Los Angeles is Red Hot

My research examines the relationship between the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the cultural trends of Los Angeles from the early 1980s to present day. The intent of this investigation of connection was, initially, to uncover the impact of the city’s social and political shifts on the style and genre of the band’s productions. As my work progressed, I began to focus in on the relevance of the Los Angeles soundscape, using what I had already gathered to interpret the correspondence between sound and place. It became apparent that the auditory backdrop of the city has changed in accordance with its various sociopolitical alterations. Knowing this, I argued that changes in the Los Angeles culture—effectively, change in place—prompted change in its accompanying soundscape, which was causatively related with the evolution of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music.


During the 1990s, when the song Under the Bridge was written and recorded, Los Angeles was heavily ridden with crime and drug abuse. The soundscape was filled with the sounds of the urban bustle of life, but also the sounds of the struggling Los Angeles Police Department. Sirens, gunshots, and screeching tires were all far from uncommon, each contributing to the auditory interpretation of melancholy. Under the Bridge mirrors such despondency, with its downbeat tempo and tortured vocals, which contain lyrics referencing the desperate condition of substance addiction.

Behind the Lyrics

Every soundscape is comprised of its own explicit set of ambient sounds. These keynote sounds have helped shape various forms of music each with their own distinct qualities and messages. Hip-hop is no exception. Since its origin, hip-hop music has been used as a form of expression around the world, serving as a microphone to the voices of the marginalized masses. From the block parties in New York, to the streets of Bolivia, hip-hop has been used as a major form of expression. Now people are no longer just hearing a good bass and catchy tune, but are also listening to the lyrical stories behind the music. Artists of all subgenres in hip-hop are coming to the forefront and telling their unique stories of the hardships and struggles that accompany their race, class, and upbringing. These stories intricately intertwined with smooth lyrics and popular instrumentals make the hip-hop soundscape truly memorable.


Tupac’s song “Changes” hones in on his struggles with everyday life. He focuses on tribulations such as poverty, drug addiction, racism, and growing up as an African American. This is a prime example of how artists have used hip-hop as a method of expressing themselves through lyrics and music. Shakur’s song embodies the hardships of his everyday life and allows listeners to relate to his situation making this one of the most memorable songs of his time.

Tupac Changes

Birds as Keynote Sounds of Human and Environmental Soundscapes

I am focusing on changing human interpretations of the musicality of birdsong over time. By focusing on biological, religious, and creative contexts, I will reveal the environmental and ecological importance of understanding animal noises.  Studying the sounds of birds and other animals will foster generations of people who focus on listening to environmental soundscapes.  Bird songs are examples of Schafer’s “keynote sounds” that may not be consciously heard by people, but nevertheless influence the character of human society.  Over time soundscapes will morph and change as society grows, but active listeners will hear the beauty of the natural world and will seek to protect the environment from invading sound pollution.  Additionally, listening to soundscapes of nature can provide musicians with inspiration to develop more creative music forms.  Through this process bird sounds can contribute toward the positive progression of human soundscapes.


Bird Sounds

The above clip includes various bird songs and other calls.  These sounds illustrate the musicality of birds as well as provide a relaxing and meditative atmosphere.  Listening to natural soundscapes provides a break from the loud and often grating noises of human society.  Examining natural soundscapes as a whole allows individuals to understand how different bird species interact and respond to environmental stimuli.  Additionally, listeners should note their own responses as they listen to natural landscapes to discern any instinctual, emotional, or intellectual reactions to the sounds.


A Connection to Place: The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California is a city unlike all others, its uniqueness established by a variety of constituent components: its large size and population, its location between coastline and mountain range, the immense ethnic diversity of its inhabitants, the complicated social and political strife of the past and present, and the multifaceted nature of the activities that take place on a daily basis within its bounds. In the past 50 years, Los Angeles has undergone many changes. After the end of World War II, its populace increased significantly, provoking the expansion of city limits into new geographic regions. Along with this growth came an explosion of artistic ingenuity, manifested especially within the realm of musical creation. Hollywood became a hotspot for the production and recording of new albums, attracting aspiring musicians of divergent styles and backgrounds from the around the city, and more broadly, the entire state and country. When punk rock became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene in the late 1970s, the genre gained rapid popularity across the nation. Despite groups originating in New York City, like The Ramones, or other large urban areas, L.A. was renowned as being at the forefront of the punk rock movement.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered the Los Angeles music scene in 1983. Their lineup consisted of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Hillel Slovak, bassist Michael Balzary, and drummer Jack Irons. Heavily influenced by the punk epidemic in the city, they released a self-titled album 1984 that presented an unprecedented combination of punk rock and funk. Although the album was a radical release, the band was not satisfied with its overall vibe—the group sought to truly encapsulate the tumult of progressivism within the rapidly changing culture of Los Angeles, as reflected through their own experiences. While embracing the punk scene that surrounded them, the band members wanted to express their creativity through new forms of music by further modifying and perfecting their sound. In recent years, the music of the Chili Peppers no longer aligns with the genre of punk rock. The vibrant, upbeat, and smooth compositions found on albums like Californication and By the Way still have funk-driven undertones, but would be best categorized as light rock. Nonetheless, the group still writes music about the city of Los Angeles and its ever-changing cultural scene.

