I recently came across this publication, which includes documentation and a reconstruction of the Symphony of Sirens. This piece was written in 1922 and performed in the city of Baku. Not just 'in', but 'with' and 'by' the city: the piece was written for the factory sirens in Baku, supplemented by ship horns in the harbor, various locomotives and engines. Additional resources came from artillery, infantry and massed choirs of inspired workers.
The composer, Arseni Araamov, conducted the performance and the publication includes a newly translated essay written by the composer about the piece. I haven't seen the score, but I imagine it to be a series of time based instructions for each location. Instructions like Factory 5 at minute 15 make this series of siren gestures for 10 minutes, while at minute 20, explode a battery of artillery shells. I'm eager to hear the reconstruction on the CD, and to hear some of the other pieces from the same era. I am then also eager to marshall resources in Pittsburgh for our own reconstruction.
The Symphony of Sirens is a monumental piece, enlivening a landscape in the same way that neolithic stone circles highlight the energy ley lines of a place. What is a 'sonic monument'? It is something that exists in time, but the primary imprint is in memory, and in meaning. We are talking about Baku now as a 'memoried' place, a place where Quiddity has been enhanced, because of Araamov.
(We could also be talking about Baku as the host city for 2012 Eurovision Song contest, but that is best left for another posting).
New artistic structures (sound, object, gesture) capture memory and meaning (Quiddity) , but also suggest new ways to interact with the present. What really are we seeing as the most notable features on the landscape? What really is the sound outside? Traffic, electrical hum, pylons, water towers - consistent presence that gets filtered out.
I will wake in the middle of the night, and I can hear trains moving through Pittsburgh. There are several major lines that carry freight, each a couple of miles from our house. During the day the ominpresent buzz covers up the train sounds, but at night the trains own the city, lay down a blanket of sound. Of course the whistle is mournful, and speaks of distance, journey, history. Sometimes a series of connected bursts share linguistic characteristics. Other times, the whistle will break up into discrete pitches, counterpoint contained within the single line like Bach's solo partitas.
The rumble of the engines, the clatter of the rolling stock becomes a drone, a didgeridoo or hurdy gurdy. The drone is modulated by the movement through the idiomatic shape of Pittsburgh. What changes, what I'm hearing, is the resonance of the landscape.
Floating in that hypnagogic state, the envelope of sound feels like a warm rush of air holding me suspended above the shape of PIttsburgh. I can feel the flat East Liberty plateau support my spine and begin the slow curve to river level downtown at the Point, roughly contiguous with my left ankle. The Allegheny runs beneath my right elbow. The Monongahela is just out of reach of my left fingertips. Panther Hollow, 9 mile run, various other vestigial tributaries press in to my left side.
One day, I thought that perhaps the trains weren't real. I hadn't heard them in the morning, and perhaps the 'hearing' was an episode now closing. Perhaps Train-Awareness is a state of grace, and I was slipping out.
Kathryn told me that she had heard them, I could have been asleep, and that anyway there's probably some atmospheric conditions that either amplify or dampen the city sounds. This makes more sense.