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  • The Sounds of Social Space: Branding, Built Environment, and Leisure in Urban China by Paul Kendall
  • Han Li (bio)
Paul Kendall. The Sounds of Social Space: Branding, Built Environment, and Leisure in Urban China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2019. viii, 207 pp. Hardcover $68.00, ISBN 978-0-8248-7770-5.

In The Sounds of Social Space, Paul Kendall, once a music journalist in Beijing prior to starting a career in academia, ventures to Kaili, a small city in southwest China's Guizhou province, to examine the interactions between social space, sound-making, and everyday life. Initially seeking to investigate the official classification of ethnic minorities in the People's Republic of China (PRC), Kendall was both struck and intrigued by discrepancies he observed between the local inhabitants' views of their own music-making experiences and their opinions towards the official branding of their city as the "homeland of one hundred festivals." Originating from this new yet related mission, Kendall's book provides a thoughtful and insightful examination of the intricate relationship between city branding, built environment, and everyday living of the space. As a county-level city of half a million people under the administration of the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture and branded as a center of Miao ethnic culture in China, Kaili serves an opportune location for Kendall's investigation.

The book's strengths are quite obvious. First, Kendall's work is solidly grounded in well-established sociological and ethnomusicological theories, among which Henri Lefebvre's "triad of social space" is the most prominent. Following Lefebvre's framework, Kendall views space as "physically perceived by the senses, as intellectually conceived through maps, and plans, and as symbolically lived in the everyday (all italicization in original, p. 7)," each respectively echoing his analysis of Kaili's built environment (as well as movement of people, cars, and sound etc. within that milieu), the municipality's planning and branding strategies and practices and the local people's everyday sound-making experiences in the perceived space. While [End Page 306] drawing on Lefebvre's framework, Kendall remains keenly aware of the historical context in which this "spatial triad" was produced and hence constantly reminds readers of its limitations when applied to studying contemporary Chinese society. As Kendall observes, for example, the branding of cities like Kaili deliberately employs the language of the everyday rather than relying on abstract, specialist terminology. The effect results in the creation of a conceived space that is not quite the same as city maps and architectural plans through which Lefebvre's "conceived space" is expressed. Kendall makes careful distinction between the Lefebvrian classic "conceived planned space" and what he dubs the "conceived branded space" that characterizes Kaili (p. 33). In addition to this Lefebvrian inspiration, Michel de Certeau's emphasis on the significance of "walking in the city" supports Kendall's analysis of the interplay between local walkers and urban planning (p. 29). Similarly, Murray Schafer's definition of "soundscape" as "a field of interactions" also endorses the meaningfulness in studying the totality of the acoustic environment rather than merely individual sound(s) (p. 35).

Beyond its theoretical richness, Kendall's monograph is solidly based on his interviews of Kaili residents and meticulous literature review. While his textual research of archived newspapers on Kaili produces a chronological overview of the changing space and urban development of Kaili in history, his informal, in-depth conversations with the inhabitants often complement the official accounts with valuable and much-needed personal and anecdotal perspectives. By adding extra dimensions of ethnomusicological and textual analysis to traditional urban and social studies, Kendall's work not only adds valuable nuance to his examination of Kaili's soundscapes, but also offers a critical assessment of the various theories he invokes.

Following Kendall's elaboration on the theoretical framework and methodology, the book's second chapter contextualizes the branding, built environment, and leisure practices in Kaili's history. Examining Kaili's ever changing amateur musical activities and public leisure spaces, Kendall convincingly demonstrates how Kaili transformed from "a scattered collection of rural, industrial, and administrative-urban spaces" during the socialist period to a modern, cohesive space requiring a marketable...


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pp. 306-309
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