Street Cries and the urban ritornelle
Keywords:Street cries, Ritornelle, Everiday listening, Aesthetics, Experience
Street cries, though rarely heard in Northern European cities today, testify to ways in which audible practices shape and structure urban spaces. Paradigmatic for what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call ‘the refrain’, the ritualised and stylised practice of street cries may point at the dynamics of space-making, through which the social and territorial construction of urban space is performed. The article draws on historical material, documenting and describing street cries, particularly in Copenhagen in the years 1929 to 1935. Most notably, the composer Vang Holmboe and the architect Steen Eiler Rasmussen have investigated Danish street cries as a musical and a spatial phenomenon, respectably. Such studies – from their individual perspectives – can be said to explore the aesthetics of urban environments, since street calls are developed and heard specifically in the context of the city. Investigating the different methods employed in the two studies and presenting Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the refrain as a framework for further studies in the field, this article seeks to outline a fertile area of study for sound studies: the investigation of everyday refrains and the environmental relations they express and perform. Today changed sensibilities and technologies have rendered street crying obsolete in Northern Europe, but new urban ritornells may have taken their place.
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