New York Noise:

Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene

By Tamar Barzel
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Indiana University Press, 2015

ISBN 978-0-253-01557-0

328 Pages


Listen to an interview with author Tamar Barzel here.

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.


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”


Tamar Barzel is an ethnomusicologist and lecturer at Harvard University whose research focuses on experimental music, with an emphasis on late twentieth century jazz and the Jewish avant-garde. Drawing on ethnographic and archival sources, her work addresses the convergence of cultural studies, creative identity, and musical sound. She has presented papers at scholarly meetings worldwide and has published articles in the Journal of the Society for American Music, Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and its Boundaries, and “People Get Ready”: The Future of Jazz is Now. Her first book, New York Noise: Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene (Indiana University Press, 2015), explores the strange and compelling Jewish music that emerged from Manhattan’s downtown scene of the 1990s. Her newest project investigates the history of creative improvised music in Mexico City.

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