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Bubbles, Tracks, Borders and Lines: Mapping Music and Urban Landscape

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


This article explores the relationship between music and material urban environments by drawing on ethnographic research with rock and hip-hop musicians. The first of its three sections introduces some of the musicians who participated in that research and the maps they drew to illustrate their music-making activities in the city. The second compares these hand-drawn maps and their various lines and patterns, and relates their differences to music genre and particular urban conditions. The final section of the article explores the broader implications of the maps for conceptualizing the relationship between music and material environments. It starts by considering notions of articulation and mediation and their usefulness for understanding relations between music and material urban environments. Focusing on the maps’ detailed lines and patterns, it then describes how music and music-making are mediated by material urban environments, a process involving the navigation of journeys and boundaries and the forging of multiple relations along the way.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Musical Association

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1 For the purposes of this article ‘material urban environments’ refers to the physical surroundings that provide a focus or setting for urban music activity, whether they be natural (trees, rivers, etc.) or built (roads, buildings, etc.).

2 I would like to thank Brett for his contribution to the project; the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK (Landscape and Environment) for supporting it; our project partners, English Heritage, National Museums Liverpool and Urbeatz; and all the musicians who participated in the project and gave their permission for us to use their maps and lyrics. In addition, I would like to thank the organizers and participants of seminars and conferences at which Brett and I presented papers on aspects of the research, but above all the Royal Musical Association, which gave me the opportunity to present a keynote conference address (‘Boundaries’, RMA Annual Conference, University College London, 17 July 2010) that provided the basis for this article. My thanks are also due to David Horn for his comments on drafts of that address, and to Michael Spitzer and the two anonymous reviewers who commented on the version that was submitted to JRMA.

3 Sara Cohen, ‘Urban Musicscapes: Mapping Music-Making in Liverpool’, Mapping Cultures: Place, Practice, Performance, ed. Les Roberts (London, 2012).

4 Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (Cambridge, MA, 1960).

5 Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Images and Mental Maps’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 65 (1975), 205–13.

6 Efrat Ben-Ze'ev, ‘Mental Maps and Spatial Perceptions: The Fragmentation of Israel-Palestine’, Mapping Cultures, ed. Roberts.

7 Doreen Massey, ‘Travelling Thoughts’, Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall, ed. Paul Gilroy et al. (New York, 2000), 225–32 (p. 228).

8 Marc Augé, In the Metro (Minneapolis, MN, 2002), 4.

9 Two of the maps are discussed in brief elsewhere, the first in Brett D. Lashua and Sara Cohen, ‘Liverpool Musicscapes: Music Performance, Movement and the Built Urban Environment’, Mobile Methodologies, ed. Ben Fincham et al. (London, 2010), 71–84; the third in Brett D. Lashua, Sara Cohen and John Schofield, ‘Popular Music, Mapping, and the Characterisation of Liverpool’, Popular Music History, 4 (2010), 126–44.

10 Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History (London, 2007), 75.

11 MC is an acronym for Master of Ceremonies that originates from the dance halls of Jamaica, where the Master of Ceremonies would introduce the different acts, make announcements and deliver a toast in the style of a rhyme. It is commonly used to refer to a ‘rapper’, that is someone engaged in the performance and rhythmic delivery of rhyming lyrics. Rapping is closely associated with hip-hop music and also commonly referred to as ‘emceeing’ or ‘MCing’.

12 Grime is a style of music influenced by hip-hop and various other musical styles, such as UK garage, breakbeat and punk.

13 Murray Forman, The 'Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop (Middletown, CT, 2002); Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown, CT, 1994).

14 Dan Sicko, ‘Bubble Metropolis’, Shrinking Cities, ed. Phillip Oswalt, 2 vols. (Berlin, 2005–6), ii, 108–15 (p. 111).

15 Justin Williams, ‘Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop Music: Theoretical Frameworks and Case Studies’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nottingham, 2009), <> (accessed May 2011).

16 Adam Krims, ‘Marxist Music Analysis without Adorno: Popular Music and Urban Geography’, Analysing Popular Music, ed. Allan Moore (Cambridge, 2003), 131–57 (p. 146).

17 Murray Forman, ‘“Represent”: Race, Space and Place in Rap Music’, Popular Music, 19 (2000), 65–90 (p. 67).

18 Barry Shank, Dissonant Identities: The Rock 'n’ Roll Scene in Austin, Texas (Hanover, NH, 1994).

19 Sara Cohen, ‘Cavern Journeys: Music, Migration and Urban Space’, Migrating Music, ed. Jason Toynbee and Byron Dueck (London, 2011), 235–50.

