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Hardcover | Out of Print | 465 pp. | 7 x 9 in | October 1999 | ISBN: 9780262112437
Paperback | $35.95 Trade | £29.95 | 465 pp. | 7 x 9 in | August 2001 | ISBN: 9780262611725
eBook | $24.95 Trade | August 2001 | ISBN: 9780262252393
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Noise, Water, Meat

A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts


This interdisciplinary history and theory of sound in the arts reads the twentieth century by listening to it--to the emphatic and exceptional sounds of modernism and those on the cusp of postmodernism, recorded sound, noise, silence, the fluid sounds of immersion and dripping, and the meat voices of viruses, screams, and bestial cries. Focusing on Europe in the first half of the century and the United States in the postwar years, Douglas Kahn explores aural activities in literature, music, visual arts, theater, and film. Placing aurality at the center of the history of the arts, he revisits key artistic questions, listening to the sounds that drown out the politics and poetics that generated them. Artists discussed include Antonin Artaud, George Brecht, William Burroughs, John Cage, Sergei Eisenstein, Fluxus, Allan Kaprow, Michael McClure, Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, Luigi Russolo, and Dziga Vertov.

About the Author

Douglas KAHN is founding Director of Technocultural Studies at University of California at Davis. He is the author of Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press, 1999).


“Douglas Kahn has produced a groundbreaking work, unmatched in its depth and analytic acuity of sound in the visual arts. Not since Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music has a scholar produced such a remarkable polydisciplinary study. Kahn demonstrates a broad knowledge of the place of sound in modernism and not postmodernism, and makes a unique contribution to the history of what he has defined as ‘phonography.’ Noise, Water, Meat will become a canonical text in art history, cultural studies, and the scholarship on sound.”
Kristine Stiles, Duke University
“Douglas Kahn’s Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts clearly establishes his position as the primary historian of sound in twentieth-century avant-garde expression. If the Victorian era was quiet and refined, modernism was energetic and noisy, both visually and aurally. Kahn’s study awakens us for the first time to the centrality of that sound in the modernists’ definition of themselves against what has gone before. Here solid historical research his joined to subtle, sophisticated analysis, informed by a post-structuralist sensitivity to issues of gender and race. And Kahn’s prose is a delight to read—as rich with meaning and beautifully nuanced as fine literary expression itself.”
Linda Dalrymple Henderson, Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas at Austin