Toal time: 50:03
Asya Sorshneva electric violin
Composed by: Anton Batagov, 1995
This music composed in 1995 was inspired by the text of a bank's telephone answering machine. To check your balance, press 1; to return to the main menu, press the star key… etc. We have gotten used to having this sort of dialogue on the phone. But back in 1995, this system was completely new for Russia. The bank that introduced it was called Dialogbank. Not only was it technically advanced, it maintained an "artistic" appeal, too. In charge of it all was Gennady Josefavichus, a journalist and an artistic director for various advertising campaigns. The bank asked him to create an unusual art event that would bring the new telephone service system to public attention. They gave the system a name that was a strange, but intriguing, word CrownNet Telebanking. All of the words and phrases for phone conversations were recorded with Josefavichus' voice. And Gennady asked me: how about… putting this text to music? He planned to hold a public event where that music was supposed to be played, making it an absolutely unprecedented advertising campaign and an absolutely unprecedented event in the world of contemporary music.
When he first told me of it, I thought the idea was, to put it mildly, very strange. But when I saw the text I changed my mind instantly. Before me was a masterpiece of literary art, and, most amazingly, authored by a bank! Those who "composed" those phrases for purely practical use had absolutely no idea of the depth and versatility of their creation!
So, I said yes. Of dozens of pages I selected fragments of the text I found the most "essential", and arranged those text blocks in a way that presented a "plot", a travel route of sorts. I wrote a 50-minute composition to that text. The title was "Dialog. An opera for one voice." Gennady's voice pronouncing those banking phrases became an invisible medium taking the plot's only character through the labyrinths of the virtual world. And the character himself is silent. At that time I mostly worked with samplers which are musical instruments that allow using any live sound as material for audio modeling. That's how I managed the marriage of those two virtual realities – the musical one and the one of telephone banking. The medium's guiding voice inside the music sounded exactly the same way as it would sound inside the phone of any person calling the bank.
The premiere (which was also the advertising campaign) was held at Moscow Exhibition Centre. On stage built specially for this event was a wall of television screens, and at its foot, on huge telephone buttons, were Gennady with an old telephone receiver in his hands and myself with my electronic keyboards. The bank's muted advertising videos broadcasted on the screens were mixed with live picture of our performance in real time. The journalists having come to "cover" that event were countless. Literally, it was on nearly all television channels and radio stations, and in all newspapers. Some papers even published professional musicological analysis. That's what the mid-1990s contemporary music scene in Moscow looked like…
The bank's employees listening to our creation were sure that the only purpose of that music was advertising. That was why they even liked it – or at least pretended to. But the president of the bank didn't like it – especially Part 5, named "Conflict", as it "created a negative image of the bank in the clients' eyes." But a day later, the first thing he heard upon his arrival in London was "We've read about your opera in Russian papers! Well done! What a great idea!" – to which the president proudly responded: "Yeah, we tried to come up with something unusual…"
Many years passed since then. And I thought that it would be great to have this music recorded and released. Back in 1995 I didn't record it the way I wanted. I found out that the main instrument I had used for sampling has been preserved in its best working condition with my friend Petr Kudryavtsev. I brought it to my home studio and turned it on… Just so you understand, this instrument loads files from floppy discs. Today's younger generations have no idea what it is. So you insert a floppy disc, then it asks for another floppy disc, then yet another, and then, for a CD-ROM drive connected via SCSI interface (two more words that are now history) – and thus, part by part, I loaded configurations of sounds and sequences recorded into the instrument's memory and saved in this format. Luckily, my floppies were completely intact after having spent 25 years on the shelf, and I managed to load all the files without any problems. Then I applied some 21 st century studio technologies to this material and also added some "non-virtual" elements: tracks recorded by two great and unique musicians – bass player Sergey "Grebstel" Kalachev and violinist Asya Sorshneva.
AB, October 2020
PS. The new recording was finished in the fall of 2020. Since then, it has been waiting for its turn to be released because we had other albums scheduled to be released before this one. Two more years passed. Now – this story and this music look like a fairy-tale from another world. The world that was so real. The world that collapsed. The world we will never return to.
AB, November 2022
Translation by Helen Borodina / AB