital synthesizers.
There are, of course, conceptual differences between the apparatus distilling the samogon and the utiugon: the first must fulfil its known purpose, while the second produces unexpected results. However, both are attained via “bricolage”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss called this type of playful technical improvisations making use of everything at hand. “Bricolage” does not aim at technical or aesthetical refinement, although it can have both interesting technical and aesthetical qualities, especially when artists set about a do-it-yourself project. In the case of Russian artists, a love for the folkloric, the simple, even primitive (in the sense of lacking refinement) is often noted, and it certainly goes for Ivan Sotnikov and Timur Novikov, the inventors of the utiugon. Neither the wooden kitchen table nor the old flat irons are sophistically designed objects, nor were they chosen as “the best of their kind” to produce elaborate sound patterns – but they work.
On the other hand, Novikov and Sotnikov were not musicians – unlike Georgy Guryanov, Novikov’s close friend and a well-known painter, too. Guryanov was quite frank with regard to Novikov’s ambitions: “Novikov’s theory was that in order to make one’s way into the history of art or music it is not at all necessary to know how to play a musical instrument or to draw. It is enough to show oneself on stage and to be seen in relevant places a number of times. It is the same as if you had played yourself.” If this sounds exaggerated with regard to Novikov’s “New Academy” period of the 1990s, it is all the more plausible for his artistic views during the first half of the 1980s.
Examining the collages of the New Artists in the exhibition catalogue “The New Artists”, Ekaterina Andreeva goes even further and notes “an easily and clearly expressed adolescent cretinism […] that was as gifted as naturally beautiful folk art, as the archaic arts and crafts that conceal an otherwise poor and dreary life”. 
This statement needs some reconsideration. Although Novikov repeatedly spoke of primitivist Larionov as the one artist having inspired the New Artists, it would be wrong to generalise the love for “primitivism”, let alone cretinism, as characteristic for all New Artists – not even in their collages. To say the least, (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov’s works do not fall into this category. In the above-mentioned catalogue, Ekaterina Andreeva states that Timur Novikov “departed from ‘wildness’ under the influence of Kozlov’s strict style”. “Strict style”, a term invented by Novikov, is perhaps not the most adequate term to define Kozlov’s complex and elegant compositions, based on the principle of “perfecting new possibilities” (совершенство новых возможностей). But it allows us to establish, with the help of Kozlov’s approach, an opposition between refinement and primitivism, which has a parallel in engineering as opposed to bricolage.
If bricolage aims at a one-time solution, engineering seeks a solution with a potential for further technical development, that is, for perfection. The first Russian analogue synthesizer was the theremin from 1920, named after its inventor Lev Termen aka Léon Theremin. The theremin generates audio signals that can be controlled without physical contact, simply by moving the hands at varying distances to either of its antennas.
Etherwave Theremin from Robert Moog's kit
Robert Arthur Moog produced and marketed theremins in the United States in the 1950s, which led him to develop an analogue synthesizer with standardised modules, presented in 1964: the Moog synthesizer. It was further improved and became commercially successful as an important instruments for jazz, rock and pop-musicians, among them Stevie Wonder and Keith Emerson.
The history of Soviet engineering is full of inventions that were either commercialised elsewhere or have never gone beyond the stage of a prototype, simply because they had no immediate value for the military industry. Another classic example is the ANS. The honour of having invented the first synthesizer making use of a photo-optic sound recording technique belongs to Evgeny Murzin.
Evgeny Murzin working on the ANS
Engineers searching for new ways of sound production are often also musicians, as was the case with Friedrich Trautwein and the trautonium. A bricoleur doesn’t have to be either, and Novikov and Sotnikov were neither musicians nor engineers. The utiugon is a three-dimensional object that resounds when operated rather than a musical instrument that converts musical thought into sound.
At this point, the idea of comparing the utiugon with Joseph Beuys’ “Tisch mit Aggregat” (Table with Accumulator) from 1958 suggest itself. As the title of the work indicates, it consists of a – wooden – table and a wooden box with two wires coming out of it (the accumulator), connected to two clay balls resting on the floor.
Film still from “Joseph Beuys, Table with Accumulator” (Tisch mit Aggregat), 1958-85, Tate Modern, London. Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
In their discussion of the object (or sculpture) in 2011, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker stress the fact that the box, originally a camera box, is an old object and hand-crafted and continue
B.H.: And there is a “boxness” and “cubeness”.
