Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1100 20211121T1150 America/Chicago Soviet Sounds and Stories AMS 2021
Aesthetic Paradoxes of the Love Plots in Two Soviet Operas
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 17:50:00 UTC

The early manifestations of Soviet opera found the traditional ingredients of the operatic love plot conspicuously absent. Instead, tales of collective struggle and sacrifice replaced love. Any traces of a love story became ancillary to the main narrative. The absence of the love plot in early Soviet opera represented a larger aesthetic trend in Soviet art, especially in socialist realist literature. Writing about Soviet novels, Katerina Clark has explained, "Love is an auxiliary ingredient in the plot. The hero's love life is not valuable in itself" (182). By the mid-1930s, two new operatic adaptations-Shostakovich's _Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District_ and Ivan Dzerzhinsky's _Quiet Flows the Don_-reversed the trend and made love plots essential to their operas' and their main protagonists' narratives.

In this paper, I explore the return of the love plot as a major aesthetic shift that resulted in paradoxical consequences for both composers and their operas. Based on the reception history, the return of the love plot became a significant focus in the condemnation of _Lady Macbeth_ in the State newspaper _Pravda_. Additionally, members from the Leningrad and Moscow composers' unions raised the subject at the discussions and meetings that ensued following the published denunciation. On the other hand, Dzerzhinsky's opera was commended (reportedly by Stalin himself) for its representations of the best qualities of socialist realist aesthetics even though the majority of the opera follows a love affair. 

Looking past the contradictory reception of both operas, the return of love plots uniquely affected everything in the operas. Shostakovich used love and its absence as the central feature of Katerina Izmailova's musical narrative, inextricably linking it to the tragic portrayal of her social circumstances. Dzerzhinsky, on the other hand, constructed the trope of a tragic love triangle, but musically he used this love plot as the catalyst for the political and social transformation of the protagonist, Grigory. I contend that the love plots were integral to the operas' narratives. Furthermore, examining these composers' choices reveals the challenges of socialist realist aesthetics and the shifting dynamics surrounding gender roles and sexuality during Stalin's rule.  

Joshua Bedford
Middle Tennessee State University
Sex, Drugs, and Komsomol: Vopli Vidopliassova?s Tantsi and the Gray Zones of Late Soviet Musical Culture
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 17:50:00 UTC

This paper examines the circulation of _Tantsi (Dances)_: a cassette tape recording of late Soviet Ukrainian punk music. In 1989, this recording by the Ukrainian punk rock group called Vopli Vidopliassova (but referred to by fans simply as "Ve-Ve") circulated through networks of late Soviet fans of popular music. Based on archival research and interviews with original band members, journalists, and fans, this paper focuses on how the Komsomol, the All-Soviet Young Communist League, who controlled performance venues and youth-oriented press outlets, both enabled and constrained this music, its recording, and its circulation. I examine how a Komsomol-affiliated cassette-dubbing collective enabled the rapid dissemination of this recording throughout Kyiv and other regions of the Soviet Union to the point that the titular song, "Tantsi," became a veritable hit of Soviet popular music in the last years of its existence. Through ethnographic interviews, I listen to these recordings with original band members as they narrate what they hear now and what they heard then as the aesthetic mission of their 1989 release. I consider how fans evaluated these riotous punk sounds in their own time, and how these same fans hear them now. The paper contributes to literatures in the anthropology and ethnomusicology of Soviet culture which challenge strict dichotomies of official versus unofficial culture (Yurchak 2006, Daughtry 2009, Levin 1996) by showing how panels of Komsomol censors and punk rockers fostered unlikely alliances that admitted new forms of expression into late Soviet life. By linking these emergent forms of expression to local media cultures of semi-illicit cassette dubbing and distribution, this paper also provides a concrete example of how inventive manipulations of the technologies of sound reproduction and the aesthetic content of recorded sound overlap to reinforce musical affinity groups.

Maria Sonevytsky
University Of California, Berkeley
Sounds Like Lenin: Noise and the Problems of Soviet Modernity
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 17:50:00 UTC

Intended to pave the way for a communist utopia, Nikita Khrushchev's socialist modernizing project changed the physical landscape of the Soviet Union: new apartment buildings were erected, amenities made available, and affordable consumer goods sold. At the same time, however, these reforms changed the sonic landscape of Khrushchev's empire: construction clanged, televisions blared, and street vendors hawked products using loudspeakers. Although historians have explored how visual and material cultures structured everyday life during the Thaw (Bittner 2008; Bren and Neuberger 2012; Harris 2013; Zubovich 2020), the sound culture of late socialism has been largely ignored. Socialist modernity, however, was noisy, and the material and sonic experiences of Khrushchev's reforms often diverged in critical ways.

Drawing on newspaper articles, archival materials, and sound recordings, I demonstrate that although many were pleased with the material products of Khrushchev's reforms, Soviet citizens were also deeply troubled by their accompanying noisiness. Instigated by an upsurge in urban development, acousticians and medical doctors began to lobby for greater state intervention in noise abatement and hearing protections. This responsibility to the health of the masses, they argued, differentiated the Soviet Union from "uncaring" capitalist countries. By emphasizing their concern for the aural health of citizens, researchers and bureaucrats alike used noise abatement to showcase the superiority of socialist healthcare and engineering in the global Cold War.

Yet at the same time, waged in the pages of newspapers, the so-called "War on Noise" (bor'ba s shumom) provided an inroad for greater individual engagement with the socialist soundscape. Perturbed by the sounds of radios, televisions, and gramophone players, a grassroots "silence militia" called for a new kind of sound culture-one that promoted Lenin as person-example in the sonic experience of late socialism. By setting these individual petitions in dialogue with the state apparatus, I propose a new category of Soviet personhood around the idea of the "citizen-listener." In turn, this augments our understanding of late socialist subjectivity and the broader listening culture of the Thaw.

Gabrielle Cornish
University Of Miami
University of Miami
Middle Tennessee State University
University of California, Berkeley
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