the walker’s lived experience is traversed by a “second existence,” the result of books, in such a way that the different types of experience merge and fade into one another. The lived experience is not in any way opposed to the lettered experience; each is informed and transformed by the other.Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia (2003), 56-7.
A lot of the work I do as a researcher and teacher connects to place and space. It was my interest in place that led me to study Comparative American Studies as an undergraduate; the books, films and music that I’d grown to love were those that provided me with spaces to imagine and which seemed to offer an experience of place without physical travel. Although I didn’t get to study music on my degree, I was able to explore literature, history and film from North and South America and the Caribbean. I also travelled to Chile and around several parts of South America and the Caribbean, which allowed me to match my ‘lettered’ and ‘imaged’ experiences with actual physical geographies.
When I got the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree with the Open University, I was able to connect my academic study to my obsession with popular music and I found myself drawn again to space and place. My dissertation, on US country music and hip-hop, focussed on the representation of authenticity through place, race and memory. I continued this interest in my doctoral work, looking at intersections of place, memory, nostalgia and loss in various musics from Europe and the Americas.
During my PhD, I became very influenced by Georges Perec’s text Species of Spaces. I started to think about how we might connect the internal spaces of music (the space between the notes), the external spaces in which we experience sound, and the ‘spaces’ of perception that process the experience. What is the sonic equivalent of starting, as Perec does, with the space of the page and zooming out to the room, town, world, universe in which that page is being written? In the first book that developed out of my thesis (Fado and the Place of Longing), I tried to pursue this idea and I have returned to it at various points since then.