This interdisciplinary history and theory of sound in the arts reads the twentieth century by listening to it—to the emphatic and exceptional sounds of modernism and those on the cusp of postmodernism, recorded sound, noise, silence, the fluid sounds of immersion and dripping, and the meat voices of viruses, screams, and bestial cries.
"Sound saturates the arts of this century," writes Kahn, a professor of media arts at the University of Technology in Australia, in an illuminating but densely theoretical study of sound in 20th-century literature and art. Kahn begins by considering the early experiments at the Cabaret Voltaire of dadaist poets Richard Huelsenbaeck, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara, whose poetic and "musical" performances were intended to achieve a Rimbaudian "alchemy of the word." He then analyzes how noise--in the form of screams and bomb blasts--function in such prose texts as Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. But the artistic hero of the book is John Cage, whose monumental works with water provide the theme for the central portion of the book. Kahn devotes considerable energy to arguing that Cage's Water Music of 1952 was at least as revolutionary as his silent pieces. "Pollock's dripped and poured paintings and Cage's water sounds," he writes, "heralded a larger concurrence of fluidity, water, sound and performance" in the arts for years to come. This leads to a discussion of postmodern American composers, including LeMonte Young and Tony Conrad, who chose extreme amplifications of noise to bring the auditors back to "silence" once their ears stopped ringing. As for the "meat" part of the title, it comes from another source of theoretical inspiration to Kahn, William Burroughs's idea of "schlupping," defined as the sound of "soft innards being sucked out of a body," which is how the reader may feel attempting to get through this incisive but difficult book. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.