The main subject of NLO issue 148 is the phenomenology of sound. The authors in this issue study how sound functions in culture and society in an attempt to mark the contours of the new discipline of sound studies. They understand sound in several different registers: as a human voice, as noise, and conversely as silence; finally, a separate section is devoted to investigating the theoretical potential of the recently introduced concept soundscape. The authors in this issue address the problem of how music functions in culture separately: this problem is the subject of the sections dedicated to music in Soviet and Russian culture, as well as the section dedicated to the band Leningrad’s popular hit “In Petersburg — to drink!”
Voice and Literary Imagination
Guest editor: Andrey Logutov
This section’s central inquiry concerns the status of the voice as a phenomenon in its connection to literary creation. The voice also plays the role of a material carrier of the word, the role of a mechanism for creating sense. In his article
“Three Theses on Voice and the Poetic Imagination,” David Nowell Smith investigates the productivity of the dichotomy between voice and language in the context of poetic creativity. In “Of Voice Grammatology: Speech and Writing in the Space of the Literary Text,” Anatoly Riassov discuses a rupture with in the voice that creates a productive disorder around it. The non-obviousness of the status of the voice is also articulated in Ekaterina Belavina’s article “From Verlaine to Vers Libre: The Evolution of the Dominant of Auditory Imagination.” Taking a cue from the ideas of French phoneticists (Jean-Pierre Rousselot, Henri Meschonnic, Gérard Dessons), the author comes to the conclusion that the foundation of verse is not the movement of sense but the movement of the voice.
The section opens with David Nowell Smith’s “Three Theses on Voice and the Poetic Imagination”.
Poiesis is the Greek word from which the word “poetry” derives. It originally meant “creation” or “making.” At least since the Enlightenment, poets have shown concern over the fact that poetry no longer lives up to its ancient calling. Moreover, having poeisis came to mean an ability to reveal the truth about the world, and once it lost this ability poetry was reduced to creating fictions — the category of truth conceded its place to the category of imagination. In this context, one might ask: How do voice and imagination help us conceive the poetic (creative) calling of contemporary poetry and literature as a whole? What can literature “make”? Why should literature keep aspiring to this calling? The author offers his answers to these questions in three theses on literature, language, facts, and poetic imagination.
The section continues with Anatoly Riassov’s “Of Voice Grammatology: Speech and Writing in the Space of the Literary Text.” Perhaps voice is more related to silence than to speech. At the very least, the domain that commonly emerges in the role of its “guardia n” turns out to be writing rather than speech. The texts of Proust and Becket, where the enunciated word often reveals itself to be rooted in silence, open a wide field for the phenomenology of the voice.
The voice invokes formless and unstable foundations — not nonsensical, but rather preceding the very division into sense and nonsense. The literary work is born in the uneasy inseparability of speech and writing.
Noise: Auditory, Social, and Aesthetic
Guest editor: Andrey Logutov
Auditory imagination is a correlate to the auditory modality of perception. In a poetic text, it creates lines of force that orient the word. During the transition from a syllabic system of versification to free verse, there occurred a shift in the reader’s horizon of expectations, and the activity of the auditory imagination changed as well. If rhythm in syllabic verse is conveyed primarily by the number of syllables before a sound repetition (rhyme) or pause (caesura), in free verse the rhythmic pattern is formed by the configuration of accents and pauses. Some of the information about lived emotional experience in poetry is transmitted at the level of the unconscious through prosody. French scholars of verse study the length of rhythmic groups, counter-accents, and also prosodic accentuation. Based on the examples of selected analyses, Ekaterina Belavina’s “From Verlaine to Vers Libre: The Evolution of the Dominant of Auditory Imagination” examines standpoints and disputes regarding prosodic accentuation, the nature and status of which require further study.
