Walter Ruttmann’s Weekend: The Genesis of Sound Collage and Radiophonic Art.

Weekend is not a piece that often features in discussions concerning the history of Electroacoustic music. It, however, predates the French School of Musique Concrete by at least a decade and is perhaps the only work of its kind recorded in the so-called “optical medium”; an early method of encoding sound onto cine-film. Originally commissioned and broadcast by Berlin Radio Hour, the piece was two years in the making and completely unique.

Its’ creator Walter Ruttmann was indeed a film director but also a painter, sculptor, composer and all-around iconoclast. His films up to the making of Weekend consisted of Abstract Avant Garde animations and narrativeless documentaries made in the montage style of Sergi Eisenstein. He and a circle of like-minded creatives sought to transpose their backgrounds in fine art to these new reproductive mediums. They considered Film and Audio art to be of equal value to painting or sculpture; “Everything audible in the world becomes material” Ruttmann is quoted as saying.

As much as Weekend is high concept art, however; its raw material is mundane and prosaic. they are simply the sounds of a city going about its business. What Ruttman did, was reconfigure these auditory objects in the manner of a composer; using theme and variation, tension and release, consonance and dissonance. He shapes the everyday soundtrack of the city into a prism through which snippets of real life are refracted and refined.

The result is analogous to the contemporary Cubist experiments of Picasso in as much as they seek to simultaneous show both the superficial and the implied or obstructed. And in keeping with Eisenstein’s manifesto of montage, the relationship between signifier and signified breaks down; leaving a space into which we are forced to place our own subjective take on reality.

Ruttman’s work both before and after Weekend might be termed Surreal by modern eyes and ears. It is set apart from Surrealism however by the strict formalism with which Ruttman went about his craft. Nothing is left to chance, everything has a purpose. An approach that has more in common with twelve-tone Serialism and is a testament to the creator’s close associations with the European musical Avant-Garde of the Time.

The reasons behind Weekends forgotten status perhaps lie in the associations Ruttmann forged with the Nazi party in the decade following its creation. Assistant director to Leni Riefenstahl on the production of Triumph of the Will; he also went on to direct Deutsche Panzer. A pseudo-documentary that follows the Production of Tanks in the Third Reich. One suspects however that Ruttmann remained Ideologically removed from his paymasters, his chosen field of abstract art being dismissed by Hitler as “degenerate”.

This decision not to flee Germany, like so many of his contemporaries, was a decision that ultimately cost Ruttmann his life. when in 1941 he was killed on the streets of Berlin attempting to photograph an air-raid; still only in his Fifties, it is conceivable that Ruttmann’s explorations in the arts would have continued apace had war not intervened.

Further Selected Works

  • Feind im Blut (1931)Lichtspiel: Opus I (1921)
  • Der Sieger (1922)
  • Das Wunder (1922)
  • Lichtspiel: Opus II (1923)
  • Lichtspiel: Opus III (1924)
  • Lichtspiel: Opus IV (1925)
  • Das wiedergefundene Paradies (1925)
  • Der Aufstieg (1926)
  • Spiel der Wellen (1926)
  • Dort wo der Rhein… (1927)
  • Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) in collaboration with Alberto Cavalcanti
  • Melody of the World (Melodie der Welt) (1929)
  • Feind im Blut (1931)
  • In der Nacht (1931)

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