Sounds of the city

Black and white photograph of the Liverpool Overhead Railway passing in front of the George's Dock Ventilation Tower Building

Georges Dock ventilation building and Liverpool Overhead
Railway, 1936.
© National Museums Liverpool
Stewart Bale collection. Archive reference 12740-1

Most popular music is made and heard in an urban environment. The relationship between popular music and the city is therefore very close - indeed, popular music has been described as 'the sound of the city' (Gillett, 1983). The relationship is a two-way one, in which the city influences music and music influences the city. But how does the relationship work? What can music tell us about cities? And what can cities tell us about music?

In addressing these questions a number of important areas can be picked out, which are explored in the following pages:

  • Mapping city sounds: Musical activity in any city at any one time presents a complicated picture, and when historical changes are factored in the picture gets even more complicated! A way to understand this is to think in terms of musical maps. We might learn from a map, for example, whether a musical style was concentrated in one area, or more widely scattered.
  • The city in music: Another way we can see the city-music relationship at work is when musicians respond to the city environment - and that includes its suburbs - in their music.
  • Music in a changing city: Cities are never static places. They grow, and they contract. The make-up of their population also changes. How is music affected by these changes? And does it have an active role to play?
  • Diverse city sounds: Cities are also very diverse places. One reason for this is that people are always passing through them. As they do so they interact with each other and so influence the city's music.

Each of these links uses examples from several cities, but draws especially on the history of Liverpool and Liverpool's music.