This section is devoted to noise as a phenomenon and an analytic metaphor in the context of social and discourse research. Salomé Voegelin’s article “Noise: Listening to an Alien Utterance that Draws a Static Horizon around My Feet” analyzes noise as a point of convergence between the phenomenological and the semiotic; as an experience and agent of destabilizing the subject, its body, space, time, and literary and linguistic codes; and as that which simultaneously screens off and illuminates the immediacy of the communicative act. The topic of noise as a destabilization of literary codes is also taken up in Ekaterina Belavina’s article “Sound Poets or Not: Fred Griot, Vincent Tholomé, and Sébastien Lespinasse?” Sound poetry, which exist s on the periphery of literature (or at its avant-garde — which means nearly the same thing), is poetry that gives expression to the “noise in one’s head,” overcoming the boundaries of language as a pure, tacit sense. In the present instance, noise should be understood as the very possibility of self-expression against the background “silence” of commonplace conventions. In the article “Noise as the Voice of Power in the Works of Franz Kafka,” Andrey Logutov also discusses destabilization, but this time it’s the destabilization of communicative and social structures in the form in which they are presented in the “auditory chronotope” of this author’s works.
Salomé Voegelin’s “Noise: Listening to an Alien Utterance that Draws a Static Horizon around My Feet” is devoted to a philosophical conceptualization of noise — sound that consumes the attention of the listener and doesn’t let them hear anything but noise itself. Noise is discussed as an acoustic extreme differentiated not by the quality but by the insistence of its sounding, which attracts additional attention to the process of communication and — on account of its uncompromising nature — demands immediate resistance. But at the same time, noise is also a rhetorical figure (for instance, in a stage performance) that mocks and casts doubt upon the conventions of habitual culture, breaking down the artistic rationalism of the modern and the feeling of progress. Nonetheless, noise is not irrational. Its rationality consists in its individual experience, based upon an arbitrary subjective “here-and-now.” Noise balances between semiotics and phenomenology: it practices signification that doesn’t find meaning but continually builds a bridge between the structure of expressing meaning and the process of experiencing it, on which basis this meaning can finally be approximately formulated in the formlessness proper to it.
Ekaterina Belavina’s “Sound Poets or Not: Fred Griot, Vincent Tholomé, and Sébastien Lespinasse?” examines the phenomenon of sound poetry in France. Sound poetry is a Europe-wide phenomenon, but there exist differing opinions about its definition and temporal boundaries. For example, Griot, Lespinasse, and Tholomé don’t consider themselves sound poets. These three very different authors are united by their search for a new language, repetitions, neologisms, and interest in Russian Futurism and Formalism of the early 20th century.
Andrey Logutov’s “Noise as the Voice of Power in the Works of Franz Kafka” examines the problem of the auditory representation of power in the fiction of Franz Kafka (specifically, the stories “Nora” and “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk,” as well as the novel The Castle). Proceeding from a Bakhtinian understanding of the chronotope in fiction as a dense medium, which condenses and expands for reasons including vocal polyphony, the author of this article offers a concept of an “auditory chronotope.” Within this framework, it becomes productive to speak about the space-time structure of the world of a literary work and the auditory events that violate its harmony. The voice and noise emerge as a dialectical unity that, in the author’s opinion, can serve as an analytic instrument for understanding the question of nature and the source of power at the center of Kafka’s work.
Observing the inadequacy of current approaches to discussing music (including musical criticism), Roland Barthes’s “The Grain of the Voice” suggests chan ging the musical object itself as a subject of discussion and crossing over to another level of perceiving and thinking about it, thereby dislocating the line of contact between music and language. He introduces the term “grain of the voice”— a product of the collision of voice and music (foremost in vocal art), which communicates an authentic individuality, the expression and mate riality of the body that produces it, beyond the bounds of rationalization and cultural forms. The experience of a “grain of the voice” in a musical work inevitably creates for the listener a new hierarchy of values that is inevitably individual and a new relationship to the performer’s body, which is erotic but not “subjective” insofar as it arises beyond the psychological subject and leads instead to its loss.
