A trilogue about the factory ’s soundscape… IN THE CONTEXT OF THE HISTORY OF MUSIC IN THE 20TH CENTURY

> Sławomir Wieczorek


Questions appearing in the context of the factory, industrial soundscapes and the history of music in the 20th century open up a surprisingly important, vast and interesting field of ref lection, which has not been systematically investigated so far. While proposing but an outline of the possible subjects and selected phenomena, I would like to pay special attention to issues connected with Wrocław. Reflection on the historical beginnings of this relationship makes it necessary to go beyond the canonical text of the futurist manifesto, even beyond the 20th century. The aforementioned Arthur Honegger, Sergei Prokofiev and Alexander Mosolov could probably choose Joseph Haydn or Ludwig van Beethoven as the patrons of their fascination with using machines in compositions. It was Haydn and Beethoven who were among the first ones to incorporate in their symphonies the illustrative possibilities offered by their composition technique, which had previously been used to imitate the sounds of nature, mainly birdsongs, and were now used to copy the sounds of working mechanisms – a clock and a metronome, respectively. Hector Berlioz also ought to be mentioned, who in the mid-19th century chose the exhibition halls of Paris as venues capable of providing ample space for his orchestra and a choir comprising over a thousand musicians performing before multi-thousand audiences. Temporarily suspending chronology, it is worth noting a number of key tendencies emerging in the context of multilevel connections between music and industry in the previous century. I have identified at least four such trends, which could be briefly characterised in the following way: an industrial soundscape as the source of sounds, the factory soundscape as a subject of organising, the factory as a concert hall, and workers as musicians.

An industrial soundscape as the source of sounds
The first of the aforementioned trends needs clarifying because it comprises three phenomena that lie in close proximity, although differ slightly from each other: imitating by composers the factory soundscape in instrumental pieces, treating the factory and its acoustic devices as musical instruments, and using recordings of industrial soundscapes in compositions. The trend of imitating machine sounds in music climaxed in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1927, Mosolov presented the ballet suite titled Steel. Originally consisting of four movements, only the first one, the famous and impressive Iron Foundry, has survived until now – the other three have been lost. One year earlier in Paris, Sergei Prokofiev had completed his ballet under the title The Steel Step. In Poland, this fascination with machines resonated modestly with Władysław Szpilman’s 1933 suite for piano The Life of the Machines. Of course, compositions belonging to this current were primarily based not on the sounds of working machines, but on composing solutions that excellently fit in with the then dominant neoclassical style, with its praise for motricity, periodical rhythmicity and simplicity of arrangements of texture. Also in 1927, Frederick Converse’s symphonic piece Flivver Ten Million was written in praise of the development of the American automotive industry. According to the original concept, one of its parts was supposed to reflect the noise of Ford’s factory in Detroit. Interestingly, in order to implement his idea, the composer drew on the post-Romantic idiom of music rooted in the aesthetics of Richard Strauss’s tone poems – he therefore resorted to the conventional orchestral tutti, which produced an almost avant-garde effect when contrasted with the motricity of the aforementioned compositions. A different aspect of the factory soundscape was emphasised by another American composer, Harl McDonald, in his piece under the title Festival for the Workers (1934). When commenting on this work, he mentioned that the pulse of the composition was dictated by the regular sound of thousands of workers’ feet in heavy boots as they entered the factory. Lexicons of musicology speak briefly of other similar works from that time, which are mostly forgotten today.

Regarding contemporary compositions, of particular interest is Ondřej Adamek’s Dusty Rusty Hush from 2007, commissioned by a museum of industry located in a former steelworks in Brandenburg. The piece begins with an accelerando imitating the warming-up of an industrial machine, which at the same time clearly alludes to the openings of compositions by Honegger and Mosolov. However, as the composition develops, the “machine”, having reached its climax, gradually slows down until it completely stops, which is represented by a soft and unsettling glissando in the low pitch of string instruments. Being aware of the sad destiny of heavy industry today, Adamek wrote a composition that has little in common with the overoptimistic apologies for technical advancement created by his predecessors in the first half of the 20th century. Let me also refer to compositions by Annie Gosfield, known from the Warsaw Autumn festival, in particular ewa7 and Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery, written during the artist’s residency in Nuremberg, when she had an opportunity to listen to the local factory soundscape. When composing the pieces, she transcribed the rhythms following field recordings made in the factory and imitated them using her own ideas. What seems interesting here is the observation of the changes in imitating industrial soundscapes in the aforementioned pieces. The emphasis on rhythmicity, which constituted a peculiar topos in this kind of compositions, would gradually be accompanied by murmurs produced by instrumental preparations and expanded soundmaking techniques, the emancipation of the drums or exceeding the confines of the equal temperament system.