I intend to study the relationship between the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the cultural trends of Los Angeles from the early 1980s to present day, in order to find out more about the impact of the city’s social and political shifts on the style and genre of the bands productions. Through numerous replaced band members, a constantly changing and evolving sound, and great lyrical diversity, the group has been far from uniform over the years. Likewise, the city of Los Angeles, between the push and push back for civil rights and equality, shifts in governing forces, and variation in its racial diversity, has proven itself to be just as progressive and radical. I believe that the changing music of the Chili Peppers over the past 30 years will mirror the changing cultural dynamic of L.A. in many regards; furthermore, the band’s music may lend a uniquely subjective interpretation of the social turmoil of the city during said era, from the standpoint of a group of individuals experiencing the matter firsthand.

The connection between sound and place is a simplistic, yet revealing, notion that can be examined in an endless number of contexts. Music is a particularly interesting reflection of place in that it contributes the subjective aspect of human experience. Author Steven Feld argues in A Rainforest Acoustemology that the music of the Kaluli people mirrors the soundscape of the natural rainforest environment. He uses an understanding of the connection between sound and place to contend that the industrialization of rainforest areas will cause a shift in the tribe’s music, due to the introduction of a new, harsher, and more discordant soundscape. In Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music, the concept of music’s reflective nature is taken a step further. Attali makes the case that music has prophetic tendencies regarding the changes to come in a given place or environment. Bearing these examples in mind, the connection between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Los Angeles will be further analyzed with regard to the changing soundscape of Los Angeles, and examined for any possible prophetic relationship between musical composition and cultural shift.

Works Cited:

Feld, Steven. “A Rainforest Acoustemology.” Anthropologies of Sounds. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 223-39. Print.

Attali, Jacques. “Noise: The Political Economy of Music.” Sound Studies Reader. New York City: Routledge, 2012. 29-39. Print.

Annotated Bibliography:

Funky Monks. Dir. Gavin Bowden. Perf. Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, Michael Balzary, Chad

Smith, and Rick Rubin. Warner Bros., 1991. DVD.

The director—bassist Michael Balzary’s brother-in-law—was an amateur filmmaker who sought to document the creative processes involved in the production of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The target audience primarily consisted of Chili Peppers fans who desired to learn more about the group, and also those with general interest regarding the creation of music. The film lends a perspective unlike other cited sources, in that it provides unique and candid insight into the interactions between band members during the processes of writing, collaboration, and recording. Analyzing the musical tendencies of the group during the creation of Blood Sugar Sex Magik from the film facilitates the understanding of the relationship between the sound of the album and the location of its recording, Los Angeles.

Kiedis, Anthony, and Larry Sloman. Scar Tissue. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

Primary author and singer Anthony Kiedis wrote this autobiography as an intimate description of his life from birth to 2004 (the year of publication), including his experience with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The intended audience was comprised of fans of the band and those who wished to know the story behind such a talented and enigmatic vocalist. The book provides an interesting first-person perspective into the group dynamic of the four Chili Peppers, revealing many profound and previously undisclosed details that the other cited sources never touch on. Kiedis delves into the significance of the city of Los Angeles throughout his life, which can be used to understand the different stages of musical career with the band.

Modarres, Ali. “New York & Los Angeles: Politics, Society, and Culture—A Comparative View.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94.3 (2004): 678-80. Print.

Modarres is a professor of geosciences and environment and at California State University, Los Angeles, where he also serves as the chair of his department. His intended audience includes college students and adults interested in the sociological analysis and comparison of Los Angeles and New York City. His work provides a notably intellectual viewpoint of the cultural trends of L.A. in recent times, diverging from other cited sources due to the complexity of Modarres’ thought and insight. This article provides information regarding the unique societal qualities of Los Angeles, as contrasted with those of an eastern city like New York; this can be used to better understand its relationship to the unusual and distinct music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Herbert, Steve. “The Normative Ordering of Police Territoriality: Making and Marking Space with the Los Angeles Police Department.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86.3 (1996): 567-82. Print.

Herbert is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University. His intended audience is comprised of young adults and adults seeking information regarding the cultural relationship between the city of Los Angeles and the L.A.P.D., or more broadly those who wish to examine the sociological impact of law enforcement. This work, unlike other cited pieces, delves specifically into the struggle between chaos and order within the city, and the resultant impact on the cultural trends of Los Angeles. His writing can be used to give light to the darker side of the city’s dynamic, which is relevant to many components of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music.

Splitter, Henry W. “Music in Los Angeles.” Ed. Gustave O. Arlt. The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 38.4 (1956): 307-44. Print.

