Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

Peter Zinoviev in his home studio

Peter Zinoviev (Peter Zinovieff) – a figure for fans of modern music is cult. In the 1960s, he was one of the first not only in Britain but also in the world to create tools for just emerging electronic music.

Founded by him Electronic Music Studio (EMS) became a magnet, attracted experimenters from all areas of music.

Keyboard Deep Purple John Lord called Zinoviev "mad professor". From EMS came out a lot of synthesizers, mostly Synthi series, the most famous of which is VCS3, which was played by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre, The Who – The list can be continued indefinitely.

I will mention only some of the most vivid moments of Zinoviev’s synthesizer sound: On the Run from the legendary Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon; Brian Ino used VCS3 in the song Bowie Heroes, in the song Roxy Music Ladytron and on a joint album with Robert Fripp No Pussyfooting.

On the song Will not Get Fooled Again Pete Townsend from The Who I missed the sound of my Lowrey organ through VCS3 processors and filters. A passionate admirer of VCS3 was Jean-Michel Jarre. In his arsenal there were six such synthesizers, and almost the entire album Oxygene is built on this sound.

Peter Zinoviev – pure Russian. He was born in England in 1933. His father and mother are descendants of ancient Russian aristocratic families.

Great-grandfather – Alexander Dmitrievich Zinoviev – was the governor of St. Petersburg. One of the ancestors of the Zinovievs – "arap of Peter the Great" Abram Petrovich Hannibal.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

Genealogical tree of the family of Zinoviev-Dolgoruki

Mother Sofka Zinoviev – nee Princess Sophia Dolgorukaya – and at all goes back to the founder of Moscow. Sofka herself was in France by the beginning of the Second World War, interned by the Nazis and, while in the camp, rescued the Jews, for which the government of Israel awarded her the honorary title "Righteous Among the Nations".

In the same camp, she joined the Communist Party and remained a communist until her death in 1994. The book about his famous grandmother’s daughter Peter Zinoviev, also Sofka, named "The Red Princess".

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

The mother of Peter Zinoviev, "red princess" Sofka Zinoviev with his sons. Peter is the extreme left. 1939

85-year-old Peter Zinoviev lives in Cambridge, in a small house, where he has a modest studio, stuffed with archaic synthesizers of the 60’s, and the most modern computers on which he still creates music.

It was in this house that we went to talk with this unique person.

Alexander Kahn: You were born here in England, but you have a Russian name, both your parents are Russian, and not just Russian, but on both sides – descendants of ancient Russian aristocratic families. Could you tell a little more about your family?

Peter Zinoviev: The question is simple and at the same time very complex. On the maternal side, our family goes directly to the founder of Moscow, Prince Yuri Dolgoruky and Empress Catherine II, my father’s father Alexander Zinoviev was the governor of St. Petersburg, who left behind a very interesting memoir, the publication of which we are currently working on.

AK: To what extent has Russia – its language, history, culture – been present in your life in childhood and in youth? To what extent was it important for you to know that you are Russian? Did you feel this at least to some extent? Many emigrants rejected Soviet power and sought to stay away, to deny the modern Russia. In others, life was permeated with nostalgia. What was Russia for your family?

PZ: During the war, I was raised by grandfather and grandmother from my father’s side (Lev Zinoviev (1880-1958), prominent Octobrist, leader of the St. Petersburg nobility, a member of the Fourth State Duma and Olga Petrovna Baranova (1883-1972), maid of honor of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna).

They did not sob and did not lament the loss of their luxurious life in Russia. They took it as their destiny. They had no great respect for Soviet Russia, they treated it, I would say, even with contempt. I remember how my grandfather said: "Russian tanks can not be afraid, they still can not work".

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

Peter Zinoviev: Russian aristocrat and pioneer of electronic music

English education

PZ: I felt more like an Englishman. I studied at an English school, but at the same time, I had a certain hard-determining feeling of the Russian soul. It is interesting that now, with age, I feel more Russian than it was in my childhood.

Grandfather and grandmother, although they spoke Russian, and we had a Russian cook who did not say a word in English, wanted, nevertheless, that I should grow up an Englishman, so I did not have any bilingualism. Almost all of the Russian words I learned as a child were abusive. Grandmother and the cook constantly scandalized, cursed terribly with each other.

AK: Your childhood happened during the Second World War, in which Britain and the USSR were allies. Do you remember your feelings of that time?

PZ: My brother and I were sent to a Catholic monastery in Dorset, where we were treated absolutely badly – so much so that for many years I was thinking about bringing a case against the Catholic Church. We were forced to carry a sign with words on our chests "I’m not Catholic".

They addressed us not by name, but by number. I remember, it was number 9, and my brother number is 5. He eventually got into hospital because of malnutrition, after which grandfather and grandmother decided to take us out of this terrible school and since then they raised us themselves.

AK: Do you remember what feelings the Soviet Union was causing at that time?

PZ: During the war, probably, any victory of the Russians over the Germans caused a sense of delight. But on the whole, I did not really think about politics, at least until it directly touched our lives.

