The Rubble Arts: Music after Urban Catastrophe

Abby Anderton (Baruch College, City University of New York)
Martha Sprigge (University of California, Santa Barbara)

We tend to think of destruction as an impediment to creative practice, and an obstacle to be overcome. But recent scholarship on the aftermath of catastrophe—from post-war Germany to post-industrial Detroit—has documented an array of contexts in which musical life continues in spite of, and sometimes even propelled by, physical devastation. From the city laments of the Ancient world to the contemporary repurposing of war-torn buildings for musical performances in the Middle East, rubble has continually reshaped everyday musicalizing in cities wrought by devastation, profoundly altering the way in which music is transmitted, received, and composed. Why is music continually performed in situations of precarity? How do musical practices complement, augment, or perhaps contradict, other artistic activities taking place within these devastated spaces? And how might we productively analyze this repertoire of “rubble music” produced under such varying circumstances? By focusing on the effects of destruction as they manifest in urban musical practices, this seminar seeks to address the contradictory, traumatic, and sometimes ethically questionable, ways in which music functions in the aftermath of destruction.

Under such conditions, music transforms rubble—or urban debris—into ruin—an aesthetic object or space of contemplation. We will develop an understanding of rubble and ruin in relation to musical practices, and in doing so position music within the rich investigations of urban destruction that have been taking place across the humanities disciplines in recent decades. Driven by participants’ interests and fields of expertise, this seminar will juxtapose their pre-circulated research papers with discussions of canonical texts on the so-called “art of the ruin.” Our aim is to both cut across lines of disciplinary inquiry—connecting musicology to the study of other artistic media, particularly in the twentieth century—while also connecting areas of musicology that have previously been considered distinct, whether geographically, temporally, and conceptually.

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