Empirical Problems and Perspectives of Music-based Town and Metropolis Research

Klagenfurt as case study

Scientific Essay 2008 13 Pages



Empirical Problems and Perspectives of Music-based Town and Metropolis Research - Klagenfurt as case study

Nico Thom (Klagenfurt, Austria)


The following article is intended to point up a few of the empirical-methodological problems which arose in the course of a small case study. This can at best lead to further comparable or larger studies. As a minimum the text will have achieved its goal if it clarifies the initial thinking behind a concrete, music-based town study, i.e. if it reveals clearly the first steps to be undertaken in such a study. Considerations of the method and of the methodology of such studies will replace a more comprehensive analysis of the data gathered in the actual case study.

Music-based approaches as an extension of general town and metropolis research

I am in sympathy with recent developments in musicology which are picking up the results of gen- eral town and metropolis research in order to renew and amplify the question of the mutual relation- ship between music and its location. In his 2006 essay "Negotiate, review the situation, music and urbanism" Sebastian Klotz is, in my opinion, particularly ambitious and profound in the ideas which he raises. Klotz takes stock from a music-sociological perspective and states that there are already

"several musicological approaches based on cultural studies’ critical emphasis, which are of direct relevance to new urban and metropolitan research. Amongst the perspectives which have been de- veloped in musicology and pop culture research are the mapping of sounds and musical forms of expression, then R. Murray Schafer’s ,soundscape‘ research, musical lifestyle research, network analyses of creative milieus, the conceptually profound discussion of the relationship between or- ders of power and music, and the reflection in independent platforms and forums outside the uni- versity of current musical forms of expression which are tied to the milieus of western metropo- lises."1

In Klotz’s opinion this broad spectrum of predominantly music-sociological research approaches requires intensification. To do so, for example, the following scientific techniques would have to be constructively combined:

"The discourse analysis of textual evidence [...], network analyses and milieu research, in order to work up the sphere of the participants and their interactions; biographical research with interviews and extended stays in the field, in order properly to describe the living conditions, the value and the uses made of music; detailed descriptions [...] and town protocols, which allow the sphere of activity of the participants to be illuminated [...] the habitus of the quarters concerned and their psychography to be formulated; segregational analyses over several years; analysis of the practices and dependencies of the commercial music sector [...]."2

Further Klotz advocates the comparison of the results thus obtained "with other urban-oriented scenes and musical stylistics" (ibid). Finally, though, he notes that "the biggest challenge" lies in "converting into a suitable methodology the wealth of observations provided by research along cultural studies lines on local and urban mentalities, these being predominantly ,impressionist‘, ,anecdotal‘ and ,constructivist‘ [...] in their approach to creating contexts."3

Methodological problems

This problem of a suitable methodology is the starting point for my considerations. I agree with Klotz that it is valuable from a constructivist perspective to avoid suggestive objectifications of results such as ,towns‘ or ,music‘ or ,the mutual relationship between a town and its music‘.4 Furthermore I am just as interested as Klotz in methodically open, music-related urban research, which would distinguish itself through its high level of abstraction and would therefore potentially allow more general assertions to be made on the topic of urbanity and music. However, as far as the combinability and integratability of the various empirical research methods are concerned I am less optimistic than Klotz. Apart from the epistemological issue of the general significance of empirical results derived from a single case, i.e. which are based on any given city or metropolis with its temporally and spatially specific musical activity, the burning question for me is whether and how these contextualized music activities can be captured adequately at all.

Since the majority of the studies into music-related urban research, similar to Klotz’s considera- tions, were into major cities and metropolises, my initial question can be extended and made more concrete: Is it any way possible from a pragmatic research point of view to satisfactorily capture the musical activities or the music-related interaction in a given city or metropolis? What problems arise in collecting and evaluating the empirical data? Can these problems be solved or avoided? These questions are relevant because the current situation is that no studies exist which document the musical activities in a city or metropolis in any manner comprehensively, and those that do cer- tainly do not analyse the multi-faceted music-related processes on a broad empirical basis. It is true that there are individual case studies, but Klotz himself notes that "only in the rarest of cases do the studies conducted in urban music research [...] go as far as to reach [...] a cognitive theory of music adopting a specific space and hence to the musical environments of the inhabitants"5. In addition, these studies have usually been done in smaller towns or cities and take only one particular aspect into account. The few studies available on major cities or metropolises restrict themselves either to a specific group of people or to a milieu or a city district or a selected style of music. It is my impression that most of the studies retreat into the protected space of a theory and give only a cursory or normative view of what would be necessary empirically.

An empirical research seminar in Klagenfurt

This situation prompted me to take a seriously empirical line in studying, within the framework of a research seminar, the multi-dimensional, mutual relationship between the city or metropolis and its music, which Klotz had shown so vividly in theory. In order to simulate a case study of metropolis research I attempted - with a group of ten students of musicology from Klagenfurt University - over one semester to capture the musical activities of the city of Klagenfurt, Austria. The results were subsequently extrapolated many times over in order to come somewhere near the potential amounts of data and relations we would reckon with in a large-scale study of a metropolis, striving for a holistic picture.

Small town or big city?

The first question we had to consider was what really is the difference between a town, a city, a ma- jor city and a metropolis? It quickly became clear that the categories were not linked to the number of inhabitants alone, but that the regional, national and international importance of the place had to be taken into consideration. This leads to the definition being relative, and hence to its losing clar- ity. The city of Klagenfurt, for example, has 97,000 inhabitants. Compared with population figures for Chinese cities it would be a small town. Compared with the populations of Austrian cities it is the sixth biggest city in Austria and thus counts as one of the major cities in the country. In addi- tion, Klagenfurt is the capital of the State of Carinthia and thus has both regional and national prominence. Through its central location in the border region between Austria, Slovenia and Italy, also known as the Alpe-Adria-Region, Klagenfurt additionally has international significance. As- signing importance can therefore seen to be of either statistical, geographical, political or cultural character, depending on the perspective.


1 Sebast ian Klotz, ",Negotiate, review the situation‘. Musik und Urbanismus", in: Soziale Horizonte von Musik. Ein kommentiertes Lesebuch zur Musiksoziologie, ed. by Christian Kaden and Karsten Mackensen (= Bärenreiter Studienbücher Musik, Bd. 15), Kassel et al. 2006, p. 324f. (The original text is in German.)

2 Klotz, ",Negotiate, review the situation‘. Musik und Urbanismus", p. 339.

3 Klotz, ",Negotiate, review the situation‘. Musik und Urbanismus", p. 343.

4 Cf. Klotz, ",Negotiate, review the situation‘. Musik und Urbanismus", p. 344.

5 Klotz, ",Negotiate, review the situation‘. Musik und Urbanismus", p. 325f.


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Music City Case Study Klagenfurt Austria




Title: Empirical Problems and Perspectives of Music-based Town and Metropolis Research