Alexander Sparinsky, "Applause" Magazine, 1990


Arriving from the USSR to England, I was overwhelmed by the contradictory impressions, stupefied by the glimmer of advertisements and, literally, shocked by the new to me world. Like any musician I went in search of the shops selling musical instruments in order to find out what kind of modern instruments and equipment are presently in use, what is their cost and could I or could I not afford to purchase for my own use anything I find I would like to have. It is so tempting...

For the last ten years I worked in a field of the electronic music, associated with many "live" collectives and groups in the recording studios. Constantly we all felt Inadequacy in our equipment and instrumentation. And that was a great pity as performance of some of our groups was on the level equal to those on the West! The question was how to obtain the best technology to improve the results of our labour.

True, the new information seeps through slowly, but it comes... It is also true that one prefers to see everything "with his own eyes", to finger, to play, to find the timbres than only to go through the variegated catalogues or magazines without a slightest hope to be an owner of the smallest part of the equipment advertised.

The fact is that for the last two decades the Soviet musicians worked with a considerable success - with instruments and sound-equipment made abroad. How that all came to us? There are no state retailers for such commodities. If - by a miracle! - one found anything offered on the black market at the exorbitan price there was no guarantee how long it would last! Yet...

In those days when Rock music was taboo in the USSR the official promoters of art - prompted by possibility of economic gains - helped the few collectives materially and technically. We looked up to them, especially the teenagers, with admiration, adoration and reverence. They were the Byelorussian "Pisniari", Georgian "Orera" and later - Siberian "Ariel" and Ukrainian "Chervona Ruta" with the group's lead singer Sophia Rotaru. According to the Western standards of popularity they were on the top of the Mt. Olympus! In other words, they were the Super-Stars. For us, the hopefuls, the instruments and sound equipment those bands used appeared to be as distant as the stars. Then they were the mixture of the "Gibson", "Stratocaster", "Hoffner", "Ludwig", "Yamaha". As regards the sounds I clearly remember "Dynacord" and "Peavey". Prices in those days - even the black market prices - were reasonable. A guitar "Gibson les Paul" was priced at 2000 rubles, or 1000-1500 rubles was asked for "Peavey Bandit".

I would like to point out that during the last ten years an awarage monthly wage in the USSR was from 200* to 250 rubles...

I clearly remember price of "Gibson les Paul". About twenty years ago James Last with his group paid a visit to Kiev. One of our drummers -during the moments of chaotic ecstasy created by the members of the audience in the Sport's Palace - stole the guitar belonging to a member of the group and sold it the same day to a leading in those day Rock guitarist, Hasan... for 500 rubles! Fantastically cheep. In those days price of the home-made guitar was 100 rubles. There were no state work shops that produced guitars. Happy owner of the "cheep" foreign guitar was ecstatic for only one day as the militia were unusually quick in "solving the crime" and preventing "an international accident". In fact Mr. Last offered the offending drummer to join his group for the rest of his tour in the USSR.

There was only one limited way for some of us to obtain musical instruments and some equipment from the touring East European groups as the Rock and Pop groups from the "capitalist" countries were seldom invited by the government agencies.

Once a leader of the Kievan group "Krock", Volodymyr Hodzytsky, bought for 2000 rubles from a Polish musician an electronic guitar synthesizer. He demonstrated to us all the possibilities of the "magic box"! In those days the Rock music was in the underground and we used to meet in the private homes and turn the occasion into a gem-session. Time passed...

Realizing how profitable could be to exploit that music which was sweet to the youngsters' ears, the State cultural managers decided to use Rock music dressed up into the "socialist realism". Some groups, like "Autograph" from Moscow, jumped upon the state bandwagon, With the authority's blessings they were the first group to perform abroad. Although the members of the group were paid a miserable wage their musical instruments and equipment - "Yamaha Grand Piano", "DX-7 Yamaha", "Roland Super GX" - were provided by the State. The independent groups, like "Time Machine" or "Aquarium" had to provide for themselves. In most cases their equipment was of the DIY label.

Nowadays the Pop-groups are organized and legalized as the free cooperatives, independent from the state supervision and exploitation. Their earning is in accordance to their popularity. For instance, during a recent performance in Kiev Grebienshchikow from "Aquarium" was paid 15000 rubles for one performance. Naturally they can afford to by new musical equipment at the black market prices. Some groups rent their equipment to others at the rate of 100 rubles per kilowatt capacity per performance!

The present day prices for the Instruments are reaching the stars! The mosts expensive keyboard instrument - as it is known to me - is "Korg M-1". Its price is close to 35000 rubles! For "Roland D-50" or "Yamaha DX 7 II-FD" the asking price is 20000 rubles. Samplers are mainly used in the studios. They cost is from 20 to 30 thousand rubles.

At the lower grade are the instruments of the simplistic or the old design. For Instance, at present "Yamaha DX-7" or "Kawai K-1" or "Juno-Alfa" are priced at 13000 rubles. And lower still - "GX 3 Roland", "Juno-6" cost 10000 rubles each. The latest models appear in our country six months after they are on sale in the West. That is the reason why I am so keen to see the latest models while I am here.

The above mentioned prices are officially accepted on the all funds of the market. For example, an instrument brought from abroad could be offered to the state shop for resale for 20000 rubles and to a cooperative for 30000 rubles. That Is officially acceptable, which means that the Black Market is - unofficially - officially legalized.

The state controlled collectives operate in the old fashion. For instance, for the State Brass Orchestra they bought a "Yamaha RX-5" rhythm composer and for the State Music Hall Symphony Orchestra they bought "Yamaha DX-1" which is gathering dust as no one knows how to use it! Or take a saga with a purchase of "Dynacord" for the largest music hall in the Republic, "Ukraine" palace! It is said that the manufacturer's representatives arrived to Kiev Invited by the "responsible" persons from the Ministry of Culture, they showered the officials with gifts and presents and signed a deal worth 300. 000 gold rubles, selling some additional, unnecessary equipment, but only one acoustic system! The same thing happened with the equipment supplied to the Palace of Sport: it Is there but useless. In the private cooperatives' hands the instruments and equipment are always well maintained and ready for use.

The Ministry of Arts officials deal with the ministry's funds, in most cases they are not informed about the world market prices, in their ignorance they inflate prices. In the free market countries prices of the popular commodities fall and in the USSR they rise. Today a child's toy, similar to "Casioton", is priced at between 2000 and 3000 rubles! I quoted already the prices for some professional instruments. The cheapest "Yamaha" guitar costs today anything from 3000 to 4000 rubles, and the drums "Tama" - up to 15000 rubles! What will happen tomorrow?

I have to admit that I bought for myself "Yamaha B-50". True, my requirements are specific, as I am a studio composer.

At present every Soviet citizen has the constitutional right to travel abroad. Anyone can come over, earn money and buy any Instrument or equipment to his or her liking. Time will come when more and more musicians collectives and groups will travel abroad and learn at first hand from shier real sounds the new products, instruments and equipment, when not only the ideological but also. the cultural Iron Curtain will fall to ruin! I am amongst the first musicians to be in your country and to write these notes. We have been separated for such a long time, time when we lived in darkness. We need your experience!


* that time an official rate per 1 ruble was equal 1 British pound.