The City is an Open Score (Crafting a Sonic Urbanism, Paris 2019)

1213191128_hdr

Hey, I’m back. I also gave no real indication that I was gone, since finals made that fairly difficult. I’ve also been working on my end-of-decade music lists, which I’ll post here next Monday. A lyric in one of my top 10 records of the decade says, “the city is an empty glass,” but this week’s retrospective says that “the city is an open score.”

Last week, I was privileged to join Theatrum Mundi for their annual Crafting a Sonic Urbanism conference at EHESS (Campus Condorcet) in Aubervilliers (Paris) on Friday. It was exactly what one would want out of a conference: laid-back, collegial, thoughtful, and concluded with a mind-melting talk by Saskia Sassen.

1213191855_hdr

Saskia Sassen at EHESS (Aubervilliers, France 13.Dec.2019)

At the beginning of my talk, I cited a portion of my 2016 interview with Ian MacKaye where he reflected on Fugazi’s success in France. He said (to paraphrase) that he felt like the French and some other European punks had a certain appreciation for what artists were doing outside of the capitalist paradigm of production, and that finding that appreciation for your efforts was simply a universal human desire. For similar reasons, I appreciated the opportunity to present my research across the pond.

Theatrum Mundi have no qualms about pushing various envelopes, drawing heavily on abstract thought and experimental art to propose new ideas or ways of thinking about landscape. Even if some of it went over my head (especially as a ostensible non-musician), everyone there was eager to learn from one another. I was grateful to be able to join some of the conference family on Thursday for a “Scoring the City” workshop:

1212191158_hdr

Scoring the City workshop, Porte de la Chapelle (12.Dec.2019)

The main colloquium on Friday ran from 9.30 until 17.00, with Dr. Sassen’s presentation ending the evening at 20.00 (I’m still somewhat on the 24-hour clock). I was introduced to several musical experiments, thought exercises, and moments in sonic political history, among the most notable being Lin Chi-Wei’s Tape Music (Jonathan Packham) and Ella Finer’s discussion of the use of vocal noise at the 1982 Greenham Common protests. It was also my first bilingual conference, including a handful of talks and presentations in French. I wish my French comprehension were better, but it forced me to practice, at least.

While I was in town, I also had the chance to catch up with a pair of my top Capitals of Punk informants (though of course I won’t play favorites). With new things coming for the book and the greater surrounding project in 2020, it was rewarding to hear more stories and approach future collaborations that may actually bring me back to Paris before too long.

I’ve also been fortunate to experience Paris in moments of political upheaval: one was an isolated incident (anti-austerity, Greek solidarity protests in July 2015) and the other was a protracted mass-scale industrial action this past month. Due to the strikes, almost all of the Metro lines were closed or profoundly compromised, and the (limited) buses were rolling sardine cans:

1216191122_hdr

Still, save for a handful of participants who had difficulty making it into Paris from elsewhere in France (the SNCF was on strike as part of the greater grève), the Sonic Urbanism conference went off without a hitch and I was able to get around the city and Ile-de-France with little incident. I joked with one friend that being an American used to relying on public transit in a variety of cities back home had prepared me for bad public transit. Even on Paris’ worst day, it was still not that bad, comparatively. I did not come across any protests around Les Halles, but I did not spend too much time down around there. The footage from cities like Bordeaux on the news every night was pretty harrowing, though, and it was a welcome change to see protesters presented in a marginally positive (or at least objective) light on a National platform, which is more than can be said for most any 24-hour American news outlet.

1215191638b_hdr

Paris, December 2019

All that being said, and despite how lovely France was in the Holiday Season, I’m grateful to be back in the States. 2019 was an amazing year for me. Cumulatively, I spent over a month of it overseas, and coupled with an affiliation switch and big move, suffice it to say I’m still exhausted as I write this. It’s a good exhausted, however, and I’m eager to relax over the Holidays and return to Central Michigan in 2020 with a head full of steam.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support through this past year! To you and yours, I wish you:

1214192101_hdr

Mantes-la–Jolie, Île-de-France (December 2019)

 

NOW AVAILABLE: “Capitals of Punk: DC, Paris, and Circulation in the Urban Underground”

Happy Almost-Summer, everyone! As you may have noticed, I added this to the sidebar widgets here, but I hadn’t taken a moment on this blog to properly announce… [drum-roll, fireworks, and elaborate Busby Berkeley-derived dance sequence] I have a book out!

