Sonic overload: Alfred Schnittke, Valentin Silvestrov, and polystylism in the late USSR

Research output: Book/ReportBook

4 Scopus citations


Sonic Overload presents a musically centered cultural history of the late Soviet Union. It focuses on polystylism in music as a response to the information overload swamping listeners in the Soviet Union during its final decades. The central themes are collage, popular music, kitsch, and eschatology. The book traces the ways in which leading composers Alfred Schnittke and Valentin Silvestrov initially embraced and assimilated popular sources before ultimately rejecting them. Polystylism first responded to the utopian impulses of Soviet doctrine with utopian impulses to encompass all musical styles, from “high” to “low.” But these initial all-embracing aspirations were soon followed by retreats to alternate utopias founded on carefully selecting satisfactory borrowings, as familiar hierarchies of culture, taste, and class reasserted themselves. Looking at polystylism in the late USSR tells us about past and present, near and far, as it probes the musical roots of the overloaded, distracted present. Sonic Overload is intended for musicologists and Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian specialists in history, the arts, film, and literature, but it also targets a wider scholarly audience, including readers interested in twentieth- and twenty-first century music; modernism and postmodernism; quotation and collage; the intersections of “high” and “low” cultures; and politics and the arts. Based on archival research, oral historical interviews, and other overlooked primary materials, as well as close listening and thorough examination of scores and recordings, Sonic Overload presents a multilayered and comprehensive portrait of late-Soviet polystylism and cultural life, and of the music of Silvestrov and Schnittke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages408
ISBN (Electronic)9780197541258
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Alfred schnittke
  • Collage
  • Eschatology
  • Identity
  • Information overload
  • Kitsch
  • Late style
  • Polystylism
  • Popular music
  • Valentin silvestrov

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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