This presentation explores noise abatement practices in the 1960s and 1970s to trace a narrative of socialist modernity that ran parallel to those that have thus far privileged the visual and material. Using newspaper articles, archival materials, and published accounts, Gabrielle Cornish show that although many people were pleased with the material products of Khrushchev’s reforms, they were deeply troubled by their noisiness. Instigated by an upsurge in urban development, scientists and medical professionals began to lobby for greater state involvement in noise abatement and hearing protections. This responsibility to the health of the masses, they suggested, differentiated the Soviet Union from “uncaring” capitalist countries. By positioning themselves as the most attuned to hearing loss among their populace, researchers and bureaucrats used noise abatement to showcase the superiority of socialist healthcare and science on the global stage. At the same time, however, the so-called “War on Noise” [bor’ba s shumom], waged in the pages of newspapers, provided an inroad for greater civic engagement with the Soviet soundscape. Perturbed by the sounds of radios, televisions, and gramophone players, commentators and “silence advocates” created a kind of sonic kul’turnost’: an ethics and etiquette around sound that promoted Lenin as person-example in the sonic experience of late socialism.
Gabrielle Cornish is a PhD Candidate in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. She is a 2019 Open Research Lab participant.