Western classical music as sonic weapon

Western classical music has been celebrated for its capacity to enlighten, to move, and as proponents of the Mozart effect suggest, improve listeners’ mental capacity. However, over the past 30 years in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, classical music has also come to function not just as art or entertainment but as a sonic weapon. It has been used as a means of dispelling and deterring so-called “loiterers” by making certain public and privately owned public spaces, including shopping malls, bus stations, shop fronts, and car parks undesirable to occupy.

The origins of such practice began in 1985 when a branch manager of a 7-Eleven convenience store in British Colombia, Canada began broadcasting classical and easy listening music into the store’s parking lot to prevent local teenagers from congregating. Since then, classical music has been used as a deterrent on public transport systems in Portland, Oregon, in library foyers to deter smokers and loiterers in Canada, and in train stations of northeast England, where the broadcasting of music by the composer Frederick Delius targeted what was described as “low level antisocial behavior”.

Ted Crow/Washington Post

In such cases, the weaponization of Western music can be recognized as an audio-affective technology of what Neil Smith (1996,1998) called “the revanchist city”, resonating with the spatial logics of urban revanchism–drawing comparisons with the mixture of militarism and moralism that characterized the bourgeois, reactionary revanchists of late-19th century Paris. In this context, it becomes a means to affectively police the boundaries of public space, guarding against unwanted and threatening populations. There is also, however, an apparent tension in the audio-affective functioning of Western classical music as a deterrent. Although classical music is thought to improve the undesirable behavior attributed to loitering because of its capacity to soothe and calm, it also drives away and inhibits loiterers by generating negative affections (i.e., sensations of irritation, alienation, and annoyance). While affect has been posited as a site of freedom by comparison to the predictability of social determinisms, weaponized classical music exemplifies how musical affect can reproduce social stratification.

Learn more in “To soothe or remove? Affect, revanchism, and the weaponized use of classical music” by Marie Thompson (Communication and the public II/4 [December 2017], 272–283). Find this journal in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

Listen to Frederick Delius’ On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring below.

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Filed under Politics, Sound, Space

Le Corbusier, architecture, and sound

The Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier’s (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) work on the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp, France (pictured below) has been touted as iconic of the international style. Built between 1950 and 1955, the chapel has a tower reminiscent of a grain silo, a sweeping roof that resembles a floppy hat and curved walls with rectangular apertures of various shapes and sizes. These characteristics all reflect Le Corbusier’s taste for articulated light and reinforced concrete, as well as his distinct penchant for sparse and ascetic design. Due to one wall of the chapel being set several feet inside the edge of the roof, it is possible to be both under the roof and open to the elements. Le Corbusier used the east wall of the chapel as a cyclorama against which the public and private altars were set, incorporating a swiveling statue of the Virgin Mary to accommodate both. The building’s architecture also reminds of Le Corbusier’s past as a Cubist painter and that he continued to produce two-dimensional visual art throughout his career.

Le Corbusier also is well-known for his work on Edgard Varése’s Poéme électronique for the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The work was performed in an elaborate installation of sound routes which circled the performance space in a building designed by Iannis Xenakis. Le Corbusier designed a spectacle of colored lights and images to accompany Varèse’s piece, which was a self-sufficient musical work, part of a larger composition of architecture, sound, light, and image. Unpublished correspondence between Varèse and Le Corbusier suggests that they originally intended to conceptually coordinate sound and image. At the very least, Le Corbusier’s script influenced the form and sound material of Varèse’s piece.

Learn more in the entry on Le Corbusier in A dictionary of the avant-gardes (2001). Find it in RILM Music Encylopedias.

