Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Sounding the Inaudible

Rethinking the Musical Analogy in the City Symphonies of Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Ver tov

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2018), 12, (1), 1–31.

Abstract

Scholars tend to conceive of city symphony films in terms of a musical analogy that likens their formal elements to those of a musical work. This article argues instead that those elements are also an inaudible expression of sound. It traces the influence of sonic avant-garde composers such as Luigi Russolo, Arseny Avraamov, Oskar Fischinger, and Rudolf Pfenninger on the dynamics of Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a Great City and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. This influence manifests itself in two distinct techniques of inaudible sound: (1) the generation of ‘visual noise’ through fast editing speeds and motion blur, and (2) the treatment of motion as sound. These techniques invoke sonic practices that stem from the rise of noise as a social, aesthetic, and technological problem in the early twentieth century, as well as the development of technologies such as the phonograph for understanding and reproducing sound. In sounding the inaudible, Vertov and Ruttmann’s films construct a fluid exchange of senses that addresses the shifting aesthetic and political implications of sound as a multi-sensory phenomenon in modernity.

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Schwartz, Daniel