Hannah L. M. Eßler, MA Transdisciplinary Studies, Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland, and Jim Igor Kallenberg, ARS:art-research-sound
Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, School of Music Mainz, Germany
Siren’s call for Revolution. Sonic Memory and Transformative Experience in the “Symphony of Sirens”
In Arsenij Avraamov’s “Symphony of Sirens” (1922) it is not by chance that the city of Baku was meant to become the soundscape of the Sirens howl for revolution. They howled in acoustic memory of the October Revolution. Their singing is an acoustic episteme as the Sirens’ knowledge is not knowledge about sound, but knowledge through and by means of sound. Not only the mythological Sirens are more-than-human beings of transgression between the senses, theory and practise, body and mind, nature and culture. Also, as technical acoustic instruments, sirens challenge traditional conceptualisations of sound, body and technology. In the course of industrialization the siren’s call became the call for order in the factories and subordinate human labour under the rhythm of the machines. But, as a warning signal, it were also the sirens that called for interruption of prefabricated rhythms in the initiation of the October Revolution.
In the “Symphony of Sirens” the siren’s song memorizes October Revolution as the possibility of a mutual transformation of human, machine and nature. The medium of this transformation is the transformed sonic environment of a whole city with its public spaces, work places, factories and citizens. The memory of the past is actualised in the present through a sonic choreography that turns the city into an immersive sound performance. Its instrumentation included not only a cast of choirs, the foghorns of the entire Caspian flotilla of the Red Army, two batteries of artillery cannons, a number of infantry regiments including a machine-gun division, hydroplanes, and all the town’s factory sirens (Smirnov, Sound in Z), but virtually even the public itself, as “Avraamov did not want spectators, but intended the active participation of everybody in the development of the work through their exclamations and singing, all united with the same revolutionary will.” (Bull, Sirens) The aim of the symphony was to create a sonic environment in which the city and its inhabitants becomes at the same time orchestra, soundscape and audience of a transformative experience. This attempt of a total work of art failed, as did that of Richard Wagner. But the siren is mediator, guardian and mute mourner of this potential. It doesn’t only hold the transformative potential of sound and sonic thinking, but also the memory of its loss today.
Hannah Eßler is currently studying in the MA Transdisciplinary Studies at the Zurich University of Arts. Before she worked as assistant at the Institute for Theater Studies at Freie Universität with the estate of the Brandt family of stage technicians. She is simultaneously completing her master’s degree at the same institute. Previously, she studied Literature and Theater Studies, Deaf Studies and German Sign Language in Berlin (Humboldt University and Free University), Rome and Tlemcen and was a research assistant for many years in the research group “Epistemes of Modern Acoustics” at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. She also works as a freelance editor, author and on the static and flying trapeze.
Jim Igor Kallenberg studied musicology and philosophy (Frankfurt, Vienna) with a master’s thesis on the semiotic analysis of postmodern music. He is research associate at the research project art- research-sound at Johannes-Gutenberg-University Mainz and works as dramaturg and author. At Goethe-University Frankfurt he is working on a PhD thesis on Gesamtkunstwerk and post-war avant-garde. He received scholarships from the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, “Akademie Musiktheater heute” of the Deutsche Bank Foundation, Villa Abegg, Spatial Sound Institute and Künstlerdorf Schöppingen, attended courses at the Darmstadt Summercourse, Donaueschinger Musiktage and Heidelberger Frühling, received the award Forum junger Autoren (MusikTexte) and is chairman of the Frankfurt Society for Contemporary Music.