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Monday, August 22, 2016

Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

The Village, 1916,  Vladimir Baranov-Rossine
We don't usually think of artists as inventors. The one exception to that in most people's minds would, of course, be Leonardo di Vinci, even though most of his inventions remained on paper. Also, most had fatal flaws within their designs, some of which would have, indeed, proved fatal had he tried to build and operate them. The best we can say for the great painting master was that he was inventive in a conceptual manner but lacked the patience and disposition to pursue his inventive nature to the point of their practical application. There have been others, of course; Samuel F.B. Morse comes to mind as does Buckminster Fuller and Louis Daguerre. However, we don't often think of the Ukrainian-Russian painter, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine, in that context. Perhaps that's because what he invented is not among the common household inventory of today, nor was it an exceptional milestone among the more wondrous achievements of modern-day science and technology. You see, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine invented the optophonic piano.
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine's original optophonic piano prototype.
Notice the image projected on the wall.
Now, if you know your Latin, you may have already have guessed that Baranov-Rossine's invention had to do with vision (opto) and sound (phon); and of course we all know what a piano is. Thus the artist/inventor was able to create a piano that combined and synchronized sounds and light (above). Today we most often think of this combination in terms of fireworks displays, but Baranov-Rossine's device stopped short of pyrotechnics in favor of a concert-type musical instrument which, in having a piano keyboard, could be made to play existing musical scores (sort of). Except for the keyboard it wasn't much of a musical instrument at all. The original version, dating from around 1916, emitted only a single, continuous tone which could be modulated. Instead, Baranov-Tossine's invention was more on the order of a primitive, psychedelic light show, projected on a wall, which also made a sound some might broadly interpret as musical. In terms of phonics, when first demonstrated in 1924, it was groundbreaking only in the fact that it was the first ever synthesized musical instrument. However, Baranov-Tossine, being a painter, was far more interested in the visual aspects of his invention than in developing the device's full potential as a sound machine.
A later, more portable version of Baranov-Rossine's invention.
For the techies aboard, the optophonic piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series of revolving painted glass disks (painted by the artist himself), along with filters, mirrors, and lenses. The keyboard controlled the various combinations. Variations in opacity of the painted disks and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell which controlled the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating Kaleidoscopic projections, was used by Baranov-Rossine at exhibitions and public events. He was known to have given two concerts at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The film clip (below) from Strange Encounters (of the Third Kind) captures something of the amazement Baranov-Rossine's light and sound machine may have generated when it was first encountered. Incidentally, the artist also invented the photochronometer which allowed the grading of the color qualities in precious stones. And, in another field altogether, Baranov-Rossine perfected a machine that mixed, sterilized, and distributed fizzy drinks. He called it the “Multiperco." Don't laugh, it received several technical awards at the time.

Click above for a memorable light and sound
show, Hollywood's version of Baranov-Rossine's primitive machine.
Shulim Wolf Labe Baranov was his Jewish birth name. The
hyphen and the name, "Rossine," came later, around 1912, when
he began working in Paris under his nickname, Daniel Rossine.
 Polychrome Sculpture
Symphony Number One,
1913, Vladimir Baranov-
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine was born in 1888, in Kherson, (southern) Ukraine. From the age of fourteen, he studied at the School of the Society for the Furthering of the Arts in St. Petersburg before moving on to the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1910 Baranov-Rossine moved to Paris. He lived and worked there until 1914, becoming a resident in the artist's colony, La Ruche, where he met fellow Russian, Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay, Nathan Altman, and others. While in Paris, Baranov-Rossine worked closely with Ar-chipenko experimenting with abstract sculpture constructions such as Polychrome Sculpture Symphony Number One (left), dating from 1913. So negative was the public reaction and ridicule when the piece was first displayed that, in despair, the artist heaved the thing into the Seine River. A few days later, he though better of his rash act and retrieved it from the riverbank. Today it rests in the National Modern Art Mus-eum in Paris. Vladimir Baranov-Rossine exhibited regularly in Paris after 1911. He returned to Rus-sia in 1914 where he had numerous exhibitions of his work there and in Oslo, Norway. By 1922, he was working as an instructor at the Higher Artistic-Technical Work-shops in Moscow.
Michel Baranov-Rossine,
the artist's son, who died at
the age of seven.

After the February Revolution, Baranov-Rossine returned to the motherland where he joined in the Russian avant-garde move-ment. In 1918 he organized an art studio in the building of the former Imperial Academy of Arts in Petrograd. In 1925 he immigrated to France and stayed in Paris. There he married (twice). His first wife died in child-birth. He and his second wife had three children, the second of which, Michel (right) was killed in a freak accident. Following the fall of Paris to the German army in 1941, and the subsequent round-up of Jews, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine was arrested by Gestapo in 1943. He was deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp where, a year later, he was among the millions murdered by the Nazis.

Adam and Eve, 1912, Vladimir Baranov-Rossine
Variation of a Mobius Band, 1918-19,
Vladimir Baranov-Rossine


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