Category Archives: Limits

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 1. An Introduction

by Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)


The evolving field of ecomusicology engages a particularly complex and contested topic through the cultural study of music and sound; that is, the physical environment. There is no shortage of categories of environment to consider, each with their own criteria: natural, built, rural, urban, abandoned, reclaimed, pastoral, polluted, etc. Who defines, influences, and preserves categories pertaining to the environment? How do these categories inform music and sound research? What role(s) might ecomusicology play in thinking about and applying categories in a time of environmental crisis? This collection of articles seeks to provoke discussion of these and other questions concerning ecomusicology and categorization. Each article explores an environment that transcends seemingly straightforward classification. The authors go beyond music to draw from other humanities disciplines as well as the social and natural sciences in order to illuminate these spaces.

Alexandra Hui, in “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies,” examines new forms of listening put forth by the Edison Re-Creation records of the 1910s and 1920s and environmental sound records of the 1950s and 1960s. She brings musical aesthetics, listening culture, and in the case of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program psychological experimentation into conversation. Hui demonstrates the powerful role of research, marketing, and the recorded medium in creating new categories of music, environment, and listener/consumer. Daniel Grimley crosses temporal, spatial, and disciplinary boundaries in “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” Ecomusicological in approach, he uses four discursive modes to investigate Finland as a border zone: 1) monumentalization of landscape, 2) topographic representation, 3) landscape as text, and 4) landscape as cartography. Together, these tools create a network of relations under the categories of landscape and identity that are not necessarily accessible through conventional research methods. In “There’s No Place,” James Currie asserts that artifice has an important role to play in times of environmental crisis. He begins with an interrogation of what he calls the “aura of relevance” in much ecocritical scholarship, where research maintains a moral investment in the wellbeing of the environment. Currie turns to a place of artifice—The Land of Oz (from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz)—where common notions of place and belonging are destabilized. In line with recent scholarship that calls for alternative approaches to ecomusicology (Rehding 2011; Titon 2013), Currie prompts us to avoid over-determining the “reality” of the physical environment and to instead consider the alternative realities of music.

With a call for greater engagement with environmental crises in music scholarship (Allen 2014), we should consider whether the ways in which we categorize help us to better understand ecological issues or if they in some way hinder productive engagement with these challenges. When thinking about what ecomusicology could—and should—do to help address real-world issues, it may also be beneficial to reflect on how ecomusicology is categorized as a discipline, and how it relates to other disciplinary and sub-disciplinary categories. One of the dangers of categorization is that ecomusicology itself is categorized within the academy. To conduct music research in a time of environmental crisis, and to carry a sense of urgency with it (Rehding 2011), are scholars not projecting a stereotype onto those who employ it in the process? Given the current climate, now may be an opportune time to ask which disciplinary and aesthetic categories should be maintained, modified, eliminated, and created (if even momentarily). Whichever approach is taken, we remain face-to-face with categorical decisions.


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)


Citations and Bibliography:

Ake, David, Garrett, Charles H., and Daniel Goldmark, eds. Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Allen, Aaron S. Introduction to “Sustainability and Sound: Ecomusicology Inside and Outside the Academy.” Music & Politics 8, no. 2 (Summer 2014). DOI:

Born, Georgina. “For a Relational Musicology: Music and Interdisciplinarity, Beyond the Practice Turn.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 135 (2010): 205–43.

Hanninen, Dora A. “Associative Sets, Categories, and Music Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory 48, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 147­–218.

Levitz, Tamara, ed. “Musicology Beyond Borders?” Special issue, Journal of the American Musicological Society 65, no. 3 (Fall 2012).

Mundy, Rachel. “Evolutionary Categories and Musical Style from Adler to America.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 67, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 735–­­68.

Rehding, Alexander. “Ecomusicology between Apocalypse and Nostalgia.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 409–14.

Titon, Jeff Todd. “Labels: Identifying Categories of Blues and Gospel.” In The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel edited by Allan Moore, 13–19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

­­­­———. “The Nature of Ecomusicology.” Música e Cultura: revista da ABET 8, no. 1 (2013): 8–18.

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 2. The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies

by Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)


Historians have, in the last decade or so, expanded their approach to the past to include sensory experiences. Sounds and ways of listening to them—what people heard, what sounds had meaning to them—have been established as an important way to understand the past (Johnson 1995; Picker 2003; Smith 2000; Sterne 2003; Thompson 2002). The senses are at, indeed form the very foundation of, the unstable intersection of nature and culture (Jay 2011). Specific ways of listening were and are in service of specific understandings of nature.

Through a brief discussion of two case studies, I examine how individuals’ conception of their environment related to their aural perception of it. The first case study was an early effort by the Edison Company to train consumers’ aural perceptions. The second is an exploration of post-war sound recordings of both the natural environment and the built environment. Through these case studies, I explore the consequences of introducing new sound objects and new forms of listening for understandings of nature in built environments.


Case 1: The Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program

In 1914, the Edison Company, seeing value in large-scale marketing schemes aimed at cultivating new forms of listening in the public, launched a program of what they alternately termed demonstration recitals, tone tests, and Re-Creation recitals. These performances took place in Edison shops, private homes, and community gathering spaces. Demonstrators (overseen by the Edison Company), sometimes assisted by Edison recording artists, would instruct the audience on the proper operation of the device. They also instructed the audience on what to listen for, emphasizing the quality and fidelity of sound generated by the Edison machine. These demonstration recitals were a means of training listeners to receive the phonograph’s sound in a very specific way. The audiences were taught to be experts on sound fidelity (Thompson 1995). Further, they were trained to be experts at a new kind of listening. They could separate music from noise and to ignore, possibly not even hear, the latter.

Building on the success of the demonstration recitals, the Edison Company approached Walter Van Dyke Bingham, director of the Division of Applied Psychology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Bingham’s functionalist approach to psychology is evident in his researches on the motor effects of music and eventual belief that they could be measured and universalized. The Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program was given $10,000 and a set of Edison Re-Creation records to study “the psychological reactions which definite forms of music produce in the human mind” (November 3, 1919 letter, Walter Van Dyke Bingham Collection). Among other activities the Research Program performed a series of lab experiments in which individuals practiced in “introspection” (a self-witnessing technique in experimental psychology at the time) gave their emotional responses to various Re-Creation records. The results of these experiments were then used to develop the Mood Change Chart.

