The ANS Synthesiser and the Final Parallel.
“Has man any hope of survival in the face of all the patent signs of impending apocalyptic silence?” Tarkovsky (1987, p.229)
Scriabin and Tarkovsky have a final meeting place outside of the philosophical. This meeting, on the one hand, seems almost to be coincidental but further inspection suggests that it is a natural end for Scriabin’s ideals and a perfect amalgamation of them into Tarkovsky’s work. Tarkovsky favoured the musical scores of Russian electronic musician, Edward Artemiev. They collaborated on several films, though not our case study, The Sacrifice. Artemiev was an innovative musician incorporating the latest in Russian electronic technology to scores for Solaris (1972), Stalker (1979) and The Mirror (1975).
In Solaris, a planet under investigation is given a strange sounding accompaniment for when it is on screen, almost like a Wagnerian leitmotif. This music (or perhaps it is better described as sound) is produced by a synthesiser known as the ANS; named so after its initial inspiration Alexander Nikolyavich Scriabin. This synthesiser is named so more for its process than its sounds, producing otherworldly electronica through drawing specific designs on a board and then synthesising sounds based on the patterns of light in the drawing and movement. This is not just an apt memorial to Scriabin because of the process of creating these sounds but what they are representing in Tarkovsky’s film. While Scriabin’s synesthesia is debated, his obsession as a hyper-Wagnerian in regards to inclusion of light, colour and other elements within the performance of his music is undisputed.
And of all of things that this sound could come to represent in the world of cinema, it had to be a new world; a world of potential sentience where anything is possible and even the long dead and lost loves of characters can be brought back. A dead man’s wife comes back to life to communicate to the team on a station orbiting the planet. She also however, remembers a beautiful painting, Bruguel’s Hunters in the Snow and the scene of her appearance is sound tracked by Bach as the sounds of the ANS fade away. Perhaps Solaris is Scriabin’s new world – a world where time can be rewritten as these driving forces of creativity interlock with the actual potential for life itself. Morris believes that these driving force that spurned Scriabin on are the reason for the success of his other major work arguing that “His ruminations on the Mysterium taught him that the creative process might itself be the creative result, and that what he most valued about the work was its openness, its incompleteness and indeterminacy.” (1998, p.294). While he failed to explore the new world, just as the scientists failed to explore Solaris, his attempted journey produced much more than the initial end goal.
“You higher men, joy longs for you, joy the intractable, blissful – for your woe, you ill-constituted! All eternal joy longs for the ill-constituted.” – Nietzsche (1885/1987, p.257).
The arguments presented in this essay have tried constantly to link the separate work of two artists in order to show the likenesses between their ideals. Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexander Scriabin are a natural pair of creators both obsessed with the manipulation of time and reality itself. As the analysis has continued, an image of apt sentimentality began to emerge surrounding both of the artists which perhaps belies the reason for discussing their parallels.
Scriabin was doomed to complete his Mysterium. The ideas of Elemental Chaos and the Eternal Return are philosophies aimed at the infinite, never finding a deliberate, definitive end because they are cyclical and circular in nature. Borges highlights the irony of this never-ending circle; “Nietzsche knew that the Eternal Recourse is one of the fables, fears, diversions, that eternally recur, but he also knew that the most effective of grammatical persons is the first. Indeed, we would be justified in saying that, for a prophet, the only grammatical person is the first.” (1936, p.119). Scriabin’s attempt at pushing the cultural boundaries to its next definite stage seems somewhat of a contradiction. One thing is certain though: it is far from the anti-Romanticist nihilism it is often represented to be as Evans argues – “Many sources briefly mention, in various phrasings, Scriabin’s plan for an all art drama to unite humankind in ecstasy and end the world.” (2007, p.44). Instead, his attempts drew out the best of his musical works. Attempting such a push could be said to have released his own personal cultural development rather than the entire world’s.
Tarkovsky on the other hand, reached the full potential of the Eternal Return. Basing these ideas in a medium where the laws of reality can be swept aside allowed this to be, showing The Eternal Return in a microcosm. Interestingly, Tarkovsky summed up these arguments about his film while relating an anecdote on the one mistake made during filming.
