The entire recording archives of Alan Lomax went online recently. An ethnomusicologist, Lomax travelled the length and breadth of America recording music that we might call ‘folk’, ‘traditional’, or other similar labels. He was one of those rare obsessive heroes who believed that his mission to preserve changing and dying traditions was an important public good, and that his field recordings should be owned by all of us.
Not only did he travel across the United States, he travelled the world, and in 1964 he visited the Soviet Union to attend the International Anthropological and Ethnological Congress in Moscow. While there, ethnomusicologist Anna Rudneva helped Lomax access Soviet archives in Leningrad and Moscow, where he made copies of recordings from various Soviet nationalities and ethnic groups. He brought these recordings back and added them to his incredible collection, now public property. It’s a shame he didn’t get to travel to many of regions he archived, but perhaps the Cold War was so frosty that the KGB might have suspected he was on a spy mission.
Still, it probably stands as an interesting example of US-USSR co-operation during the Cold War. A sharing of cultural resources across metaphorical and literal walls in the name of common understanding.
Lenin cat is pretty absurd, but then, that’s the internet. For cat absurdity of a more real-life sort, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Operation Acoustic Kitty (no, really), a CIA project from the mid-1960s, which planned to use cats to spy on the Kremlin. It cost twenty million dollars, achieved nothing, and its first mission had to be abandoned when a cat with a spy antenna in its tail was hit and killed by a taxi.
Fancy helping to fund a film about skateboarding in East Germany in the 1980s? This Ain’t California is a forthcoming film by Marten Persiel about the skater subculture of the DDR in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s scheduled for release this summer, but they need money to make it happen.
This footage, shot by Ingeborg Euler, gives a somewhat spooky glimpse of the Berlin borough of Kreuzberg in 1979, and was originally broadcast on 3sat. Kreuzberg — then part of West Berlin — was surrounded on three sides by East Berlin, and the film gives a sense of the enclave-like nature of Kreuzberg life at the time, including shots of the river and the Oberbaumbrücke — at that time part of the Berlin Wall. The music is by Brian Eno, from Ambient 4.
Monty Python featured numerous surrealistic references to communist history throughout their career as a comedy group, both within sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and in their films and videos. One of the most well-known is from their 1982 video, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Well done, Karl — one final question, and then that beautiful non-materialistic lounge suite will be yours…”
One of the stranger manifestations of Soviet messaging in the 1950s and 1960s was the use of silviculture propaganda: giant signs created in fields and forests by carefully-planted plots of trees. Back in the mid-20th century, these were presumably thought of as tokens to be seen by future generations from communist spaceships above the earth.
The content of the messages were fairly simple, but they are still visible today. And through Google Maps, anyone can now see them, even decades after their aspirational creation.
Click the images to view them larger, or click the titles to view on Google Maps (smaller embedded maps are below each image — zoom in to get more detail).