Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974)



  1. Sonata Of Sleep

SONnaia SONata, sound pavilion in his utopian Green City, 1929-30, 2'08"
Directed By [Radiophonic Re-creation] – Miguel Molina, Anxo Invisible Production Date – 2007

Konstantin Stepanovich Melnikov (b. Moscow 1890 - d. Moscow 1974), painter and architect, is considered the most important figure in Russian constructivist architecture. After the 1917 Revolution, he taught at the Vkhutemas school, drawing up a new urban plan for Moscow and designing worker's clubs outside the city. Melnikov's wish was that revolutionary soviet social values could be expressed in his buildings, although at the same time he publicly defended on many occasions " the right and need for personal expression", which he claimed as the only source of "delicate design". His projects were unpredictable, unusual and ultra-original, described at times as "unreal and fantastic", even though most of them were realised. Melnikov followed the path of the organic combination of space with simple volumetric form, thinking of his architecture as " transparent walls" and putting the facades in second place. In 1929-30, he planned his Green City, a city of rest in the green area of Moscow, with the aim of rationalizing rest by means of the "rationalization of sleep" in socialist cities, and in "daily life". For this city, he conceived green areas with a forest, gardens and orchards, a zoo, a children's city and a public sector, with a train station-concert hall, "solar pavilion" and "sleeping quarters" (which were the rest blocks for the workers) . These dormitories had to be built by a collective, bringing together the efforts of different specialists, amongst others architects, musicians and doctors. For Melnikov, sleep was a curative source, more important than food and air. He wanted to fit out the dormitories with hydromassage; thermal regulation of heat and cold by means of stone stoves; chemical regulation with the aroma of forests, spring and autumn; mechanical regulation with beds that rotated, rocked and vibrate and finally, sonic regulation by means of "the murmuring of leaves, the noise of the wind, the sound of a stream and similar sounds from nature" (including storms)' all of which would be heard by placing special sound horns at opposite ends of the dormitories. These would also reproduce symphonies, readings and sound imitations. Melnikov planned to replace bothersome "pure noise" (showers, washbasins, neighbours, conversations, snoring...) with "organized noises" based on the principles of music. Melnikov named these "sleeping quarters", and their concerts Sonatas of Sleep [SONnaia SONata], taking the Russian root SON [Sleep] and using the play on words to allude to the famous Claire de Lune Sonata [Lunnaya Sonata] by Claude Debussy. In the end, this project was never realised, nor was his dream of creating The Institute for the Transformation of Humankind. In 1937, Melnikov was labelled a "formalist" and removed from education and practice and, although he managed to survive the Stalinist purges, he was never rehabilitated and had to work as a portrait painter on commission until his death in 1974. For the reconstruction of this "Sonata of Sleep" the natural sounds that Melnikov refers to in his texts have been used; it also includes a musical fragment of the Claire de Lune Sonata by Debussy, recorded in 1916 on a mechanical Piano Roll. With this project, we can consider Melnikov as an antecedent of "acoustic design" , and also of the concepts of "sound ecology" and "sound landscape" which appeared again in the '70s.


RELATED RESOURCES:
Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)