S.Z.: They are both perfect expressions of the things they are.
B.H.: But the accumulator is a mechanical electrical object.
S.Z.: So these wires come out not very carefully, and they are sort of strewn around until they are plucked into quite literally, and this is really funny, into these balls of clay.
B.H.: They should be plucked into something that has a kind of electrical relationship.
S.Z.: But that’s the metaphor, right? […] this notion of drawing energy from the earth, from the clay, from the most primeval material I think is absolutely key here.
B.H. […] This starts to feel a little bit like a kind of primitivism that isn’t so divorced from Gauguin leaving Paris going to Tahiti to find something more pure and true and natural and looking to primitive cultures to solve something that’s wrong with modern culture. 
There are a number of similarities between Beuys’ table sculpture and the utiugion – the shape, the material, the idea of connecting electric cables to wood. However, in my view, there is also a fundamental difference: Steven Zucker defines as metaphor the “notion of drawing energy from the earth, from the clay, from the most primeval material”.
We wouldn’t call the utiugon a metaphor. Its raison d’être resides in its function – a function having absorbed its concept. By contrast, the “Table with Accumulator” has no function, only a concept. It presents the image or idea of a function (of the interrelation of its components) and is therefore pure concept art.  Only now can the table fully reveal to its “tableness”, as Steven Zucker expresses it, whereas the utiugon, appropriated for a specific function, has become a hybrid, a sound table object.
The utiugon combines two kinds of pleasures: the pleasure of assembling such simple, “primitive”, objects as a table and flat irons with modern technology, and the pleasure of outmanoeuvring the restrictions imposed by the communist economy. Unlike the “Table with Accumulator” with its didactic approach, the utiugon possesses a lot of humour. It is a parody of what could have been produced as consumer good – the theremin or the ANS –, but never was. In fact, their inventors were highly successful in the field of military research: Lev Terem’s eavesdropping system and Evgeny Murzin’s ballistic calculations received the indispensable official support. But the state would not waste precious resources on musical instruments. As a result, in the 1970s and later, electrical engineering plants and even military plants manufactured synthesizers as secondary or “side“ products. Alisa, Polyvox, Eletronika, Rhythm-2 and many others combined standard (Western) technology with a variety of unique and often experimental features.
However, the inconsistent quality of the components and other shortages made them lag behind their Western counterparts, imported for a handful of “People’s Artists of the USSR” and other privileged musicians or bands. Dmitri Pavlov told me that Soviet synthesizers were no option for a professional musician. He managed to buy a Japanese Roland synthesizer in 1985, becoming one of only two Leningrad owners of this state-of-the art instrument. It allowed him to rearrange his “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” from 1982 with an additional “computer“ voice. The “Concerto for Piano, Computer and Orchestra”, also employing an Atari ST-computer and a sampler, had its premiere with the Ulyanovsk Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987.
If we return to Beth Harris’es example of Gauguin “looking to primitive cultures to solve something that’s wrong with modern culture” – provided this was really the case –, we can say that we find no irony in Gauguin’s paintings. Gauguin’s approach was sincere and romantic: one may depart from a culture of plenty to seek romantic simplicity, even if one hasn’t been sharing all its riches.
In Russia, such a romantic feeling for an idealised country folk (“narod”), its seeming unsophisticatedness and popular wisdom was indeed very well known. It was widespread among the urban intelligenzia in the second half of the 19th century. The Narodniki conferred the narod an almost messianic role in achieving the revolution they were planning.
But in communist Russia, the idealisation of peasants and workers was turned into a State ideology – with its early manifestation, the “Proletkult”. As a consequence of this, the true romantics would adhere to refined manners and similar elitist attitudes. For many others, the – often vulgar – pathos of “simplicity” became the target of parody and irony.
I will come back to the question of irony in the second part of my essay, “Pop-Mekhanika in the West”, when I will have a closer look at a particular type of Russian irony, the “styob“ and its agent “gnat’”. The above-mentioned verb “gnat’” with its noun “gon” in samogon – phonetically present in utiugon, too – is also a slang word for talking nonsense or rubbish, or simply making up something, that is, lying. “Styob“ and “gnat’” found many followers in the Leningrad art and music scene, and Timur Novikov, a gifted storyteller, was an undisputed master of this art, no less than Sergey Kuryokhin. According to Georgy Guryanov, Novikov could retell a two-hour movie in three to four hours, hitting everything around him with his wild gestures.
