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 admirably and creatively portrays a musical community constantly forging new paths for understanding Judaism and its relationship to personal musical creativity.
Judah M. Cohen
author of The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor: Musical Authority, Cultural Investment (IUP, 2009)
This highly anticipated book places readers at the scene as a transgressive, border-crossing musical movement that continues to inspire worldwide is bearing its first fruit. Tamar Barzel’s brilliant scholarship deploys an acute ethnographic eye and ear to offer new perspectives on the complex relation among experimentalism, spirituality, sound, culture, and the artistic journey of discovery.
George E. Lewis
author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
Tamar Barzel’s book treats the phenomenon that came to be known as Radical New Jewish Music in all its complexity. She approaches her subject with the chops to understand the music, the background needed to grasp the musicians’ intent, and the guts to unpack its contradictions. This book is a great document of the music, and analysis of the people and forces that created it, providing insight into a key moment in the intersecting histories of NYC Downtown, Jazz, Avantgarde, and Jewish musics.
guitarist and composer/improviser
New York Noise only scratches the surface of potential research in this area, but Barzel adroitly tackles the larger questions of Jewish identity that Radical Jewish Culture wrestles with. Essential for Jewish libraries.
The book is detailed, well documented, and a fascinating analysis of a musical milieu that was less visible than the neo-klezmer movement . . . Just as valuable as the text is the availability of supplemental audio and video through a free account at ethnomultimedia.org . . . An outstanding study of a fascinating slice of New York culture.
Barzel provides plenty of sociohistorical contextualization to root her wider discussion of the role of Jewishly identified music in the downtown scene in New York City in the 1990s. Moreover, her inclusion of audio clips available on the publisher’s website provides a soundtrack for critical listening, which is both practical and necessary. The book is expertly detailed in its musicological analysis.
This book is appropriate for all academic collections and for the well informed and curious lay reader who is prepared for a very heavy read. It might easily serve as a textbook for a course on the subject. This book is highly recommended.
Questions of identity and musical originality are broached and compellingly entwined in Barzel’s study, which is highly informative and refreshingly free of the dryness or excessive earnestness that can sometimes blight an account of a ‘movement’ of this kind.
New York Noise fills an important void in the study of contemporary Jewish music and provides an array of insights into a unique efflorescence of Jewish culture that is sure to stimulate fans and scholars alike.
A welcome addition to the literature on contemporary Jewish identity politics.
Jewish Book World