Some composers rejected the idea of imitating industrial soundscapes with traditional instruments in favour of the original sound. This strategy was based on using authentic machines that created the factory soundscape as instruments. Probably the most spectacular sonic event in the 20th century was Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony of Factory Sirens, which is often discussed and remembered today. To mark the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution on 7 November, 1922, Avraamov made use of a rich repertoire of sound generators in Baku: ship sirens, bells, locomotives’ whistles, the whistles and sirens of all the factories in this industrial port city, as well as airplanes, cannons, machine guns, a special portable machine built with tuned steam-driven sirens, and choirs singing revolutionary songs. He meticulously planned how to implement the sound signals of factories, which normally directed the city’s everyday life independently of each another, constituting the principal element of its soundscape. The factory sirens were particularly important in the composition due to their significance in the Soviet Russia. Their role in the soundscape was to drive out the bells of Orthodox churches and the religious connotations triggered by them. In poems by Alexei Gastev, a contemporary of Avraamov who undoubtedly influenced the composer, the roar of factory sirens was praised as “songs of the future” or “morning star of tomorrow.” While Avraamov intended for his composition to be performed in the urban space in order to incorporate industrial sounds in it, Dmitri Shostakovich chose a more economical appraoch – in his composition also written in praise of the October Revolution, he used a factory siren in the concert hall. Both of them undoubtedly shared the same awareness of the associations attributed to sirens in the Soviet Russia. The choral finale of Shostakovich’s Second Symphony To October begins with the sound of a factory siren, and the same instrument is sporadically used throughout the song, e.g. when the choir sings that “the factory chimneys stretched into the sky.” As Shostakovich’s biographers claim, he even personally went to a factory to test the available sirens and select the right one for his composition.

A different composing strategy began once it had become possible to register the sounds produced by factories. One of the earliest examples of adopting it was Edgard Varese’s Déserts. However, the composition would have never been written if it had not been for his friend and wife, who purchased an Ampex tape recorder and anonymously gave it to the composer. Varese used recordings made in steelworks and factories of Philadelphia as three electronic insertions in an instrumental piece. He worked on the tape in electronic music studios in the USA and in Paris, at Pierre Schaefer’s studio, where he could freely transform them, combine, or add parts performed by percussion instruments and organs. Varese perceived the sounds recorded in factories in the spirit of concrete music, without referring to their sources and significance, as interesting sonorities to be merged with sonic masses produced by an instrumental group in order to achieve an abstract whole.

Meanwhile, Luigi Nono was interested in both aspects of the industrial soundscape. His famous La Fabbrica Illuminata (1964) for voice and four-channel magnetic tape also uses noises and speech sounds recorded in a steelworks.  Importantly, the very choice of the place of recording had the character of a social and political intervention. As Krzysztof Kwiatkowski wrote:

[…] the state-owned Cornigliano steelworks was in 1962 the arena of workers’ mass protests against the constantly worsening conditions of work; in many cases, shifts lasted up to 10–12 hours, amidst deafening noise and harmful fumes. […] In order to personally experience the conditions at the factory, Nono managed to obtain a permit to visit the premises. (Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, Mistrz dżwięku i ciszy. Luigi Nono).

For a few days, Nono and his collaborators recorded the soundscape inside the steel plant, talked with workers and representatives of trade unions. He collected not only acoustic materials, but also data about the working conditions, wages and repression against the workers. In the case of La Fabbrica Illuminata, the reception of the piece is as interesting and important as its genesis. Nono would later present his composition to workers in different Italian enterprises during special concerts followed by discussions. The workers often accused him of muting down the noises in the composition. This observation made them realise the atrocious acoustic conditions of their everyday work, and inspired to strive for improving them.

Finding out whether the industrial soundscape of Wrocław has ever been used in musical compositions in any of the three ways described above is difficult. Some compositions by Wrocław musicians do include fragments of sounds produced by the urban fabric of the city (e.g. Cezary Duchnowski’s Voices of the City), but there have probably been no instance of using the sounds of Wrocław’s factories. Therefore it is worth examining Andrzej Krzanowski’s 1976 composition for symphonic orchestra titled Canti di Wratislavia. The composition was written by Krzanowski during his year-long sojourn in Wrocław, where he worked at the State Higher School of Music right after graduation. Krzanowski was known for his acute awareness of the soundscape. As his widow Grażyna Krzanowska remembered, he was brought up in an unusually acoustically rich environment, near a refinery in Czechowice-Dziedzice, in close proximity of a hospital, a church and a railroad. His compositions include the blaring of alarm sirens, bells or whistles. Paradoxically, Canti di Wratislavia is devoid of any clear references to any sounds or sound signals typical of Wrocław. One reviewer of the composition mentioned a hint of futurism, another (Ryszard Gabryś) wrote about movement brimming with vitality, pulse, rush, about songs sang not by people, but the city! Meanwhile, soundscape researchers identify its most interesting aspect (Robert Losiak) in the textural complexity and density of sounds, the dynamic overlapping of individual sonic planes, the unexpected sonic culminations. We do not know whether it was this dimensions of the urban acoustic environment that Krzanowski wanted to highlight; what we do know is that at the time of writing the composition, the whirr and clatter of industrial facilities permeated Wrocław’s soundscape to a much higher degree than in today’s post-industrial acoustic environment.