Splitter, an author and journalist, wrote primarily about the topics of music and nature, and their relationship to one another. His target audience for Music in Los Angeles consisted of intellectuals intrigued by the historical progression of music in L.A. and its surrounding areas. Unlike other sources, Splitter’s writing examines the musical past of the city, and how its musical scene came to be what it was in the 1950s. This piece can be used to analyze the differences between Los Angeles music in the mid-twentieth century and late twentieth century, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers were most prevalent. Understanding the musical divergence of the two eras can facilitate an understanding of the concurrent cultural shift that occurred.

Wrapped In The Rhyme

From The Sugarhill Gang, to Tupac and Notorious, to 2 Chainz and Trinidad James, hip-hop has undergone some serious changes. What once was known for mellow lyrics thrown over a beat is now characterized by “at times several vocalists rhymed in angry unison (Kaylan 238).” There is no doubt that over time, the place and style of hip-hop has evolved in various regions. However, its effect stays the same: escape. Rap music has become popular in its ability to serve as an outlet for a type of musical urban revolt. What makes this specific sound so special? What is it that makes this genre of popular (now more mainstream) music so relatable to the general population? By analyzing various journals and authors, it is possible to glean more information as to what lies behind the flows, sixteens, and punch lines of an ever-growing musical movement.

Rap wasn’t always a massive movement. In fact, it had much more humble origins tracing back to the early 1970’s accompanying the popular sounds of disco in New York City and Philadelphia. “Many listened and danced to rappers and DJs playing on street corners, before trying hip-hop. As underground and oppositional, street-performed hip-hop grew increasingly popular, drawing large crowds for neighborhood ‘block parties’ (Warren and Evitt 142).” Block parties were very popular and DJs frequently played genres such as funk and soul. The percussive sounds of the music soon became very popular and DJs began focusing more on the percussions (similar to dub), using two turntables to achieve scratching sounds. These breaks and sharp rapping sounds became the foundation of beats that artist could then rap over. Since then rap music has taken flight as new artists, DJs, and engineers have taken the plunge and tried to create their own unique footprint in the hip-hop community.

Regardless of how flashy the artists dress, or how clever their wordplay, there is always an unwavering factor associated with the production of rap music: the story. What hip-hop has allowed artists to do is paint vivid pictures of situations in listeners’ minds, opening a window into their own world. This is what has ultimately changed hip-hop over the ages. What makes rap music so special is its ability to shed light on voices of those who ordinarily would not be heard from. This unseen, unheard struggle is what’s predominantly focused on in the music. Jenkins stresses in his article “the importance of allowing the marginalized to speak and for their voice to be raw, real, and authentic (1233).”  In hearing these stories, whether real or exquisitely fabricated, outsiders are given a look into the lives of society that is under wraps. The sounds and struggles that have become everyday routines for marginalized individuals are brought to the forefront on the music. Attali states that music “reflects the manufacture of society (30)” and that is exactly the aim of hip-hop. Rap music challenges social norms and the “Minority perspectives make explicit the need for fundamental change in the ways we think and construct knowledge (Jenkins 1233).”

Not only does rap music serve as  “a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America (Kaylan 241)” but also as a movement that has influence all over the globe. If rappers got one thing wrong it is that hip-hop is dead. If anything, hip-hop is livelier than ever before. It has taken forms not only throughout all of America, but overseas as well exposing corruption and issues within society. Even in places such as Bolivia hip-hop can be seen “reproducing elements of that haunted soundscape of cultural and economic dispossession that festered in La Paz. (Kaylan 238).” All across the globe hip-hop is evolving and finding new ways to bring social trials and tribulations of the suppressed into the spotlight. The reach and influence of rap music is alive and spreading as Brunson mentions in his article. “Hip-hop images reside within media the way organisms reside in a habitat. Like organisms, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ moved from one media environment to another, so that its message has been reborn in music video and rendered in the virtual reality environments of spike.com and youtube.com (Brunson 7).” Digging deeper into these articles and stories of the evolution of hip-hop will allow us to find the meaning and message within each respective sub-genre of rap around the world.

Researching this topic is not only important because of its cultural relevance in our time period, but also in understanding a major part of the music we listen to. It is one thing to hear the beat and bob your head to the rhythm, it is entirely another to understand and see the stories and struggles that have helped shape the music. Understanding what’s behind the bars, the beats, and the lyrics, allows us to more fully appreciate and respect an ever progressing genre of music. Once you begin to see what you are hearing then you can feel the “linguistically powerful, at times arrogant platform where minority bodies and voices [are] thrust into hegemonic and vice-regal positions in the media landscape (Warren and Evitt 142-143).”


