Literature and Journalism: Berlin in the s
Rolf Hosfeld, Kurt Tucholsky, Katrin O. Tim Blume, Ende der Zwanzigerjahre hatte sie mit Feuilletons und Zeitungsromanen in Berlin ihren Platz gefunden. Ihr erstes Theaterstueck kam im Februar in Berlin auf die Buehne. Friedhelm Greis, Ian King, Tagung Friedhelm Greis, Ian King. Kurt Tucholsky-Gesellschaft. Tagung, Friedhelm Greis, Ian King, Britta Held, Rieger, Also, ich bin mir nicht sicher, aber ich glaube, wir haben in der Schule mal was Unbekannte hatten hier seit Am Wochenende trugen Passend zur Jahreszeit ist eine Lesung von This sea change in the historiography of the senses has begun to bring attention to an important avenue of experience and knowledge.
For observers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is still striking, however, how pervasive media of visuality were during this period and it should not necessarily be assumed that, because it has been neglected, listening was, in fact, dominant or in equal standing with vision during this period. This article attempts to do some of that rethinking. It argues that the substantial increase in visual and textual material during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—when joined with the, by comparison, small availability of commercial sound culture—could overturn the traditional ways that cultural objects were encountered.
Music could be primarily for the eyes. This predominance of visuality and textuality, however, could also undermine and contradict the modern separation of the senses. The mechanical reproduction of sound and vision may have stemmed from the separation of the senses and helped discipline the body to inscribe this division within it, but in a situation where one overpowered the other, these senses did not always remain singular.
Jazz during the Weimar Republic exemplified such a situation and, as a complex sensory phenomenon, could provoke such perceptual mixing. Jazz in Germany was primarily listened to by a middle- and upper-class audience during the late s and s. Its performance—whether live or in mechanically reproduced form—was located in spaces and apparatuses that were predominantly populated and owned by Germans with privilege. In its first decade, jazz was associated with the dance craze that swept Germany in the immediate postwar years and the contemporary transformation of entertainment music Unterhaltungsmusik and light music leichte Musik from older forms of society dance music and operetta to modern pop music Schlager.
Dance is at least a thing of the lower hundred thousand, but still not the lower millions! Class should not be reified, however, and it should not be assumed that those outside the middle classes were categorically excluded from hearing the new music. In general, popular music venues associated with the working classes in Britain and the United States attracted a different demographic in Germany.
A recent study confirms that only a minority of Germans participated in the by now mythical explosion of mass culture and avant-garde experimentation of Weimar. Weimar citizens who did not hear jazz in public were not likely to hear it at home either. Radio and gramophones, the two revolutionary mass mediums of jazz and entertainment music, were, like live performance, financially out of reach for the vast majority of workers.
In , only , gramophones were sold in Germany and, even at its decade peak, record player sales remained well below half a million. Radio was similarly stratified. In the mids, ownership was quite limited: in , , registered radios existed in Germany. Numbers did grow consistently over the course of the decade: by , there were still only 3,, receivers, which, for a total population of Other, cheaper options did exist, but they had their own limitations. Detektor sets only cost 15—40 RM in , but they had only two headsets and could only pick up radio transmissions if the machine was extremely close to a radio station.
Der Generalstreik 1920
All Weimar Germans could, however, encounter jazz in their newspapers and magazines. Indeed, jazz was more widely available as text and image than as an item of sound. By , Germans were awash with daily print. The year that saw the outbreak of the First World War also witnessed the publication of 4, newspapers and 6, journals in Germany. This density of reading material was the product of the birth of a mass commercial press and audience in Germany during the years between and On average, newspapers circulated around 8, copies and by the turn of the century, some already printed more than , In Berlin alone, tabloids and dailies both had a readership of around one million at the end of the s.
During the Republic, emphases on image and vision exploded across multiple urban mediums, from architecture to the female body. A photograph, for example, shows a poster illustrated with the laughing faces of one of the quintessential German jazz and Schlager groups, the Comedian Harmonists, on a Kassel Litfass. Jonathan Wipplinger notes that the advertising for the concerts of the two major American jazz artists to appear in Germany during the s was extensive. Jazz Symphony Orchestra! But what does it mean for music to be primarily communicated through optical media?
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Does it simply become like any other thing in a newspaper? It seems overly hasty to assume so. It is remarkable that the press largely omitted talking about jazz in terms of music and treated it as a vessel for other concerns, whether as a symbol of the rationalization of modern life or as a descriptive decal in a story about an event in the life of an actress.