The further history of the prototype utiugon from 1983 is not quite clear. It is again documented in pictures from the so-called “Medical Concert” in (possibly) December 1983 at the Dostoyevsky Museum, where it has already partially changed its look.
'Medical Concert˚ with 'Utiugon˚
Although Timur Novikov defined it as the “industrial section” of Pop Mekhanika, I haven’t seen it in any Pop Mekhanika pictures or videos. Joanna Stingray filmed an utiugon in 1985 or 1986 at Timur’s studio “ASSA” and included this sequence into her video “Red Wave Exhibit Film” , but it is again different from its prototype.
Film still with 'Utiugon˚ from Joanna Stingray's video 'Red Wave Exhibit Film˚, 1985 or 1986
Film still with 'Utiugon˚ from Joanna Stingray's video 'Red Wave Exhibit Film˚, 1985 or 1986
The first utiugon had only three flat irons, hanging from one side of the tabletop. The utiugon from Stingray’s video is made with a different table and has no tabletop. It displays four flat irons and a number of additional steel balls hanging on strings. Timur Novikov is seen using it as percussion instrument, without an amplifier, beating the wooden frame and the strings with drum sticks. In other words, the flat irons had become dysfunctional. Two later replicas are again “functional”, but different in size and also with regard to the number of flat irons – approximately ten. And as long as there exist vintage cast iron flat irons and old wooden tables, the history of the utiugon may be continued.
Exhibition ‘Notes from the Underground’, Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, Poland, 2016.
A replica of Ivan Sotnikov‘s and Timur Novikov’s Utiugon from 2014, reconstructed in London after a design by Ivan Sotnikov, now in the collection of Anya Stonelake.
Paintings by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov:
Photo: Hannelore Fobo, 2016
 Kumpf, “My trips to Russia”,
 Invented most probably in1983. Ivan Sotnikov erroneously dated Kozlov’s pictures from the happening to the year 1982 (see preliminary remarks), but I have not found any pictures or literature documenting the utiugon prior to the August 1983 session.
 Novikov, Timur “The New Artists” in Timur. Edited by Ekaterina Andreeva, Ksenia Novikova and Nelly Podgorskaya. Moscow: Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2013, p. 121.
 Утюгон гудел, переливался саморазвивающейся музыкой, стоило тронуть край этого стола, на котором висели на струнах утюги. Мог играть сам, резонировать с полчаса.
Andreeva, Ekaterina: Тимур. Врать только правду! [Timur. Only lie the truth!], Saint Petersburg, Amfora 2007, p. 356 (English translation by author)
 See video “Первый русский аналоговый синтезатор, Вечер УТЮГОНА в ГЭЗ-21 10 сентября 2009” [The First Russian Analogue Synthesizer. An Evening with the Utiugon at the GEZ-21. 10 September 2009]
 Russian composer and pianist Dmitri Pavlov (born 1959), in an unpublished interview on 4 October, 2017.
 У Новикова была теория, что не нужно уметь играть на музыкальных инструментах или рисовать, чтобы войти в историю искусства или в историю музыки. Достаточно тусоваться на сцене и несколько раз быть отмеченным где-то, что ты там был. И это будет так, словно ты играл сам. Andreeva, Timur, 2007, p. 152 (English translation by author).
 The New Artists, p.63. Collages were especially important during the earlier years of the “New Artists” group (generally dated to 1982-1989), around 1984/1985.
 Ibid, p. 44. Supposedly, Novikov’s new views became manifest around 1986/ 1987, with the exhibition “Neat Tendencies in the Work of the New” at the Snnmya Movie Theatre, Leningrad. However, no documentation of the exhibition is available.
Russian literature often presents the ANS as the first synthesizer world-wide. This is a matter of interpretation. According to Peter Pichler the first electronic instrument is the Trautonium with its prototype realised in 1930.
In the 1930s 200 pieces of the Trautonium were produced by the German company Telefunken. The Trautonium is also called the prototype of the synthesizer,
 The ANS website (in Russian) has the audio files of both records released by the Soviet Stale label Melodiya from 1970. Available at
 see footnote 10
 The quotes have been transcribed from the video:
Joseph Beuys, Table with Accumulator (Tisch mit Aggregat), 1958-85, Tate Modern, London. Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, published 2. 10. 2011.