Below is a performance of Varése’s Poéme électronique by the Tufts University Electronic Music Ensemble, followed by a video featuring a walk-through of Le Corbusier’s Notre-Dame-du-Haut chapel in Ronchamp.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Architecture, Europe, Performers, Sound

Teresa Teng and Hong Kong’s colonial modernity

Teresa Teng (鄧麗君, born Deng Lijun) was one of the most influential singers in Asia during the Cold War era. She rose to fame in 1960s Taiwan, and by 1971, at the age of 18, shifted the focus of her career from Taiwan to Hong Kong. This decision would become the most important chapter in Teng’s music career, as she would live in Hong Kong for next 20 years. Her preference for Hong Kong was expressed in the release of two singles, namely Night of Hong Kong (香港之夜,1982) and Hong Kong, Hong Kong (香港香港, 1989), which she recorded specifically for her local fans. Teng’s other well-known songs also told the stories of small rural towns in China, where many of her other loyal fans lived.

Teng recalled that as a second-generation migrant from China to Taiwan, she frequently experienced discrimination by Taiwanese people towards her. Unable to overcome of the feeling of being a stranger there, she found safe harbor in Hong Kong‘s immigrant community. Teng’s rise to become one of Asia’s most influential singers is also the story of Hong Kong’s expanding political and economic influence in the region, along with the cross-cultural appeal of Hong Kong’s popular culture during the Cold War period. A series of albums entitled Island love songs (島國之情歌), produced when Teng was employed by PolyGram Music in Hong Kong, as well as her two albums in Cantonese, and the album Light exquisite feeling, which promoted the idea of a transnational “imagined China”, aurally evoke a sense of Hong Kong’s colonial modernity.

Celebrate the first day of women’s history month by reading “Love songs from an island with blurred boundaries: Teresa Teng’s anchoring and wandering in Hong Kong” by Chen-Ching Cheng, in Made in Hong Kong: Studies in popular music (Routledge, 2020). Find it in RILM Abstracts.

Below, Teresa Teng sings one of her most popular songs The moon represents my heart (released in 1977).

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Filed under Asia, Performers, Popular music, Uncategorized, Voice

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer and conductor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the son of a doctor from Sierra Leone and an English woman, was born in Croydon, England on 15 August 1875. At the age of 15, he was accepted into a violin class at the Royal College of Music in London and studied composition before being awarded a composition scholarship in March 1893. As a composer he progressed far more quickly than his fellow students. At a young age, Coleridge-Taylor became familiar with the works of the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who had a strong influence on Coleridge-Taylor, especially on his compositions Seven African romances op. 17 (1897), A corn song (1897), African suite op. 35 (1897) and the opera Dream lovers op. 25 (1898). He was also familiar with the writings of Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois, whose collection of essays, The souls of Black folk, he called “the finest book I have ever read by a colored man, and one of the best by any author, White or Black”.

At the age of 23, Coleridge-Taylor was commissioned to write his Ballade in A minor for Britain’s Three Choirs Festival; although he is best known for Hiawatha’s wedding feast, based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The overture Coleridge-Taylor wrote for the piece was inspired by the African American spiritual Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. In 1904, he made the first of three trips to the United States where he toured during the post-Reconstruction era and met notable African American figures such as the poet James Weldon Johnson and the statesman Booker T. Washington. During this period, he also conducted performances of his works at the Washington Festival and Litchfield Festival on the East Coast. Later, Coleridge-Taylor became a professor of composition at Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. In addition to cantatas, chamber music, and orchestral works, he also wrote popular songs and incidental music. Coleridge-Taylor passed away at the age of 37 from pneumonia.

Read the full entry on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in MGG Online.

Listen to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha overture below.