The Mood Change Chart was a form to be filled out during a Mood Change Test in an Edison shop, the privacy of one’s own living room, or at the Mood Change Parties the Edison Company encouraged (William Maxwell Files). The listener indicated the time of day, the weather, and their location. They then could choose from a set of options to answer “What kind of music did you feel like hearing?” and “What was your mood immediately preceding test?” The listener was then asked to indicate the “Re-Creation [record] causing such change” along with blanks to write in their mood change from “______ to ______.” The Mood Change Test could be performed three times per form. Listeners were asked to include additional comments on the back, sign the chart, and either turn it in at an Edison shop or mail to the Edison Laboratories.

The public was encouraged to take the Mood Change Test as part of a grand and innovative experiment by Mr. Edison. This reinforced the established marketing program that promoted Edison phonographs as the product of the inventor’s scientific incubator. The Mood Change Test was indeed a grand experiment. 27,000 filled-out Mood Change Charts were returned to Bingham for analysis. Not only was the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program able to gather massive amounts of data on the public’s listening practices, but the Mood Change Test also primed participants to think about music in terms of its effects. Filling out the Mood Change Chart reinforced Bingham’s mechanical understanding of music, that it caused motor and mood effects.

An analysis of the returned Mood Change Charts culminated in the publication of Mood Music: A compilation of 112 Edison Re-Creations according to what they will do for you, a short promotional booklet distributed at Edison shops. The booklet included an introduction summarizing Edison’s innovations in sound recording as well as a discussion of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program’s work by Bingham. Mood Music was organized around the twelve mood-effects of music. A brief description of each mood was given and then a list of ten to twelve Edison Re-Creation records, complete with their catalog number and price, to elicit this mood was offered. Sometimes a before-and-after image illustrated the motor and mood effects of a properly selected Re-Creation.[1] Readers/listeners were encouraged to “see what music can be made to do for you” (Mood Music, 10).

We can read the efforts of the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program to be one of defining and standardizing private listening. Further, these efforts fostered in listeners—through the process of filling out the Mood Change Chart, purchasing music with the aim of “making it work for [them]”—a new understanding of the role of music as a functional one. Music could affect body and mood. A related consequence was the establishment of private, individual space as a place for self-improvement through deliberate listening to the sounds of the built environment.


Case 2: Environmental Sound Records

We might think of the sound records that proliferated — in work spaces in the 1940s and public spaces by the 1950s — in the following decades as a further reflection of the functional role of sound—in this case improvement of the mind. There was, of course, since the beginning of the consumer music industry, a significant market for educational records. I would argue, however, that the environmental sound records of the 1950s and 1960s, the bulk of which were generated by Folkways Records, were direct descendants of the early bird song records of the 1930s explicitly developed for ear-training and to further specific scientific goals.

In 1931, Arthur Allen’s ornithological laboratory at Cornell University developed a technique for recording bird vocalizations onto Movietone film. The film recordings were translated into plots of vibrational frequency over time (sonograms) as well as transferred onto phonograph records for replay. The records were used both to archive disappearing sounds of declining species and for ear training in preparation for fieldwork. As a consequence, they reinforced existing taxonomic systems (Mundy 2009) and a laboratory aesthetic of sterile sound (Bruyninckx 2011). These sound recordings were also soon distributed as accompaniments to field guides and through radio shows. They introduced listeners to never before heard sounds, a soundscape beyond their backyards, albeit one in which birds were reduced to their sound, separated from it in both time and space.

The post-war years witnessed a massive increase in environmental sound recordings. Though we might seek to divide these sounds into “natural” and “human made,” a quick perusal of the language on record jackets reveals a common language of curiosity about new sounds and desire to preserve vanishing sounds (both natural and human made). These records were not for use as sound effects for radio, theater, or television productions; they were marketed to the interested private listener. The 1952 Sounds of the Sea, Vol.1, presented never-before-heard sounds of the ocean and the animals in it recorded by the Naval Research Laboratory. The jacket breathlessly noted: “To think of fishes making noises, holding conversations, so to speak, warning each other or courting each other, as we think of birds singing to each other, is an idea which seems as strange as it well can be.” (Coates 1952, 2) There was an anthropocentrism present, both in the characterization of animal behavior and the lack of awareness of the human-made media necessary to experience these sounds at all, to transform fish sounds into human sounds. The record was also clearly the product of curiosity about this new sonic world and likely motored further interest. Subsequent records of desert animals, insects, the jungle, and more fulfilled similar roles.

Another example: The 1956 Sounds of Steam Locomotives, No.1 record was the first of several made by train enthusiast Vinton Wight in an effort to preserve the disappearing steam locomotive. Wight found that each steam engine had a specific, individual sound, what he considered to be a personality. He described the “stack music” of the locomotive as a symphony of sorts, changing tone and timbre with the weight of its load (Wight 1956, 3). The jacket included descriptions and photographs for each track, each a different locomotive. Not unlike the records produced by the Cornell ornithological laboratory, Sounds of Steam Locomotives advanced a specific taxonomy and sought to preserve disappearing sounds.

The 1964 Sounds of the Office record is a bit of a mystery. The jacket itself includes little text other than a description of the sound-generating device on each track. All but the last tracks were devoted to the isolated sound of a single office machine. The last track documented the office soundscape, with all machines running together in full cacophony. Again like the bird sound recordings, we can hear the sterile laboratory aesthetic of, say, the electric typewriter isolated from its office soundscape. Sounds of the Office likely also fulfilled a curiosity among listeners, granting them access to the sonic world of white-collar work, and perhaps also archiving such sounds for posterity.


Some Conclusions

I highlighted in the first case study the (attempted) cultivation of a listening practice by the Edison-Carnegie Music Research Program in which a listener would seek out specific sounds in the hopes of affecting his or her own body and mood. One consequence of this effort was a growing understanding of music among the public as functional, a technology that could be put to “work for you.” In the second case study, I showed through a quick gloss over a variety of environmental sound recordings a common curiosity among listeners about sonic worlds beyond their direct lived experiences and a desire to preserve the sounds of vanishing and potentially extinct sources or species.

