John Melillo

John Melillo is a Visiting Assistant Professor and ACLS New Faculty Fellow at the University of Arizona. He completed his dissertation, Outside In: Noisescapes from Dada to Punk, in September of 2010 at New York University.



"Revenant Frequencies: Destructive Sound from "The Waste Land" to NYC Ghosts and Flowers"

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Sonic Youth’s New York City Ghosts and Flowers both imagine urban spaces in the wake of destruction. Eliot defines the period of military, urban, industrial, and technological modernization at the beginning of the century as an “immense panorama of futility and anarchy.” For him, history could only be reconstituted as the ruined architecture and “rhythmical grumbling” he depicts in “The Waste Land." The echo chamber of memory recalls only disembodied voices, fragmented utterances, and ragged melodies, thus emphasizing language’s fraught position within the noise of modernity. Sonic Youth’s New York City Ghosts and Flowers, recorded in 1999, also places voice within the vast machinic noises of contemporary urban life. New York, like Eliot’s “Unreal City,” is a place of movement, of continuous renewal and destruction, and ultimately of loss. Noise in these songs becomes a fantasy of revenent frequencies. The inarticulate becomes elegiac. The dead speak not as voices but as the space between voices. They merge with the dislocated and dislocating sonic strata that echo through the unstable spaces of urban modernity. In this paper, I argue that these two fantasies of destructive noise attempt to listen to the unlistenable in similar ways at two very different moments in history. They remediate the sounds of the city by transforming discourse into noise, order into disorder, history into echo.

My Speakers Sessions

Friday, March 23

9:00am EDT