This essay offers a media archeology of the cacophonous sounds and songs of the occupational strikes at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk, Poland. Political action over the course of August 1980 led to the formation and legalization of Solidarity, the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain. The Polish case study provides a model for the study of music and political activism that brings together history, sound, and music studies, and prompts a broader examination of listening, singing, and collective action. In their immediate wake, the successful protests stimulated celebration, critical analysis, and documentary effort. Across the initial written, recorded, and filmed accounts of the strikes, I observe a pervasive effort to invest sound with the power to authenticate these records as grass-roots history. Such chronicles, which I theorize as “sound documents,” draw attention to the important yet multivalent presence of sound and music in the project of collective opposition to state socialism in Poland through the 1980s. Two ambitious sound documents—an eclectic almanac and a radio montage—form the basis of a variegated account of the highly mediatized soundscape of the Polish strikes. They reveal the significance of anthems and simultaneously underscore the lack of sonic coherence in Gdańsk. Through the sound document, music emerges as a crucial tool through which to rethink and reconfigure the cultural history of collective action.
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