The normalization of listening to sounds of nature in built spaces was achieved through an intersection of practices and products highlighted in these two case studies. To approach a listening experience as a means of altering ones’ current state (mind or body) allowed for openness to new sonic worlds, perhaps even a responsibility or ethical obligation to listen. The normalization of nature sounds in built spaces was aided by the simultaneous interest in human-made sounds. Novel sounds were interchangeable. Because all sounds were abstracted from their sources (times, places, organisms, machines), all were equivalent sonic curiosities, all worthy of preservation.

Additionally tucked in here—perhaps only possible because of this equivalence—was the development of another new form of listening, one that was sensitive to a vanishing sonic world. Listening to vanishing sounds somehow preserved them. Further, this new form of listening took fledgling form in the 1930s, a full three decades before the environmental movement. The ecomusicological approach to these historical developments illuminates the reciprocal and reinforcing relationship between listening and the environment. Not only did new sounds — or new recordings of old sounds — prompt new ways of listening. But shifting listening practices also informed new understandings of the environment. Tugging at these analytical threads a bit more, perhaps we can invert this normalization of nature through sound in built environments. Instead we should understand the post-war proliferation of nature sounds as the naturalization of built environments and the culmination of several decades of new listening practices and products that fueled a growing awareness of the fleetingness of sounds in nature, of nature’s increasing silence.


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)




Walter Van Dyke Bingham Collection, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University.

Bruyninckx, Joeri. “Sound Sterile: Making Scientific Field Recordings in Ornithology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies, edited by Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld, 127–150. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Coates, C. W. “Introduction and Notes.” Sounds of the Sea, Vol. 1: Underwater Sounds of Biological Origin. Folkways Records, 1952.

Hui, Alexandra. “Lost: Thomas Edison’s Mood Music Found: New Ways of Listening.” Endeavor 38 (2014): 139–142.

Jay, Martin. “In the Realm of the Senses: An Introduction.” The American Historical Review 116 (2011): 207–215.

Johnson, James. Listening in Paris: A Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

William Maxwell Files, Thomas Edison National Historic Park.

Mood Music: A compilation of 112 Edison Re-Creations according to what they will do for you. Thomas Edison Inc., 1921.

Mundy, Rachel. “Birdsong and the Image of Evolution.” Society and Animals 17 (2009): 206-223.

Picker, John. Victorian Soundscapes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Smith, Mark. Listening to Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Thompson, Emily. “Machines, Music, and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877-1925.” The Musical Quarterly 71 (1995): 131-171.

———. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.

Wight, Vinton. Liner notes to Sounds of Steam Locomotives, No.1: Stack Music Sampler; or Steam, Steel and Action. Folkways Records, 1956.



[1] Under the mood effect of “Peace of Mind,” for example, was an image of a woman collapsed on a sofa surrounded by various purchases, exhausted by a day of shopping. An inset image shows her then alert, sitting on a chair by her phonograph, “soothed and refreshed by music” (Mood Music, 12). I discuss Mood Music much more extensively in my 2014 article, “Lost: Thomas Edison’s Mood Music Found: New Ways of Listening.”

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 3. Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits

by Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)


Figure 1: Into Konrad Inha, Lake Päijänne, Finland.

Figure 1: Into Konrad Inha, Lake Päijänne, Finland.


Categories and Borders

Addressing the issue of how one could—or should—listen beyond categorical limits presupposes the more preliminary question of where (and how) such limits are drawn and what kinds of categories they serve to demarcate, police, or enclose. As Michel Foucault’s work has shown, categories and limits themselves constitute boundaries of knowledge that shape and determine our disciplinary epistemologies, and do much more than merely organize or distribute received patterns of understanding. Foucault’s work argues for an archaeological approach to critical historical enquiry (Foucault, 2002: 151-6): an excavatory model of analysis that recalibrates our sense of agency, temporal progression, and spatial awareness. Under such a Foucauldian regime, the borderlands that separate seemingly diverse fields of enquiry, as I’ve argued elsewhere (Grimley, 2010: 394), can appear porous or impenetrable: they may be accessible to easy passage or resistant to any swift change of state or place. One of the principal challenges for a historically attuned ecomusicology in navigating such complex scholarly terrain is the ability to maintain a clear feeling for disciplinary identity that simultaneously respects the tensions and obstacles involved in such cross-disciplinary encounters. If ecomusicology emerges as a thornier, less comfortably amenable discourse as a result, the net result can only be a positive scholarly gain.

Contemplating the distance traversed in such conversations, however, prompts us to think again about the status of borderlands, whether acoustic, academic or geopolitical. As W J T Mitchell and others have argued (Selwyn, 1995; Paasi, 1996; Mitchell, 2002 [1994]), borders assume a wide variety of scales and forms: marches or buffer zones, borders serve as points of transition, transfer, migration and exile, resistance, exclusion, surveillance, violence, remembrance and erasure. Borders can similarly be geophysical, climatological, biological, political, linguistic, and auditory. Borderlands are frequently forgotten, mislaid, and neglected: they become defined as edgelands, margins, wastelands or wilderness. But if such sites are overlooked in the conventional sense, they can also be overheard in another, as sites of acute attentiveness and surveillance. Borders may be sites of deafness, blindness, amnesia and myopia. Alternatively, they can serve as thresholds or gateways, means of access that permit productive cultural and economic exchange or guarded by “peace walls” that are heavily politically freighted: one need only to pause and think about the sound either side of the razor-wire tipped fences that thread the landscape in Israel/Palestine, South Africa, or Northern Ireland to realize the significance of sound’s irresistible fluidity, its ability to seep through, slip over, and echo back in ways that challenge, channel and reshape more concrete physical topographies (Labelle, 2010).