Once, when we lived in Guildford, a German plane, flying right over our house, began to shell the city, and bullets hit our windows. In panic we hid under the sofa, and our cook Manya brought us tea with croutons.

And this care of her was for me the embodiment of the warmth and comfort of life in the house of my grandparents. In this life there was so much warmth, so much love – a striking contrast not only with the Catholic school in Dorset, but also with the Gordonstown school in northern Scotland, where I got later and where I felt absolutely awful.

I so missed the house that I put a piece of bread on a cup of tea, hoping that it would turn into a toast.

From geology to music and electronics

AK: After Gordonstown, you came to Oxford University, where you studied geology. However, your whole professional life had nothing to do with geology, but was connected with two other areas – music and electronics, each of which requires its thorough preparation. How did this break happen?

PZ: In fact, at first in Oxford, I was engaged in medicine, I wanted to become a doctor, but my anatomy took me away from this specialty. I rushed from subject to subject – I studied English and literature, philosophy, chemistry.

He finally settled on geology, and it was geology that defended his doctoral dissertation. My specialty was the mountains of the Inner Hebrides archipelago in the north of Scotland.

Then he worked in geological exploration in Cyprus and in Pakistan. I was offered a job in Antarctica, but my young wife Victoria refused to go there.

She did not want to go to Canada, and I began to think about a business that would not have been connected with such far travels.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter ZinovievThe wedding of Peter Zinoviev and his wife Victoria in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Kensington, 1960

I was attracted by electronic music, which was just beginning its first steps, and very few people in the world were engaged in it. At home in south London in the Putney area, right on the banks of the Thames, I created my first studio.

It was absolutely fantastic – huge first computers that the military wrote off, and we bought for pennies in army stores. Until finally, the engineer who worked with me did not say that it can not continue like this – we need a computer.

First computers

PZ: Computers were then only from banks, from large companies, but it was at this time that the very first computers that could be bought for personal use began to appear. At current prices, this computer cost 120 thousand pounds – a lot of money!

He did not have a monitor, there was no microcircuit, and the memory was only four kilobytes. By today’s standards, he could do nothing, but for us he knew how to do everything! It was fantastic!

I can proudly say that I was the first person in the world to have a computer in a private house! No other person in the world has owned a computer for as long as I do!

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

So it looked at an early stage studio of Peter Zinoviev

Together with my colleague David Cockerel, he programmed it all day long with a teletype, building the most primitive voltage control, gradually improving our equipment and methods of working with it. We had dozens of oscillators, filters, it was an incredibly exciting time!

AK: And what moved you? Interest in purely technological aspects of musical programming or the desire to seek new forms of musical art? This question is all the more interesting, because you did not have any in any field, neither in electronics, nor in music of special education.

PZ: Your question is completely justified. For the sake of justice, it is true, though, that I did music all the same. My grandmother taught me to play the piano, and in Gordonstown I did a lot of music, and I had a wonderful teacher there.

I did not leave music either at the university and became quite a qualified pianist. He played classics, but incredibly carried away and improvised, I even had my own band, so the music was not alien to me at all, and I was not a beginner in it at all.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter ZinovievYoung Peter Zinoviev in his studio, November 1963

As for electronics, I was still a scientist, and the instruments and apparatus used in geology – for chemical analysis, physical modeling, and so on – were the most modern at that time, and electronics was already in full use.

In the music of this kind of programming, no one else was engaged, so there was no one to study, and I had to go by myself, by touch, by trial and error.

Tools for all

AK: As a musician, you went from the classics – just like the first composers experimenting with electronics: Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Pierre Schaeffer.

By your own admission, to pop music you treated, to put it mildly, without any respect whatsoever. How did you react when your inventions – first of all the VCS3 synthesizer – started to be used by rock musicians: Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, David Bowie and many others?

PZ: In order to answer your question, you need to make some digression. I was engaged in programming, David Cockerel made for us his remarkable devices, all this cost us a lot of money.

As a result, I founded a company for the sale of synthesizers, and the proceeds from this money went to the functioning and development of the studio. I was ready to transfer the studio to the state, but I did not want to take it for a long time, until finally – much later – it was not accepted to host the National Theater.

The instruments that we created – synthesizers – were not made for us, but for schools, scientific institutions, musicians, including pop musicians, that is, for all who could find use for them. Therefore, I was only happy when they began to use rock musicians.

And not only VCS3. Derived from it AKS was sold in much more copies and is still in full use in pop music. They entered the history of music, and literally last year our Synthi-100 synthesizer was dedicated to a special exhibition in Athens.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter Zinoviev

"No picnic can do without SYNTHI" – Synthesizer SYNTHI production by EMS studio

AK: Almost half a century has passed since that time. At home, as I see it, even a small but richly equipped with modern electronics studio. Are you still engaged in electronic music and electronic instruments?

PZ: No, I do not do any more instruments. After the closure of the EMS – and it was closed because of the failed failure of an expensive attempt to establish itself in America – we were devastated.