The Ethics, Pragmatics, and Phenomenology of Silence
One important consequence of blurring dichotomies in “auditory logic” consists in events of attraction and repulsion between phenomena that disclose their similarity or difference to each other. As a state of calm, silence may appear to be the antipode of noise, which intrudes unceremoniously on auditory landscape, but only if one neglects its restless polysemy and unreliability (comparable to the chaos of noise) as a departure point for any communicative gesture. Silence is the subject of its own set of materials. As Anatoly Riassov writes in his article “The Ontology of Sound: Listening as a Way of Being-in-the-World,” “approaching silence today often turns out to be a complex trial.” Silence opens up for us the possibility of attentive listening, while concurrently refusing to guarantee us the clarity, comprehensibility, and opportuneness of what we will hear. It presents us with an ethical choice — and simultaneously the possibility to escape this choice. As Andrey Logutov asserts with the example of audience behavior (“Silence at a Concert of Academic Music: The Ethical Aspect”), it is inclusive and thereby allows the formation of new social practices arising in the idiosyncratic “zones of silence” of normative discourse. As Tatiana Weiser observes (“WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich: Listening to Silence as Involvement in the Experience of Catastrophe”), silence can also serve as a paradoxical agent of transmitting emotional experience (including traumatic experience). The linguistic correlate of silence is wordlessness, which to a significant extent inherits its variety of meanings and maximal dependence on context. According to Nina Shcherbak (“The Breath of Sound, or Acoustic Alchemy: On the Problem of the Pragmatic Functions of Silence as a Speech Act”), wordlessness can be examined as a “null speech act” that “works” on several different planes of an artistic composition and to a considerable degree determines the unity of these planes.
Anatoly Riassov’s “On the Ontology of Sound: Listening as a Mode of Beingin-the-World” regards the phenomenology of sound. For a phenomenologist, sound appears as a pure phenomenon of itself, not as a sign of something that it isn’t. Perhaps it is precisely in the perception of an auditory phenomenon that we have the most cause to speak not about “grasping” a phenomenon, but about being “carried away” by it. Listening can occasionally emerge not only as a means of perceiving aural information, but also as contact with the creation of sound at its utmost abstraction. It appears that this same moment, which precedes the birth of sense, also proves to be the meeting place of sound and philosophy. This topic allows us to unite under a single class of problems the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Luc Nancy, as well as the sound studies of Don Ihde and Salomé Voeglin. The concept of silence emerges in these texts as a space for discussing sound.
Andrey Logutov’s “Silence at an Academic Music Concert: The Ethical Aspect” examines the communitarian and communicative aspects of the phenomenon of silence in the context of the performance of academic music. As an illustration, the author discusses the history of how an “ethos of silence” formed in western European operatic theater in the 19th century. Silence in a musical work does not only fulfill aesthetic functions, but it also organizes a corresponding ethos in the audience, which is historically linked to the formation of a bourgeois public sphere and the appearance of new inclusive modes of listening. The conflicts arising in this process not only mark the limits of new ways of relating to musical art, but also allow us to see a space in the silence where their productive synthesis is possible.
Tatiana Weiser’s “WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich: Listening to Silence as Involvement in the Experience of Catastrophe” is dedicated to WTC 9/11, a 15-minute musical composition for string quartet and electronic elements by the American minimalist composer Steve Reich, which was written in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack on the Word Trade Center towers in the US on 11 September 2011. The author analyzes the meaning of the “documentary” materials used in the work: the voices of witnesses to the attack recorded on answering machines. This device is situated in the context of a broader tradition of defigured art and literature after the major catastrophes of the 20th century, where failures and ruptures of “smooth” narrative play a special role. Attention is paid to the place of performance, the bodily experience of the listeners, and silence as a principle organizing the meaning of the musical utterance.
The purpose of Nina Shcherbak’s “Breath of Sound, or Acoustic Alchemy: Soundscapes in the Anthropology of Science and in Art Pragmatic Functions of the Silencial Speech Act” is to examine the aesthetic device that literary authors employ when treating such concepts as speechlessness and silence. The phenomenon of speechlessness is examined within the framework of a “description of the null speech act,” when a behavioural pattern is disrupted, when there are signs of control or the speaker’s deliberate participation in some opposition, or when there arises a need to express feelings of respect, grief, or reconciliation. The phenomenon of silence is the necessary background for discourse, and it is employed by authors of works in poetry and prose. An emphasis on the intonational possibilities of the word, its sound, and the rhythm of a narrative are an indisputable merit of literary art. A heightened attention to auditory elements in the analysis of a literary text is evident when particular cases of divers auditory transformations are realized, and this attention and can be expressed in a careful attention to traditionally insignificant punctuation (dash, period, ellipses), the intervals between words, and so forth.
