Germany in the Loud Twentieth Century

Germany In The Loud Twentieth Century
An Introduction
Edited by Florence Feiereisen & Alexandra Merley-Hill
Oxford University Press – $24.95


Listen up! In this more than compelling collection of aural-sound architecture, the Canadian composer and founder of the World Soundscape Project, R. Murray Schafer, is quoted as saying: ‘’the universal concert is always in progress, and the seats in the auditorium are free.’’

This is true, even when one doesn’t want to be in the auditorium of the universal concert. It’s one thing to embrace Swan Lake at the ballet or voluntarily listen to John Lennon singing ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ It’s an altogether other, to have to inadvertently endure the annoying, echoing drones and screams, of say, other people’s cacophonous children. Children who, for unqualified reasons that perhaps only people from the Mediterranean or insects will ever understand, are capable of tempting fate to such an unquenchable degree, that only a flamethrower will suffice.

But yes, just as the contributors and the two editors Florence Feiereisen and Alexandra Merley Hill make perfectly clear throughout this über idiosyncratic investigation, Germany in the Loud Twentieth Century, ‘’the universal concert is always in progress.’’ Whether we like it or not.

In turn, this deems the action or inaction of the ‘’universal concert’’ as being capable of effecting people in intrinsically different ways. Some good. Some not so good.

Writing in the chapter, ‘Escaping the Urban Din – A Comparative Study of Theodor Lessing’s Antilarmverein (1908) and Maximillan Negwer’s Ohropax (1908), Ph.D. candidate in the German Department at Queen Mary’s, London, John Goodyear, states: ‘’Intellectuals’ search for silence was no new phenomenon in the nineteenth century: the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle had the attic at his London home converted into a soundproof study so that he could work without disruption from the street-level noises and street musicians. Richard Wagner was, as evident in his autobiography Mein Leben (My Life), often troubled by the amateurish playing of musical instruments by his next-door neighbours. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche berated the lack of quiet urban space for contemplation in his 280th aphorism in Die frohliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science), insisting that cities lacked ‘’stille und weite, weitgedehnte Orte zum Nachdenken (‘’quiet and open, stretched-out places for contemplation’’). Arthur Schopenhauer, too, said of noise that it is ‘’the most impertinent of all forms of interruption. It is not only an interruption; it is, moreover, a disruption of thought.’’

I couldn’t agree with Schopenhauer more. ‘’Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption.’’ Especially when the noise is uninvited. It is for this most ‘’impertinent of interruptions,’’ that I have become almost incapable of listening to music on the radio. Reason being, almost ninety-five per cent of what is played on air – regardless of whether it is in Germany, where I currently live, the UK or the US – is shockingly un-listenable. As play-lists nowadays, invariably consist of deplorable, wailing tarts (a sickening consortium of odious slappers in heels, who believe they can sing), for whom vocal poise and panache, equate with nothing more than visual prostitution.

In a round-a-bout-way, this sign of the times/terribly sad state of affairs (take your pick, pop pickers), is thrust upon us by way of radio psychology, which is herein addressed by Robert G. Ryder in the chapter ‘When Only the Ears Are Awake – Gunter Eich and the Acoustical Unconscious.’ In relation to Walter Benjamin’s highly influential essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ and assorted works of Sigmund Freud, Ryder writes: ‘’Eduardo Cadava is right to say that, ‘’for both Benjamin and Freud, neither the unconscious nor the conscious can be thought independently of one another – there can be no passage between them without there already being relays or paths that would facilitate such a passage.’’

As such, the facilitation of sound really is as equally responsible for what we hear, regardless of choice, as the actual sound itself. And given the enormous advent of what we hear as having evolved into something of a ‘transdisciplinary’ science over the last hundred years or so; this ought hardly be surprising.

But don’t take my word for it. Read these ten, fascinating interdisciplinary essays, and find out for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

David Marx


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