Arts of Noise: Sound and Media in Milan ca. 1900

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Arts of Noise: Sound and Media in Milan ca. 1900

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Title: Arts of Noise: Sound and Media in Milan ca. 1900
Author: Williams, Gavin
Citation: Williams, Gavin. 2013. Arts of Noise: Sound and Media in Milan ca. 1900. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation explores the place of sound, noise and silence in Milan at the turn of the twentieth century. By focusing on this particular urban environment, it aims to investigate the notion of sonic modernity through a series of four case studies. It begins in 1881, the year of the city's National Industrial Exposition, with the premiere of the ballet Excelsior--a work that, like the Exposition itself, celebrated modern progress by staging technological inventions and was preoccupied with industrial production. Pursuing these echoes of labor, a second case study examines workers' songs, which comprised a resonant document in the rise of Italian socialism. These songs present us with a workers' culture that commemorated factory disputes and strikes; they also embody tensions in the interface between workers and socialists which, I argue, characterized the ways in which songs imagined urban space. In my third case study, my attention shifts to this urban imagination by focusing on a media event: the death of Giuseppe Verdi. Focusing on different contemporary interpretations of the respectful silence, as articulated through the city's transport and communication media, I argue that Verdi's death can provide a fresh perspective on the political unconscious of Milan's lugubrious fine secolo. It is against this historical context, that my fourth and final case study examines Luigi Russolo's famous "L'arte dei rumori" (The Art of Noises); in it, I seek to show that Russolo's ideas stand out against the resonant background of Milan's symbolic architectural sites and the noise of its human multitudes. Ultimately, this dissertation provides alternative contexts against which to understand Futurist noise, seeking to move beyond existing interpretations of Futurism as a turning point in music history and to position it instead as a refraction of Milan's increasingly industrial soundscape.
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