Works Cited

Brunson, James E., III. “Showing, Seeing: Hip-Hop, Visual Culture, and the Show-and-Tell Performance.” Black History Bulletin 74.1 (2011): 6-12. Print. This article focuses on hip-hop as an “extension of Black American culture” and how hip-hop has impacted the culture among urban youth through music, fashion, dance, and even commercial gain. This article also dives into how hip-hop addresses racial stereotypes and reflects certain aspects of culture. W. J. T. Mitchell will also be analyzed and his opinions used to help understand the social constructs around culture.

Jenkins, Toby S. “A Beautiful Mind: Black Male Intellectual Identity and Hip-Hop Culture.” Journal of Black Studies 42.8 (2011): 1231-51. Print. Jenkins states that the minds of Hip-hop artists are the least valued trait compared to other writing-intensive fields. He claims that hip-hop artists nowadays have much more to offer the community. This article allows us to take a closer look into the intellectual side of rap music and assess its ultimate value.

Kalyan, Rohan. “Hip-Hop Imaginaries: A Genealogy of the Present.” Journal for Cultural Research 10.3 (2006): 238-57. Print. Using different areas of prominent hip-hop including New York and Hawaii, Kaylan shows how rap uses expression to resist the movements in dominant society. He uses his article to show a relationship between cultural resistance using hip-hop and political change. The new trends in hip-hop in New York, Hawaii, and Bolivia are used to demonstrate the movements created in the cultural and political fields all from the use of this catalyst: rap.

Sterne, Jonathan, ed. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print. This book takes works from different authors and combines them to illustrate soundscapes and the changes in sounds (both how they are made and their influence on society) and pieces tem together. The articles in this book provide a look at how soundscapes have evolved over time and what brings about the changes (both positive and negative) in the sounds we hear everyday. This will be used along with the other works to help tie together the differences in the music and areas in which hip-hop evolved.

Warren, Andrew, and Rob Evitt. “Indigenous Hip-Hop: Overcoming Marginality, Encountering Constraints.” Australian Geographer 41.1 (2010): 141-58. Print. This article compares and contrasts indigenous “hip-hoppers” in different regions of the globe. This article also draws on interviews, and observations to help bring insight into how festivities, programs and emerging technology have helped pave the way for new, innovative, unique forms of music making. The geographically mobile environment and sound are examined to show how hip-hop is forever changing and is becoming popular in many places. The indigenous style of hip-hop is also put under the microscope to show how older, more experienced, artist blend with newer artists to create a whole new sound.


Dan Batista

The Rise, Demise and Lasting Impact of Grunge

Why does popular music change? Why do we, as creators and consumers of music and culture, rebel against what appears to be harmonious and correct? Although the answers to these questions may be many, the musical soundscape of Seattle during the early nineties gives an insight into how modern America consumes its ever-changing fads. Grunge music started in the mid to late-eighties in the garages of Seattle and epitomized everything mainstream rock at that time did not. After gaining popularity, this sound became trendy in the early nineties and eventually was turned into a culture fad that commercialism spread across the country. Using R. Murray Schafer’s idea of soundscapes, varied “acoustic fields of study” (Reader, 99), I will analyze how the Grunge soundscape that emerged in Seattle in the late eighties and early nineties differed from mainstream rock at that time and how the Grunge sound went from a localized expression to a nationwide fascination causing the founders of the movement to revolt against its sudden popularity.

From the generation-defining guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix to the furious riffs first struck by Kurt Cobain, music from Seattle has proven to be both timeless and influential. The city’s most iconic sonic-movement, however, was Grunge. Starting as a fusion of punk’s energy and excitement with metal’s heavy sound, Grunge quickly formed its own identity. Key groups in the early grunge movement include, but are not limited to, the Melvins, Mudhoney, Green River and the U-Men. The early Grunge bands are not given nearly enough credit for the formation of the genre due to the commercial success of their successors, but many had direct influences on later bands and often continued to tour with them. Many groups achieved commercial success in Grunge, but four stand out above the rest: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. What made the grunge movement so unique was that, in addition to coming from the same city, all were acquaintances and often played together either while in different groups or in previous years. Other key aspects of the movement were unkempt appearances consisting of everyday clothing and very few stage antics, both of which clashed with what mainstream rock up to that point had been about.

Grunge is a perfect example of how our preferences for music can shift drastically over a short period of time within one genre of music. While the eighties rock scene was about everything being bigger and flashier, the Grunge movement quickly took the genre back to being about the music. Although change in presentation was instrumental for this shift, the most important aspect to the change came from the music itself. Using the aspect of “keynotes” discussed by Schafer in his book, I plan to discuss how the “fundamental tone” (Reader, 100) present in Grunge is heavier, more complex and more emotionally driven than in the hair metal popular throughout most of the eighties. These discussions will be driven by examples given about guitar sound, style of singing and lyrical content among others. Without going into detail, overall themes in the music shifted from the glamour/partying lifestyle of the eighties metal bands to darker songs driven by personal issues such as drug abuse. This drug culture played a role in dismantling the Grunge movement both by separating groups with members who were using heavily and by killing key figures in the movement.