A related Bibliolore post:

A new Coleridge-Taylor edition

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Filed under Black studies, Europe, Musicology, North America, Opera, Performers

MC5 and the American ruse

Rolling Stone magazine put the MC5 (short for Motor City Five) on their January 1969 cover before the world ever heard a note of their music. Considered the missing link between free jazz and punk, the MC5 were a raw and primal band, considered to be unstoppable when they were clicking. A generation of bands, including The Clash, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Motorhead, and Rage Against the Machine, would be inspired by their sonic and political blueprint. Led by guitarist Wayne Kramer, the MC5 reflected their times: exciting, sexy, violent, chaotic, and seemingly out of control–characteristics that ensured their time in the spotlight would be short-lived. Members of the band were galvanized by the racial and class politics of the 1967 Detroit riots, which left many of the local neighborhoods Kramer knew decimated. He and the MC5 toured the world, played with a number of music legends, and garnered a rabid following, their music acting as the blistering soundtrack to blue-collar youth movements springing up across the United States and elsewhere. Their vehement antiauthoritarian stance found especially fertile ground in the 1960s antiwar movement. The lyrics of their 1970 song The American ruse (from the album Back in the U.S.A.) perfectly captured the sentiment of the movement during that political moment.

“69 America in terminal stasis
The air’s so thick, it’s like drowning in molasses
I’m sick and tired of paying these dues
And I’m finally getting hip to the American ruse.”

Listen to American ruse below.

Kramer wanted to redefine what a rock ‘n’ roll group was capable of, and although there was power in that cause, it also was also a recipe for disaster, both personally and professionally. The band recorded three major label albums, but by 1972, it was all over. Kramer’s story is literally a revolutionary one, but it’s also one of deep personal struggle as an addict and an artist, as well as a survivor and rebel. From Kramer’s early days in Detroit to becoming a junkie on the streets of the East Village, from Key West to Nashville and Los Angeles, in and out of prison and on and off drugs, his life was that of a classic journeyman, only with a twist.

By 2009, Kramer had cleaned up and established Jail Guitar Doors U.S.A., a nonprofit organization that offers songwriting workshops in prisons and donates musical instruments to inmates. As Kramer described in a 2015 interview, “The guitar can be the key that unlocks the cell. It can be the key that unlocks the prison gate, and it could be the key that unlocks the rest of your life to give you an alternative way to deal with things.” Possibilities that Kramer understood well from personal experience.

Wayne Kramer passed away on 2 February 2024.

Read more in The hard stuff: Dope, crime, the MC5 & my life of impossibilities by Wayne Kramer (Da Capo Books, 2018). Find it in RILM Abstracts.

Below is a video of the MC5 performing live and outdoors at Wayne State University in Detroit, July 1970 (Kramer is on vocals and guitar for the first song Rambin’ Rose).

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Filed under North America, Performers, Politics, Popular music

Radio Caroline and U.K. pirate radio

Pirate radio stations on offshore ships were only significant for less than a decade but had an enormous impact on broadcasting. In the United Kingdom independent radio had been heard since the 1930s on Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg. These stations were founded by Captain L. F. Plugge and had offices in London. The U.K.’s General Post Office (GPO), the state postal system and telecommunications carrier at the time, refused them telephone facilities to transmit concerts live, so they recorded concerts by touring seaside resorts and recording bands on 16-inch 78 rpm gramophone records that were then shipped to Brussels and taken by train to Luxembourg to be relayed.

Radio Luxembourg had the most powerful transmitter in Europe at the time. British firms were soon paying a total of £400,000 a year for advertising on programs and sponsoring them. One of the most popular was the Ovaltine Show featuring the Ovaltineys and the Ovaltineys’ Orchestra. These first commercial stations were largely lost in World War II when most of the transmitters were destroyed—although the Germans took over Radio Luxembourg to transmit propaganda. It survived after the war and took the new format of the Top 20 series from U.S. radio.

On March 29, 1964, a new development hit the airwaves and captured the imagination and loyalty of the younger listeners. Radio Caroline first broadcast from a ship anchored off the Essex coast just outside British territorial waters. There had been other pirate offshore radio stations before that, broadcasting to Scandinavian and other northern European countries, but Radio Caroline was to become the most successful and long-lived. It was started by an Irish businessman called Ronan O’Rahilly, who had been trying to promote a young singer named Georgie Fame. He was turned down by the main record companies and decided to start his own company. He even took the records to Radio Luxembourg and was rejected by them as their airtime was mostly taken by the large record companies. In desperation, O’Rahilly decided to start his own radio station.