“We had no technical or other problems during the shoot, until one moment near the end, when all our efforts seemed on the point of coming to nothing. Suddenly, in the scene in which Alexander sets fire to his house -a single take lasting six and a half minutes- the camera broke down. We discovered it only after the entire building was ablaze, burning to the ground as we looked on. We couldn’t put the fire out and we couldn’t take a single shot; four expensive months of intense hard work for nothing. And then, in a matter of days, a new house had been built, identical to the first one. It seemed like a miracle, and it proved what people can do when they are driven by conviction – and not just people, but the producers themselves, the superpeople.” (1994, p.225-226)
Within this retelling is a beautiful metaphor for what is being argued for within this essay and within Tarkovsky’s narrative too. The destruction, initially undesired, lead to greater things through bringing out the best in people, even leading the director to refer to them as “superpeople”. Overall, Tarkovsky managed to do all of this while nodding to all of the main figures within this essay; Pasternak through Elemental Chaos, Nietzsche through Eternal Return and even Scriabin himself through the music of Edward Artemiev.
The sentimental reading spoken of before is that of a line of succession. While working in different media, this essay’s real argument is that Tarkovsky is the heir to Scriabin’s ideals and rituals. The many parallels drawn in this essay should show that it is an accurate as well as pleasing conclusion to draw; that while Scriabin eventually faltered in his world-ending optimism, Tarkovsky followed the ideas through to their full conclusion as the cycles of life repeated for his characters who are given a second chance while balancing on the sharp edifice of their own demise.
(N.b. All references to Nietzsche are derived from the volume, A Nietzsche Reader (1986). The year of the original quote is next to the year of this book’s publication and the relevant page number in this volume. Volumes from which the original text is lifted from are also listed below and referenced from the available library volumes.)
Adamenko, V., 2007. Neo-Mythologism In Music: From Scriabin And Schoenberg To Schnittke And Crumb. Pendragon Press, New York.
Bacon, F., 1625/2002. Of Death from Francis Bacon: The Major Works. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Bird, R., 2007. Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema. Reakition Books, London.
Borges, J, L., 1936/1999. The Doctrine of Cycles from Selected Non-Fictions. Penguin Books, London.
Borges, J, L., 1941/1999. Circular Time from Selected Non-Fictions. Penguin Books, London.
Driesch, H.,1929. Man and the Universe. George Allen & Unwin LTD, London.
Evans, T, R., 2009. The Mysterium of Alexander Scriabin. Washington State University, Washington.
Garcia, E, E., 2007. Scriabin’s Mysterium and the Birth of Genius. [online] Available at http://www.componisten.net/downloads/ScriabinMysterium.pdf
Le Fanu, M., 1987. The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. British Film Institute Publishing, London.
Le Poidevin, R., 1993. Relationism and Temporal Topology: Physics or Metaphysics? from The Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Moliterno, G., 2001. Zarathustra’s Gift in Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. [online] Available at http://tlweb.latrobe.edu.au/humanities/screeningthepast/firstrelease/fr0301/gmfr12a.htm
Morris, S., 1998. Scriabin and the Impossible from Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 283 -330. University of California, California.
Nietzsche, F., 1872/1995. The Birth of Tragedy. Dover Publishing, New York.
Nietzsche, F., 1882/1991. The Gay Science. Random House Publishing, London.
Nietzsche, F., 1883-1892/2000. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, volumes 1-4. Dover Publishing, London.
Nietzsche, F., 1986. A Nietzsche Reader. Penguin Publishing, London.
Pasternak, B., 1959. I Remember: Sketch for an Autobiography. Pantheon Books, New York.
Pasternak, B., (date unknown). After the Storm. [online] Available at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/after-the-storm-22/
Tarkovsky, A., 1987. Sculpting in Time: The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art. University of Texas Press, Texas.
Tarkovsky, A.,1994. Time Within Time: The Diaries1970-1986. Faber and Faber Limited, London.
Schloezer, B, 1987. Scriabin – Artist and Mystic. University of California Press, California.
Shoemaker., S., 1993. Time Without Change from The Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press, Oxford.