Music in Urban Culture

In early March 2021, our research team (with a project in Vietnam, led by Stefan Östersjö) has an online presentation for the 18th Urban Culture Forum in Thailand. It is an annual event organized by the Urban Research Plaza, a collaboration between major public universities in Osaka (Japan) and Bangkok (Thailand), and held this year at Chulalongkorn University, a distinguished institution that I visited in Bangkok several years ago. The Urban Research Plaza also publishes the Journal of Urban Culture Research, for which I have offered some peer reviews as an external referee.


Our research team will discuss the changing role of music in urban spaces, including how musical practices are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Below is the abstract of our presentation for this event:

Authors - Stefan Östersjö, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, David G. Hebert, and Henrik Frisk


Title - Studio Saigon: Telematic performance and recording technologies in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect individual musicians, ensembles and concert institutions, streaming technology has become a central vehicle through which musicians and audiences can meet. This paper discusses how networked performance, a format which has engaged artists for decades as an artform in its own right, may contribute to the sustaining of cultural heritage among migrant/minority communities as well as to the development of innovative intercultural artistic practices. Building on the experience of our group, The Six Tones, we wish to develop a more robust understanding of the possibilities, and the limitations, that networked technology affords. The central source of our own work is drawn from Musical Transformations, an ongoing project which studies the intersection between traditional and experimental music in globalized society. 

The project has studied the dynamic history and contemporary performance practices of Vọng Cổ, a Vietnamese song which has experienced a radical set of transformations since the 1920’s. Recording technology has played a central role in this development, as evidenced even in the way its formal structure was shaped to match the duration of the 78rpm records on which this music was recorded on local labels still in the 1960’s (Gibbs et al 2013). We note that interactions both inside and outside recording studios contribute to urban culture. From the perspective of the street in Ho Chi Minh City, both recording studios used in this project blended into their surroundings, amongst residences, tiny convenience shops, hair salons, and restaurants selling pho and banh mi. Both studios also were negatively affected by traffic noise from a steady stream of motorbikes and trucks as well as construction projects. Local businesses were evidently accustomed to encountering foreigners leaving the studios for breaks in their recording sessions. Only a modicum of previous ethnomusicological studies have considered the role of recording studios in urban culture, which promote business in local communities while producing cultural products that have a lasting and expansive impact far beyond their neighborhood. Kay Shelemay observed that “recording technology is not only an integral part of our discipline’s intellectual history. It is an increasingly important part of our future as well” (Shelemay, 1991, p.288). We argue that the rise of telematic performance in the time of the pandemic also points to new avenues for recording technologies, inside and beyond the recording studio.



Music Talks Project

I am happy to report that the Music Talks project has just been awarded funding from the EU’s Erasmus Plus, specifically its program for Youth Education: Partnerships for Creativity

Music Talks is coordinated by the Baltic Regional Fund, and is a collaboration between the Info Front youth NGO in North Macedonia, and the Tava Muzikas Skola school in Latvia, with the Grieg Academy Music Education (GAME) research group of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences as the academic partner. 

The 2-year project will apply new technologies to guide music teachers and youth workers in strengthening their community music activities and developing a stronger appreciation for musical heritage.

Click HERE to access the project's page on Facebook.

Here is an updated project description:

The project aims to develop innovative learning materials for working with young people, using informal education contexts to develop youth skills to discuss important issues in society with music as a tool.

The material will be based on an international study on the skills of 15- to 25-year-old youths to perceive and appreciate music, revealing their views on socially important topics and describing youth willingness to participate in building society.

The project will inspire young people as it will entail music loved by young people around the world, diminishing economic and social barriers. Song lyrics, different genres of music, and influences from different cultures will spark discussions on topics such as empathy, social inclusion, civil participation, equality, personal freedom, justice, honesty, and mutual social interaction. Young people will gain a diverse cultural heritage experience by enriching themselves through personal growth.

Project ′′ Music Conversations / Music Talks ", No. 2020-1-LV02-KA22plets-YOU-003707 is funded by the European Commission Erasmus. Youth in action, which is administered by the Agency for Youth International Programs in Latvia.