0418191142_hdr

It was released earlier this month on Palgrave MacMillan Press. Special thanks to my editor Josh Pitt in Melbourne (who should be no stranger to anybody who’s been on this site over the past month), as well as to Sophie Li in Shanghai for an awesome cover, as well as to Karthiga Ramu and the whole copy editing team in India. I never suspected the academic publication process would be that globetrotting, but that’s the 21st century for you and an added bonus to an already great experience.

Early reviews I’ve read of the book have been humbling and flattering, both in the best way. I’m grateful that this project, which began in earnest ages ago, has finally coalesced and brought so many people together who factored into this story.  As Palgrave enumerates on their website, the book includes exclusive new interviews with music legends like Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dischord Records), Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think), and Cynthia Connolly (Banned in DC) as well as a number of key characters in the growth of French punk. It also features over thirty photos of this slice of punk history, many of which are exclusive, never-before-seen images. 

You or your library (please tell your library!) can purchase Capitals of Punk in hardcover or as an ePub/Annotated PDF from Palgrave at their official marketplace here.  Here is the synopsis via Palgrave’s website:

Capitals of Punk tells the story of Franco-American circulation of punk music, politics, and culture, focusing on the legendary Washington, DC hardcore punk scene and its less-heralded counterpart in Paris. This book tells the story of how the underground music scenes of two major world cities have influenced one another over the past fifty years.  This book compiles exclusive accounts across multiple eras from a long list of iconic punk musicians, promoters, writers, and fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Through understanding how and why punk culture circulated, it tells a greater story of (sub)urban blight, the nature of counterculture, and the street-level dynamics of that centuries-old relationship between France and the United States.

If you would like to review the book or have me as a guest on your radio show or podcast, I’d be happy to do it. Please get in touch at SONICGEOGRAPHY [AT] GMAIL or (+1) 865 974 6033.  You can contact Palgrave via the page linked above.

0418191143_hdr

NEW ARTICLE OUT. ‘Tout Faux’: Parisian landscape and hardcore punk, 1983–87

20441983Happy 2018! I’m excited to announce I’ve just published a new article in the UK journal Punk and Post-Punk. Read the abstract, order it, or find citation info here. It overviews the geographic history of Paris hardcore, focusing on the three or four years of the mid-1980s when the underground style first attempted circulation in the Ile-de-France region. I based this off of a range of accounts I gathered during my fieldwork in France in 2015 and through follow-up correspondence since then.

As far as I know, this story has never been told formally before,  and I’m grateful for this opportunity to give progenitors like Heimat-Los and Kromozom 4 their rightful place in the greater global post-punk timeline. Hopefully somebody who was there at the time can take the baton and publish a more authoritative and comprehensive history of that era someday. In the meantime, there is plenty of great material archived and linked via Euthanasie Records.

Thank you to Russ Bestley and all of his colleagues at this fantastic journal. You can look into the index of Punk & Post-Punk back issues and learn how to submit on the Intellect Ltd. page here.

ANTIFA: Paris in the 80’s

Thanks for the support on the last post about our GEOG 320 Project. I’ve got more coming soon from the Cultural Geography class, as well as some news about a couple of local and regional presentations I’ll be making this fall!

1984_RAS_show_nazis_in_the_crowd

A fight breaks out against Neo-Nazi skinheads in the crowd at the final R.A.S. show, 1984. Photo courtesy of Philippe Roizes, all rights reserved.