Hearing Finland Critically: Four Modalities

Border zones operate at multiple temporal-spatial levels. Thinking about Finland ecomusicologically provides a useful case-study: as a nation-state, it has conventionally been conceived as a barrier or frontier between east and west (frequently under conditions of extreme geopolitical tension or stress). Furthermore, Finland emerged and defined itself at a crucial historical moment of transition (the early twentieth century) when ideas of landscape, place and space were radically rethought and redrawn (Häyrynen, 2008). Contemplating sound and music in Finland, especially from beyond its borders, demands a re-centered notion of periphery and edge. Far from being a marginal space, in other words, Finland more properly constitutes a political, cultural, aesthetic, and disciplinary front line: one that transcends the categorical limits of the nation and embraces a wider, more multi-tiered sense of regionality.

The remainder of this essay briefly outlines four discursive modalities of landscape as a creative, historical and discursive border zone, in order to sketch some of the categories and limits that have shaped our understanding of the relationship between music, space and place. The first modality, the monumentalization of landscape, is symbolized by Eila Hiltunen’s well-known sculpture “Credo” (1962-7), better known as the Sibelius memorial [figure 2]. Located on the edge of downtown Helsinki in carefully landscaped grounds leading from the city to the open-air museum on Seurasaari, Hiltunen’s monument was the prize-winning entry in a 1960 competition to commemorate the composer after his death in 1957. Hiltunen’s design was controversial because of its apparently abstract quality: a small bust was later added to the corner of the monument to appease popular concerns. But Hiltunen’s sculpture is striking for the way that it grounds metaphors of landscape, place, and time in Sibelius reception: the stainless steel tubes which comprise the main body of the design appear like organ pipes close up, or like a shifting wave or curtain of light (the aurora borealis) from a distance. Despite its imposing size, Hiltunen’s sculpture resists easy containment or framing; the play of light across the metallic front of the monument and sound of the wind down the hollow steel tubes animating the design even as it appears still and frozen from across the park (Grimley, 2011: 338-347).

Figure 2: Eila Hiltunen, “Credo” (1962-7), Helsinki, Finland.

Figure 2: Eila Hiltunen, “Credo” (1962-7), Helsinki, Finland.


Hiltunen’s design draws not only on the rich legacy of landscape imagery in Sibelius reception, but also from a second modality: the tradition of topographic representation in Finnish art and literature. This body of work, whose foremost exemplars include Zachris Topelius’s seminal volumes Finland framställdt i teckninger (1845-52) and Boken om Vårt Land/Maamme-Kirja (1875) and Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s travelogue, En resa i Finland (1873), was instrumental in shaping Finnish perceptions of a national topography, over and above issues of language, governance and ethnicity, at a time when debates about the status and nature of Finnish national identity came under particular pressure (Fewster, 2006). For a younger generation of topographers, working under the conditions of extreme Russian political censorship, the work of Topelius and Runeberg became a canonic source-text for symbolic representations of Finland that would otherwise have seemed dangerously inflammatory in the political regime of the Russian Grand Duchy (Häyrynen, 2008: 488-92). The haunting images recorded by Into Konrad Inha (1865-1930), a landscape photographer and conservationist who was a close friend and contemporary of Sibelius and whose colleagues included a generation of writers and artists such as Juhani Aho, Pekka Halonen, Eero Järnefelt, and Akseli Gallen-Kallela, are powerful examples of the way in which a rich lexicon of the Finnish landscape was assembled and curated. Inha’s work includes volumes entitled Suomi kuvissa (“Finland in Pictures,” 1892-6) and, with an especially delicate sense of political diplomacy, Vienan Karjalan kuvausmatka (“A Journey for Taking Pictures in Russian Karelia,” 1894); Inha’s images of agricultural workers and their routines were commissioned for the Finnish pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, celebrating (it was supposed) Finland’s emergence from an essentially agrarian backwater into a modern industrialized nation state. Yet Inha’s work is also remarkable for its concern with liminality and states of transference: his carefully staged picture of runic singers holding hands, especially the old bardic seer Miihkali Arhippainen [figure 3], alongside evocative panoramic views of privileged sites such as Lake Päijänne [figure 1] points to an underlying tension in his photographs, between the intensively detailed attention to geographic/ethnographic specificity versus the commodification of landscape for recreation, academic enquiry, and territorial domination. Similar tensions of scale, register and authority continued to strain and fracture Finnish notions of landscape, not least during the 1918 civil war and during Finland’s emergence as a key geopolitical frontier between east and western blocs post-World War II: the apparent permanence of landscape as a physical environment is in sharp opposition to its fragility as a cultural, political, and material presence in the Finnish imagination.

Figure 3: Into Konrad Inha, runic singers holding hands.

Figure 3: Into Konrad Inha, runic singers holding hands.


A third modality of landscape draws equally on Inha’s work and the shifting notions of territory and scale that emerge from his pictures: landscape as text. Hiltunen’s monument has already pointed to the ways in which the reception of Sibelius’s work has often been grounded in images of landscape and nature. Though the landscape associations of many of Sibelius’s major works have been extensively assessed, a more neglected example of this pattern of reception is one of his very last compositions, the Fünf Skizzen/Viisi Luonnosta, op. 114. The complex genesis and publication history of the work, composed after the Seventh Symphony and Tapiola, and hence contemporary with Sibelius’s work on the ultimately abortive Eighth Symphony, has been elegantly summarized by Anna Pulkkis in her critical edition of Sibelius’s piano music. First published only posthumously by Fazer in 1973, the composition may originally have been prompted by Sibelius’s American publisher Carl Fischer, who sought to capitalize on the domestic market for easy piano music: Sibelius offered the pieces to Fischer in a letter dated 15 February 1929 (National Library Collection 206.44), with the following titles: “Landscape,” “Winter-Scenery,” “The Wood Wind,” “Song in the Wood,” and “Spring Vision.” The manuscript was delivered by 23 May, but returned to Sibelius on 7 September, because of changes in copyright provision and the expected returns on new works. Sibelius subsequently offered the compositions to his German publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, and then took the scores back again to make further revisions. At this point, Sibelius added new German titles, which differ in subtle but important respects from their English equivalents: “Landschaft,” “Winterbild,” “Der Deich” [sic—“Teich” is the correct translation], “Lied im Walde,” and “Im Frühling.” The materials were later offered to the Finnish publisher R. E. Westerlund, at the end of the Second World War in 1945, who prepared copies in advance of publication (which were overseen and corrected by Sibelius), and which included newly added Finnish titles (“Maisema,” “Talvikuva,” “Metsälampi” [to which Sibelius added the Swedish “Skogstjärn”], “Metsälaulu,” and “Kevätnäky”). Sibelius, however, evidently continued to harbor doubts about the opus, and he wrote to his son-in-law Jussi Jalas on 24 February 1945 that such small pieces “are not exactly my province. It is not until I have large forms in front of me that I feel I am on my own ground” (Sibelius, 2011: xiii).

