In this article, I show that contrary to enduring Cold War binaries between Western experimentalism and Soviet socialist realism, the Soviet government strategically deployed electronic music to bolster its image as a modern, forward-looking nation during the early Cold War. Drawing on previously unseen archival sources, oral history interviews, and organological methods, I argue that the Soviet government cultivated a specific politics of timbre through the creation of state-sponsored electronic musical instruments and ensembles. I begin by examining a 1955 order from the Ministry of Culture, by which engineers and inventors were tasked with building electronic instruments that sounded “modern.” I then follow the development of the Ekvodin, a multivoice synthesizer with a keyboard for easy performance, which the Ministry of Culture heralded as the future of Soviet music. Using the Ekvodin as a case study reveals both the sonic and the ideological values at play in the design of electronic musical instruments. I also explore two “misfires” in Soviet electronic music: the invention of the Il’ston synthesizer and Alfred Schnittke’s Poem about Space. Finally, I analyze the reception of the Ekvodin and the All-Union Radio and Television’s Ensemble of Electromusical Instruments to highlight the ideological debates over how best to “sound modern” in global networks of musical creation. In doing so, the article invites a broad reconsideration of musical aesthetics and politics in the Cold War.

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