This section includes two essays deriving from the roundtable “Auditory Landscapes in the Anthropology of Science and in Art,” which took place as part of the sixth International Festival of Audio-visual Anthropology “Days of Ethnographic Cinema” (Moscow, Higher School of Economics, 27 September — 1 October 2016). The purpose of this roundtable was to discuss the role of sound in contemporary research (in anthropology and sociology) and artistic practice. Stefan Helmreich considers ideas of space, presence, and the auditory landscape (the acoustic environment). He demonstrates that the auditory landscapes in which we immerse ourselves never exist outside the means, methods, and channels of their reception. It is therefore necessary to study the mechanical and social schemas that determine the listener’s place in space and the mode of their immersion in — and interaction with — the acoustic environment. Panos Kompatsiaris introduces the concept of the colonization of sound and demonstrates how unfamiliar, or less familiar, acoustic experiences (such as that of nature) can be predetermined — and as a result, appropriated — by the assumptions of our knowledge about the world. Both essays reveal possibilities for broadening the semantic conceptosphere of auditory experience.
Stefan Helmreich’s “Immersive Soundscapes and the Transductive Alternative” critically examines the concept of a soundscape as an acoustic environment that listeners perceive to be surrounding them in space. The author shows that the concept of a soundscape presupposes the listener’s “immersion” in the space of the sound. He further demonstrates that “immersion” is not a self-evident category or phenomenon, but a concept with its own cultural history. Moreover, it presupposes a conceptualization of the technical conditions of “transduction,” that is, the conversion and processing of the transmitted signals that results, so long as they travel without obstruction, in creating a sensation of unmediated presence.
Panos Kompatsiaris’s “Colonizing the Alien Sound: Conceptual Aesthetics and the Conquering of the Sonic Other” examines moments of contact with “alien” sounds—sounds referring to unfamiliar territories while also being associated with certain vague notions we already held or thoughts arousing an interest in us. By analyzing a musical fragment in which whale sounds are reproduced, the author asks how aesthetic reactions to art are interlinked with prior learning, concepts, and representations, as well as the broader social contexts in which they unfold. In conclusion, the essay contends that works of conceptual art employing alien elements can evade exoticism if they account for the factors by means of which something comes to be perceived as alien.
Music in Russian and Soviet Literature
This selection of articles is devoted to the reception of musical compositions in Russian literature and the development of a musical conceptosphere in Soviet prose, poetry, and journalism. Marina Raku’s article endeavors to reconstruct the reception of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1831 opera Robert le Diable. The opera was massively successful in European theaters and influenced world musical culture. Although it captivated RimskyKorsakov and Tchaikovsky, the opera wasn’t developed any further as a musical theme in Russian music. Nonetheless, it had a significant influence on Russian literature: the author uncovers its traces in Pushkin, Lermontov, Apollon Grigoryev, Gogol, Ostrovsky, and Dostoevsky.
Anton Khramykh’s article is devoted to the semantics of the concept “music” in the criticism of Platonov and literary works of Blok. The author demonstrates that Blok perceived music as the first principle of the world and musicality lies at the foundation of his aesthetic s: Blok combined Russian folkloric traditions and symbols of high musical cultural; employed human voices, the sound of national musical instruments, and sounds from nature and the lifeless world of objects; and integrated varied tempos, timbres, and emotional vocal tone. The author traces the influence of Blok’s musicality on Platonov, in whose criticism the author reveals a vast musical lexicon and references to key figures in musical culture. In many of Platonov’s works in widely varying genres, the author finds evidence of how Platonov perceived the musical aesthetics of romanticism, symbolism, the Russian avant-garde, and the Proletkult. Perceiving music as the first among the arts, Platonov expresses hope that proletarian art will open up the boundless music of the cosmos, the music of revolution and the future.
The performance history of the most famous European operas on the Russian stage, which includes how audiences received them, remains one of the least-studied questions in the history of Russian music. The Russian reception of Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable may be examined in the context of the problem of the French “grand opera” in Russian culture. It is indicative that the literary reception of this composition took precedence over its musical reception. Marina Raku’s “The Advent of the Robert le Diable: The Opera of Giacomo Meyerbeer in Russian Literature” examines several different instances of Russian authors using the plot motifs of this opera in their own works.