At one level, the two central numbers, “Forest Lake” (“Metsälampi”) and “Forest Song” (“Metsälaulu”), clearly belong to the generic category of Nordic nature miniature popularized by earlier works such as Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. At another level, however, they present a very different kind of landscape representation, one that is less indebted to pictorial modes of perception and which need not be heard as exclusively Finnish. Landscape here serves as a creative resource, an acoustic signal or process of abstraction. Both pieces play productively with the listener’s sense of proximity and distance, and problematize familiar notions of agency and subject position. The first number, “The Forest Lake,” for example, can be understood as the intensive acoustic study of a single modal sonority: a Dorian sound sheet assembled from stacked thirds (Murtomäki, 2004: 150-1), but with complex harmonic undertones corresponding to the dissonant upper frequencies of certain kinds of nature sounds or other unpitched noise (example 1 [score pdf]). The modal mixture in m. 14, for example, introduces a darker coloring into the music’s modal field, destabilizing the texture’s prevailing melodic contour and intervallic symmetry. The work’s double immersive waves (at mm. 19 and 37) threaten to overwhelm its registral and dynamic boundaries, puncturing the music’s otherwise repetitive ostinato figuration: the lake’s Aeolian sounds hence become a feedback “loop,” generating a series of chromatic shadows whose presence initially seems baleful but ultimately proves, in the final measures, more ambivalent or equivocal in mood and affect.

Example 1a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 1-22.

Example 1a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 1-22.

Example 1b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 23-46.

Example 1b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 3, mm. 23-46.


In the second number, “Forest Song,” the idea of singing is en/invoiced texturally within the middle (tenor) tessitura of the instrument. But the question of precisely whose song is performed within the work remains unclear. Harmonically, the music’s tension is generated between the predominantly octatonic content of the right hand (collection II), the Lydian-Dorian modal inflection of the inner parts, and the incursion of complementary octatonic materials (collection III, mm. 18-25ff). Though a brief moment of clearer melodic articulation at the mezza voce (m. 33) suggests a heightened sense of agency the music deflects any sustained attempt at linguistic meaning or signification (example 2 [score pdf]). “Forest Song” offers no straightforward formal or expressive synthesis but rather a rupture or aporia in the “nature scene:” the enharmonic e#/f♮ in m. 42 that acts as a formal pivot, heralding a return of the opening octatonic ostinato. “Forest Song” thus threatens or dismantles the stable boundaries between nature, culture, listening subject, and creative agency, even as it folds its idea of landscape back within the echoing fragments of its ostinato figure within its closing bars.

Example 2a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 1-37.

Example 2a: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 1-37.

Example 2b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 38-72.

Example 2b: Sibelius, Op. 114, no. 4, mm. 38-72.


This close reading of Sibelius’s op. 114 invites comparison with a fourth modality of landscape, landscape as cartography, represented by Johannes Gabriel Granö’s ground-breaking Pure Geography (Puhdas Maantiede/Reine Geographie, 1929). First published in German, and then in Finnish 2 years later, Granö’s work proposes a systematic haptic geography of landscape perception. The volume’s aim, Granö explains in the preface, “is to demonstrate that the topic of geographical research is the human environment, understood as the whole complex of phenomena and objects that can be perceived by the senses.” [p. 1, my emphasis] From this threshold, the volume proposes a threefold hierarchical model of geographical perception, comprising:

  1. the observable space or field of vision/hearing: landscape as prospect or spectacle;
  1. aspects of heat, humidity, pressure, sound, smell: the haptic medium of landscape; and
  1. the base, substrate or fundamental tone of landscape.

Granö draws his preoccupation with the “field of hearing” from a further contemporary source: Jussi Seppä’s Luonnon löytöjä. Lintunäkymiä ja –kuulumia (“Findings in Nature: Ornithological Sights and Sounds” [Porvoo: WSOY, 1928]), the first book in Finland to employ the term and one that was especially concerned with the sonic and spatial qualities of particular landscapes construed less on a national but rather at a (micro)regional level.

This close attention to the intricate sonic detail of landscape provides the basis for Granö’s auditory analysis of Valosaari, an island in the south-eastern Finnish lake district: one of the earliest published soundscape studies in the field. As Granö explains, “the common auditory phenomena characterising natural proximities include the roar of the waves, cascades, or rapids, the sough of the wind in the forest and the singing of birds, while the ‘field of hearing’ of artificial proximities is characterized by human voices and the noise of traffic and industry” (Granö, 1997: 126). Beyond the familiar distinction between natural and artificial noise, however, lies a more fine-grained concern with questions of proximity and distance: the way in which sound leaks, is transformed, or refracted by physical objects within the landscape; the intensity or duration of particular sounds heard from precise locations within the auditory field; and the seasonal shifts in tone and register: “sounds produced by people always in summer; produced by people sometimes in summer; produced by people frequently at all times of the year (boating route, ice road)” (Ibid: 127).

Granö’s analysis might be read superficially as an attempt to capture the acoustic quality of a particular place in scientific, rational fashion. But his work more properly belongs to a complex tradition of landscape representation in which sound plays a more destabilizing role. The legacy of Granö’s model, and the four modalities of landscape as border zone outlined in this essay, can be traced in more contemporary research, for example the work of the Finnish sound artist Simo Alitalo, based in Turku in south-western Finland, who has been involved with the ongoing Finnish sound-mapping project ( Like Granö, Alitalo substitutes the conventional Finnish term for soundscape “äänimaisema” (literally meaning a “landscape of sound”) with a cognate term “kuuluma,” stressing the act of audition or hearing: a critical turn consistent with Tim Ingold’s recent polemic against the idea of soundscape (Ingold, 2006) and one adopted by other Finnish acoustic ecologists such as Heikki Uimonen.