Although the Grunge movement was extremely popular and is still remembered today, it was relatively short lived. Very quickly, the music of Seattle traveled across the United States by way of MTV, and Grunge became a fashion statement/trend in addition to a style of music. Encapsulating the commercialization of the Grunge movement, top designers from New York began to create clothing lines in the “grunge style”, but sold them for hundreds of dollars. It was factors such as this as well as not wanting his music to become commercialized that caused Kurt Cobain to famously wear his “grunge is dead” t-shirt. Unfortunately, as the music industry always does, it commercialized Grunge because it was what was trendy. Through this commercialization, profit instead of good music was turned into the main objective for the music. I plan on analyzing how the Grunge movement quickly went from being localized music to a national trend, and by doing this, will then discuss how this affected the different artists being brought into the spotlight and see if a trend develops between their fates. Grunge quickly faded from the American spotlight, but its music is still listened to today. What caused America to fall in love with Grunge as a genre of music? Also, what caused America to fall out of love with the fad of Grunge, and does this say something about how commercialization affects musicians in the industry today?


Blecha, Peter. Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louie Louie” to “Smells like Teen Spirit” New York: Backbeat, 2009. Print

Peter Blecha is an award winning author and historian. He has contributed to many distinguished publications including The Seattle Times, Vintage Guitar and Life. He is also the founder of the Northwest Music Archives and has been called “Seattle’s unofficial curator of rock’n’roll” by Seattle Weekly. The broad audience intended to read this publication is all music fans, but the more focused audience is music fans from the Northwest as this book discusses the music scene in that region during the past fifty years. Unlike Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town, Blecha’s book discusses the history behind a large variety of Seattle’s music. Although I will not go in depth on it in my paper, understanding the rich tradition of music the city has is critical to understanding how Grunge was heard and accepted in the city. In addition to having critical information and quotations about the era of Grunge that will be necessary for this research paper, this source useful in providing a scope and history to the history of Seattle and will be helpful in writing a background section of the paper.


Hyman, Dan. “Mudhoney’s Mark Arm on Grunge’s Legacy.” Rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone Magazine, 7 Sept. 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

Dan Hyman is a freelance writer that has written over 170 articles for Rolling Stone magazine. Hyman received his Masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University. His article is written for all of the magazine’s readers, but it may catch the eye of older fans more since the title signifies that it is about Grunge. Also, it may only appeal to diehard Grunge fans because the article features someone who was instrumental in the establishment of the genre in Seattle’s late eighties but didn’t necessarily gain the notoriety/recognition of say, Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell. When compared to the other magazine article I used as a source, “Grunge: A Success Story”, stark differences stand out which contribute to many of the ideas I wish to discuss in my research paper. While this article discusses Grunge from a musical perspective and illuminates some of the “what ifs” present in the history of the genre, the second article shows everything that was commercial about the movement. Another interesting contrast comes about when one considers how commercialism removes credibility from one of the founders of Grunge while also highlighting the wear of musicians whose last concern was attire. This article will be important for my paper by providing me with opinions of one of the key figures in the movement while also giving me a slightly more realistic view of the success of Nirvana in relation to Cobain’s death.


Lyons, James. Selling Seattle. London, NY: Wallflower, 2004. Print.

James Lyons is a British film historian who has written a number of books on the history of television and modern television. In Selling Seattle, he focuses on how Seattle boomed culturally and economically during the nineties. The audience intended for this read seems to be someone foreign or unaware of the cultural history of Seattle and interested in why it was so successful during the end of the twentieth-century. This reading contrasts sharply with the other two books on the “Seattle Sound” because it addresses Grunge not from a musical perspective but from a very broad cultural perspective. Instead of discussing the meaning of the music, or the influences behind the lyrics, Lyons focuses on how Grunge was a smaller aspect of many different fads that came out of the city during that time. This will be important for my paper, however, because it gives a good summary of how commercialism affected the cultural surge in Seattle, the demise of Grunge specifically and the decline of the city as a whole.


Marin, Rick. “Grunge: A Success Story.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Nov. 1992. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

Rick Marin is a best-selling author and has also written many articles for the New York Times Style department. Marin holds two Masters degrees, one in English from the University of Toronto, and one in Journalism from Columbia. The intended audience for this article would be people interested in what would be hip to wear in 1992. This articles projects interestingly what the rest of the country took from the Grunge movement and represents everything that frustrated the musicians from Seattle who originally started the rebellion against glamour and everything eighties rock represented. While the impressive work by Mark Yarm, Everybody Loves Our Town, chronicles the history of grunge from its earliest roots, this magazine article explores everything that Grunge became once it left the clubs of Seattle. Unlike the other works that I have cited, this article does a good job of showing the negative side of grunge. It realistically tells the story of how Grunge lost its original following and shifted to the designers and rich, elite of New York and other urban hubs across the United States. This article will help illuminate one of the main topics of my thesis by showing how Grunge went from being a localized expression to a national fad that caused the founders of the movement to revolt against its sudden popularity.