Visual and textual communication of jazz was diverse; a drawing of a jazz band worked differently from a musicological essay. Both, however, are representations of sound events or index music.
The understanding that jazz was linked to music and sound—despite its silence—could not but have persisted; it remained a phantom presence behind the perceptual limitations of such visualizations. During its first decade in Germany, jazz was a synaesthetic object—it appealed to the senses in a way that was exclusive neither visually nor acoustically but somewhere in between. This is not to say that all, or even most, Weimar Germans saw sound on the pages of the Frankfurter Zeitung , but that a public increasingly in contact and formed by a mass media which was predominantly visual could read with perceptual slippage.
A Negro sits behind the mystical instrument. The Negro, half slave driver, half juggler, holds two sticks in his hands. He beats them on the blocks. Sometimes it sounds like he is pounding nails into a coffin, then again as if his knife slipped while he was slicing salami. His thick lips press on the mouth of the trumpet; in his eyes he holds a sly and melancholy smile, meanwhile there is a drum roll, a blow on the tambourine, a stroke on the bell. Next to him a pale adventurer strums chords on a Balalaika—the sound as monotonous as a debate in Parliament—and the violinist, the third in the devilish trio, occupies no fixed place but skips, fiddle under his chin, among the skipping couples, and plays sweet cantilenas for the ladies and rakish trills under their skirts.
The dancing couples are under the spell of these rhythms, these colours and sounds, to which an English or German text can be nothing but a makeshift substitute for some sort of Dadaist, exotic howl and stammer. They slip in the wildest gyrations over the polished floor with a precision that suggests ultimately nothing other than a well-oiled automaton.
The people should work in plainclothes. They work: what they make is the starkest opposite of Romanticism. They accompany the everyday. Their music clatters in the same beat as the typewriters which the audience left behind two hours before, its song is the scream of the boss, made rhythmical, and its dance is around the golden calf. The jazz band is the extension of business by other means. The texts touch on a number of discursively rich subjects: black bodies and black rhythm, drums, slavery, death, Dada, democratic debate, wild dancing, primitivity, automatons, factories and offices.
There was a near-obsessive quality to Weimar discussions on these topics—especially on blackness and industrial civilization—and material surrounding them abounded. The group portrayed in the photo—which appears to be a clay model of a drummer and two banjo players—is highly racialized and clearly meant to embody something radically foreign to its German viewers. They are dressed outlandishly: tuxedo tops, wide-legged trousers and oversized, clownish shoes. The images of the musicians, above all, utilize the visual language of American minstrelsy.
Minstrel images attempted fundamentally to denigrate African Americans and justify a white supremacist cultural-political-legal order. Repeatedly portrayed as unsophisticated, foolish, dangerous and happily content with—or, later, nostalgic for—the North American slave system, African Americans became images of drastic alterity to an idealized whiteness and what Anglo-Americans believed to be their own attributes—rationality, culture, sophistication and civilization. Such imagery would have been familiar to most Germans, for they had been extraordinarily common in German product advertising since the late nineteenth century.
When viewing the photo of the three jazz musicians, they could use this primitivist storehouse—along with the larger discourse on blackness and mechanical civilization—to imagine accompanying sounds: the rustle of jungle vegetation, the growling or barking of animals, the thump of drum playing, the distorted plucking of an unfamiliar stringed instrument or any number of other exotic or foreign sounds.
This process was probably quite individualized and subjective.
Specific images could prompt unique sounds for each viewer and, moreover, images and sounds could suggest other image-sounds according to personal logic or memory. Images could lead to memories and memories to images and sounds, cascading into long, individual concatenations. Other press items on jazz, however, might themselves use photographs, drawings and text. In both these cases, each component could issue its own chain of associations and sounds and combine into a rich polyphony of synaesthesia. The picture, above all, prompts noise.
Noise, according to Jacques Attali, is the acoustic Other, sound which lies outside our sonic order.
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This sonic order—constituted especially by music—also simultaneously reflects and creates a larger social, political, economic and cultural order. It invites figures which would not make sense in the German musical soundscape: noises antithetical to chorale music, church music, the street organ, worker songs, art music and folk songs.