He bought an old passenger ferry and secretly refitted it in a southern Ireland port before mooring it off the coast of Harwich. The first disc played on Radio Caroline was The Beatles’ Can’t buy me love by DJ Simon Dee. Other pirate stations proliferated off the British coast in the coming years: Radio Atlanta, transmitted from the ship Mi Amigo, and later merged with Radio Caroline while the original Caroline ship went north to anchor off the Isle of Man to become Radio Caroline North.

Read the full entry on pirate radio in the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Listen to the opening broadcast of Radio Caroline with Simon Dee on 29 March 1964.

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Filed under Europe, Mass media, Popular music

Manu Dibango and “Soul makossa”

The Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango began his career by performing in the local church choir in his hometown of Douala. As a child, Dibango faced significant challenges growing up in a household where his father and mother belonged to rival ethnic groups in the region. His parents, however, did own a vast record collection, which deepened his interest in Cuban, U.S., and French music at a young age. After moving to France in 1949, Dibango learned to play the piano and later the saxophone. He developed a love for jazz while in France with the help of Francis Bebey and other musicians who inspired and taught him.

After moving to Brussels in 1956, Dibango joined Joseph Kabasele’s Congolese orchestra Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz, which was famous for its hit Indépendance chacha in 1960. Dibango traveled with Kabasele’s orchestra to perform in the city of Kinshasa in1961, where he decided to stay and open the famous Tam-Tam nightclub. In 1963, Dibango’s hit song Twist à Léo helped popularize the twist dance throughout the Congo, and his encounter with Congolese music inspired him to delve deeper into African music, especially makossa, the popular genre of his hometown Douala.

Dibango recorded the song Soul makossa in 1971 and positioned it as the b-side to the single Hymne de la Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, which was a tribute to the Cameroon football team. Local listeners were not initially impressed by Soul makossa, and even Dibango’s father scoffed at the stuttering vocal line in the song. A few copies of the single, however, found their way across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of radio DJs in New York City by 1972. The song became a hit on New York radio stations and in disco clubs. The few copies circulating in the city were immediately sold out, and the lack of distribution resulted in Soul makossa being recorded and released by several local New York City bands to meet the demand. Once distribution of the original single by Dibango resumed, Soul makossa immediately shot to the top of the charts.

Read the full entry on Manu Dibango in MGG Online. Below is a video of a performance of Soul makossa in 1983.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music, World music

Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in blue” premieres

At its premiere 100 years ago, on 12 February 1924, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue was received with a standing ovation after it was performed. At the time, the conductor Paul Whitehead requested that Gershwin write a “jazz concerto” for an event to be held at the Aeolian Hall, a renowned Manhattan concert venue located in the Aeolian Building–coincidentally, this building was also RILM’s original home before the CUNY Graduate Center. Given the centennial of Rhapsody’s premiere in 2024, it is likely to be heard in many different settings and contexts.

Since the piece premiered in early 1924, however, debates have arisen about how much Gershwin knew about writing music. Because his musical language was an unconventional blend of U.S. popular music and European art music, some of his critics assumed that he knew little about writing serious music. This premise has been confirmed somewhat by statements made in early Gershwin biographies, which alleged that he was self-taught.

The inherent complexity of Rhapsody in blue and other subsequent concert works written by Gershwin, however, suggest he knew a great deal about writing music. It is also known that Gershwin received training from the versatile composer and musician Charles Hambitzer as early as 1912, where he discovered the music of Irving Berlin and J.D. Kern, and later received special theory lessons from the composer and conductor Edward Kilenyi. Rhapsody was composed in only five weeks, in spare moments while Gershwin was otherwise occupied with the premiere of a Broadway show. On that time schedule, he had no alternative other than to put what he already knew about writing music into that work.