20 John Street, ‘(Dis)located? Rhetoric, Politics, Meaning and the Locality’, Popular Music: Style and Identity, ed. Will Straw et al. (Montreal, 1995), 255–64.

21 Will Straw, ‘Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes in Popular Music’, Cultural Studies, 5 (1991), 368–88.

22 Sara Cohen, Decline, Renewal and the City in Popular Music Culture: Beyond the Beatles (Aldershot, 2007), 27.

23 Phil Kirby, ‘The Regulation of Urban Music in Manchester’ (MA dissertation, Liverpool University, 2009).

24 House is a style of electronic dance-music.

25 Antoine Hennion, ‘Music and Mediation: Toward a New Sociology of Music’, The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. Martin Clayton et al. (London, 2003), 80–91 (p. 88).

26 See John Belchem, Merseypride: Essays in Liverpool Exceptionalism (Liverpool, 2000).

27 An Anatomy of Inequality in the UK, The National Equality Panel (January 2010).

28 The European City of Culture competition was launched in 1985, and in 1999 it was relabelled the Capital of Culture competition. Since 2007 the award has been made to two cities each year. Nominations are submitted to the European Parliament and must include a cultural project of European dimension. These nominations are judged by a selection committee established by the European Commission, and each winning city must ‘organise a programme of cultural events highlighting its own culture and cultural heritage as well as its place in the common cultural heritage, and involving people concerned with cultural activities from other European countries with a view to establishing lasting cooperation’ (<>, accessed July 2011).

29 David Harvey, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography (New York, 2001); Urban Futures: Critical Commentaries on Shaping the City, ed. Tim Hall and Malcolm Miles (London, 2003); George Yudice, The Expediency of Culture (Durham, 2003); Sharon Zukin, Cultures of Cities (Oxford, 2005).

30 Henry A. Giroux describes how in US cities neo-liberal policies have intensified the political, social and economic problems faced by young people, and encouraged a view of youth as ‘a threat to be feared and a problem to be contained’ (The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy (Boulder, CO, 2004), 85).

31 Cohen, Decline, Renewal and the City, 26–9.

32 Cohen, ‘Cavern Journeys’.

33 Sharon Zukin, Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change (New Brunswick, 1989); Cohen, Decline, Renewal and the City.

34 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA, 1988), 94.

35 Keith Negus, Music Genres and Corporate Cultures (London, 1999).

36 Andy Bennett, ‘Subcultures or Neo-Tribes? Rethinking the Relationship between Youth, Style and Musical Taste’, Sociology, 33 (1999), 599–617; Music Scenes: Local, Translocal and Virtual, ed. Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson (Nashville, TN, 2004); Fabian Holt, Genre in Popular Music (Chicago, IL, 2007).

37 Ruth Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (2nd edn, Middletown, CT, 2007); Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Boston, MA, 1998); David Brackett, Interpreting Popular Music (Berkeley, CA, 2000); Jason Toynbee, Making Popular Music: Musicians, Aesthetics and the Manufacture of Popular Music (London, 2000).

38 Charlie Gillett, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll (London, 1983); Iain Chambers, Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popular Culture (Basingstoke, 1985).

39 Once Upon a Time in New York: The Birth of Hip-Hop, Disco and Punk, dir. Ben Whalley, exec. producer Mark Cooper (BBC, 2007).

40 Adam Krims, Music and Urban Geography (London, 2007).

41 Adam Krims, Music and Urban Geography (London, 2007)., 8.

42 Adam Krims, Music and Urban Geography (London, 2007)., 2.

43 Adam Krims, Music and Urban Geography (London, 2007)., 4.

44 Krims, Music and Urban Geography, 16–18.

45 Ibid., xl; Philip Bohlman, review of Krims, Music and Urban Geography, Music and Letters, 90 (2009), 322–4 (p. 323).

46 Krims, Music and Urban Geography, 13.

47 Toynbee, Making Popular Music.

48 Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rockers (London, 1972); Paul Willis, Profane Culture (London, 1978); Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London, 1979).

49 Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (London, 1993).

50 Dave Laing, One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock (Milton Keynes, 1985); Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music (Milton Keynes, 1990), 162.

51 David Hesmondhalgh, ‘Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes? None of the Above’, Journal of Youth Studies, 8 (2005), 21–40; Toynbee, Making Popular Music; Georgina Born, ‘Music and the Representation/Articulation of Sociocultural Identities’, Western Music and its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music, ed. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh (Berkeley, CA, 2000), 31–6.

52 Toynbee, Making Popular Music, 128.

53 John Clarke et al., ‘Subcultures, Cultures and Class: A Theoretical Overview’, Resistance through Rituals, ed. Hall and Jefferson, 3–59; Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies’, Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. Kuan-Hsing Chen and David Morley (London, 1999), 262–75.

