NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44


Melodiya Of Those Years

Alexandra Sankova

Music in Russia and the USSR was always given a special place, both in the life of society and of each individual person. The establishment of Soviet power at the start of the last century set new tasks before all artists. Music, as the sphere most developed and accessible to the broad masses, took the lead in the multinational culture of the USSR. Most Russian musicians were actively involved in working on the musical enlightenment of the laboring masses. At the same time, there existed in the USSR a musical education system free to all, who produced many talented composers and performers. Educational establishments for music were set up all over the country. Philharmonic orchestras, conservatories and music halls were built. The Soviet opera and Soviet ballet were highly valued around the world as well as the orchestras and military ensembles.

In the late 1950s the so-called Khrushchev Thaw begins. The Soviet Union’s borders open slightly and the international exchange of specialists in Moscow is initiated. In the USSR, industrial turnover is increasing and it becomes necessary to set up the mass production of new goods. The Soviet government recognizes the necessity of bringing designers—graphic artists and design artists—into the chain of production.
In the 1960s Soviet design is becoming established as a project method and professional activity. April 28th, 1962 may be considered the official date of the creation of the state system of design in the USSR. This was the date of the signing of the USSR Council of Ministers order “On Improving the Quality of Products of Machine-Building and Cultural or Household Products Through the Introduction of Design Methods.” That same year, the USSR Council of Ministers Order No. 442 “On Trademarks” is issued with the aim of increasing the responsibility of domestic enterprises for the quality of the industrial and technical products and consumer goods they manufacture. The potential for the design profession grows dramatically. In a country with a planned economy lacking competition and a production deficit, this order serves as the guarantee of the quality of graphic formatting for products. After the order, practically all graphic artists are involved in the large-scale development of trademarks and applied graphics (as graphic design was called in the USSR).
A network of research institutes and the SKhKBs (Special Art and Design Bureaus) were organized at the ministries. Each of these organizations was subordinated to a specific ministry and was responsible for the development and introduction into production of design projects in their spheres. 
Under the USSR Union of Artists, the USSR Art Foundation, production houses, studios and printers were created. State organizations placed orders via the USSR Union of Artists and its subordinated structures for the production of art, souvenirs, designs for building, social spaces, holidays, exhibitions, and printing, including agitational designs.
The Applied Graphics Studio — the largest in the country — developed the trademarks and corporate styles, packaging, advertising posters, and catalogs for ordering foreign goods for Aeroflot, Sovtransavto and hundreds of other companies throughout the country. Around two hundred people headed by Andrey Kryukov developed the corporate style of the Moscow Olympics, logos and advertisements for the largest “Sport Lotto” in the USSR, and identities for music halls, theatres and music record companies.
Radical changes take place in the early 1960s in all spheres of culture, not only in the sphere of design. Composers start to appear in the Soviet musical space that are closely associated with avant-garde trends—Alfred Schnittke in particular. The works of many composers, freely experimenting with world musical traditions and disregarding the Soviet standards of academic music, were practically left unperformed 
or unpublished.
For manufacturing related to musical products, the USSR Soviet of Ministers issued on 23 April 1964 an order according to which record studios and factories were subordinated to the Ministry of Culture. In turn, the Ministry of Culture issued an order establishing the All-Union Record Label Melodiya. It united the main record factories and recording studios then existing in the USSR and became the state organization for the production, storage and distribution of recordings.
The main directorate was located in Moscow and factories in Aprelevka (Moscow Oblast), Leningrad, Riga, Tbilisi, Tashkent, Baku and Tallinn joined the label in different years.
Melodiya signed contracts with the German company Ariola-Eurodisc and the American company Capitol, as well as with HMV in Great Britain. Melodiya also produced records under the license of foreign firms. By the early 1990s the label was in the top six largest world record companies. Records for export were issued with Latin script and usually with a design distinct from records for the domestic market.
Since its founding and through the second half of the 1980s, the Melodiya was the only state organization for the mass production and distribution of records in the country. Melodiya’s records, exported to over ninety countries, were repeatedly honored by prizes and international awards. 
They were issued by well-known foreign companies. The head of Promgraphic, Andrey Kryukov, created the company logo.
The Aprelevka Factory was the main factory of the Melodiya firm and traditionally worked with the artists of The Applied Graphics Studio; Andrey Kryukov himself also worked a lot on the design of the records.
Most record jackets had standard drawings and labels. But there were also real masterpieces. The design for record jackets could pass the artists council but still be blocked on review in the Central Committee. Even already printed products could be rejected and the records taken out and re-packaged in new jackets. In 1982 a reproduction center was brought into the VSG structure—its task was to ensure the quality design of record jackets for all of the label’s factories. The records could be ordered by mail.
Artists, like musicians, received a one-time fee for a recording. It made no difference even if five million records were sold; everyone worked at a fixed rate. Records that went for export had a completely different design from records for distribution within the USSR; the artists of The International Book trade union could design records for export. It is very difficult to determine the artist of this or that cover. In the USSR the whole design was anonymous; authors did not sign their works and the sketches signed by them and confirmed in the artists councils went to the customer –the label Melodiya.
The records were designed in various styles; as a rule these were graphic compositions and often consisted of geometrical ornaments, which by dynamic indicated the kind of musical production to be found in the sleeve. 
Melodiya was always distinguished by its bright and bold avant-garde covers which precisely conveyed emotions and musical moods. Moreover, strong visual images and expressions were sometimes achieved by minimal means, typographic or linear compositions, printing in two colors on the most regular paper. More psychedelic, Pop Art covers were created for the recordings of foreign performers. This was allowed by the artists councils since such designs of records made it clear that the records were from a Western recording series.
By 1991, Melodiya had twenty-one companies, including factories and phonograph houses. However, there was a reduction in demand thanks to the difficult economic and political situation. Melodiya only recovered in 2004, after years of crisis. 

Andrey Kryukov headed the Applied Graphics Studio from 1959 to 1985. He created logos known and loved by every Soviet person, many of which are used by companies down to this day. He made the logo for Melodiya, the logo/inscription on the façade of the Composers House and the Artists House on Kuznetsky Most street. But A. Kryukov’s favorite creative sphere was scripts. He worked a great deal with typography, including designing covers with calligraphic compositions. Kryukov worked much and professionally with script; he designed the set of signage for the stores of the Novy Arbat (one of Moscow’s central streets), and developed many logos built exclusively on typography and calligraphy. As head of the applied graphics studio, Kryukov forbade his young colleagues to use a ruler when creating a logo, telling them, “A line must breathe!” He championed the humanity and richness of applied graphics. Literary imagery is a tradition rooted in our very own artistic culture.

Alexandra Sankova

is the Director and a founding member of the Moscow Design Museum, which was established in 2012 with the mission to collect, preserve, and promote the design heritage of Russia. Past exhibitions of the museum include ‘Soviet Design1950–80s’, ‘Packaging Design. Made in Russia’, and the award-winning ‘Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of the Soviet Design’, which received the Utopia Medal at the 2016 London Design Biennale. Previously, she was the founder of the non-profit organisation New Graphics and Senior Advisor for cultural affairs at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow. She is the author of 23 (2010), a collection of interviews with Russia’s preeminent designers, and as part of the museum team, wrote Designed in the USSR: 1950–1989 (2018) and produced the documentary ‘History of Russian Design’ (2018). Sankova received her MA in Graphic Design from Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry

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