Vladimir Ussachevsky

Resident archivist Jack Dangers looks at obscure film music by Russian composer, Vladimir Ussachevsky

‘Film Music’ by Vladimir Ussachevsky was released in 1990. I’ve had the CD for some time, but the vinyl proved very tricky to get hold of, it took me 10 years to find a copy. In 1990, vinyl pressings were starting to vanish as CDs really became dominant. There probably weren’t a huge amount made either, but you can find the CD version quite easily. The vinyl pressing I bought seems to be the only one that’s ever come up on Discogs.

Ussachevsky was the founder of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Wendy Carlos studied with him, and Bob Moog went to him for feedback about the synthesiser modules he was building. It was Ussachevsky who suggested Moog needed to create an ADSR filter.

The music on this album is made up of pieces he wrote for two different films, ‘No Exit’ and ‘Line Of Apogee’. ’No Exit’ was also known as ‘Sinners Go To Hell’, and was an Argentine/American production released in 1962. Based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play ‘No Exit’, it was directed by Polish-American Tad Danielewski and had an uncredited Orson Welles working on the script. I haven’t watched them or managed to find either film on DVD or online anywhere. There’s a bit of information online, but it’s pretty sketchy. The film itself is set in a room which the main characters realise is actually Hell. They expect to be tortured in all the ways they know about from ‘The Bible’, red hot pokers and all that, but that doesn’t happen. They just torture each other psychologically: hell is other people. 

‘Line Of Apogee’ was released in 1968 and is an avant-garde film by experimental American director Lloyd Williams. I’ve read that it’s autobiographical, about Williams accepting his homosexuality. Scenes include “a little girl disemboweling a pig and a boy in a forest urinating on marbles”. It’s described as “mind-boggling dream imagery that makes ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ seem straightforward”. Sounds amazing. Williams also made a film in 1975 called ‘Rainbow’s Children’ with a soundtrack by Suzanne Ciani, so electronic music was clearly something he was interested in.

Ussachevsky’s music is really great. I particularly like the ‘Line Of Apogee’ soundtrack. It’s got everything I look for, sort of black and white textures, really creepy. I always feel l like I’ve just woken up from a nightmare when I listen to it. He recorded a mother singing a lullaby, a baby crying, whistling, a telephone, creaks and splashing water. It’s really unsettling. If I could pick Top Five, this would be in it.

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