cover of book

Creatures of the Air: Music, Atlantic Spirits, Breath, 1817–1913
by J. Q. Davies
University of Chicago Press, 2023
eISBN: 978-0-226-82614-1 | Cloth: 978-0-226-82613-4
Library of Congress Classification ML3799.3.D38 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 780.0577

An account of nineteenth-century music in Atlantic worlds told through the history of the art’s elemental medium, the air.

Often experienced as universal and incorporeal, music seems an innocent art form. The air, the very medium by which music constitutes itself, shares with music a claim to invisibility. In Creatures of the Air, J. Q. Davies interrogates these claims, tracing the history of music’s elemental media system in nineteenth-century Atlantic worlds. He posits that air is a poetic domain, and music is an art of that domain.

From West Central African ngombi harps to the European J. S. Bach revival, music expressed elemental truths in the nineteenth century. Creatures of the Air tells these truths through stories about suffocation and breathing, architecture and environmental design, climate strife, and racial turmoil. Contributing to elemental media studies, the energy humanities, and colonial histories, Davies shows how music, no longer just an innocent luxury, is implicated in the struggle for control over air as a precious natural resource. What emerges is a complex political ecology of the global nineteenth century and beyond.

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