The section closes with Anton Khramykh’s “The Concept of ‘Music’ in the Works of A. Blok and A. Platonov”. Andrei Platonov and Alexander Blok are artists united by quite similar visions of the world. Music is one of the primary points of intersection in their views on life, being, history, and humanity. This article offers an analysis of their reception of musical art by examining Blok’s poetry and criticism, as well as A. Platonov’s early works. By juxtaposing the semantic field of the concept “music” in A. Blok’s poems with its semantic realization in Platonov’s poetry and prose from the years 1918—1926, we can say that Platonov received and reinterpreted the key “musical” images and motifs from A. Blok’s works, including his image-symbol of the “world orchestra.” A comparative analysis of the critical writings of these authors demonstrates a complex and contradictory reception of the image of “the music of the Revolution.” While they greet this new “music of the cosmos,” A. Platonov and A. Blok nonetheless recognize that it is impossible to replace the “old” songs with these “new” ones, which are filled with Dionysian excitement.
“V Pitere – pit’!” [“In Petersburg – to drink!”]: Toward the Decipherment of a Masterpiece
Guest editor: Andrey Rossomakhin
The music video for Sergey Shnurov’s song “V Pitere — pit’!” [“In Petersburg — to drink!”] premiered on the night between 30 April and 1 May 2016 (directed by Anna Parmas, produced by Fancy Shot Agency). The video immediately went viral and had already accumulated around one million views on YouTube in the first couple days. Two weeks later, the number of views exceeded 10 million. As of today, after nine months have passed, the band Leningrad’s official YouTube channel alone shows more than 36 million views. This set of materials, compiled by Andrey Rossomakhin, offers a complex commentary on the lyrics of the song “V Pitere — pit’!”, as well as an in-depth analysis of the eponymous video. Besides the articles by Andrey Rossomakhin, the article “‘Petersburg text’ in a Clip ‘V Pitere — pit’!’, or Urbi et orbi by Sergey Shnurov” by Anna SergeevaKlyatis is devoted to decoding the key subtexts of the video and song. All these writings examine the work by the band Leningrad primarily as a social manifesto and a carefully conceived synthesis of the verbal, the musical, and the visual.
European Traditions in Russian Culture
Irina Popova’s “Literature and the Theory of Literature: Formation of the Russian Classics on the Background of the European Tradition” studies the formation of the classic and ideas of a classical author in Russian language and literature against the backdrop of the European tradition. Behind this concrete research topic, it reveals a general problem of the institutionalization and generic repertoire of literary theory: strategies of literary history, the functions of classic works and authors, and the models of preserving and transmitting tradition that were developed in European theory and Russian literary from the late 18th century through the first half of the 19thcentury.
Joseph Brodsky’s Intertexts
This section is devoted to the international poetic motifs and subtexts in the works of Joseph Brodsky. Thus, in the article “On Moments, Which Brodsky Couldn’t or Didn’t Want to Stop,” Oleg Fedotov studies Goethe’s famous motif of the arrested moment, which Brodsky evokes on more than one occasion. He focuses on the poem
“Two Hours in a Reservoir” (1965), which, as the author shows, parodically plays not so much on Goethe’s Faust itself as on the interpretation of this text in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Pushkin’s “Scene from Faust.” Moreover, the article analyzes four other poems by Brodsky, which make variations on the same motif: “Candlestick” (1968),
“A Winter Evening in Yalta” (1969), “The Fly” (1985), and “Autumn is a fine season if you’re not a botanist…” (1995). In the article “‘Lullaby of Cape Cod’: Joseph Brodsky’s Discovery of America,”
Denis Akhapkin investigates various subtexts in Brodsky’s poem of this name, its resonances in American and Russian poetry, and its connection to unpublished texts by Brodsky in the second half of the 1960s. This analysis demonstrates how the strategy chosen by this poet to enter American literature allows him to overcome the linguistic and cultural barrier and make his poetry a contribution to world literature.
The Bibliography section contains reviews of recent literature in the humanities, including a survey of literature on the central subject of this issue, sound studies. In the “Chronicle of Scientific Life,” one can find synopses of several 2017 conferences, including an overview of the 25th Bath House Readings, dedicated to the topic of historical imagination and its influence on contemporary culture and society.