The factory soundscape as a subject of organising
The incorporation of industrial sounds into musical compositions was accompanied by a phenomenon that I term “artistic organising of the factory soundscape.” It should not be confused with acoustic planning that is intended to protect workers from noise. The aesthetic appeal of raw industrial soundscapes was coveted by Luigi Russolo, who was looking forward to the day when the futurist sensitivity to industrial noise becomes widespread, when every factory is turned into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.
The idea of artistically organising the very soundscape of a factory was first proposed by Ezra Pound in his texts written after the premiere of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique. Pound interpreted this ballet as the sonic representation of the factory soundscape, with looped noises of working machines, sirens and whistles. In his opinion, Antheil’s composition offered the possibility of organising the sounds and pauses in the factory according to the needs of the work, so that at the end of the eight-hour shift, the men go out not with frayed nerves, but elated – fatigued, yes, but elated. The poet argued that it would de-mechanise work and make the workers act not like robots, but like musicians in an orchestra. He added that implementing this idea would bring tangible benefits that would please the factory owners. What was actually implemented was simpler projects of introducing music in the acoustic space of the factory, as famously exemplified by Eric Coates’s Calling All Workers. This English composer dedicated his piece to workers; in the score we read the following words: To go to one’s work with a glad heart and to do that work with Earnestness and Goodwill. This march was the theme tune for Music While You Work, which was broadcast by the bbc into factories and workplaces from 1940 to 1967. The programme was intended to provide music to be played in industrial facilities in order to increase workers’ productivity. The book entitled Rhythms of Labour quotes discussions about the criteria for selecting the repertoire of the programme and psychological studies into the effect of broadcast music on productivity and fatigue. According to a decree issued before the programme first aired, the music played must be rhythmical, non-vocal, and its volume maintained to overcome factory workshop noises. Planning the musical aspect of the soundscape of Polish factories, or the debates pertaining to this issue, have not been researched yet. Filip Springer’s book about Zofia and Oskar Hansen contains a fragment describing the architect’s plans concerning the humanisation of a factory in Chocianow by delimiting social spaces (probably acoustically insulated) and relaxation areas where workers could play music together. The importance of the issue is supported by existing archival documents, which inform us that virtually all larger enterprises in Wrocław had a radio broadcasting system. For example, according to a 1978 questionnaire carried out at the Pafawag locomotive manufacturer, three quarters of the staff were able to listen to programmes and music broadcasted through 275 speakers situated around the production f loors, along access ways, in rest and refreshment rooms, common rooms and offices.

The factory as a concert hall
Industrial facilities were used as the venues for special concerts. I do not mean the relatively contemporary examples of adapting post-industrial objects to serve musical needs, or even revitalising them to fulfil this function, but situations in which running factories became the space for artistic events. During the second world war, the Berlin Philharmonic gave several concerts in German factories. The most well-known among them, due to registering it on film, was the one conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler at a Berlin factory owned by the AEG concern in February 1942. The film showing the performance of the overture to Richard Wagner’s The Master-Singers of Nuremberg shows the gigantic space of the factory f loor filled to the brim with listening workers, some of whom were even sitting on huge turbines and other everyday pieces of equipment. Andrzej Munk, in turn, filmed a concert by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Witold Rowicki at a factory club in Ursus near Warsaw. The documentary entitled Fairy Tale (the title refers to Stanisław Moniuszko’s overture performed during the concert) shows the focused faces of the workers, which seems to prove that the action of music popularisation, which was carried out at the time, was successful. However, the documentary also fulfilled other educational aims: acquainting the viewer with the function of individual instruments, the role of the conductor and the structure of a composition.