Sterne, Jonathan. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.


Yarm, Mark. Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. New York: Crown Archetype, 2011. Print.

Mark Yarm is the former senior editor for Blender magazine and has written for prominent publications such as Men’s Health and Esquire. Intended audiences for this read, in my opinion, would be fans of rock music in general. The entire book consists of interviews and quotes from famous musicians discussing various groups, people, and aspects involved with Grunge. This book provides the best look into the lives and minds of the musicians who created the Grunge movement. Instead of analyzing the music, style and actions of the people like the other readings, this book contains their own words, opinions and stories. This is the most entertaining and enticing work that is being cited for research. This source will illuminate my topic because it will show the raw emotion and energy that goes into grunge music, and will provide personal explanations and feelings toward making the music.

From Bird Beaks Come Bird Beats

Nature often takes a backseat to modern sounds of progress.  How much does nature, specifically birdsong, parallel and influence human creation of music?  With the sounds of machines, industry, and other man-made noises, are we drowning out valuable inspiration for human imagination and artistic prospects?  While there may not be concrete answers to these questions, biologists and musicologists are currently studying the similarities between animal song and human music to better understand the relationship between the natural and man made noises.  Many biologists and musicologists debate the influences and importance of birdsong in the development of human music.  However, by analyzing the similarities between birdsong and human music, it is possible to better understand the relationship between man, his environment, and other species.

There are many similarities between music and birdsong.  Birdsong may be comparable to human musical compositions because birdsongs may include “rhythmic variations, pitch relationships, permutations, and combinations of notes” analogous to those used by human composers (Atema 52). Birds may also make music through the use of “instruments,” such as pounding on objects or possessing specialized feather structures (Atema 52).  By understanding the similarities between birdsong and human music, it may be possible to experience similar emotions when hearing birds as when listening to man-made music.  According to Angier, human emotional response to music may be deeply embedded in the brain (Angier).  If humans exhibit instinctual emotional responses to man-made music, perhaps deep connections with birdsong are possible

Birdsong may also be comparable to human language, as it is used as a form of communication between birds.  The difference between language and music lies in the meaning.  While language is generally used to convey a true or false meaning, musical meaning is more ambiguous (Fitch 31).  Similar to the way developing humans use “baby-talk” or experiment with different vocal sounds, birds also experience a developmental stage characterized by vocal experimentation (Fitch 35).  Depending on the definition of “song,” birdsong may or may not be considered a complex form of music, instead of a form of language used for communication.  Fitch makes the distinction that “song” must be complex and must be developed through “vocal learning” from the environment (Fitch 35).  By this definition, both birdsong and human music are unique in their complexity and creation.  However, according to Fitch, birdsong and human musical ability evolved concurrently, but separately (Fitch 36).

Christian religious beliefs also point to similarities between music and birdsong.  Pagan beliefs sprouted the Christian notion that humans learned music from the birds.  For example, the dove was seen as the messenger of God (Head 12).  Additionally, Christian religion identified the birth of music from the Fall as Eve mimicked the songs of the birds out of jealousy (Head 9).  However, later notions challenged the concept of nature-spurred music and instead posited that music was instinctual to man (Head 17).  By dismissing the implications of birdsong, eighteenth century thinkers paved the way for modern alienation from nature because birdsong became an entity outside the definition of art that humans could not understand (Head 19).  Likewise, studies, such as Araya-Salas’ study of the harmonic structure of birdsong, further isolate human music from animal or natural music by rejecting birdsong because it does not “conform to the harmonic rules of human music” (Araya-Salas 7).

Alienation from nature creates a society that is deaf to the sounds of its environment.  By ignoring the surrounding environment, humans ignore their impact on the surrounding ecosystem by creating noise that drowns out the environment.  In drowning out environmental sounds, humans impede mating and communication between animals and harm the natural processes of the earth, perhaps changing them irrevocably (Tingley).  Additionally, the ability to listen to surroundings enables people to become better listeners and to understand themselves, their environments, and others around them on a deeper level.  Without the ability to listen, people could not communicate effectively or live the most productive lives possible.  Ultimately, listening to nature creates a cascade of positive affects upon the individual and upon society as a whole.  Studying birdsong may be the first building block in the larger prospects of mankind.

While it is necessary to study environmental soundscapes as a whole to understand the affects of ambient noises and the interactions of different sounds within an environment, it is important to analyze birdsong by itself because of the stylistic parallels between human music.  If people examine the music-making abilities of alternate species of animals, such as birds, it increases the possibility of revealing the meanings behind songs.  Once song meaning can be discerned, the notion of a universal music that could be understood and enjoyed by multiple species concurrently becomes a possibility.      Continue reading

The Sounds of Winter

Something that I am very familiar with is the sound of winter in Vermont. Growing up here, I’ve always accepted it as the season of snowboarding, dragging sleds of hay out to my horses, and the rumble of the snow blower. However, UVM has depicted an entirely new concept of winter that is easy to explore with sound.