In attending more closely to the media through which sound and landscape are shaped and formed, in light of writing on sound and landscape from Granö to the present day, and cogniscent of the cultural and political work performed by landscape as it is embedded within the historiographies of Finnish music, we are encouraged to reflect critically upon the ontological nature and status of the borders, liminalities, and thresholds of sound. Through this process, we can gain a clearer sense of the epistemological status of landscape, sound, immersion, and the politics of representation: categories that provoke more difficult questions about subjectivity and agency within a (post)affective critical regime. This renewed attention to landscape within ecomusicology might serve as a sign of musicology’s seemingly perennial lateness—its delayed concern with pressing aesthetic, historic and scholarly issues with which other disciplines appear to have engaged many years earlier. But, in asking us to listen beyond our categorical limits, as with the case of Sibelius’s landscapes, musicology can cautiously clear fresh critical ground. Contemplating these questions at such a politically uncertain time feels like a good place to start


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)




Alitalo, Simo. Kuulumia. (accessed 3 February 2014).

Fewster, Derek. Visions of Past Glory: Nationalism and the Construction of Early Finnish History. Studia Fennica Historica 11. (Helsinki: SKS, 2006).

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. (London: Routledge, 2002). Originally published as L’Archéologie du Savoir (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1969) 151-6.

Granö, Johannes Gabriel. Pure Geography, trans Malcolm Hicks, ed. Olavi Granö and Anssi Paasi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Originally published as Reine Geographie (Helsinki: Geographical Society of Finland, 1929).

Grimley, Daniel M. ‘Music, Landscape, Attunement: Listening to Sibelius’s Tapiola’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 64/2 (Fall, 2010), 394-8.

———. Jean Sibelius and his World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

Hirsch, Eric. ‘Landscape: Between Space and Place’, in The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space, ed. Eric Hirsch and Michael O’Hanlon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 1-30.

Häyrynen, Maunu. ‘A Kaleidoscopic Nation: the Finnish National Landscape Imagery’, in Michael Jones and Kenneth Olwig (eds.) Nordic Landscapes: Region and Belonging on the Northern Edge of Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 483-510.

Ingold, Timothy. ‘Against Soundscape’, in Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice, ed. Angus Carlyle (Paris: Double Entendre, 2007), 10-13.

Labelle, Brandon. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life (London: Continuum, 2010).

Mitchell, W. J. T. ‘Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness’ in Landscape and Power, ed. W J T Mitchell, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 261-290.

Murtomäki, Veijo. ‘Sibelius and the Miniature’ in Daniel M. Grimley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 137-153.

Mäkelä, Tomi. Jean Sibelius, trans. Stephen Lindberg (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011) 84-88.

Paasi, Anssi. Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness: the Changing Geographies of the Finnish Russian Border (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1996).

———. ‘Finnish Landscape as Social Practice: Mapping Identity and Scale’, in Jones and Olwig (eds.) Nordic Landscapes, 511-539.

Selwyn, Tom. ‘Landscapes of Liberation and Imprisonment: Towards an Anthropology of the Israeli Landscape’, in Hirsch and O’Hanlon (eds.) The Anthropology of Landscape, 114-134.

Seppä, Jussi. Luonnon löytöjä. Lintunäkymiä ja –kuulumia (‘Findings in Nature: Ornithological Sights and Sounds’) (Porvoo: WSOY, 1928)

Sibelius, Jean. Works for Piano, Opp. 85, 94, 96a, 96c, 97, 99, 101, 103, 114. Jean Sibelius Works V/3, ed. Anna Pulkkis (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 2011)

Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: 4. There’s No Place


by James Currie (University at Buffalo)


The attraction that is exerted by ecocriticism arises through the force with which it invokes pressing aspects of the real.   Even though the total scholarly field of such study is not singularly concerned with the indisputable fact of environmental catastrophe in the anthropocene, such horrors constantly make their presence felt, creating an almost guaranteed aura of relevance that can rarely be expected by other pursuits within the humanities. What, after all, could be more pressing than turning the gaze of our objects of study to face the fact of the destruction of an environment fit for human habitation? Surely we should not shy away from acknowledging the shudder that passes across the visage of art when she is made to interrupt her self-involvements and confront the devastations without! In Anglo-American public life, where intellectual pursuits are so easily deemed risible, scholars faced with the question as to what point there is to academic work frequently find themselves at sea, muttering convoluted excuses as they tread water to delay the moment when they start to drown. But the ecocritic reaches dry land quickly and thus has more breath left for effective rhetoric; the clear focus generated by seemingly direct engagement with the dangers of our time allows her to find her place within the presently existing scheme of things with prompt efficiency. We know where she is. Other lines of inquiry, by contrast, easily seem a little mandarin—inscrutably performed in the shadows of a decadent realm of dreams, artifice rather than reality.

I am pushing this representation of ecocriticism towards the doorway of parody, for exaggeration can sometimes give us a vantage on proclivities that day-to-day professional life too easily masks. Exaggeration here is thus more knowledge than entertainment. If ecocriticism more immediately forms lasting relationships with the real constituted by the environment where then does that leave the products of human artifice born from the imagination? Are such things divorced from reality? Does the ecocritic thereby act as a kind of marriage guidance councilor between nature and culture, convincing art to know her place and to come back home? Are things now, in fact, surreptitiously gendered so? Is ecocriticism a little too straight? If so, what would happen if we performed an almost hackneyed conventional move of queer studies, and assert artifice over nature? What would be gained from setting up our home in fabrication, in that “somewhere” where for queers there has sometimes been “a place for us”? And since I am improvising here, what if that “somewhere” were a song? To riff further—a song that is one of the most densely populated of queer places, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” from the 1939 MGM classic, The Wizard of Oz?

In the first part of the film, this iconic song

caters nicely to my questions, since Dorothy, weighted down by the restrictions of her immediate world, sings the tune in the name of imaginative escape. The song offers her momentary respite from reality, a respite that will then find a more full, complex elaboration in the land of Oz itself.[1] Here the song is queer. But at the end of the film, the song

is under contract to bring Dorothy home from her time in exile. So it is now an ecocritic—or at least according to the terms of my parody. The time has come to get back to business, to wake up from the defamiliarizations of dream life—where old friends appear as machines, or animals, or stuffed like a doll with straw—and once more to put things in their proper place and learn to make of that the dream that had inspired us to run away in the first place. We must know where we are.