The Studio agreed to take over the National Theater, but it really could not finance it. She was placed in a cellar where she was flooded with water, on which the history of EMS essentially ended.

"I still write music"

PZ: But I did not leave the music. In the 1970s and 1980s, it took me ten years to create a libretto for our opera with the composer Harrison Burtwistle "Mask of Orpheus". The premiere took place in 1986 on the stage of the English National Opera in London, and a year later, in 2019, the production will be resumed.

In 2010, quite unexpectedly for myself, I received an order for composing musical accompaniment for the architectural, sculptural and musical installation that was opening in Istanbul. A truly generous order from the Vienna art fund TBA-21. This order was followed by others, and my life suddenly changed.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter ZinovievParticipants of the symposium "Inventions and musical creativity: renunciation of Utopia" in the French city of Bourges in June 1989. Among them – Peter Zinoviev, the Soviet composer of electronic music Eduard Artemyev, the inventor of the famous Moog synthesizer Robert Mug and the patriarch of electronics the legendary inventor of the term-vox Lev Themen

Yes, I write music – still electronic. But here it is necessary to make a reservation. In electronic music, there have traditionally been two approaches. One can be roughly called the Stockhausen approach, when music is created, generated on electronic instruments or oscillator-type devices and then recorded.

Second, Pierre Scheffer’s approach – "specific music", when the basis is taken by real, natural sounds and noises that are processed and mixed to create a musical fabric.

It is this second approach that seems most interesting to me. Whatever you do with them, whatever treatment they do, they still retain the magic and intrigue of live sound. Just like music created on live instruments is always more interesting than artificial music.

AK: More than half a century has passed since your first experiments with electronic music. Electronic music over these decades has evolved into a real universe – from the avant-garde of Stockgausen to the dance techno. Do you follow its development? And do you like what your experiments grew up in?

PZ: Once you turn on the TV, you will hear electronic music. In fact, most of the music that we hear today is electronic, we listen to it, as a rule, through electronic amplification, through the speakers.

Imagine that we returned two hundred years ago and came to Beethoven with the recording of yesterday’s premiere of his Heroic Symphony. Poor Ludwig will probably die of shock. And for us this is a daily routine, because live music listens to an insignificant minority of people.

Russian soul

AK: Let’s go back to where we started – to Russia. Have you ever been there, do you go there regularly? What do you know and what do you think about modern Russia – from the political and cultural point of view? Especially now, during such a sharp political confrontation between the two countries. Is it important for you that you are a Russian person?

PZ: Being Russian is very important to me. Even at the height of the anti-Russian campaign in the British media around the Skripal case, I refused to admit that the situation is as simple as we are trying to imagine it.

And despite what my grandfather said, I can not imagine modern Russia behaving so incompetently. There is a lot of unknown in this story, and the further, the more we understand it and the less we understand what happened there.

Yes, I feel Russian and I feel sympathy for Russia, especially when she is attacked. I was also amazed when I was in Russia a few years ago with a concert, how popular is Putin. Popular among ordinary people. Yes, many criticize him, as politicians criticize here too.

I must say that I do not understand anything in Russian politics, I have not the slightest idea about it. But instinctively I sympathize with Russia and the Russians. I myself am Russian. Inside of me "Russian soul" (these words do not speak Russian Peter says in pure Russian language – AK).

A century of emigration

AK: And in conclusion, tell about the collection of all your numerous, scattered around the world family, which will be held this summer.

PZ: Instead of celebrating or mourning the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution that happened last year, my cousin, who still lives in St. Petersburg, suggested that all the descendants of the Zinoviev clan meet.

Grandfather Lev Alexandrovich had four children, two daughters married Frenchmen, and this branch of the family – to this day very numerous – lives in France.

Two sons – my father Lev Lvovich and his brother Cyril – stayed here in England, and we all have many descendants too.

Between Prince Dolgoruky and Deep Purple: "Mad Professor" Peter ZinovievThe house of the Zinoviev family on the Fontanka was built according to the project of the author of the Winter Palace, Bartolomeo Rastrelli

Thus, a total of 50 people are recruited. The Estonian city of Narva was chosen as the meeting place.

Some of the Zinoviev revolutions were not immediately adopted. Others tried to somehow get along with the new power. But they did not succeed. And on June 10, 1918 my grandfather arrived from Petrograd to Narva.

This date is considered the beginning of emigration of our family, since my great-grandfather Alexander Dmitrievich – the same one who was the governor of St. Petersburg – went to emigration two months later through the south.

Here in commemoration of this June date – the century of the beginning of emigration and the rescue of the family – its numerous members will gather in June this year in Narva.

I say "salvation", because God knows what would happen to our ancestors. My grandmother’s husband from another, maternal side, Peter Volkonsky was arrested and taken from Petrograd to Moscow.

She almost walked from Paris to Moscow, managed to meet Maxim Gorky and thanks to his intervention she managed to free her husband, with whom they returned safely to Paris.


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