This article tells the story of the Amplified Noise Act of 2018, a bill introduced through Washington, DC’s council to discourage street musicians in DC’s Chinatown neighborhood from disturbing local residents and office workers in the area. The punitive measures proposed in the bill included a $300 fine, up to ten days in jail, and/or the seizing of the offending equipment by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The public hearing, protests, and legislative maneuvering that followed encapsulate the racialized and sonic dimensions of gentrification in Washington, DC. I introduce these events through a theoretical framework that I call “intersectional listening.” Drawing on the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and intellectual genealogies of Black feminist thought, intersectional listening attends to the sonically articulated expressions of identity that are present in processes of gentrification, producing an analysis that attends to the complexities of sound, power, and race in a changing city. Processes of gentrification amplify tensions surrounding sound, music, and noise in both public and private space, and these tensions are deeply racialized because of the ways in which Black people have long been deemed sonically unruly and unmanageable. Ultimately, this article works to decriminalize Black sound and amplify those striving to do the same.
Plainly Audible: Listening Intersectionally to the Amplified Noise Act in Washington, DC
Allie Martin is a Mellon Faculty Fellow at Dartmouth College in the Music Department and the Cluster for Digital Humanities and Social Engagement. Her work explores the relationships between race, sound, and gentrification in Washington, DC. Utilizing a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and digital humanities methodologies, Allie considers how African-American people in the city experience gentrification as a sonic, racialized process. Her work has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Society for American Music, and the American Musicological Society. She is currently working on her first book, tentatively titled Intersectional Listening: Gentrification and Black Sonic Life in Washington, DC.
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Alison Martin; Plainly Audible: Listening Intersectionally to the Amplified Noise Act in Washington, DC. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 December 2021; 33 (4): 104–125. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.4.104
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