Academic journal article German Quarterly

A National Acoustics: Music and Mass Publicity in Weimar and Nazi Germany

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A National Acoustics: Music and Mass Publicity in Weimar and Nazi Germany

Article excerpt

Currid, Brian. A National Acoustics: Music and Mass Publicity in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. 279 pp. $23.00 paperback.

With A National Acoustics, Brian Currid upends some of the more stubborn clichés concerning musical mass culture in Germany during the first half of the 20th century. Or to stay with a sound motif, he turns up and replays the dissonance which has been toned down if not entirely erased from more harmonious, one-note depictions of the history of radio and acoustics of the period usually limited to Weimar chansons, Nazi rallies, and post-war American rock and roll. In uncovering the sonic traces of the period, Currid does not limit his analysis to so-called musical content (what kinds of music were played and to what audience), but examines how this music was produced, transmitted, and heard, and thereby convincingly demonstrates the interconnections between music, new media technologies such as radio and film, and the social sphere. The pay-off from Currid's attention to the differing media of musical production and consumption during this period, is a nuanced and exemplary account of what he repeatedly refers to as the "acoustics of publicity " (and whereby he shows his extended debt to the work of Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge on the study of Offentlichkeit).

Currid focuses almost exclusively on music in mass culture, starting with an early history of German radio. The general argument and framework of the chapter is reiterated throughout A National Acoustics by the different case histories the book takes up, namely that radio remained at least in part a zone of ideological dissonance rather than a rigid and hegemonic practice. Through a series of examples drawn from mechanical manuals, the illustrated press, high-brow journals and popular film, Currid takes his reader on a sonic tour through the history of the Volksempfanger (an early icon of immediacy and national cohesion), to print advertisements for radios and loudspeakers, Bertolt Brecht's seminal and oft-quoted 1932 essay on radio, the evolution of broadcasting laws, and a detailed reading of two films, Es lebe die liebe and Wunschkonzert. His second chapter on the Schlager and the films that popularized many of these hit songs, likewise contradicts a totalizing conception of popular music as either pure mind-numbing distraction or the unique site of resistance, in order to move beyond these simple dichotomies along the model of Negt's and Kluge's depiction of a productive public sphere. …

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