Music in Public Space: Changing Perception, Changing Urban Experience?
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Urban planners and policy makers recently seek for solutions for the revitalization and regeneration of dead public spaces through creative practices. Public art is considered to be the main way of bring life back to the public realm. However, there seems to be a neglect of the processes which make public art efficient in this process. The perceptions and experiences constructed by similar practices are considered to be the explanation behind the success of art-guided revitalization projects. The aim of this research is to reflect on a specific mode of public art towards its effect on the perceptions and experiences on the quality of public space. This form of public art is music in public space, or else street music. This aim will be achieved by answering the main research question: - To what extent does music in public space change the perception people have about the quality of a public space? Public music performance is argued to be more efficient than other forms of public art in constructing perceptions and experiences, as it has the ability to transfer emotions and feelings in a more direct and intensive way (Coburn, 2002). In order to evaluate the effect of music on perceptions and experiences related to the quality of public space, four main attributes are identified and translated in research sub-questions. These qualities are sense of comfort, sense of community and sociability, accessibility and uses of the public space (Project for Public Spaces, 2012). By reflecting the effect of a public music performance on the perceptions constructed for each qualitative attribute, it is possible to relate spatial practices with the lived and conceived spaces of the public realm (Lefebvre, 1991). In order to negotiate these sub-questions on a theoretical level, approaches related to the production of –public- space (Lefebvre, 1991) and the construction of experiences (Tuan, 1977) have been called and used as the cornerstones of the theoretical framework. Moreover, additional theories and approaches of psychogeography, public art, culture-led and creative revitalization and regeneration of public space and music cognition are discussed in order to create theoretical expectations about the effect of music performance on people’s perception on each attribute of space. The general theoretical assumption is that music has a significant and usually positive effect towards those attributes. In order to verify the theoretical assumption an empirical research has been conducted by investigating a case study; Navarinou Square in Thessaloniki, Greece. By following a qualitative research design into which psychogeographical tools are incorporated, the four attributes of the quality of space have been “tested” in the public realm with the presence of a music performance and without it. With semi-structured interviews and a psychogeographical practice it was possible to collect 31 responses which reflect the theoretical assumptions on the empirical data and results. By comparing and contrasting the responses of the two groups of interviewees and by applying a discourse analysis it was possible to reveal the extent to which music in public space affects the perception people have about those attributes of public space. The results do not seem to correspond with the expectations stated through the theoretical research. Therefore there is a need to reflect further on the theoretical approaches by incorporating the outcomes of the empirical research and reach a conclusion. At the level of conclusions the main research question is answered and it is possible to negotiate possible reasons for the contradicting results of the empirical research. The most important explanation seems to be the seriousness of the problems of the space, which does not allow people to perceive -sub-consciously – the positive effect that music might have. Another possible reason is the tendency of people to engage in “clichés of public speech” and thus deny and neglect the reality of the experiences (Tuan, 1977, p. 203). An interesting conclusion negotiates the importance of revealing or not to the respondent the role of music; when the respondents were informed about the importance of the music in the research they all immediately began to negotiate the value of the performance in a different way. They realized it and linked it with attributes of public space that they didn’t do in the first part of the interview. A factor that seems to have a great influence on people’s constructed perceptions is the quality of music. The last conclusion refers to the elasticity of the cognitive process that constructs perception and experience, due to the critical effect that personal, cultural and social characteristics have on the audience’s music cognition (Kämpfe J., Sedlmeier P., Renkewitz F., 2011). In a last level of comprehension of the processes which link the production of space with the effect that music has on the perception of the quality of public space, there is a discussion of Lefebvre’s spatial trial in view of the conclusions of the research. In order to close the thesis, there is a suggestion of some policy guidelines on the revitalization and regeneration of public space through music events in the public realm. Of course, the last chapter is an evaluation of the research and recommendations for future research which provide a critical view on the whole process of the thesis.