Andrew Leyshon, David Matless and George Revill, editors, The Place of Music. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998, 326 pp., npl. paper.
The rather unassuming title belies the decidedly delightful and penetrating nature of this edited collection. The Place of Music represents one of the first sustained critical endeavours within the combined worlds of geography and music. As I am neither a geographer, nor an ethnomusicologist, I am unable to assess the contributions this work makes to these fields. However, as a sociologist, I can unequivocally state that this book provides fresh insight into social relations and social issues, particularly as they exist in places and shapes that have heretofore been unrecognized. According to the editors, there is a growing body of work arguing that music should be considered as integral to the geographical imagination. After reading this volume, I would argue that music should also be considered integral to the sociological imagination. This most impressive work is almost certain to lead the reader into thinking about music and social life in ways she or he has never before.
The Place of Music is, in many respects, an eclectic collection. The authors consider such various musical spatial practices as driving around a region in search of rare soul music, globally producing new musical technologies, singing on behalf of a nation, making out spaces of rebellion in sound, using song to track migration, and listening to the radio while driving (p. 5). Nonetheless, there is a coherence here which stems not only from the common themes of place, spatiality and music, but from the overall outstanding quality of scholarship.
The 12 chapters range from political economy to cultural studies of the place and meaning of music. The editors have wisely chosen not to impose a rigid organizational structure on these diverse investigations, allowing each to stand as an independent study. While space does not permit a comprehensive discussion of each of the many fascinating chapters, a brief overview of some of the content of this book is offered.
The editors have written a lucid and insightful introduction (Music, Space and the Production of Place) which both thematically outlines the chapters that follow, and acts as a catalyst for thought on the nature of soundscapes and the place of music in local, national and global cultures. This discussion illustrates that the making of music is not only a cultural process, but a social and economic one as well. While firmly rooted in the extant literature and debates within the studies of culture, it also moves beyond by introducing the reader to some of the key geographical interventions that have been made in relation to the spatial dynamics of music and musical meaning and place.
The first chapter by John Lovering presents what is essentially a traditional political economy of music. Although this is one of the weaker contributions, both theoretically and stylistically, it does provide a valuable analysis of the music industry as a capitalist business, and of the complexities of contemporary musical globalization as it is simultaneously connected to local diversity and resistance. This chapter is complemented by another very engaging historic piece (Chapter 2) in which author Gerry Farrell traces the relations between universalistic and particular musical spheres through a detailed presentation of the expansion of British music capital into India at the turn of the century. Travelling across space and time, this highly detailed analysis creates a vivid illustration of cultural appropriation and the blending of 20th century Western music and technology with Indian music, symbolism and imagery.
Continuing the exploration of the dynamics between the global and the local, the only Canadian contribution focuses on how certain spaces we inhabit are produced through cultural technologies (Chapter 5). More specifically, it examines how radio, as a primarily local medium, intersects with the larger music industry to produce a particular public space, soundscape and sense of belonging for the listener. In doing this, author Jody Berland highlights the significance of understanding the places we inhabit as not simply visible points in physical space, but as the product of diverse and complex forces (p. 130). This complex creation of spaces is similarly addressed in a well-crafted selection by Joanne Hollows and Katie Milestone on the soul scene of British northern music (Chapter 3). Here the authors document the practices and symbols that are key to constructing identification within this localized music culture. Identification and place are also central in Steve Sweeney-Turners study of the relationship between music and nationalism in Scotland (Chapter 6). In this, the author moves beyond traditional folk analysis of the geographical elements of song in order to show how language and politics are variously connected to different Scottish identities through contemporary song. What is refreshing in this and several other chapters in the collection, is the unyielding commitment to an analysis of music itself. While sociological studies are frequently successful at contextualizing music production and consumption, what is all too often lacking is critical analysis of musical content. The writers in this book boldly address sounds and aesthetics, while retaining social theory.
Another of the many strengths of this volume is its methodological diversity. Through its eclecticism we are presented with a wide range of investigative approaches to uncovering the relations between music and place across multiple spatial registers, from the personal realm to wider collective social spaces. In her chapter titled Sounding Out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place (Chapter 11) for example, author Sara Cohen examines the connections between music, ethnicity and community through an ethnographic study of the memories of an elderly Jewish man in Liverpool. In a different vein, Richard Lepperts chapter on the sonoric landscape of 17th Century Holland (Chapter 12) revolves around a visual content analysis of paintings from this era through which he illuminates the place of music as a mark of social stratification.
In addition to the theoretical and methodological contributions, there is within this volume a wealth of information concerning the technical, historical and geographic dimensions of music. We learn for instance that the invention of brass instrument valves was one of the most momentous in the history of music (Chapter 4), that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor came to be represented as a black romantic composer-genius through a complex of social networks of extramusical associations (Chapter 8), and that music played a key role in refiguring the spaces and environments of countercultural dissent in the America of the 1960s (Chapter 9).
Despite a few minor flaws, the only real problem I can foresee with The Place of Music is that it may not be as widely read as it deserves to be. This groundbreaking book is, as the editors hoped it would be, both a distinctive and an entertaining transdisciplinary exercise in spatial thought...aimed at a readership that spans the humanities and social sciences. Although some of text is conceptually abstract and would be challenging reading for undergraduates in the lower years, the value of this extraordinary collection for upper-year/graduate students and scholars interested in culture, political economy, geography, the arts and social theory is noteworthy.
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