We started AudibleRVA in 2013 as a Digital Humanities project to study Richmond’s soundscape and music scene. Ongoing projects are organized along several themes: Live Music, Infrastructure, Education, Soundscapes, Noise, and Carceral Soundscapes.

The project’s core assumption is that a society’s ethical life is partly expressed through the allocation of sonic “goods,” including access to music making and listening and musical infrastructure (venues, schools, stores). How does access to such sonic goods—and the right to make and be free from “noise”—express and reproduce a society’s political theory and ethics? Whose sounds are muted? These questions of justice, equity and distribution have long been central themes in Western moral theory. We aren’t concerned here with normative definitions of noise, sound, or music but opportunities for sonic eudaimonia, Aristotle’s term for “flourishing” and the goal of his ethics. We ask: who in Richmond is extended the opportunity to flourish through sound, and how is sound policed to restrict flourishing?

Music scholars recognize sound as a modality through which a public organizes itself, making it a fundamental means through which residents express inclusion and exclusion, mark territory, and constitute normative citizenship. We are inspired by contemporary urbanists who approach cities as holistic systems, describing them in terms of “ecosystems” or “bodies.” In this view, a particular region or component of a city cannot be fully understood in isolation from the broader community.

Performing, studying, and listening to music can help build up a community’s social infrastructure, while sounds deemed noise might indicate tensions in the community that need addressing. Similar to the way that physicians use a stethoscope to listen for signs of health or indications of disease in a body, the AudibleRVA project is intended to act as a kind of stethoscope through which to understand the state of Richmond as a civic body.

The project is organized by Dr. Andy McGraw Associate Professor of Music at the University of Richmond.