ICTM 43rd World Conference

Ana Hofman, Mojca Kovačič, Britta Sweers, Marija Dumnić & Ivana Medić
Ana Hofman, Mojca Kovačič, Britta Sweers, Marija Dumnić & Ivana Medić

The 43rd ICTM World Conference was held between 16 and 22 July 2015 at the Kazakh National University of Arts in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The ICTM World Conference is the leading international venue for the presentation of new research on music and dance.

Four researchers at the project City Sonic Ecologies (Marija Dumnić, Ivana Medić, Britta Sweers and Mojca Kovačič) presented their papers at the panel Urban Sonic Ecologies, chaired by Ana Hofman. Full conference programme can be downloaded here.


In his recent study Geographies of Urban Sound, Torsten Wissmann emphasizes that sound exists not only “within the city” – it “is” the city (Wissmann 2014). Drawing on the approaches on urban ethnomusicology, acoustic ecology and soundscape studies, this panel explores how diverse sound technologies engage in the process of the production of space in Belgrade’s, Bern’s and Ljubljana’s urban landscape(s). Based on an analysis of the central keynote sounds and elements of three investigated cities, the panel hereby explores how individuals embrace or reject particular aspects of urban soundscapes. How do individuals create communities of shared affect through sound? How do these city soundscapes function as part of the broader landscape? The general aim is thus to uncover culturally valued, unnoticed sounds of particular city parts (Skadarlija, Savamala, and the Old Town of Bern) as well as ideological aspects of changing day-to-day practices of urban soundscapes experiences.

The panel also intends to analyze how people create their own urban soundscapes in contrast to the broader urban soundscape. Urban soundscapes are thus seen as a fundamental part of the urban experience that is crucial to understanding dynamics of the city life. What is the potential and the role of the urban soundscape in shaping the so-called “affective economies” – as outlined by Sara Ahmed (2004) – that regulate the distribution of affects in space, through which the specific communities of shared emotions and attitudes are being formed? As is apparent here, the analysis of modern urban soundscapes requires descriptive frameworks that go much beyond the soundscape concept of Murray Schafer (1977) – its prevailing importance notwithstanding. Finally, as the joint presentation of urban contexts in Slovenia, Serbia and Switzerland likewise indicates, the analysis of soundscapes can reveal partly hidden interconnections – caused by migration processes, for instance – in a global context.

Marija Dumnić

This paper deals with music performed in Skadarlija (or Skadarska Street) in Belgrade, Serbia, as a specific urban sound environment. Skadarlija is a touristic quarter in the capital of Serbia, labeled as “bohemian” because of traditional taverns (kafane), which also serve as performance venues for urban folk orchestras. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, music was a very important part of this quarter because many popular musicians performed in the taverns, which also served as famous landmarks for socializing. The sound space of Skadarlija is largely constructed by performances of “old urban music” (starogradska muzika), the musical genre which helps construct the ambient of “old Belgrade”, i.e. an idealized image of Belgrade – nostalgic for domestic visitors, and attractive for tourists.
The core part of the repertoire of starogradska muzika has existed since the beginning of the twentieth century, and it has been constantly expanded until the present day. Generally, songs of this genre are characterized by: major/minor scale, wide melodic ambitus, predominantly single-part singing, parlando-rubato or distributive rhythmical system associated with popular dances (guild or couple dances), or combination of these systems, as well as instrumental accompaniment (tamburitza ensembles; violin, clarinet, accordion, guitar, double bass), and a stable form of verses and choruses, with texts based on lyrical themes. Typical contemporary performance context implies introductory playing of an orchestra (with the prominence of Romani musicians) for the audience, who later request which songs should be played. Hence, this interaction creates a musical event, but on a larger scale, it also makes certain repertoire “old urban”. In order to demonstrate how starogradska muzika contributes to the soundscape of Belgrade, I will analyze one performance of the eminent Skadarlija orchestra “Tamburica 5”.