In the meantime, here is the most fascinating way you could spend your next hour-and-change. ‘ANTIFA: Chasseurs de Skins’ presents 1980’s Paris in all of her brutal reality. Some friends of mine had a conversation about just how much music influenced personal identity and clannish behavior for Generation X. This often played out politically in violently reactionary pockets of Western Europe on the heels of the “no future” era and international malaise of the 1970’s. Class struggles became, at the behest of the political right, “racial” and political struggles, and these played themselves out in the punk scenes in and around Paris for several years. It’s easy to forget how a band like Berurier Noir could have had such a profound impact outside of just music.

One thing that hit me while watching this was, comparatively, how pacifist the North American left is versus the French, Spanish, and British left(s). Actual progressive voices get quelled easily here (and the ones that don’t, well, have been putting their foot in their mouths of late). This is, among many other reasons, why the Presidential nominee of a major party has been able to succeed on a platform of symbolic (and actual) violence at a grassroots level. Unsurprisingly, violence is the only rejoinder many of these people understand or respect. Racists, Islamophobes, and other people who lack the inherent ability to think critically (or at all, really) have little reason to fear bricks to the head or other such retaliation, so they behave in an animalistic way and refuse to practice compassion. But then again, that’s just one American’s opinion and interpretation of a wonderfully done documentary.

For more context, see this article about the Black Dragon gang of anti-racism warriors and an accompanying documentary in the same style.

Was this your Dissertated Summer? (Paris 1988 & Paris 1926)

One of the things that nobody warned me about as I’ve slid down the slippery slope into dissertation mode has been the creeping guilt. I know everyone’s dissertation experience is different and I wouldn’t expect everyone to share my exact academic anxieties (everyone should harbor their own; it’s perfectly natural). But I’ve reached a point where, whenever I’m doing anything unrelated to my dissertation (academic, professional, or recreational/completely disconnected), I feel this benign (yet still jarring) guilt that I’m losing ground on my monolithic self-assigned finish line. I know my whole life can’t be reading and writing for the dissertation, because that would be insane. But concurrently, I’d be in a bad position if my own conscience wasn’t nudging me back toward my mostly-digital pile of notes and drafts.

Please don’t take this rare moment of vulnerability as a caveat about my progress (or any discouragement for potential employers, *wink*). I’m definitely going to finish it, and in all likelihood on schedule. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy or cast doubt on myself. I still thank myself disproportionately often that I walked away from my 9-to-6 life in DC to dive into academia. I still occasionally stop and think… “wow, I get to write this for a dissertation. Rad.” The pressure of the dissertation isn’t even a guarded secret among academics; a member of a seminal 90’s band (a great drummer and label manager but hardly the scholastic type) even shouted friendly words of encouragement at me when after his new band’s show in SF when he found out what I did.

I have three primary reasons for wanting to bring this up, all increasingly relevant to what I’ll be sharing here.

  1. I want to impart what little wisdom I’ve accumulated from the writing process thus far to anyone reading this who may be thinking about pursuing a PhD. Most of those people probably already have their minds made up but are just stopping by on their daily blogroll (thanks!)
  2. This is why I haven’t written anything on here for almost a month. I know I’ve had similar gaps before, but in this case, I’m honestly too preoccupied with reading, notating, and writing, and that aforementioned guilt has kept me from trying to produce unrelated material for my site. I’m also pretty subdued about works in progress, so I’m loathe to share much material about my dissertation, which (again) composes a vast majority of my recent productivity. I’ll relax this a bit tonight, though, because…
  3. The ostensibly last-minute mad-dash for literature and source material has yielded a few things in the last 48 hours that I couldn’t keep to myself.

A wise(au) man once said “Don’t plan too much, it may not come out right.” One piece of advice I’d gotten ages ago from a colleague was to avoid handicapping myself by doing anything other than expecting the unexpected when it came to research, especially given any umbrella as wide as a dissertation’s. I do have my proposal to reference whenever I forget, but I could never rewind my brain to whatever mode it was in when I first landed on my topic. The qualitative researcher is no different than their subject(s)- fluid and subject to an endless stream of external and internal influences. It’s just as important to keep as open of a mind in qualitative research as anywhere in life. This applies equally when digging through cluttered archives as accumulating the most iconoclastic of oral histories from folks in another country (both of which I’ve done over the past year).

