Cinema scholars categorize city symphony films of the 1920s and early 1930s as a subgenre of the silent film. Defined in visual terms, the city symphony organizes the visible elements of urban experience according to musical principles such as rhythm and counterpoint. In City Symphonies Daniel Schwartz explores the unheard sonic dimensions of these ostensibly silent films. The book turns its ear to the city symphony as an audible phenomenon, one that encompasses a multitude of works beyond the cinema, such as musical compositions, mass spectacles, radio experiments, and even paintings. What these works have in common is their treatment of the city as a medium for sound. The city is neither background nor content; rather, it is the material through which avant-garde works express themselves. In resonating through the city, these multimedia pieces perform experiments that undermine the borders between sight and sound. Applying an interdisciplinary approach, City Symphonies expands our understanding of the genre, breaking out of the confines of the cinema and onto the street.
About the Author
Daniel P. Schwartz is assistant professor of Russian and German cinemas at McGill University.
“Well-written, engaging, and informative, this book offers an exciting new prism through which to study the historical avant-garde. The book makes eye-opening connections across media and cultures to trace the development of the city symphony as a particularly modernist, intermedial art form. Schwartz establishes a kind of genealogy of the genre, from its beginnings in music, to its transfer into mass spectacle, film and literature, and finally its cinematic metamorphosis into a more globalized vision of sonic space and spatial unity.” Julia Vaingurt, University of Illinois Chicago and author of Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s