Symphony of Sirends

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Overview | Significance | Background | Connections | Notes

Overview

Symphony of Sirens (1922) was a musical composition / sound installation / performance using the sounds of factories, machines, whistles, and sirens of all kinds to celebrate the 1917 Russian revolution. Listen to Symphony of Sirens.

Significance

A sound performance composed primarily for mechanical sounds
Entire city involved in performance
Never broadcast

Background

Symphony of Sirens was conceived by Arseny Avraamov (1886-1944), pseudonym for Russian avant garde composer and music theorist Arseny Mikhaylovich Krasnokutsky. Intended as a performance, the largest and most ambitious concert was held on 7 November 1922 in the harbor of Baku, in Azerbaijan. Avraamov included two artillery batteries in this performance, along with twenty-five steam locomotives, several full infantry regiments, a worker's choir with thousands of singers, and several self-built portable "steam whistle machines." He directed the symphony from a tower using signal flags. Explicit instructions, published in three newspapers the day before the performance, outlined a city-wide installation / performance. Spectators were not encouraged. Instead, everyone was to participate in the singing, marching, or noise making.

Avrramov encouraged the creation of proletarian art and literature following the 1917 Russian revolution which overthrew the Tsar (Emperor) and led to the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. To celebrate the revolution's anniversary, Avraamov conceived an annual musical composition using the sounds of factories, machines, whistles, and sirens of all kinds. This Symphony of Sirens was to be performed in a different Soviet city on each anniversary of the revolution, Nizhny Novgorov (1919), Rostov (1921), Baku (1922), and Moscow (1923).

Symphony of Sirens was produced for performance, never broadcast. The version offered here was created in 2003 by Leopoldo Amigo and Miguel Molina Alarcón from Avraamov's notes and instructions and performed on computers by the research group Intermediate Laboratory Creations (LCI) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia [1].

Amigo, Alarcón, and LCI also recreated many more examples of unrecorded or lost futurist music / sounds from around the world. These works were included in a CD-book combination Del Mono Azul al Cuello Blanco: Transformación social y práctica artística en la era postindustrial: Exposición [Blue Collar White Monkey: Social Transformation and Artistic Practice in the Postindustrial Era: Exhibition], with documentation by Alarcón (Generalitat Valenciana, 2003) [2], the 2-CD Ruidos y Susurros de las Vanguardias [Noises and Whispers inAlarcón Avant Gardes] (UPV-Allegro Records, 2004) [3], and the 2-CD Baku: Symphony of Sirens. Sound Experiments in the Soviet AvantGarde: Original Documents and Reconstructions of 72 Key Works of Music, Poetry and Agitprop from the Russian Avantgardes (1910-1942) (London: Rer Megacorp, 2008) accompanied by a 72 page book by Alarcón [4].

Connections

The Harbour Symphony has been a signature event at the biannual Sound Symposium in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, since 1983. Conceived by Newfoundland architect Joe Carter, the symphony utilizes a score for the horns of ships gathered in the harbour. The first symphony was composed by Paul Steffler. The natural bowl shape of the St. John's harbor, with its surrounding hills, creates echoes throughout this 500-year-old seaport. The Harbour Symphony is an interesting listening experience, especially from atop Signal Hill. In addition to the sample provided on the Harbour Symphony webpage, several other listening opportunities are available on the YouTube website.

Notes

[1] Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942) provides access to the aural contents of Baku: Symphony of Sirens. Sound Experiments in the Soviet AvantGarde: Original Documents and Reconstructions of 72 Key Works of Music, Poetry and Agitprop from the Russian Avantgardes (1910-1942). Listen online or download the audio files. Listen also to Episode 79: Symphony of Sirens, Revisited from 99% Invisible, a "Tiny Radio Show about Design," by Roman Mars.

[2] Del Mono Azul al Cuello Blanco: Transformación social y práctica artística en la era postindustrial: Exposición [Blue Collar White Monkey: Social Transformation and Artistic Practice in the Postindustrial Era: Exhibition] (Generalitat Valenciana, 2003) Excerpts from this book and samples from the accompanying CD.

[3] Ruidos y Susurros de las Vanguardias [Noises and Whispers in Avant Gardes] (UPV-Allegro Records, 2004)
Description of contents (in English; in Catalonian here) of this 2-CD collection of international futurist music and sound. Read online or download in .PDF format.

[4] Baku: Symphony of Sirens. Sound Experiments in the Soviet AvantGarde: Original Documents and Reconstructions of 72 Key Works of Music, Poetry and Agitprop from the Russian Avantgardes (1910-1942) (London: Rer Megacorp, 2008) accompanied by a 72 page book by Miguel Molina Alarcón. This web resource provides extensive information about each work in the collection as well as the opportunity to read the book online or download it in .PDF format.