Two research practices that have yielded mouth-nearly-agape results-level material for me in the past 48 hours range from superbly post(?)-modern (YouTube) to the downright old-fashioned (library stacks).

PARIS, 1988
From where I sit, not a whole lot of scholarship has been done on how useful YouTube can be in qualitative research, at least within geography. Some disparate articles using YouTube have appeared over the last decade (Longhurst 2009, Garrett 2011, Carter 2015), but streaming and participatory video is hardly even a generation-old phenomenon. Video recording has become more ubiquitous through smart phones, but that doesn’t mean a treasure trove of audio-visual research material hasn’t been digitized and uploaded by benevolent users all over the internet. A full year after gathering stories about the first two Fugazi shows in Paris (November 1988 and December 1989), I discovered that not only were they both filmed with excellent sound for the VHS era, but they are also now online, thanks to Philippe Roger.

Even if you aren’t a fan of Fugazi’s music, this is a fascinating watch. You can see the violence breaking out among this snapshot of Paris’ late-80’s punks scene. Watch how annoyed (and even scared) the band gets when people won’t stop stagediving and otherwise disrupting them, but they still take it like true professionals and unleash their set of early-era highlights. Guy Piciotto (whose near-fluent French he speaks here) wasn’t even playing the guitar in the first show, embedded here below. You can check out the second one, from 1990, here. For those of you who were wondering what the essence of my dissertation was, and were looking for a response to be in video form:


PARIS, 1926
Yesterday, I decided to go the library to dig up a 1984 edition of Pierre Bourdieu’s  Distinction. Normally, I just use the handy delivery service that UTK offers to save time, but the other day, I decided to give my legs and brain much-needed stretches and walked over there. I also needed to return a couple books to a different campus library, but that’s besides the point. Right before a seismic monsoon landed on campus, I ducked into the main library and wandered up to the third floor. The Bourdieu book was nowhere to be found. The staff couldn’t locate it either. I know how many books just disappear or slip under the radar within library systems every year, but at the time, it was a little frustrating. I did, however, grab a few books on a whim that have already jumped to the top of my reading list and begun to influence my writing. These included Utopia Deferred, a series of essays by the always delightful leftist quote-machine Jean Baudrillard. I also grabbed French Cultural Studies, a 1995 collection edited by Jill Forbes and Michael Kelly. I’m not sure how prominently this book will figure into my work, but I’m more confused as to why it hadn’t occurred to me yet to dig into French Cultural Studies as a resource. Last but not least (actually, least-least) was Nancy L. Green’s exhaustively-researched The Other Americans in Paris (2014), an exhaustively-researched history of the American community in Paris, from the gold- and culture-digging elites down to the petty criminals who escaped Uncle Sam’s grasp in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On Page 1, Green clearly lays out her mission statement:

There is an untold tale of Americans in the City of Light, a history of expatriation that parallels the story of those who came to France for creative inspiration. But with an important twist. While many Americans came to France in search of (European) civilization, many more came to disseminate the American version of it. Even as the writers and artists of the well-known “Lost Generation” expressed angst over modernity and America’s role in it, other Americans overseas were participating in the debate over modernity in another way: by selling it or trying to.

The cultural and sub-cultural exchanges between the US and France, while I’m focusing on the past four decades, have been prominent for the entire lifespan of both Republics. These thoughts had been crossing my mind for the whole lifespan of my project, but until I grabbed Green’s book on a whim, I hadn’t really thought much about how much interwar American expats and tourists told us about the societies’ love-hate relationship. Did you know there was a vicious anti-American demonstration on Grands Boulevards almost exactly 90 years ago this week? Did you know hundreds of angry locals gathered to take out their frustrations on a cluster of the 200,000 American tourists in town that summer? Well, it happened (see Green, p. 204).

What I’m trying to say is, these are the things that have distracted me from this blog this summer, and take an hour a week to wander around your library’s stacks. Even if they don’t have the book you’re looking for, it can and will push/pull your research in different and fun directions.

Back to writing….

