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date: 18 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The sounds of ancient sirens have been described as alluring and seductive, whereas those of their modern counterpart are considered noisy, unpleasant, and indicative of imminent danger. Yet these obvious differences obscure some important fundamental commonalities, which are explored here from the perspective of an “anaesthetics” focusing on the aesthetic inquiry specifically into the sensuous aspects of sound. The physical mechanism of the modern siren (invented in 1819) demonstrated that the acoustics underlying perceptual parameters pitch and rhythm were in fact a continuum. This principle was eagerly picked up by composers and musical thinkers in the 19th and 20th centuries and developed in multiple directions, leading on the one hand to infrasonic weapons and on the other to forms of rhythm-driven electronic dance music. These two directions closely mirror the original pairing of danger and ecstasy, and the immediate effects of these sounds on the body, which characterized the ancient siren song.

Keywords: sirens, ecstasy, danger, anaesthetics, pitch, rhythm, infrasound, techno, Hermann von Helmholtz, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Henry Cowell

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