New York Noise

New York Noise

Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene
Tamar Barzel
Distribution: World
Publication date: 01/30/2015
Format: Hardback 30 b&w illus., 11 music exx., 1 table, 8 video, 14 audio
ISBN: 978-0-253-01550-1
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2016 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Coined in 1992 by composer/saxophonist John Zorn, "Radical Jewish Culture," or RJC, became the banner under which many artists in Zorn's circle performed, produced, and circulated their music. New York's downtown music scene, part of the once-grungy Lower East Side, has long been the site of cultural innovation. It is within this environment that Zorn and his circle sought to combine, as a form of social and cultural critique, the unconventional, uncategorizable nature of downtown music with sounds that were recognizably Jewish. Out of this movement arose bands, like Hasidic New Wave and Hanukkah Bush, whose eclectic styles encompassed neo-klezmer, hardcore and acid rock, neo-Yiddish cabaret, free verse, free jazz, and electronica. Though relatively fleeting in rock history, the "RJC moment" produced a six-year burst of conversations, writing, and music—including festivals, international concerts, and nearly two hundred new recordings. During a decade of research, Tamar Barzel became a frequent visitor at clubs, post-club hangouts, musicians' dining rooms, coffee shops, and archives. Her book describes the way RJC forged a new vision of Jewish identity in the contemporary world, one that sought to restore the bond between past and present, to interrogate the limits of racial and gender categories, and to display the tensions between secularism and observance, traditional values and contemporary concerns.

Author Bio

Tamar Barzel is an ethnomusicologist whose research focuses on experimental music, jazz, and improvisation.Drawing on ethnographic and archival sources, her work is positioned at the nexus of cultural studies, creative identity, and musical sound. She has presented papers at scholarly meetings worldwide and has published articles in theJournal of the Society for American Music, Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and its Boundaries, and"People Get Ready": The Future of Jazzis Now. Her newest project investigates the history of creative improvised music in Mexico City.


“Tamar Barzel’s book treats the phenomenon that came to be known as Radical New Jewish Music in all its complexity. She approaches her subject with the chops to understand the music, the background needed to grasp the musicians’ intent, and the guts to unpack its contradictions. This book is a great document of the music, and analysis of the people and forces that created it, providing insight into a key moment in the intersecting histories of NYC Downtown, Jazz, Avantgarde, and Jewish musics.”
 — Marc Ribot , guitarist and composer/improviser

“This highly anticipated book places readers at the scene as a transgressive, border-crossing musical movement that continues to inspire worldwide is bearing its first fruit. Tamar Barzel’s brilliant scholarship deploys an acute ethnographic eye and ear to offer new perspectives on the complex relation among experimentalism, spirituality, sound, culture, and the artistic journey of discovery.”
 — George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

“Tamar Barzel admirably and creatively portrays a musical community constantly forging new paths for understanding Judaism and its relationship to personal musical creativity. ”
 — Judah M. Cohen, author of The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor: Musical Authority, Cultural Investment (IUP, 2009)

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Table of Contents

Ethnomusicology Multimedia Series Preface
Introduction: The Downtown Scene
1. Jewish Music: The Art of Getting it Wrong
2. "Radical Jewish Culture": A Community Emerges
3. From the Inexorable to the Ineffable: John Zorn’s Kristallnacht and the Masada Project
4. Queer Dada Judaism: G-d Is My Co-Pilot and the "Inbetween Space"
5. Shelley Hirsch and Anthony Coleman: Music and Memory from the "Nowhere Place"