 “Tisch mit Aggregat” is usually dated 1985-1985. The latter year refers to four bronze copies which were cast in 1985 or somewhat earlier, one of them now being displayed on the premises of the German Bundestag (Reichstagsgebäude). The original sculpture is in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London. The bronze copies counter Beuys’ idea of letting the material – wood, metal, clay – interact with each other.
 See interview (in Russian) with John Rusynth, the founder of the virtual Museum of Soviet Synthesizers, from 30 May, 2003.
Pavlov managed to buy the synthesizer through what he called “a diplomatic channel”. It cost him a fortune, but he was soon able to amortise the investment, being offered well-paid jobs. (source: unpublished interview from 4 October, 2017.)
Several electronic music concerts by Dmitri Pavlov were awarded prizes at the International Electronic Music Competition in Bourges, France between 1989 and 1993.
See “Dimitri Pavlov Awards”
“Тимур мог, например, пересказывать фильм, который длился часа два, в течение трех-четырех часов, жестикулируя, роняя вокруг себя предметы.” Andreeva, Timur, 2007, p. 151
 The date of the “Medical Concert” is taken from Sergey Chubraev’s “Chronicle” (see preliminary remarks), and it is congruent with Ksenia Novikova’s Chronicle in the catalogue “The New Artists”, p. 2012, p. 271 (see reference list). The reason is that Chubraev and Novikova worked together in their attempt to fix the date. As Chubraev’s wrote me in an email from 4 September 2017, they came to the conclusion that the “Medical Concert” happened in 1983 rather than in 1982, but the date is still approximate, as the concert might have taken place before the Club 81 meeting in August 1983. In his above quoted lecture at the Pro Arte Institute (March 2002), Timur Novikov inverts the sequence of the “Medical concert” and the collective improvisations at the Club 81: “…and the next utiugon performance took place at their space on Pyotr Lavrov”. Novikov, “The New Artists”, p. 121
 Regarding the performance’s participants, there exist different lists, which illustrates another difficulty of gaining exact data with regard to artists’ and musicians’ activities. I would like to thank Ekaterina. Andreeva for sharing her information with me.
• According to Timur Novikov (in the above mentioned lecture): Timur Novikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Aleksey Svinarksy, Vsevolod Gakkel, and Arkady Dragomeshenko
• Ksenia Novikova in her “Chronicle” has a total of nine participants: those on Timur’s list and additionally Georgy Guryanov, Sergey Kurokhin, Aleksey Sumarokov and Vladimir Boluchevsky (misspelled as “Bulychevsky)“. See footnote above.
• Ivan Sotnikov’s inscription on the reverse of a picture in his archive: Sergey Kurokhin, Arkady Dragomeshenko, Timur Novikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Georgy Guryanov, Aleksey Sanitato (Svinarksy), and Aleksey Sumarokov. Two more persons appearing in this picture are marked with question marks. They are most probably Vsevolod Gakkel and perhaps Vladimir Boluchevsky.
• According to Sergey Chubraev (in his unpublished “Chronicle of Sergey Kuryokhin’s Public Performances”) with Sergey Kuryokhin, Vladimir Boluchevsky, Arkady Dragomeshenko, Boris Grebenshikov, Timur Novikov, Ivan Sotnikov Oleg Kotelnikov, and Georgy Guryanov. However, Kotelnikov himself denies his participation and Grebenshikov is not documented otherwise.
• Arkady Dragomoshenko mentions Rodion (Zavernyaev) “walking around on stage“ «Родион ходил по сцене» although this might be an insufficient proof for his participation. See Andreeva, Ekaterina: Тимур. Врать только правду! [Timur. Only lie the truth!], p. 357
“ approx. at 10:00 min. of the video “Red Wave Exhibit Film”.
Available at https://vimeo.com/151329868 [Accessed 25 October 2017]
 The two later replicas are the one demonstrated in 2009, reconstructed by Oleg Kotelnikov and Ivan Sotnikov (see footnote 5), and another one from 2014 (?), reconstructed in London after a design by Ivan Sotnikov, now in the collection of Anya Stonelake. It was exhibited at “Notes from the Underground” at the Muzeum Sztuki at Lodz, Poland in 2016/2017.
See http://www.e-e.eu/Notes-from-the-Underground/index.html [Accessed 25 October 2017]
Last up-dated: 27 October 2017