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Sound, Space, and the City

Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles

Marina Peterson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Sound, Space, and the City
    Book Description:

    On summer nights on downtown Los Angeles's Bunker Hill, Grand Performances presents free public concerts for the people of the city. A hip hop orchestra, a mariachi musician, an Afropop singer, and a Chinese modern dance company are just a few examples of the eclectic range of artists employed to reflect the diversity of LA itself. At these concerts, shared experiences of listening and dancing to the music become sites for the recognition of some of the general aspirations for the performances, for Los Angeles, and for contemporary public life.

    InSound, Space, and the City, Marina Peterson explores the processes-from urban renewal to the performance of ethnicity and the experiences of audiences-through which civic space is created at downtown performances. Along with archival materials on urban planning and policy, Peterson draws extensively on her own participation with Grand Performances, ranging from working in an information booth answering questions about the artists and the venue, to observing concerts and concert-goers as an audience member, to performing onstage herself as a cellist with the daKAH Hip Hop orchestra. The book offers an exploration of intersecting concerns of urban residents and scholars today that include social relations and diversity, public space and civic life, privatization and suburbanization and economic and cultural globalization.

    At a moment when cities around the world are undertaking similar efforts to revitalize their centers,Sound, Space, and the Cityconveys the underlying tensions of such projects and their relevance for understanding urban futures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0770-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Sounding the City
    (pp. 1-15)

    I sit at the back of the stage, the other cellists on either side and in front of me. With my right hand I pull the bow into the string in rhythmic repetition. My left hand presses the same string against the fingerboard, as I make the low sounds warm with vibrato. With the stage drained of the cascading water that runs over it when not being used for a performance, burbling sounds behind us are the only sign of the Watercourt’s fountain—the centerpiece of the office towers’ public space. Lit now in white, by the end of the...

  6. 1 A Center for a Centrifugal City
    (pp. 16-45)

    Looking out at Los Angeles at night from the Griffith Park Observatory, densely sparkling lights span the expanse of land as far as one can see to the east, south, and west. North, the mountains are sparsely lit, the lights of the San Gabriel Valley just visible on the other side. Visitors point out landmarks, places they know, inhabit, experience—where they live, the ocean, Hollywood. Tonight the air is heavy and hot. One has the feeling of being inside a dry oven. Downtown is lost in the expanse of lights, unless you look for it. No one near me...

  7. 2 Mapping a Metropolis in Motion
    (pp. 46-75)

    When I entered Grand Performances’ office to begin fieldwork, the director handed me a well-worn copy ofThe Ethnic Quilt: Population Diversity in Southern California(Allen and Turner 1997). They were interested in the information in the book, he explained, for fund-raising and marketing. I leafed through its pages, stopping to look at maps showing the spatialization of 1990 census data. A blue map with the caption “Persons in Poverty” reflects a concentration of purple in and around downtown (31). A tan map reveals that people of Iranian Ancestry—as denoted by the book—live mostly around Beverly Hills and...

  8. 3 Performing L.A.
    (pp. 76-103)

    Double G steps onto the podium and the orchestra tunes to the piano’s A minor chord, with D-A-F played sequentially and held to sound a chord. Cellos start. Along with the other cellists, I play my A string, then D, G, and C. At first the sound is that of a symphony orchestra tuning: strings and brass sustain their notes, adjusting to match the pitch of the piano. Then, as the strings finish, a horn plays a jazz riff. And throughout, if you listen carefully, you can hear the DJs softly playing beats with their drum machines. As the orchestra...

  9. 4 Sonic Civilities
    (pp. 104-127)

    El Vez begins the second half of the performance dressed as Uncle Sam, with white vest, huge white bell-bottom pants, and billowing satiny blue sleeves. His band, the Memphis Mariachis, wears straw hats and white shirts. An American flag hangs at the back of the stage. “El Vez for Prez” opens with a rendition of “God Bless America.” Between songs, screens on the side of the stage show videos of people—purportedly audience members—asking El Vez about his position on various issues. Taped beforehand, they are framed as a performance of direct participatory democracy. “What is your position on...

  10. 5 “Los Angeles at Its Best”
    (pp. 128-152)

    “So the next song, this is a very special song, I’m going to try to hold it together emotionally, as we play this, it’s one of them songs you know, one of them songs. . . . It was written by Parliament and Funkadelic.” Hearing this, some in the audience yell in appreciation and recognition. “It’s called ‘Come In out of the Rain.’” Double G cues the orchestra and we start playing. A man in the audience who was, as he described it later on his Web site, already in “almost full groove” was overjoyed at hearing the song announced,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-158)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 159-174)
  13. Index
    (pp. 175-178)