Ivana Medić

Starting from Kendall Wrightson’s discussion of the importance of the sound as a vehicle for forging communities and social relationships (Wrightson 2000), in this paper I focus on the musical aspects of various “reculturization” strategies implemented in the Savamala quarter of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Once a lively centre of bourgeois entrepreneurship, during the post-WW2 communist times this area at the right bank of the river Sava was largely forsaken. As a result of the deindustrialization process that has affected Serbia since the onset of economic transition in the 1990s, the current state shows inadequate facilities, subpar housing, degraded industrial zones and warehouses, remnants of former socialist industrial giants, etc. This situation is expected to change dramatically in the forthcoming years with the grandiose construction project Belgrade Waterfront headed by Serbian government, which promises to turn the right bank of Sava into a business hub for the Western Balkans.
However, in recent years there have been some less megalomaniacal attempts to revitalize Savamala, including an independently funded festival of contemporary creativity, aptly named Mixer. The Mixer House opened in early 2013 as a conceptual space which is home to musical and dance events, workshops, etc. Other abandoned spaces in the neighborhood have been turned into concert venues, galleries and cultural centres, as part of the initiative Urban Incubator funded by the Goethe-Institut and intended to foster the bottom-up transformation of Savamala. I will analyze the musical side of these initiatives, in particular the festivals, concerts and parties organized by the Mixer House and the European Center for Culture and Debate GRAD, in order to observe how the desired “reculturization” actually works and which particular traditions, practices and value systems are promoted, restored or left behind.

Britta Sweers

Addressing the relation of acoustic ecology and affect studies (e.g. Goodmann 2010, Kanngiesser 2012), this presentation analyses how an urban population develops a referential network through the interaction with and the creation of a sonic environment. Having become an UNESCO world heritage in 1983, the Old Town of Bern still conveys older historical sound impressions like the ringing bells of the medieval gate tower Zytglogge and the Christian churches. The Federal Capital of Switzerland Bern features many open public spaces, most notably in front of the Bundeshaus (the central governmental building). While it is indeed the central location of demonstrations and of the – often musically framed – international political reception ceremonies, the everyday soundscape is shaped by playing children and the weekly farmer’s market. The Bundeshaus square has thus been a central sonic referential point for the overall population.
As apparent from these examples, this specific sonic environment is shaped by an often overlapping contrast of traditional and modern sound articulations. How far does this specific auditory environment also reflect the country’s high migration rate (22.4% in 2012)? Where are the audible spaces of migrants – e.g. from former Yugoslavia – that have been confronted with discourses on the banning of the construction of minaret towers in Switzerland? How far is this environment thus an indicator of identity constructions in a global context, also with regard to political issues? The Bundeshaus square is, together with the Lauben promenades, likewise the central location for raves. This interconnection with political protests (cf. Tremblay 2012; Waitt et al. 2013) became strongly apparent during the escalation of the “Tanz Dich frei” [“Free yourself through dancing”] event in which a musically announced event turned into a violent situation in May 2013. How far is the local memorization of this event intertwined with issues of sound?

Mojca Kovačič

In countries with a tradition of Christianity, the sound of bells is present in everyday human life. Although people strongly associate it with religion (as it is one of the forms of a religion’s public expression), it affects directly and indirectly all the people who are within the range of it, either through clock chiming, bell ringing or bell chiming. If the sound of church bells was one of the central sounds in people’s lives in the pre-industrial era, nowadays the perception of ringing bells has changed, most notably in the urban environment. In Slovenian urban spaces the soundscape of bell ringing started to change significantly after the Second World War. At first the change was the result of political control over the sound, in time though other aspects of the changes to day-to-day practices became more and more important as mechanisation, electrification and urbanisation took over the urban centres and also the countryside in part.
All this leads to a fundamental research question about the boundaries between music and noise, which I intend to observe in the city of Ljubljana, and through a prism of the citizens perception of bell ringing. Noise is most often defined as unwanted sound, which points to the importance of the individual perception of sound when defining those boundaries. The perception of sound does not exist on the acoustic level only, it also includes the experiential. Therefore the delineation between noise and music in the case of bell ringing in Slovenia will be observed in social and political contexts. I will define the parameters which determine the positive or negative attitudes to sound of bells, assuming that evocation of social, historical and political context in experiencing the sound is an important factor.