Virtual WiP: “The Nation in Stereo: Sonic Experimentation at the 1937 Dekada of Georgian Art”

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are pleased to announce the 6th talk of the Fall 2023 Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series!

The talk will take place online through this Zoom registration link:…/tZYpcuiqpz4qE92rTOORLDJqd…

“The Nation in Stereo: Sonic Experimentation at the 1937 Dekada of Georgian Art”

Dr. Brian Fairley (Amherst College)

November 15, 2023, 18:30 Tbilisi time

For members of the Ethnographic Song and Dance Ensemble of Western Georgia, the most memorable part of the 1937 Dekada of Georgian Art was undoubtedly sharing the stage with Joseph Stalin himself. Although born in eastern Georgia, Stalin boasted a surprising knowledge of the complex multipart songs of Guria and Adjara. But this was not the only unusual musical event to take place during these folk singers’ triumphant concert tour. They were also part of a little-known experiment with recording technology carried out by Ioseb Megrelidze, a disciple of the linguist Nikolai Marr, and Sofia Magid, a pioneer in Jewish music research. Megrelidze and Magid used two phonographs simultaneously, allowing them to record different parts of a song at the same time. These proto-multitrack recordings were the culmination of years of attempts to capture Georgian polyphony on record, yet they were also, in a sense, the beginning of the end. After this high-water mark for Georgian culture in the Stalin era (Scott 2016; Kaplan 2020), the Phonogram Archive in Leningrad would add no more recordings of Georgian music, soon falling under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Russian Literature. Putting these recordings in conversation with contemporaneous experiments in spatial and stereophonic sound (Cornish 2020; Kendall 2021) and the upheavals in 1930sSoviet ethnography (Slezkine 1991), Dr. Fairley will show how material practices of recording technology helped articulate the tense counterpoint of identities and traditions in a formative decade for Soviet Georgians.

Brian Fairley is a visiting scholar in the Department of Music at Amherst College and an adjunct instructor of ethnomusicology at Mount Holyoke College. He completed his PhD at New York University in 2023 with a dissertation entitled “Dissected Listening: A Media History of Georgian Polyphony.” His work has appeared in the journal Ethnomusicology and he has articles forthcoming in the Journal of Sonic Studies and Theoria: Historical Aspects of Music Theory.

Works-in-Progress is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place office of CRRC at Chavchavadze Ave. 5 and online. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.

In observation of the spirit of the Chatham House Rule, the talks will not be recorded, and we courteously request that the other participants refrain from recording and/or distributing recordings as well. The opinions expressed in WiP talks are those of the speakers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC, ARISC or of American Councils.