As many of you know, I am very interested in acoustic ecologies and soundscapes and how these are used to construct places.
I’m watching the history channel as we speak, specifically a special on times square during the 29-32 depression and beyond. I’m intrigued by the background music that they use to characterize the area. During the depression, they highlight the amount of burlesque houses that happened, and how these carried on into the war. Of course, what we see are pictures of white sailors in burlesque houses staring at white women. Then it moves on to talk about coming out of the depression- and this is where it gets interesting. Showing images of WWII NYC, the jazz that they played was “Little Brown Jug”- a classic of the Glen Miller Orchestra. The interesting thing, as many jazz scholars would point out, is that big band was dead for most jazz listeners, and it definitely was not what characterized 42nd street. Interesting though, GMO was the sound of rich white people, while they describe the area as “seedy” during that time.
Why is the question that we must ask! I’m reminded of a conversation with Mark Auslander about a reserve in Africa where men were feeding or maintaining crocodiles, blasting some reggae. The reason white people would find this interrupting of nature is the same reason why the Glen Miller Orchestra is heard in the sonic-space characterized by the anti-big band musicians Charlie Parker, Chuck Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. In this History Channel special, they have attempted to reclaim the soundscape, and Times Square at that time, as white space. The soundscape is important in how one perceives spaces, and this is no exception. One must wonder if noise-pollution would be more acceptable if the reggae of Mark Auslander’s story was replaced by Bach, Beethoven, or another archaic white man. In that vein, Times Square’s seedy-ness becomes more accessible and less threatening through the conversion into white space through acoustic ecology.
Regardless, the whiteness of sonic space is a very interesting thing often ignored, and we (everyone) should be more aware of when we are changing the acoustic ecology in favor of colonial politics.
With that, I bid you happy new year.