How to dance to Beethoven in Freetown: the social, sonic and sensory organisation of sounds into music and noise

  • Michael Stasik
Keywords: music, noise, volume, senses, dance


Different people perceive sounds differently. Though a seemingly obvious insight at first, these differences lead to questions about how sounds are organised into patterns perceived to be music or noise. Drawing on fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, this paper tackles this conundrum. I start with some acoustemological vignettes about Freetown’s sonic environments, juxtaposing these explorations of ‘sonic sensibilities’ with reflections on how sounds become perceived as noise. Building upon works from anthropology, musicology, and cognitive science, I then turn to a closely related question, asking what makes sounds become music. In the last part, I show that, within Freetown’s social and sonic relationships, a main defining feature determining whether or not sounds are labelled music is the ability to dance to them. Ultimately, the danceability of Freetown’s music takes me to matters of loudness because, more often than not, dance music audiences favour extensive uses of volume.