“Silence seems antithetical to the city. Urban spaces are not just noisy, they are noise. To replicate the traffic sound of the Place de la Concorde during the rush-hour, George Gershwin incorporated actual Parisian taxi horns into An American in Paris. Inspired by the sound and motion of a train journey between New York and Boston, his Rhapsody in Blue aimed for “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot,… of our metropolitan madness.” To conjure up New York City in his Amériques, Edgard Varèse placed sirens in his orchestra. The electric bells, player pianos and aeroplane propellers of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique unleashed the crazed energy of the city so well it resulted in a riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. By the time it reached New York, it was receiving critical notice along the lines of, “Makes Boiler Factory Seem as Quiet as Rural Churchyard.”
I’ve written a piece on urban silence and sound over on White Noise. Enjoy.