54 Rose, Black Noise; Toynbee, Making Popular Music, 114–15.

55 Franco Fabbri, ‘A Theory of Musical Genre: Two Applications’, Popular Music Perspectives, ed. David Horn and Philip Tagg (Gothenburg and Exeter, 1982), 52–81.

56 Toynbee, Making Popular Music, xxi; Stephen Neale, Genre (London, 1980).

57 Ibid., 106.

58 Hesmondhalgh, ‘Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes?’.

59 Hesmondhalgh, ‘Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes?’. Born, ‘Music and the Representation/Articulation of Sociocultural Identities’, 32.

60 Hennion, ‘Music and Mediation’.

61 Georgina Born, ‘On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity’, Twentieth-Century Music, 2 (2005), 7–36; eadem, ‘Listening, Mediation, Event: Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 135, special issue 1 (2010), 79–89.

62 Georgina Born, ‘On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity’, Twentieth-Century Music, 2 (2005), 7–36; eadem, ‘Listening, Mediation, Event: Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 135, special issue 1 (2010), 89.

63 Steven Feld, Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression (Philadelphia, PA, 1982).

64 Born, ‘Listening, Mediation, Event’, 82.

65 Ruth Finnegan, ‘Music, Experience and the Anthropology of Emotion’, The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. Martin Clayton et al. (London, 2003), 181–92 (p. 184).

66 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Boston, MA, 1987); Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge, 2000); Born, ‘Listening, Mediation, Event’, 87.

67 Born, ‘Listening, Mediation, Event’, 87–8.

68 Finnegan, ‘Music, Experience and the Anthropology of Emotion’.

69 Finnegan, ‘Music, Experience and the Anthropology of Emotion’., 189.

70 Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (San Antonio, TX, 2004), 11.

71 Massey, ‘Travelling Thoughts’, 228.

72 Iain Chambers, ‘Cities without Maps’, Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change, ed. John Bird et al. (London, 1993), 188–99 (p. 188).

73 In doing so he draws on the work of the artist Paul Klee, who described in his notebooks the line that develops freely and ‘goes out for a walk’. Paul Klee, Notebooks, ed. Jürg Spiller, 2 vols. (London, 1961–73), i: The Thinking Eye, 105, quoted in Ingold, Lines, 73.

74 Ingold, Lines, 75, 85.

75 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians. The metaphor is inspired by Howard Becker's notion of ‘art worlds’ (Art Worlds (Berkeley, CA, 1984)).

76 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians, 323.

77 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians., 317.

78 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians., 306.

79 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians., 324.

80 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians., 306–7.

81 Holly Kruse, ‘Subcultural Identity in Alternative Music Culture’, Popular Music, 12 (1993), 33–41 (pp. 37–8).

82 James Clifford, ‘Traveling Cultures’, Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg et al. (New York, 1992), 96–116; Ulf Hannertz, ‘Flows, Boundaries and Hybrids: Keywords in Transnational Anthropology’, Working Paper WPTC-2K-02, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University (1997).

83 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, MN, 1996).

84 Sara Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making (Oxford, 1991); eadem, Decline, Renewal and the City.

85 Lashua and Cohen, ‘Liverpool Musicscapes’, 71.

86 Ingold, Lines.

87 Ingold, Lines., 5.

88 Ingold, Lines, 89; Feld, Sound and Sentiment, 103.

89 Ingold, Lines, 88.

90 Ingold, Lines., 89.

91 Ingold, Lines., 87.

92 Ingold, Lines., 103.

93 Hannertz, ‘Flows, Boundaries and Hybrids’.

94 Massey, ‘Travelling Thoughts’, 228.

95 Ingold, Lines, 102–3

96 Martin Stokes, ‘Introduction’, Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place, ed. Stokes (Oxford, 1994), 1–27 (p. 24).

97 Sara Cohen, ‘Mapping the Sound: Identity, Place and the Liverpool Sound’, Ethnicity, Identity and Music, ed. Stokes, 117–34.

98 Michael Jackson, Paths toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry (Indiana, IN, 1989); The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space, ed. Eric Hirsch and Michael O'Hanlon (New York, 1995); Senses of Place, ed. Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso (Santa Fe, NM, 1996).

99 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians.

100 Chambers, Urban Rhythms; Forman, The 'Hood Comes First; Krims, Music and Urban Geography; Derek Scott, Sounds of the Metropolis: The 19th-Century Popular Music Revolution in London, New York, Paris, and Vienna (New York, 2008).

101 Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians.