Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sounding Out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place, by Sara Cohen

This short description of Sara Cohen's article will certainly not do it justice, but it will give you an idea of what the full article is about. Cohen describes the connection that music has with culture, place and space. Cohen focuses part of her article on Jack, an elderly gentleman from Liverpool, who among other things is the child of Jewish immigrants who escaped the ravages of Eastern Europe during the late 19th century. Jack’s sense of culture, of who he is as a Jew, was developed and expressed through a lifetime love of and participation with music.

Music for Jack, could be a marker of generational difference [or alienation] as well as a “family of resemblance,” if the lyrics resonated with his experiences(p. 269). Jack expressed an affinity with Irish folk songs and the songs of Black slaves in America, because he characterized them as misfits, people with no homes, which to him was not unlike the Jewish Diaspora.

Although music was a personal way for Jack and other Liverpool Jews to identify and express themselves, Cohen describes how music was also used to categorize Liverpool Jews as, the “newly imported foreign Jew” living in the ghetto or quarter, the “second generation Jew” who was characterized as frequenting dance halls and having great dancing abilities; and the “English Jew” who was portrayed as much more cultured, artistic, literary and musical (p.264).

Even though music and musical abilities were used to categorize Jews, Cohen describes music as drawing people together through the symbolic creation of a collective sense of self and place. In regards to Liverpool Jews, Cohen notes that many of them were very religious and no doubt used music of various genres as a means to establish and strengthen social and spiritual ties, which also allowed them to maintain their collective and individual identities (p.264).

Cohen describes music as representative and interpretive, felt, heard and experienced. For Jack, music was sight, sound and smell which conjured up images of his Liverpool, his neighborhood and his life. Cohen writes that, “The musical practices and interactions of the immigrant Jews helped to define and shape the particular geographical and material space within the city that they inhabited (p. 267).”

According to Cohen, neighborhoods and communities are constructed through a context of social activity as well as concepts and symbols. In some locations, Black musicians would find themselves playing music in White spaces and in other contexts, Irish concertina bands acted as a trigger for Irish sectarian violence, representing an invasion of space and a marker of territory. Music, according to Cohen, is created in specific places and spaces through social interactions and contexts that create or produce their own sounds. Hence, every city makes different noises (p. 268).


Jim said...
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Jim said...

A great book that relates to many of the themes in the Soundtracks book and the Cohen article is Elijah Wald’s, Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. It is worth the read, but you can also get a sense of how it relates to the readings for this week by visiting Wald’s website.