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a crack in your ear through which sound surreptitiously slips, or an illicit substance which gives your ears immense pleasure while enslaving them to a crippling addiction

Friday, February 08, 2008

walter ruttman's weekend

I just found this blog post from my friend Jesse Shapins, who is at Harvard working on a doctorate in urban documentation (that's not the exact name of the degree, it's just my understanding of what it is). Last semester, he wrote a paper on Walter Ruttmann, whose work I spoke about at my Union Docs talk last August. Click on the links below for a pdf of his paper. Here's a copy of his blog post:

The subject of the first paper was inspired directly by the presentation of Jonathan Mitchell in The Documentary Bodega Audio Series (thanks UD & Jonathan!). This essay explores Walter Ruttmann’s 1930 experimental radio documetnary Weekend. In particular, as I write, my aim here is to develop an analysis of Weekend in the context of the discourse of documentary arts, sensorial experience, and urban representation. While groundbreaking on many fronts, I am most interested in Ruttmann’s attempt to represent the urban experience in a purely sonic form through documentary recordings. For as Fran Tonkiss writes, “The modern city, for all that there is to see, is not only spectacular: it is sonic.” It is precisely this interplay between the visual and the aural in the context of urban space and its representation through montage that makes Ruttmann’s work so compelling. While my analysis focuses on Ruttmann’s Weekend, I also travel through the work and theory of other avant-garde critics and artists of the time, especially Rudolf Arnheim, Dziga Vertov, Alfred Döblin, and Walter Benjamin. Recent research into the role of the senses in experiencing place conducted in geography and neuroscience helps further develop the framework for my theoretical arguments. Cultural geographer Gerald Pocock writes, “[Sound] is dynamic: something is happening for sound to exist. It is therefore temporal, continually and perhaps unpredictably coming and going, but it is also powerful, for it signifies existence, generates a sense of life, and is a special sensory key to interiority.” It is the auditory faculty’s unique “key to interiority” that can be developed through temporary blindness that grounds my final argument about the new subjectivity suggested by Ruttmann’s Weekend.

You can read listen to the piece and read the whole paper online or download a PDF.