I begin my audiography in the Davis Center tunnel. In order to escape the frigid wind howling off the lake, I try to take the tunnel as much as possible. Once I started paying attention to my walks through, it became clear to me that there were two very separate soundscapes at work. The first is during actual class time. This causes near silence in the trek between athletic and central campuses, a trek that I tend to take with only three or four other silent travellers. However, during my rush back to University Heights North at the end of the next block, the tunnel is complete chaos. The line of people waiting to get into the door is the first clue, followed by the loud voices and roar of students scrambling to class or to eat. It ends with the second bottleneck up the stairs and out the door onto athletic. This is something that I only experience in the winter; on fair days, the masses opt to enjoy the weather outside.

Following my rush through the tunnel, I’m usually ready for something to warm me up. The newest addition to my dorm room is my espresso maker; the roar of the coffee brewing and the light tones of the milk frother are always well-received noises after the bitter cold. This tends to be accompanied by some procrastination in the form of Netflix and a cozy blanket. One of my favorite shows is Desperate Housewives. The upbeat theme song instantly relaxes me, an assurance that for at least 43 minutes I won’t have to worry about the work I’m pushing off. Occasionally the four women’s lives are put on hold so I can wash my cup and spoon in the sink, and again when I need to refill my water bottle to combat the dry air emanating from the heater above my head. This has recently been aided by the installment of the water bottle station on the UHN1 side, which has a very distinct hum followed by the trickle of excess water.

When I finally venture out again, sometimes to my next class or to dinner, the cyclical squeal of the heater in the entrance to UHN2 always catches my attention. It’s been a distinct sound since the heating system got switched on in the fall, annoying anyone who is forced to wait there. As I walk outside, my boots mimic the squeak in the snow-packed pathways. Due to the storm, there are plow trucks everywhere, dictating where I can and cannot walk. The beeping as they reverse upsets the peacefulness of the cold day.

Another trademark of the change in temperature is my desire to take the bus downtown or across campus instead of walking. I can usually make it to Waterman before my fingers begin to numb and I hop on the College Street Shuttle. Instantly, the heating vents hit me as I sit down for the warm ride. However, the cold doesn’t bother me when I am able to get out and go snowboarding, usually either to Bolton or Smuggs. Unlike many of the other sounds, the scrape of my board against ice is something I’ve been familiar with my entire life.

These sounds create a very different soundscape than the one I experience in warmer months; the shouts in the sun are replaced by the scraping of ice, the whir of my bike by the crowded bus, and so on. However, both are soundscapes that tend to be overlooked. But throughout this project, I noticed that my sense of hearing became attuned to picking up interesting sounds in everything I did. As Michel Chion would say, my listening turned from solely being causal to being reduced; or it focused “on the traits of the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning” (50). I became more concerned with the intricacies of the actual noises instead of the source, since I needed to notice sounds that I tend to ignore. Instead of simply detecting the noise around me, I would actually practice resolution and sometimes identification as well; I would really listen to sound in order to understand it (Arehart 12). This is something that can be challenging in today’s society of constant overstimulation where we are rarely forced to heed the world around us. Through this project, I was forced to understand Horowitz’s conclusion that “listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (2).

Works Cited

Arehart, Kathryn H. “The Nature of Hearing and Hearing Loss.” Sounscape. 1st ed. Vol. 6. Melbourne: Printing Edge Melbourne, 2005. 11-14. Print.

Cherry, Marc. “Give Me the Blame.” Desperate Housewives. ABC. Burbank, California, 2011. Television.

Chion, Michel. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Horowitz, Seth S. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times 9 Nov. 2012: 1-3. Print.


Thoughts From The Normal: Hidden Sounds In Quiet Places

I pushed a button on the bottom of the fan, and a steady purr filled the room. The pitch changed slightly but rhythmically as the head of the fan swiveled to and fro. I poured a cup of tea and began typing. The clickety-clack of the keys has become so ingrained in my daily existence that it seems to fade in and out of awareness; a steady procession often interrupted by a furious darker pitched backspace noise, and then quickly resumed. I get up, take off my jacket, walk around and think about what I want to say. I comb my hair and wash my hands and settle on an idea: perhaps it was not so much of a series of lies as it was a series of partial truths, I think to myself. I flip through a copy of Faust–where was the line I was thinking of?–art is long indeed, I think as I search. I read the paragraph I have written and consider how to continue weaving this story while playing a few simple notes on the ukulele. A door closes somewhere in the hallway; humanity is alive and abuzz.