IMG_2525

Carter, Perry. “3 Virtual ethnography.” Social memory and heritage tourism methodologies 49 (2015): 48.
Garrett, Bradley L. “Videographic Geographies: Using Digital Video for Geographic Research.” Progress in Human Geography 35, no. 4 (2011): 521-41.
Green, Nancy L. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Longhurst, Robyn. “YouTube: a new space for birth?” Feminist Review 93, no. 1 (2009): 46-63.

The Case for “Les Chaises Musicales”

IMG_2566

One beautiful day this July in Montreuil, France, I woke up (a bit later than I’d care to admit; I’m a night owl and I’d had a lot of interview notes to write up) and wandered down toward the Metro station. I bought a sandwich from the pastisserie and wandered over to the park next to the Public Library by the mairie (town hall). The park, always abuzz with activity, afforded few benches which I could sit upon without the mid-day sun blinding me. (Fair notice: if you invite me for lunch and insist that we eat outside, I’ll do it because I’m a grateful person, but I won’t exactly love it; the sun scorches, bugs bite, and the wind blows). I wandered past the library’s entrance looking for a good spot to sit and eat when I heard Johnny Cash’s voice emanating from a nearby grotto. It wasn’t Sun-era Johnny Cash, either; this was dying, recording-in-an-armchair, Rick-Rubin-calling-the-shots, Johnny Cash. The song was “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). Anyone familiar with Johnny Cash’s baritone, especially at this point in his life, could imagine how much hearing it changed my sunny disposition (however slightly; I was so excited for what I was about to discover).

IMG_2567

The library management had placed some lawn chairs out in the grotto and set up a pair of high-definition speaker monitors, blasting an eclectic playlist of 19 songs. An equally eclectic crowd sat and listened to the music. It was amazing. They weren’t talking or treating it as background noise. While some read and others napped, they were all just sitting casually and listening. Some of the selections were mainstream (The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”, others weren’t (Calexico’s “Woven Birds”). Some tracks were instrumental (Morton Feldman’s “Variations”), others were vocal (Billie Holiday’s “Summertime”), some hip-hop (RZA’s “My Lovin’ is Digi”), some rock n’ roll (Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon”), some folk (Woody Guthrie’s “You Souls of Boston”), all strangely transcendent to hear flowing out of a public library’s outdoor PA system.

IMG_2564

The moment I sat down, Nirvana’s unplugged rendition of the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau” started playing, as if they sensed an aging guy in an 80’s hardcore t-shirt had wandered over.

I don’t know how often they do this, but I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a lunch break. If I find the time anytime soon, I would like to bring this to the Knoxville Library and see if they’d like to give it a shot on Market Square or somewhere else central. It’s a great way to both present popular music in a sophisticated way and provide an ostensibly free public service for people who want to engage in public life. As much as I imagine Parisians to be more prone to this, that’s all the more reason to give it a test-run on this side of the pond.

Locals and Tourists (Geotagging)

Locals and Tourists #15 (GTWA #47): Santa Monica and western Los Angeles//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

While I am not as much of a cartography expert as I’d like to be, I wanted to share this project by the talented Eric Fischer. It landed on my news feed from Bill Bowen, the longtime chair of the Cal State Northridge Geography program and major benefactor of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographer (who you should hopefully have the chance to meet one day and chat with about the last six decades of Geographic education; he was there in Berkeley in the 1950s).

Anyway, Fischer’s project involves a heavy use of geotagging to cache where people discernible as “tourists” take photos in cities versus where those discernible as “locals” do. The results are not without the logistical issues (also, they are based on data from the beginning of this decade), but the visual output is stunning. It should also be highly intriguing and useful as a way to teach urban geography.

Locals and Tourists #4 (GTWA #3): Paris

Take, for example, the map of Paris above. Many of the red blotches are fairly easy to guess (The Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and Notre Dame), but others make for a fun challenge (Père Lachaise Cemetery, Versailles, and ???).

Here, kids, is a tourist.

Here, kids, is a tourist.

I hope you’re all having pleasant Sundays and hope you enjoyed this.