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Author(s): Alexander, Phil
Date: 2019
Abstract: Silence appears frequently in discourses of the Holocaust – as a metaphorical absence, a warning against forgetting, or simply the only appropriate response. But powerful though these meanings are, they often underplay the ambiguity of silence’s signifying power. This article addresses the liminality of silence through an analysis of its richly textured role in the memorial soundscapes of Berlin. Beyond an aural version of erasure, unspeakability, or the space for reflection upon it, I argue that these silent spaces must always be heard as part of their surrounding urban environment, refracting wider spatial practices and dis/order. When conventions are reversed – when the present is silent – the past can resound in surprising and provocative ways, collapsing spatial and temporal borders and escaping the ritualized boundaries of formal commemoration. This is explored through four different memorial situations: the disturbing resonances within the Holocaust Memorial; the transgressive processes of a collective silent walk; Gleis 17 railway memorial’s opening up of heterotopic ‘gaps’ in time; and sounded/silent history in the work of singer Tania Alon. Each of these examples, in different ways, frames a slippage between urban sound and memorial silence, creating a parallel symbolic space that the past and the present can inhabit simultaneously. In its unpredictable fluidity, silence becomes a mobile and subversive force, producing an imaginative space that is ambiguous, affective and deeply meaningful. A closer attention to these different practices of listening disrupts a top-down, strategic discourse of silence as conventionally emblematic of reflection and distance. The contemporary urban soundscape that slips through the silent cracks problematizes the narrative hegemony of memorial itself.
Author(s): Alexander, Philip
Date: 2016
Abstract: This research offers an original contribution to the study of contemporary klezmer
music by analysing it in relation to a particular urban environment. With its origins in a
largely destroyed Eastern European Jewish culture, contemporary klezmer is both
historically-grounded and paradoxically rootless, cut loose from geographical
specificity by the internationalism of its recent revival. Seeking to counteract the
music’s modern placeless-ness, this dissertation analyses the musical and spatial means
by which klezmer has been re-rooted in the distinctive material and symbolic conditions
of today’s Berlin. The theoretical framework takes in questions of cultural identity,
music and place, authenticities of tradition and instrumental practice, to show how this
transnational and syncretic music – with few historical ties to Berlin – can be
understood in relation to the city’s particular post-reunification bricolage aesthetic and
subversively creative everyday tactics. Beginning by mapping the criss-crossing
networks of musicians and their multiple artistic perspectives, the dissertation proceeds
through an exploration of the official and unofficial spaces within which these fluid
musical practices operate, leading onto ways that the city of Berlin is made manifest in
the music itself – how the city is interpellated sonically and textually. Processes of
musical transmission and education are analysed through the filters of tradition and
pedagogical ideologies, from which my own instrument, the piano accordion, is used as
a lens through which to uncover the balance between personal expression and
historically-informed performance. The final chapter looks at the relationship between
history, Jewish identity and music in the city. It explores the resonances between the
contested discourse of memorial and present-day cultural and musical production,
discovering how at times sound and music can act as a living sonic embodiment that
speaks against the silence of historical memory
Author(s): Alexander, Phil
Date: 2021
Abstract: How can a traditional music with little apparent historical connection to Berlin become a way of hearing and making sense of the bustling German capital in the twenty-first century? In Sounding Jewish in Berlin, author Phil Alexander explores the dialogue between the city's contemporary klezmer scene and the street-level creativity that has become a hallmark of Berlin's decidedly modern urbanity and cosmopolitanism. By tracing how klezmer music engages with the spaces and symbolic meanings of the city, Alexander sheds light on how this Eastern European Jewish folk music has become not just a product but also a producer of Berlin.

This engaging study of Berlin's dynamic Yiddish music scene brings together ethnomusicology, cultural studies, and urban geography to evoke the sounds, atmospheres, and performance spaces through which klezmer musicians have built a lively set of musical networks in the city. Transcending a restrictive framework that considers this music solely in the context of troubled German-Jewish history and notions of guilt and absence, Alexander shows how Berlin's current klezmer communitya diverse group of Jewish and non-Jewish performersimaginatively blend the genre's traditional musical language with characteristically local tones to forge an adaptable and distinctively twenty-first-century version of klezmer. Ultimately, the music's vital presence in Berlin is powerful evidence that if traditional music is to remain audible amid the noise of the urban, it must become a meaningful part of that noise.