Last weekend I attended the biannual conference of the UK branch of IASPM (the International Association for the Study of Popuar Music) in Glasgow. It was a fascinating conference with some really high standard papers and a great social programme. In another post I will discuss the paper I presented. I was on the same panel as Swiss PhD student called Thomas Burkhalter, who is the founder of an interesting project called Norient:
Norient – Independent Network for Local and Global Soundscapes - focuses on experimental and urban music and music scenes all over the world. As an international platform it aims to understand and show the many and often contradictory faces of cultural globalization and localization through articles about music, urbanism and politics, «authenticity», «modernity», «place» and «transnational spaces», written by musicians, scholars and music journalists from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the US. norient also produces and co-produces larger and smaller projects and events.
Thomas's paper discussed how some Lebanese sound artists have reflected on their own experiences of war in their country. One of the artists discussed was the trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj . One of the pieces that Thomas played by Kerbaj made a big impact on me:
Starry night (an exceprt of which can be played at this link) was recorded on Kerbaj's balcony during the Lebanon war of 2006. Kerbaj produces strange, breathy and sometimes harsh sounds from his trumpet, while Israeli bombs fall on Beirut in the background. It is a haunting piece of work that explores war's soundscape in a unique way. Usually I think of war as endless noise, Kerbaj's piece reveals the eerie silences that punctuate the explosions - silences that are in some way more disturbing than the noise as the wait between explosions can be agonising. His instrument both echoes this dialectic of noise and its interruption but also counterposes it with a strange animalistic presence that reminds us of the animialistic humanity that war reveals.
I guess the piece speaks to me in part because when I lived in Jerusalem from 2001 to 2002, the nights were sometimes punctuated by Israeli bombing raids on Bethlehem, just a couple of miles down the road. Although of course I was not the target of the bombs, they did not make for a comfortable night sleep and the punctuation of night time noises with explosions was very unsettling.