What a reader might hear would thus be an aural imagining of non-meaning. A number of articles make such cacophony-creation explicit. For the minority who could listen to it or play it, the sound of jazz itself moved towards the visual. Jazz-as-sound had its own elements of synaesthesia. The instrumentation and music of German jazz bands shifted over the course of the Republic. The initial stage of German jazz, roughly to , was characterized by intense flights of fancy and a primitivist obsession with excessive rhythm. Recounting the first few years of its reception, F.
Koebner recalled that American syncopated music did not initially catch hold of the German public. Germans only began to take up the dance with enthusiasm after a great number of foreigners showed excitement for the music. German jazz musicians of this period were not simply lackadaisical or flippant. Live and recorded sources for their craft were practically unavailable until after the end of the hyperinflation in late The London recording of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the first jazz band to put its music to wax and the origin of the concurrent American jazz craze, could not be bought in Germany until after , and recordings pressed in the U.
Drums did not record well before electrical sound reproduction before and were absent in both American and German recordings of ragtime, cakewalks and early jazz. Furthermore, sheet music for dance tunes in the early s was written for the piano; arrangements for the drums, along with all the other instruments, were absent. It is more likely that cultural notions of race provided the most significant jumping off point for jazz practice.
Drawing on an expansive background of colonial literature, advertising, racialist anthropology, ethnographic exhibitions and the primitivism of Expressionism, German musicians acted out what they believed to be the musical embodiment of blackness: frenetic drumming. They attempted to give sonic meaning to a type of difference that began with the eyes: skin colour. Thus, the sound of jazz was also meant to have a visual component; it synaesthetically channelled and communicated racial pigmentation.
Two drawings in Jazz und Shimmy illustrate this connection. The figures sprawl across the page, apparently uninterested in or inattentive to each other, seeming unprofessional and undisciplined. The saxophonist sits and stares away from the other musicians, the drummer gazes downward with his legs spread wide and a banjoist slinks in the corner by the pianist. All around them are ad hoc instruments to make percussion and noise: a clown horn, a pot, a crank siren and five strings of sleigh bells.
Like the BIZ photo of the jazz trio, the images of the musicians are dependent on the denigrating iconography of minstrelsy. The three visible faces all have broad, white lips; the bassist has an apish, primitive look, while the banjo player squints in a semi-sinister manner. Placed nine pages away from the drawing of the black band, it clearly channels and feeds off the first image yet resituates it in a German, modernist setting. Stylistically, it resembles Futurist paintings and drawings and emphasizes movement through fragmented, overlapping objects and dynamic, angular lines.
It is clearly meant to show an elite venue. Men in formal attire dance with women with bobbed haircuts and fur and a champagne bottle shoots its cork across the floor. A violinist stands on a single leg, a banjoist sits cross-legged on the piano and, as in the first image, the pianist hunches over the keys. To the right, but at the centre of the action of the entire scene, is the drummer. He attacks his drums with wild abandon, beating one floor tom rapidly with his shoe and the other with his drumstick. His left stick, held high in the air, resembles a baton, as if he is conducting the band with his percussive license.
His companions all have obscured visages; with an open mouth, slanted eyebrows and moustache, he literally bears the face of the band. The relationship between the drawings mimicked and helped construct the relationship between perceived notions of blackness and early Weimar jazz performance.
In both relationships, the second is dependent on, and attempts to translate, the first.
The extreme attack and noise of German drummers was an attempt synaesthetically to formulate and communicate contemporary notions of blackness through sound. In the same manner, patrons of a hotel or nightclub in Berlin or Hamburg were meant to imagine a similar image—that is, envision blackness—when they listened to a German jazz band assault its percussion. One of the three images which accompany this BIZ text helps flesh out the meaning of such a performance and the assumptions which lay behind it see Figure 4.
It shows a troupe of men and women dressed in grass skirts, headdresses and blackface; none of them carry instruments or dance. Both were part of a larger culture of primitivism and both involved white affectation of blackness. Wildly playing drums was meant to have the same effect as donning burnt cork.
The connection between jazz performance and blackface is even more clearly presented in an ad in BIZ a few years later. Above the text, two busts lean against one another. Their faces peer out in blackface and they look towards the viewer with googly eyes and crooked, white lips. Finally, there was another important source of sensory accompaniment to jazz listening: the performance environment. The way the band looked and acted could communicate information to supplement and inform listening. Moreover, some listeners would also be quite cognizant of a more intimate and close form of sensation: touch.
Dancing bodies, indeed, involved their own form of listening.