Reminding ourselves of the ending of the film, however, suggests that such a reading is a little too neat. Dorothy wants to return to Kansas, and the Wizard has offered to chauffer her himself in a hot air balloon, since it turns out (oddly) that he is from Kansas too. The people of the Emerald City gather. Before them, the Wizard transfers his powers and authority onto the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. But at this moment of departure, Toto the dog sees a cat, a rather acid Siamese with ice blue eyes, a being seemingly devoid of sentiment. Oddly mirroring Toto in relation to Dorothy, the cat is nestling in the arms of a young woman. But the visual repetition is uncanny, for the cat’s porter, briefly glanced at by the camera, is no other than Dorothy’s sinister Doppelgänger, whose gaze is as malevolent as that of her feline familiar.[2] In the binary logics of Oz, all good witches come shadowed by their moral negatives; no sooner has Glinda the Good Witch of the North floated down in her pink soap bubble, than the Wicked Witch of the West churns up out of the ground in an orange column of fumes. Since Dorothy herself was assumed to be a witch upon her initial arrival in Oz, she is as subject to this formal law as anyone else, however much she may have initially protested against such identification: “I’m not a witch at all. I’m Dorothy Gale from Kansas!”[3] And so at the moment when she is just about to escape and return back to the comforts of Kansas, to a place where distorted reflections are unknown and people only come in ones, her payment is due and for the only time in the film (literally for a second[4]) we are allowed to witness something Other than the wholesome image of innocence and good that Dorothy sustains so successfully throughout the rest of her odyssey. Toto, seemingly asserting animal instincts over Dorothy’s conscious human desires, darts off to fight the good fight against the evil cat, and Dorothy, asserting her instinctual love of animals over her own purported agenda, joins the chase and so misses her ride home. In Oz there is perhaps no free lunch, and Dorothy’s fidelity to her affections here comes, on the cusp of the film’s conclusion, with an accompanying sacrifice that recapitulates the behavioral pattern that got her into all this trouble in the first place.[5] But perhaps, as this essay suggests, God writes in crooked lines, through the excited scamper of a small dog, and so Toto’s indifference to Dorothy’s plans is inadvertently but the manner of their attempted realization.

Dorothy’s distress at having missed her one opportunity to get home is cut short by Glinda’s return and pronouncement: “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.” That power, however, could only be accessed once a lesson had been learnt, a lesson that Dorothy then proffers: “It wasn’t enough to want to see Uncle Henry and Aunty Em.” Rather, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again”—which, we should remember, was the desire to save an animal!—“I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”[6] The film does not extend far enough into the future for us to see if the era of Toto’s agency within Dorothy’s heart has now been eclipsed by a prioritization of the human over the animal. Glinda merely confirms that Dorothy’s rendition is correct and begins teaching her the art of her final journey: “close your eyes, and tap your heals together three times, and think to yourself, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…’” At the third rendition Dorothy joins in, thus kick starting the engine of her final descent.[7]

Repetition can open up access to zones from which we are otherwise barred. This is why psychotherapy has at times employed the technique in the form of hypnosis. Keeping this in mind, we might therefore ask why it is then that Glinda deems it necessary to hypnotize Dorothy through repetition of the phrase “there’s no place like home.” In the scene of psychotherapy, we are hypnotized because it is only through this magic repetition trick that we can be transported to the Other scenes of our truth. Hypnosis distracts us into confronting something that otherwise we would do every thing we could to avoid; in his early treatment of neurotics, Freud used the technique as a means of helping his patients overcome their amnesia, so they could re-confront events otherwise too disturbing to remember. This being the case, we might therefore be forgiven for assuming that Dorothy, in fact, does not want to go home. Why, otherwise, would hypnosis be at all necessary? And so why does she not want to go back—to the place of her family, to her friends, to a community tied together through the fact that it is tethered to agrarian culture and thus tethered to the ground? Surely such a place would be desirable to her, comforting, and in all sorts of ways, both literal and figurative, grounding. After all, Dorothy has just been thrown up into the air, into what we might easily think of as a thrilling and terrifying taste of modernity at its most mad. Oz is a world in which, to pilfer Marx’s famous phrase, “all that is solid melts into air.”[8] Indeed, this is the fate of the wicked witch, and it occurs merely as a result of her having an encounter with a bucket of water. It is disturbing that a force so terrifying can be erased by so seemingly meaningless a detail; it bespeaks, alarmingly, of a defining instability at the heart of Oz. And so once more: why on earth is the prosthesis of hypnosis necessary in order to propel Dorothy back to earth—towards being grounded, towards being back in place?

As minimalism teaches us, repetition can make us hear things differently; it can disturb us by making meanings proliferate with alarming ease. At this moment in the film, what Dorothy says is as shop-worn as it gets: the tired sampler wisdom of “there’s no place like home,” to the gentle background accompaniment of the 1823 tune by Henry Bishop. The well-known tune, which Judy Garland was then famously to sing in full later in the 1944 Meet Me in St. Louis, subtly displaces the currently playing background music, which is made up out of a soft-focus texture of leitmotivs drawn primarily from the movie’s most famous hit, “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” The conflation of “There’s no place like home” with “Somewhere over the Rainbow” draws attention to a dialectical contradiction that is characteristic of the film in general: at this moment, the identity of a place, sublimely located over the rainbow, turns out to be the place where one already is: i.e., at home. Infinite distance short circuits with the immediate location. There is a slightly mad superimposing of universal and particular that, once one starts to get close to it, unravels in a strangely fecund plurality of directions.

