New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Quote of the Week: The Soundscape of New Orleans

From the essay “‘Under the Bridge’: An Orientation to Soundscapes in New Orleans” by Tulane Assistant Professor in Music Matt Sakakeeny, published in the journal Ethnomusicology‘s current issue, Winter 2010:

The “bridge” creates intimacy, enclosing parade participants, maximizing a sense of unity, and the concrete makes for spectacular acoustics, amplifying and multiplying the participatory sound, creating a sort of “unplugged” feedback loop: acoustic, but not shockingly loud, and made louder by the musicians playing at peak volume to compete with the sound of cars and trucks whizzing by above. Ideally, the sounds of the music, the crowd, and the environment work together to orient individuals as a collective occupying a shared space.

The essay, which is highly recommended, draws on soundscape pioneer R. Murray Schaefer’s idea of a “soundmark” (“a community sound which is unique or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded”) and Steven Feld’s extension of that idea, “acoustemology.” Sakakeeny quotes Feld defining “acoustemology,” a reduction of “acoustic epistemology,” as follows: “local conditions of acoustic sensation, knowledge, and imagination embodied in the culturally particular sense of place.” Feld has provided a more succinct definition: “a sonic way of knowing place” (

Sakakeeny writes about traditional New Orleans music without being beholden to tradition — that’s something many musicians in the city manage to do without getting much credit for it, but people who study the music often fall short. In the article’s second graph, he notes that members of the New Birth Brass Band played bits of rapper DMX’s “Shorty Was the Bomb” (actually “Shorty Was da Bomb”) during a second-line parade for a woman named Adrienne “Shorty” Chancley. (The second-line parade is the tradition in which brass bands play dirges to a funeral, and then celebratory music afterward.)

But what distinguishes Sakakeeny’s article isn’t that he can hear the hip-hop in the jazz — it’s that he hears that jazz in the real world, and how the sonic properties of the world shape the music, not just the audience’s experience of and participation in the music, but the way the music itself sounds. His understanding of music’s role in life in New Orleans helps him hear the music not as sound that takes place, but as sound that makes something of the place, acoustically, in which it occurs. Music isn’t merely a message transmitted from performer to audience; it’s a space-defining invisible-yet-physical force that interacts with (helps define, yet is defined by) the space in which it happens.

The “bridge” he’s writing about is one of the most tragic urban-planning actions in the history of New Orleans, when the construction of the I-10 highway forced the removal of a stretch of a historically black community alongside Claiborne Avenue, lakeside of the French Quarter. As Sakakeeny puts it politely, “by design or default” the construction separated the tourist-friendly Quarter from the primarily black neighborhoods on the other side of Claiborne. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, that socio-geographic history helps explain why this broad stretch of concrete remains, to this day, a place where celebration, such as the one Sakakeeny writes about, takes place frequently and naturally. To take a second-line parade under the bridge is to reclaim that territory, not just physically but, as Sakakeeny writes, sonically.

He covers a lot of ground in the piece, including the proper tempo for a second line (around 100 to 124 beats per minute — anything slower loses people’s interest, and anything faster is too tough to keep up with), and the noise-abatement issues in the Tremé neighborhood, long home to musicians: “differentiating between what constitutes ‘noise’ or ‘music’ in New Orleans has everything to do with the way one is oriented towards sound, and those who hear music as noise have been effective in enforcing silence.” (Recent readers of this site will likely draw a comparison to George Prochnik’s new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, which I’ve written about a few times:,

Here’s an image from the article, ragged in its reproduction but still useful in setting the sense of place, showing the Rebirth Brass Band alongside the bridge in November 2006:

Full article at (and as a PDF). Read either version carefully, as some of the pages are out of sequence.

More on Sakakeeny at and at his blog.

In related news, my thoughts on the debut episode of the HBO series Treme (a series that Sakakeeny notes in his essay) at

More on the journal at This essay in the current Ethnomusicology issue also looks quite interesting, in regard to the cultural roots of copyleft, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet: “Composition, Authorship, and Ownership in Flamenco, Past and Present” by Peter Manuel.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 4 ]


  1. mattsak
    [ Posted May 10, 2010, at 12:47 pm ]

    I really appreciate this careful reading of my article about musical sound as a “a space-defining invisible-yet-physical force” as you so eloquently put it. And thanks also for alerting me to technical problems w/the PDF file. I’ve corrected it on both scribd and my website. Props to you and your blog.

  2. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted May 16, 2010, at 2:55 pm ]

    My pleasure, Matt. Glad the PDF is fixed, too. Look forward to what you write next — and I love your “songs of Treme” blog.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Delta Bound · Under the Bridge on April 28, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    […] of the overpass, as Marc Weidenbaum noted on his blog, quoting Tulane assistant professor Matt Sakakeeny’s recent article in […]

  • […] I bring this up because I’m interested to learn, via Disquiet, that an actual scholar has delved into the sonic experience of such spaces. Or, really, for that […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of
    December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
    There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at

  • Ongoing
    The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm:

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production.
    0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on.
    0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track.
    0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music.
    0507 / In DD's Key of C / The Assignment: Make music with 10 acoustic instrument samples all in a shared key.

    Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 511 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts