NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1916 __ Laboratoire de l'ouïe
Dziga Vertov (Denis (Abramovich) (1896-1954)
Comment : It is true that in the pre-WWII avant garde an art of mimetic sound or a phonographically-based art of sound was left undeveloped. This does not mean that an attempt was not ventured. We can find this with the Russian Dziga Vertov, best known as a revolutionary filmmaker in the company of Eisenstein, Shub, Pudovkin, Kuleshov and Alexandrov. In fact, he did not set out to become a filmmaker but, instead, attempted around 1916, after gaining background in writing and music, what would now be called audio art. As a boy Vertov wrote energetically in many genres and when he reached age sixteen he entered a conservatory for three years to study violin, piano and music theory. In 1916, while attending the Psychoneurological Institute in Petrograd, he was introduced to some of the major players of the Russian avant garde, including Brik, Rodchenko and Mayakovsky. The combination of a background of writing and music, amidst the adventurous imperatives of the avant garde: “turned into an enthusiasm for editing shorthand records (stenographs) and gramophone recordings, into a special interest in the possibility of documentary sound recording. Into experiments in recording, with words and letters, the noise of a waterfall, the sounds of a lumber-mill, etc.” Toward the end of 1916, Vertov attempted to realize his ``Laboratory of Hearing," as he called it, with a 1900 or 1910 model Pathephone wax disc recorder: « I had the original idea of the need to enlarge our ability to organize sound, to listen not only to singing or violins, the usual repertoire of gramophone disks, but to transcend the limits of ordinary music. I decided that the concept of sound included all the audible world. As part of my experiments, I set out to record a sawmill. » It is assumed he became frustrated with the poor sound quality. Indeed, he spoke of his transition to film in terms of an inadequacy of phonographic technology: ”returning from a train station, there lingered in my ears the signs and rumble of the departing train ... someone's swearing ... a kiss ... someone's exclamation ... laughter, a whistle, voices, the ringing of the station's bell, the puffing of the locomotive ... whispers, cries, farewells ... And thoughts while walking: I must get a piece of equipment that won't describe, but will record, photograph these sounds. Otherwise, it's impossible to organize, edit them. They rush past, like time. But the movie camera perhaps? Record the visible ... Organize not the audible, but the visible world. Perhaps that's the way out?” In this respect, the famed Kino-Eye, the fetish of much post-WWII avant garde film, seems to have been the result of a frustrated ear. An inability to ``phonograph these sounds," in Edison's words, resulted in a desire to ``photograph these sounds." As mentioned before, this inability should not be immediately equated with lack of sound quality. The deficiency instead most likely came about in relation to Vertov's desired montage organization of the acoustically recorded material. Without the electrical recording and amplification that was to become available in the 1920s, he would have been unable to re-record without debilitating generational loss. (Douglas Kahn)In Petrograd in 1916 Dziga Vertov founded the 'laboratory of hearing' and experimented by editing shorhand records and gramophone records. He was using a Pathephone was disc recorder and attempted documentary recordings of a waterfall and the sounds of a sawmill. It would appear he gave up rather quickly when he realised that the existing technology could not be enable him to montage and edit with precision. He documented, 'I must get a piece of equipment that won't describe, but will record, photograph these sounds. Otherwise it's impossible to organise, edit them.' These technical difficulties were also experienced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. (Tim Crook)In 1916 Vertov enrolled in Petrograd Psychoneurological Institute. For his studies of human perception, he recorded and edited natural sounds in his 'Laboratory of Hearing,' trying to create new forms of sound effects by means of the rhythmic grouping of phonetic units. At this time the Futurists and Formalists were also very influential in Russia and beyond. Kaufman invented the nom de guerre 'Dziga Vertov' (roughly, 'the humming top'). In 1918 Mikhail Koltstov, who headed the Moscow Film Committee's newsreel section, hired Vertov as his assistant. Among Vertov's colleagues was Lev Kuleshov, who was conducting his now legendary experiments in montage, as well as Edouard Tissé, Eisenstein's future cameraman. (Jonathan Dawson, “Dziga Vertov, Denis Arkadievitch Kaufman”)
French comment : On sait ce qui fit reculer Tziga Vertov lorsqu'en 1916, en tant que jeune futuriste russe, il réfléchit à un laboratoire de l'ouïe. S'il se tourna vers la caméra, c'est qu'à la différence du phonographe, la technologie du cinéma lui permettrait d'aller sur le terrain capter des fragments du réel et d'aller explorer les villes et les foules. (Marc Battier)
Source : Kahn, Douglas (1990), “Audio Art in the Deaf Century”, In “Sound by Artists”, edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier, Toronto : Art Metropole : Banff : Walter Phillips Gallery, 1990, pp. 301-309.
Source : Crook, Tim (1999), “Radio Drama : Theory and Practice”, Routledge, p. 35.
Source : Vertov, Dziga (), “Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov”, ed. Annette Michelson, Translated by Kevin O’Brien, Berkeley : University of California, 1984.
Source : Vertov, Dziga (1935), “Speech of 5 April 1935”, in “Evolution of Style in Early Work of Dziga Vertov”, by Seth Feldman, New York : Arno Press, 1977.
Urls : http://www.soundtoys.net/journals/audio-art-in-the (last visited ) http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/vertov.html (last visited )

No comment for this page

Leave a comment