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This talk will explore a series of experimental sound recordings made in Leningrad in 1935. Using three wax-cylinder phonographs, each recording an individual singer simultaneously, researchers at the Phonogram Archive of the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography isolated the interlocking vocal parts of folk songs from Guria, a region of Georgia in the South Caucasus. Assisting with these quasi-multitrack recordings was Ioseb Megrelidze, a young Georgian linguist and protégé of Nikolai Marr (1865–1934), a dominant figure in Soviet academia for much of the Stalinist period. These largely forgotten recordings—as well as archival traces including an unpublished manuscript by Megrelidze—offer a window into major intellectual debates in this formative decade: the search for the prehistoric origins of language and song, the possibilities afforded by media technology to capture reality as it is (or as it should be), and the tenuous position of non-Slavic peoples in determining the future direction of Soviet cultural life.

Brian Fairley is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Music at Amherst College and a Visiting Lecturer at Mount Holyoke College. He received his PhD in Ethnomusicology from New York University in 2023, with a dissertation entitled "Dissected Listening: A Media History of Georgian Polyphony." His work explores practices of voice and media in historical and ethnographic contexts, with ongoing research interests in multichannel sound recording, anthropological theories of race and evolution, the concept of polyphony in Western music theory, and singing traditions of the Republic of Georgia. In Fall 2024, Brian will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Mikayla Rasnic
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