Music – Bodies – Machines

Fritz Kahn and Acousmatic Music

  • Martine Louise Rossiter
Keywords: acousmatic, composition, extra-musical stimuli, infographics


This article provides an overview of the Music – Bodies – Machines: Fritz Kahn and Acousmatic Music project and accompanying suite of music – Der Industriepalast. The project is inspired by the work of infographics pioneer Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) who developed works such as Der Mensch als Industriepalast. There is a body of work examining Kahn’s work (Sappol 2017; Von Debschitz 2017; Doudova 2018) that has revealed Kahn’s intent of making the human anatomy accessible to the non-specialised reader through visual metaphors; unlike the descriptive anatomical illustrations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which show how the human body looks, Kahn’s works visually explain how internal structures work using concepts, metaphors, and allusions.

This article explores some of the ways in which Kahn’s striking visual images have inspired the composition of five novel acousmatic works of music. The article starts with a survey of existing works making use of similar, extra-musical influences to examine how extra-musical influences such as infographics and painting may influence the formal design of acousmatic music. It goes on to consider how, exactly, the infographics of Fritz Kahn have been used within the project. In some cases, this guides the choice of particular materials (such as the sound of a beating heart to represent an image of a heart monitor), but in other cases, there is influence on phrasing, placement, and even the formal design of entire pieces.

Taken as a whole, the article seeks to explore the following questions; 1) What impact does the context of a particular image have on a composers’ response? 2) How do composers respond to visual stimuli in acousmatic music? What is their compositional process? 3) How do such parallels between the specific sonic and visual examples offer new interdisciplinary insight to artistic practices and research? 4) How do sound recording techniques inform acousmatic music and generate new creative processes that operate within the sphere of human-machine relations?

How to Cite
Rossiter, M. (2020). Music – Bodies – Machines. Airea: Arts and Interdisciplinary Research, (2), 5-22.