A Designer of Music: Vladimir Atamanenko

A Designer of Music: Vladimir Atamanenko

Vladimir Atamaneko is a man behind the music, always tinkering with the microphone or amp to ensure the performer and audience have the strongest connection—the strongest sound. “It’s not the music,” he says, “it’s the design.” 

Tall with thick wispy white hair, playful eyes, and plenty of laugh lines, you always know when you have met Vlad, as his friends call him. Before he gets around to introducing himself, he’s ready with a joke. 

Vlad’s lifelong passion for music began decades ago and across the world. In 1967, Vlad formed rhythm-blues band INDEKSY as a singer and guitar player.

INDESKY would play small gigs on the outskirts of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, performing songs from the Beatles, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Pink Floyd and Arthur Brown. They went on to win a local competition by performing a song by The Beatles, despite that Beatles music was prohibited in the Soviet Union and the jury consists from communist "apparatchiks."

Vlad discovered sound production through being a musician. Like a singer learns his voice to elevate his sound, Vlad did the same with the equipment, making modifications and fine-tuning custom designs. Soon he was doing more sound design than singing. 

 Vlad worked sound production at Oktyabrsky (1976-1980) and Youth Palace (1980-1985), concert halls in Leningrad. He managed the sound for every concert, movie, or radio show that crossed the stage. Eventually, he was providing sound production to all of the performers in Leningrad, even to bands in Russia’s underground rock scene.

In the 1980s, strict censorship meant alternative music, the music of protest, wasn’t government sanctioned in the communist Soviet Union. Music and instruments had to be smuggled in and out of the country, by rock lovers like Joanna Stingray. Vlad gave the artists of this movement equipment and a platform, even though it brought trouble from the communist government. It meant more than just helping them sound good; his equipment helped legitimize renegade performers. 

He was the first producer in USSR who brought the underground rock groups to huge stadiums and sport complexes. He worked with bands like DDT, ALISA, TELEVIZOR, Auktsion, Object Nasmeshek, Blues Mobile Band from the Georgia Republic and many others. These renegade performers became youth idols.

Their songs played a pivotal role in preparing people’s minds and souls for the crash of communism. He began touring with Russian and foreign artists like Elton John around the country, even putting on the first charity concert in Kiev, despite initial pushback from the KGB. He also organized the first jam sessions between Russian and American blues musicians on the Palace Square, Saint-Petersburg square in 1990.

Later in the 1990s, Vlad immigrated to the United States. He landed in Philadelphia but moved to California and started a sound equipment company with his business partner. He arrived just as music exploded in technology and industry. As technology grew smaller and faster, profits grew larger. However, modern music technology has proven to decrease audio quality. Music is now a commodity, and as Vlad sees it, the quality of sound has suffered.

He likens it to the rise of commercialized food production. The food industry churns out goods to feed billions, but we all know that processed foods are a far cry from the fresh food of a farm stand. Music is now more processed, digitization adding more steps between the source and the listener’s ear. Vlad wished to fix that by bringing the same artistry musicians put into their performances into the technology. Unfortunately, his business partner passed away suddenly. Left with a warehouse of inventory, Vlad managed to ship his sound equipment back east to begin anew. 

In Philadelphia, he found the Multicultural Arts Exchange. He continues his work with sound production in the arts community throughout Philadelphia. He brings his love of life and music to every Multicultural Arts Exchange event he works on. Most of the time, it means bringing his signature touch to the sound design. But on the rare occasions when he emerges from backstage, it is clear he is a man comfortable in the spotlight, bending willing ears to learn about his designs, giving impromptu singing lessons, or simply dancing whenever he hears music. He is always listening for not only music but the design.   

Sources:

“Joanna Stingray – the woman who smuggled punk rock out of the USSR” by Marc Bennet, The Guardian 

“Declining Audio Quality In Music” by Mark Starlin The Medium.