Luigi Nono’s concerts in Italy have already been mentioned here. It is possible that a similar concert was held in Wrocław on the composer’s initiative and in his presence, although even those specialists in his biography and oeuvre who have recently devoted much attention to his connections with Poland remain silent on this point. Nono’s visit to the city is therefore full of question marks and doubts because its authenticity is only proven by Krzysztof Penderecki’s anecdotal remarks and a photograph taken by Tadeusz Rolke in 1967 showing the interior of the Creative Unions’ Club, a legendary meeting place of Wrocław artistic milieus. Many artists visiting the club left their signature on the wall, and in the upper left-hand corner of the picture we see Luigi Nono’s autograph. I assume that Nono must have left it during his visit to the city, as confirmed by Penderecki, who nevertheless fails to provide any precise information. He mentioned Nono’s first trip to Poland in October 1958, when he was invited by the Warsaw Autumn festival even though a previously planned performance of his composition had been cancelled. During this trip, the composer also went to Cracow, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and Zakopane. Penderecki once said that Nono demanded to enable him to perform in front of workers only. The Party responded with enthusiasm and organised a concert in Wrocław, but it was a flop bordering on a scandal. Our workers fulminated at being forced to listen to that noise; on another occasion, Penderecki added: a concert was held at a factory in Wrocław – he [Nono] insisted on performing for workers – but since his style was very modern, they booed him. They were not listening to him at all, just drinking vodka and playing cards. Penderecki’s story has also been repeated in another, extremely unrealistic version, which suggests that it was known among composers as an anecdote. In one of his interviews, Krzesimir Dębski said that Nono supposedly visited the Poznań Spring festival and insisted on performing one of his compositions for the workers of Hipolit Cegielski Factory. During the concert, he was hit on the head with a screw. The context in which the story was quoted by both composers is important. Their undisguised satisfaction with Nono’s lack of success testifies to their distance, or even aversion, to the ideas proposed by the representatives of politically engaged music avant-garde, which simultaneously illustrates the limits of composer’s activity as seen by them. Clearly, holding concerts of contemporary music for workers in factories was beyond them. If Penderecki was correct in saying that Nono visited Wrocław during his first trip to Poland (between 1958 and 1967, when the photograph was taken, Nono visited Poland several times), we could guess the most probable repertoire of his alleged concert in a factory. As I mentioned, none of his compositions were performed in Warsaw in 1958, but the Zachęta gallery presented the recordings of three of them: Il canto sospeso, Cori di Didone and Composizione per orchestra. These pieces would also have been performed in Wrocław. According to biographies of Nono, he began organising concerts in factories after 1964, i.e. after writing La Fabbrica Illuminata; if we were to trust Penderecki’s memory, the abovementioned instance would have been one of the earliest examples of this kind of presentation of Nono’s music.

Workers as musicians
The history of Wrocław provides a unique example of workers’ involvement in art. It began in 1947, when Stanisław Drabik – a singer, opera director and the first director of the Polish opera house in Wrocław – announced his initiative to establish the Workers’ Opera. He received organisational support of the Regional Trade Unions Committee in Wrocław. Although Drabik unambiguously expressed the educational purpose of this action, which was intended to single out talented musicians among workers, the press at that time described it as a reaction to Bolesław Bierut’s appeal for the popularisation of culture in the working class, which was made in a speech during the opening ceremony of a radio station in Wrocław. The rehearsals lasted for about nine months, several times a week, after the workers finished their shifts. The performers were recruited in various factories and industrial facilities in Wrocław – the Pafawag locomotive factory, the Garment Factory, the Heavy Electric Machines Factory; for example, Zosia, the lead singer, was employed in a railway office while her husband was a railwayman and sang in the choir. Another character in the opera worked as a driver in the Wiedza Publishing Cooperative. A press article about the opera’s functioning provides some statistical information about the social makeup of the opera, which is however hard to verify today – seventy percent of the members of the Workers’ Opera were physical labourers, ten percent – trainees and apprentices, and the remaining twenty percent – representatives of the socalled “working intelligentsia.” The premiere of Moniuszko’s Flis was held at the Main Opera House in Wrocław on 8 December, 1948. The programme of the event lists the names, professions and workplaces of the performers. We learn that over 100 members of the Workers’ Opera participated in it – six soloists, 74 choristers and 16 ballet dancers. A representative of trade unions described it in terms of the victory of the working masses over the bourgeois superstitions and a collective triumph of workers’ creativity. Flis had been performed six times before March 1949, when the Workers’ Opera was turned into a song and dance group and practically terminated its functioning. The tireless Stanisław Drabik revived his idea in Cracow, where for the next two years he prepared the premiere of Moniuszko’s Halka. However, as it was the case in Wrocław, the Cracow Workers’ Opera also stopped functioning after a few performances.

* * *

In the history of music of the 20th century, the factory only appears to be a non-place of artistic initiatives. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it seems to have been one of the key spaces for understanding this branch of art. We could list many more examples of connections between the factory, industrial soundscape and music, all the more so because those described by me fall solely into the category of composing practice. We could go beyond the field of musical pieces and artists’ biographies and turn our attention to the level of general ref lection about music. The metaphor of the factory frequently appeared in the critical and theoretical discourse of the 20th century. The body as a factory of sounds was described by Henri Chopin. When confronted with the sonic experiments of 20th-century composers, some listeners resorted to this figure to articulate their aesthetic experiences. Suffice it to quote the aforementioned articles by Ezra Pound about George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique, or a fragment of Bohdan Pilarski’s review of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Canon: this is the music of our times – the whirr of the factory and a jet flight.