Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 1, nr. 1 (October 2011)Michael V. Butera: MUSIC CITY EXCESSES: Phenomenological Thresholds and Nashville Noise Regulations
In this essay I will be exploring phenomenological connections between private and public interpretations of urban sound. First, I will briefly outline a theory of perceptual excess wherein the listener is unable to interpret sounds according to intentional auditory categories. I argue that listeners respond through various acoustic techniques that intentionally change the way spaces sound, reforming acoustic orders. I will explore this in the case of Nashville, Tennessee’s urban noise ordinances. Its constructed identity as ‘Music City’ requires strategic maintenance to ensure that certain sounds are given priority (institutionalized live music) while others are suppressed (pre-recorded music) or marginalized (busking). The specificity of these laws indicates a capitalist cultural nostalgia as well as a fundamental preference for perceptual stability for residents, tourists, and lawmakers alike. A common logic is drawn between the subject as a phenomenological individual and the subject as a listening/governing state. The ability to predict and control which sounds will be heard, to sustain a certain acoustic order, highlights the problem of the listener’s perceptual stability in the context of urban noise and silence.