Celebrate the centennial of the premiere of Rhapsody in blue today by reading the entry on George Gershwin in MGG Online and “Rhapsody in blue: A culmination of George Gershwin’s early musical education”, a dissertation by Susan E. Neimoyer (2003, University of Washington, Seattle); find it in RILM Abstracts.

Below is the classic scene of the Rhapsody in blue premiere in the 1945 Gershwin biopic starring Robert Alda.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, North America, Performers

Batanghari sembilan in South Sumatra

Batanghari sembilan is a genre of popular guitar music performed in the province of South Sumatra, Indonesia. The sound of batanghari, for many locals, evokes a strong sense of cultural pride for their natural and agricultural surroundings, especially for the long winding rivers that flow across the elongated island’s mountainous landscape. Some have described the genre as melancholic or romantic for its minimalistic sound. In earlier times, the sound of batanghari sembilan was more dense as it was performed in small ensembles comprised of a gambus (a lute instrument similar to an oud), suling (an Indonesian bamboo flute), and small hanging gongs. Today, however, it is performed primarily on solo acoustic guitar.

In the village of Batu Urip, batanghari sembilan accompanies the sekedah bumi, a ceremony performed to summon the spirits of the deceased as a form of memorialization, expression of gratitude, and to repel future misfortune. The version of batanghari sembilan performed here in sekedah bumi is unique in its incorporation of pantun, a Malay poetic form, in this case, used to express deep sadness and longing for ancestors or recent relatives who have passed away.  For instance, in the popular pantun phrase below, the third and fourth lines describe a sense of seduction that can be attributed to either an ancestor or perhaps a lover.

Betang hagu umban di tebang

Betang duku di buat hahang

Jengan ragu jengan bimbang

Linjang ku tuk ngas suhang

In this context, the performance of batanghari sembilan in sekedah bumi is not merely intended as entertainment but as ritual function, conveying the social values and history of South Sumatran cultures while strengthening local communities.

Learn more in “The function of pantun in the art performance of batang hari sembilan solo guitar during sedekah bumi ceremony held in Batu Urip hamlet, South Sumatera” by Imelda Tri Andari and Suharto (Harmonia 20.2, [December 2020], 195–204). Find this Indonesian journal in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

The video below features the guitarist Sahilin, one of South Sumatra’s most renowned contemporary batanghari sembilan performers. The second video features Suarasama, an Indonesian band that incorporates elements of the batanghari sembilan sound.

Pictured above are Randi Putra Ramadhan and Rosa Jannatri Harkha, two younger batanghari performers.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music, World music

Towards global knowledge, decolonization, and preservation

On 9 February 2024, RILM presents a panel titled “Towards Global Knowledge, Decolonization, and Preservation—Challenges and Opportunities Through Culture and Arts Education” as part of the UNESCO World Conference on Culture and Arts Education 2024. The four presentations in this side event are all rooted in the understanding that information literacy is a fundamental pillar in education—each presentation pivots on the notion of global knowledge as a foundation of culture and arts education. After RILM Director Tina Frühauf opens the panel with discussion of a broader theoretical framework, the second presentation by Executive Editor Zdravko Blažeković examines RILM as a model that underlines the importance of a global approach to information literacy. The following presentation by RILM Associate Editor Farah Zahra presents a local perspective, using the case of Iraqi literature and knowledge as an example. The final presentation by RILM Editor MU Qian highlights decolonization (understood here as an ongoing process) as an additional objective for the UNESCO Framework for Culture and Arts Education, taking the treatment of Uygur culture as a case in point.

For further information on RILM’s panel and information on joining the presentation, please visit https://www.rilm.org/wccae2024/

For more information on UNESCO World Conference on Culture and Arts Education 2024, visit https://www.unesco.org/en/wccae2024?hub=86510

Also, be sure to check out RILM’s resources for learning including materials for teachers, students, performers, and music researchers interested in RILM’s rich music databases, research tools, and full-text publications. Learn more at https://www.rilm.org/classrooms/

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Filed under Music education, RILM, RILM news