Groove the City 2020 – Constructing and Deconstructing Urban Spaces through Music

Second International Conference of the Urban Music Studies Scholars Network

Introduction: city, space and music
“Here time becomes space.” In Parsifal Richard Wagner implies that music is a manifestation of the space-time totality. And music and space are indeed related in many ways. Music is embedded in the social and physical spaces where it is produced, distributed or consumed. It can be performed in locations such as music halls, clubs, or concert houses—and has the power to produce images and symbolic associations. Music can mark the acoustic boundaries of a neighborhood or a community or turn “non-musical” spaces into “musical” ones, as street music does. Music, thanks to new technologies and digitalization, has opened doors to virtual spaces. Think of music mapping, sound cartographies, soundscape archives and sounding postcards—all new forms of sonic sociability.

Cities in particular are complex acoustical spaces with multiple reciprocal interrelationships between music and the urban environment. Marshal McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) has shown us that our understanding of the world is dominated by visuality. But in The Tuning of the World (1977) Murray Schafer directed our attention towards the soundscapes around us. This “acoustic turn” has over the last decades led other disciplines—ethnology, ecology, geography, urban studies, anthropology, sociology, to mention only a few—to begin listening to how the city sounds. Now we see that between the auditory (Bull, Back & Howes 2015) and the imaginary (Castoriadis 1997), between the material and the cognitive, between everyday life and powerful politics forces, urban sonic placemaking—both as cause and product—occurs.

In our second international conference of the Urban Music Studies Scholars Network, we are looking for papers that transgress the boundaries between our notions of music and space. We are explicitly following Henri Lefèbvre’s (1991) concept of a dialectics of triplicity and Edward Soja’s (2008) trialectic of spatiality. A first level encompasses material, physical, and social spaces of music and the mutuality of sound–music and space–architecture from historical, social, economic and cultural perspectives. A second level focusses on the mutuality of music and symbolic aspects of space such as images, brands, and imaginaries. While the third level should open up an arena of powerful mediations between music–sound and spatial politics, whether this results in the appropriation of the city by music or the appropriation of music by the city.

We invite proposals for individual talks or group sessions on any of the following topics, which we have put into three research streams:

I. Music in material and social urban spaces

In this stream, the following issues might be addressed:

  • How does music affect and how is it affected by the built urban environment, by architecture and urban planning? An intimate relationship between music and architecture has been corroborated for a long time: in the Pythagoreans’ harmony of numbers as principles for constructing music and architecture, in Schelling’s “frozen music” or Goethe’s “silent music”. The material structure of “musical spaces” influences the performance, something we see throughout the history of music, from polychoral music emerging from the architecture of basilicas to symphonies performed by orchestras in specially built concert halls in the 19th
  • What are the potential and concrete physical opportunities for experimental music production, distribution and consumption? Cities like Detroit, Rio de Janeiro, New York in the 1970s, or Berlin in the 1990s are examples of what we call kaput cities, socially and economically deprived, yet they showed that the decline and neglect of urban spaces can have the unintended consequence of turning entire cities into innovative and inventive musical stages, providing incubators for new music, performances and lifestyles.
  • What does contemporary architecture and city planning have to say about the sonic environment of urban spaces? These practice-oriented disciplines may take a different perspective than that of music history, which has long dealt with the influence of music on architecture.
  • How is identity formed by space and music? Music demarcates urban spaces in their sensual, social and material boundaries, whether the La Fenice in Venice for opera, CBGB in New York for Punk or heterotopic festivals like Tomorrowland for EDM/Rave.
  • How do musical scenes create symbolic capital for cities? They originate in run down, neglected quarters, re-use vacant buildings and create polyvalent social and material spaces in which different, yet closely interwoven dispositifs.

II. Experiencing urban spaces by music

In this stream, the following issues might be addressed:

  • What are the constant—as opposed to those constantly in flux—musical or acoustical properties of the sonic and musical environment in urban spaces? Examples might include sound postcards, “sound of the city” music compilations or the city symphony film genre from the 1920s and 30s.
  • How is music mentally associated with the city, whether through popular music film scenes or the imaginary of the cool and symbolic capitalism?
  • Just as sound and music influence the city, we might ask how the city influences music. Countless popular songs reflect in one way or the other on the urban experience. Numerous musical works use urban sounds as a source for compositions, installations and sound sculptures.
  • How, on the level of the individual, does music affect a different space, the psychosocial inner world of the listener? Music also represents an emotional territory, creating spaces of subjectivity, magnifying individual feelings into collective ones and offering multiple intersecting identity constructions along difference markers such as race, gender or class.

III. Music and political urban space

In this stream, the following issues might be addressed:

  • How do political interventions affect different levels of musical life, from (legal) regulations of daily musical practices to economic aspects and the instrumentalization of music for the revitalisation of de-industrialized districts, the culturalization and festivalization of cities, tourism, city marketing and the deployment of music for placemaking?
  • How much, where, and why do cultural policies become policies of music, and who decides how, why and which kinds of music are practiced where and for whom? What is the relationship of political city planning agendas to music and sound design?
  • What kind and why are there new (public) investments in the urban musical infrastructure? What is the impact of commercially motivated music tourism and an aligned cultural economy on, for example, the development of (un)sustainable cities? How does the power of municipal politics shape the reciprocal causality of music and placemaking? How does politics in urban contexts shape and harvest the political power of music for identity politics or branding? In a less dystopian perspective, how can music help to construct urban spaces that promote diversity, anti-racism, democratization, or decolonization?

Organizational framework

To help better understand these structures, processes and underlying mechanisms of urban music between material and mental spaces, politics and policies, local and global influences, economic and social interests on micro and macro levels, the Urban Music Studies Scholars Network organizes the second international conference Groove the City – Constructing and Deconstructing Urban Spaces through Music on 13–15 February 2020 at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany.

Urban Music Studies is a lively field of research with a high discursive and transdisciplinary potential. So we welcome critical reflections from a broad range of disciplines: historical musicology, sociology of music, urban theory, urban sociology, policy studies/political science, geography, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, cultural studies, architecture, media studies, sustainability studies, intersectionality & diversity studies, anthropology, psychology, economics, psychoacoustics, architecture, urban geography, sound studies, urban studies, and urban planning.

Talks on theory and methodology are appreciated as well as empirical case studies and art-based research. All musical genres can be subjects of discussion; historical reconstructions and observations of current structures and processes are welcome. We especially encourage cross-cultural perspectives and proposals from the Global South and other so-called “peripheral” cities and countries, which are unfortunately still too often neglected in current mainstream research and scientific discourse. We also welcome unorthodox proposals: ask for submission advice.

The conference language is English.

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