To fully appreciate this extraordinary new work from Rutger Zuydervelt (a.k.a. Machinefabriek), it’s important to understand the subject of the documentary that The Red Soul serves as a soundtrack to.
Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union, as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1922 to 1952 and as Soviet Premier from 1941 until his death in 1953. He agreed to a non-aggression pact with the German Nazis in 1939, in an attempt to stay out of what he saw as an inevitable war between capitalist countries.
That lasted until 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and Stalin struck an alliance with the U.K. and U.S.
Following the Allied victory, Stalin led his country through intimidation and brutal force. Various historical estimates blame him and his government for tens of millions of deaths. It’s likely he bore responsibility for more murders than Adolph Hitler.
At the same time, Stalin established the Soviet Union as a leading global power – the American’s chief adversary in a Cold War that would last until the Soviet system’s collapse on Christmas Day 1991. Sixty-five years after his death, the question of Stalin’s legacy remains controversial in some circles. Was he a monster, a genius or both?
It is the question that Jessica Gorter seeks to answer with her 2017 documentary The Red Soul. “Virtually no family has been left untouched by the consequences of Stalin’s regime, and in every corner of the country, victims’ families are struggling with history,” reads the film’s notes. “Throughout society, Stalin’s popularity is growing, and there is a yearning for a sense of national unity. The Red Soul shows how the past lives on in present-day Russia, and thus makes its mark on the future.”
No matter your views on Stalin, it’s difficult not to see his governmental career in dark terms. Even as the country rose to a legitimate position of geopolitical power, it was impossible to ignore the oppressive fear that lay behind the Soviet façade.
It is exactly that sense that Zuydervelt – with Ilia Belorukov and René Aquarius – has captured on this 34-minute score. The piece features an old speech delivered by Stalin off of a bakelite record (an early form of plastic in use at the time) and old recordings of Soviet songs. Zuydervelt manipulated these sources, and added Belorukov’s saxophone and Aquarius’ percussion.
The result is powerful. By incorporating sounds from the period, the trio has produced an audio documentary all their own. The fact that it’s paired with Gorter’s award-winning documentary only adds to its historical value.