For example, if the immediate place constituted by home is also sublime (beyond the rainbow) then we might start to hear a certain Utopian strain in “there’s no place like home.” As is oft noted, utopia quite literally means “no place.” And so we could rephrase the mantra as follows: There is a no place, a utopia, and that utopia is home.  But we might also hear something more sinister starting to loom from out of the repetitions, something to the effect of a denial: “there is no place like home”—in other words, there is no such place, because such a home does not exist, it is a fantasy. If the background music at this point helps to keep a conflation of particular with universal in place, allowing us to believe that home is sublime, then Dorothy’s spoken mantra, by contrast, could now be heard as a piece of pragmatic realist sobering up, an attempt, figuratively speaking, to bring us back down to earth, and thus a means of curtailing our flights of fancy. As if to spell the point out, we see the house at this moment swirling back down to earth from out of the great heights into which it had been initially thrown by the cyclone. However, the fact that Dorothy nevertheless keeps banging on about the fact that “there’s no place like home” even once she has “woken up” from her concussion and, moreover, that the final “The End” returns us to the sublime by means of a Romantically-tinged skyscape, suggest that perhaps she is still not yet ready to accept the full repercussions attendant upon her new realist manifesto. She is back in her place, but she cannot properly place herself there, and we should ask: why not? What is wrong with her relationship to place?

According to the French anthropologist Marc Augé, the intense and traumatic state of interconnection created by our late stage of global capital means that all places are now as much sites of infinite dispersal as they are places that can conceivably cohere into an identifiable place in the anthropological sense: as somewhere where a culture and its practices can be localized in time and space. For Augé we inhabit a paradoxical condition whereby the places constituted by particular locales are immediately connected with universal forces, but without that creating a broader sense of belonging. As he writes: “never before have individuals been so explicitly affected by collective history, but never before, either, have the reference points for collective identification been so unstable.”[9] I would argue, that one could effectively apply this formulation to the notion of place, too. Within the socio-political we are, to a certain degree, increasingly forced to inhabit the universal, but our habitation cannot constitute a home, and so we are, to all extents and purposes, without place. Faced with the anxieties of this radical displacement, the symptom that emerges is an intense over-determination of the value of the locality and place. Again, as Auge writes: “at the very same moment when it becomes possible to think in terms of the unity of terrestrial space, and the big multinational networks grow strong, the clamor of particularisms rises; clamor from those who want to stay at home in peace, clamor from those who want to find a mother country. As if the conservatism of the former and the messianism of the latter were condemned to speak the same language: that of the land and roots.”[10] In a sense, “There’s no place like home” is the anthem of this condition of overdetermined particularism. And it is given such incredible force in our present ecological condition, because of the irrefutable relationship between the growing strength of “big multinational networks” and the destruction of the “land” itself—the literal fact that the increasing toxicity of the planet and soil means that “roots” cannot flourish, so that even plants cannot be placed.

The connections between the flow of capital, the destruction of the environment, and the resultant destruction of place is prophetically waiting to be made in The Wizard of Oz, but not yet fully manifest. It is more a boil on the cusp of bursting. Evidently, since this is a film from the 1930s, the time of the Dust Bowl and the great depression, real-life and man-made natural disasters pervade the peripheries of the framing Kansas scenes of the film. The combination of intense droughts and ill-considered farming practices (basically a failure to employ dryland methods that help to lessen the possibility of wind-erosion) had by the mid-1930s decimated many farming families in the Great Plains, with the result that many of them were eventually forced to abandon their homes and leave, thus creating one of the largest forces of migration in US history, the famous Oakie migration. In the film, Dorothy’s own displacement, both her decision to leave home and her eventual transportation away from home by the twister, creates an interesting sequence, which, as I say, does not quite fully allow the political-economic-environmental networks at play in the realities of the 1930s to be spelled out, but which nevertheless remain implicit. She has had an encounter with money’s power over land and its decimating effects on the people who work it: Elmira Dultch, we should remember, is able to wield power over decisions to have Dorothy’s dog removed because she owns half the county. Dorothy’s response to this dissonance that interrupts her consonant relationship to her place is musical: she takes solace in dreaming her own displacement into another place (“somewhere”) via taking up temporary residence in the oddly displaced location offered by musical performance: she sings the famous “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

This can alert us to the following temporary conclusion about music in a time of ecological disaster: when one’s place is threatened with destruction, one of the places that one can take up residence is in the oddly displaced place that is musical performance itself.[11] Or: if we take seriously the heft of the real created by the environmental disaster, we must acknowledge the import that artifice will increasingly hold for our world. For not only is artifice the realm of art (a solace), it is also the realm of the self-consciously made (of action). And since, like Dorothy, we can no longer in good conscience take easy comfort in the sentimentally tinged notion that we might still return home to a balanced sense of belonging to the earth, we need to start waking up to the reality of whatever artifice we might effectively make of our future and learn to live in full Technicolor in Oz.


Part of the panel “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits”:

  1. “An Introduction.” By Tyler Kinnear (University of British Columbia)
  2. “The Naturalization of Built Environments: Two Case Studies.” By Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
  3. “Sibelius Beyond Categorical Limits.” By Daniel Grimley (University of Oxford)
  4. “There’s No Place.” By James Currie (University at Buffalo)




[1] In the iconic moment when Dorothy opens the door on Oz after her house has landed, thus flooding her quotidian sepia world with the healing rays of Technicolor, the tune is playing as part of the background instrumental soundscape. A few moments later, after her famously funny observation to Toto, that “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” the musical cue is given linguistic validation and Dorothy exclaims: “We must be somewhere over the rainbow!” Victor Flemming, The Wizard of Oz, 75th Anniversary Edition (Warner Home Video, 2013), track 11.

[2] Although I have not been able to verify this fact, the actress holding the cat is seemingly no other than Judy Garland. Flemming, The Wizard of Oz, chapter 51.

[3] Flemming, The Wizard of Oz, chapter 11.

[4] The exact point in the film (occurring in chapter 51) is 1 34’ 52”.

[5] In the opening Kansas sequence, Dorothy abandons her home rather than lose Toto, and as a result is unable then properly to get back home to her family and friends when the twister arrives.

[6] Flemming, The Wizard of Oz, chapter 52.

[7] Ibid., chapter 53.

[8] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), 476.

[9] Marc Augé, Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity (London and New York: Verso, 1995), 30.

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] As Holly Watkins writes: “Music of all sorts takes place in place, so to speak, and it also takes part in place. But music also is a place of sorts.” “Musical Ecologies of Place and Placelessness,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, 64/ii (2011), 405.