The sounds I have chosen are very ordinary sounds; soft tones and hums that pass by nearly unheard. These are the sounds of my daily existence; the washing of hands, the pouring of tea, the soft hum of the fan–background noises, small and invisible. It is not the music or the voices that fill my existence, the things that I consciously listen to that I have recorded–I have recorded things that are steady, that are rarely focused upon, but life would feel eerie and empty in their absence. Michel Chion would classify this as causal listening–not the sort of listening that has to do with decoding language or analyzing the sound’s traits, but rather the sort of listening that occurs because objects and movement cause noise. These noises compliment the visual world, tell us what is happening in the moment. They are so intricately woven into our existence that we scarcely pay them any heed, yet they are central to the way we experience living. We hear “the sound produced by a particular unique object” (Chion 48) in the purest sense.

These sounds do not exist isolated in our imagination; they give us a profound sense of comfort. The noise of the fan in the background is “a restoration of rhythm [which] stands for situations being in control” (Bijsterveld 153). These sounds, though seemingly random at first glance, are incredibly ordered; the man walks at a steady pace, the fan moves mechanically, the comb moves consistently–there is a pattern, perhaps undetectable to an outsider, but easily detectable to someone familiar with this routine. Indeed, these sounds work to create a sense of familiarity, of non-randomness and control that puts the mind at ease and makes one feel at home. These are not the sounds of chaos; they are the sounds of an individual normality.

Creating this playlist illustrated the plethora of sound in the quiet. Since “the sense of hearing cannot be closed off at will” (Schafer 102), we hear regardless of source or personal relevance. I enjoy this aspect, personally; I feel this sensory experience as a source of comfort and control over the home environment. The sounds constitute an experience so close to existence itself that it is difficult to imagine their absence.

Perhaps that’s what this is all about, I thought as the fan droned on to my left: telling a story where the most important things are the things so natural that we never even notice them.

You can listen to my recordings here.  

Works Cited:

Chion, Michel. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Bijsterveld, Karin. “Listening to Machines.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 152-167. Print.

Schafer, R. Murray. “The Soundscape.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 95-103. Print.

Frederick Douglass Soundscape

Frederick Douglass’s “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” describes the world of slavery through the eyes of a man who managed to escape his chains and become a part of the movement against slavery. Turning his narrative into a film, however, will require a detailed soundscape to augment the visuals. Taking from Douglass’s recollections, a soundscape can be constructed to view antebellum America through the eyes of a slave. This soundscape must convey the powerful characteristics of singing, pain, and the silence of free labor, all as Douglass portrays them in his work.

The opening of the film will take place when Douglass was younger and still living on the plantation. The first frames of the film will focus on swaying crops, with no evidence of the plantation itself. Sounds of the crops swaying in a gentile breeze will give a sense of calm. Sounds of the slaves in the fields, working and singing solemnly will fade in, followed visually by a scythe cutting through the crop. The singing, although completely new to the viewer, should embody the collective sadness of the slaves and stir emotion. Douglass’s recollection of his “first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery” (Douglass, 8) should be evident in the singing, through the use of slow and labored tempo, of single voices to emulate loneliness, and of clear pain in the voices. The singing continues as shots of the plantation are showed, eventually focusing on the character Douglass as a child.

As we continue to follow him, the muffled sound of whip cracks and an overseer shouting slowly fade in, almost beyond the awareness of the viewer. As Douglass enters a kitchen, the painful sounds of his aunt being whipped are brought out from the filter and become obvious, to a painful extent for the viewer.  The earlier, peaceful sounds of the plantation fade behind this filter, focusing attention to the sounds of the whip, ”horrid oaths” from the overseer, and the shrieking aunt present the scene which Douglass calls “a horrible exhibition” (Douglass, 4). As the sounds of the “bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation” (Douglass, 5) sink in, we hear Douglass as narrator enter with “His presence was painful; his eye flashed confusion; and seldom was his sharp, shrill voice heard, without producing horror and trembling to the ranks” (Douglass 13). Though this, Douglass can describe the pains of slavery.

Now later in Douglass’s life in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the camera displays the wharf, while the soundscape is rich with that typical of the setting: there is the constant sound of seagulls and people working and talking, and of the water as it splashes against the sides of the ships and the wharf. As the camera focuses on Douglass, new to the whole setting, the sounds of the wharf and the laborers become quieter, augmenting Douglass’s narration of “Almost every body seemed at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore” (Douglass 67). To Douglass, the lack of servitude and painful submission in these laborers makes their work comfortable and silent, without the sounds of desperation and anguish. As Douglass states, “Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man” (Douglass 67). Quieting the surrounding environment that Douglass finds himself in allows the viewer to experience the confusion of free sounds as Douglass did, lessening the world around him.

To accurately describe a work filled with painful and inspiring images through sound, one must recreate the emotions originally felt by the author. In doing this with Frederick Douglass, we construct a soundscape terrifying with its pain, sadness and cruelty, but uplifting with hope. The overwhelmingly negative sounds, from the whips to the solemn singing, lead way to a found silence in freedom, and from here we can see Douglass’s ability to shape a lighter path ahead.



Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.