Original soundtrack excerpts, recorded in 1929-30, 26’30”.
Written and directed (composed) – Dziga Vertov
Sound – P. Shtro
Sound-Recording Station – Timartsev, Chibisov, Khariyonov & Molchanov
Recorded – Shorin System
Additional Music – Donbassa March by Timofeyev
Produced – Ukrainfilm Kiev Film Studio, 1930
Extracts taken from the DVD Entuziazm (Sinfonia Donbassa), Osterreichisches Filmmuseum 2005
Enthusiasm! The Dombass Symphony (1930) is possibly Dziga Vertov’s most revolutionary achievement: a symphony of abstract industrial noise for which a specially designed giant mobile recording system was constructed (it weighed over a ton) in order to capture the din of mines, furnaces and factories. For Vertov, the introduction of sound film didn’t mean talkies, but the opportunity to collage, montage and splice together constructions of pure environmental noise.
Denis Arkadievitch Kaufman (b. Bialyskov, Poland 1986 - d. Moscow 1954) adopted the name Dziga Vertov as an adolescent; a futurist pseudonym loosely translated as “spinning top”. He studied piano, violin and psychoneurology, at the same time writing poetry and recording natural sounds with a phonograph for his Laboratory of Hearing (1916). By 1918, he had begun to work w ith cinema and - with his future wife Elisaveta Svilova - created the group Kinoks [Kino-Eye]. Concentrating on documentary films, they championed “what the eye doesn’t see” . Between 1925 and 1929, he developed the idea of Radio-Pravda [Radio-Truth] and Radio-Ear (from “I hear”). With the beginning of sound cinema (1929- 30), he began at once to apply his ideas on the importance of sound, imagining his new film as a “sound and visual documentary” . The first difficulty he encountered was how to record sound in exterior locations since no adequate technology existed at the time. To solve this problem, he turned to the staff in the laboratory run by Dr. Shorin, a scientist and inventor who had created the first “cinematic sound” system in Russia. From them he commissioned the construction of the world’s first-ever mobile “sound recording station ” (Vertov believed that the m icrophone should be able also to “walk” and “run ” ). Once built, Vertov launched what he called an “assault on sounds” in the Ukranian industrial complex of the Dombass coal mines. This was not only “cerebral ” but also “muscular” work, since the equipment weighed about 2800 pounds and there were no available means of transport. Vertov said that to capture the sounds they worked “in an environment of din and clanging , amidst fire and iron, through factory workshops vibrating with sound”, getting all the equipment onto trains and descending into the mines. Some of the recordings turned out to be defective as a result of the excessive physical vibration experienced during takes, and it became necessary to modify the original plan for the film’s final edit. Although there was no sound-editing table and although the sounds were recorded onto the same track as the images, Vertov didn’t settle for having the picture synched with the sound. He wanted to create a “complex interaction between sound and image”, and worked over “fifty days and fifty nights under maximum tension”, to combine and re-arrange the industrial sounds and the shouts and songs of the miners as they struggled to achieve the production challenges of the Five Year Plan - the film’s theme. The score, co-written by Vertov and the composer limofeyev, sometimes simultaneously brings together musical writing and the roar of motor noise, in the same way that the composer Alexander Mossolov did when he introduced a ‘metal sheet’ into the score of his orchestral work Zavod, Symphony of the Machines - Steel Foundry (1926-28, track 11-Pt2). After its premiere, the film was criticized for a number of reasons, above all for its anti-academic approach to the treatment of music. Accordiing to Vertov, “everything which is not ‘sharp’ or ‘flat’, in a word, everything which does not ‘do-re-mi-fa-so-lize’ was unconditionally labelled ‘cacophony’ by the critics. Indeed, the fi lm was variously called “anti-formalist”, “anti-newsreel” or “anti-film”; a “theory of caterwauling” was proposed, the film’s soundtrack being described as a “Concert of Caterwauling” . In contrast, the film was considerably better appreciated in the west. After a screening in 1931, Charlie Chaplin said “I would never have believed it possible to assemble mechanical noises to create such beauty. One of the most superb symphonies I have known. Dziga Vertov is a musician”.