Few media have the level of penetration that music does. From mobile ringtones to elevators, there’s a melody, it seems, everywhere. Whether it’s a soundtrack to a mainstream film, or the song identifying a popular TV show, music occupies every conceivable space we can find it. Certainly, music has become so ubiquitous, we find ourselves blocking it out more often than we tune in. Any wonder why there’s less money in it these days?

Every now and then, however, we hear something new. When we do, we find that it’s not because it sounds different, but because we’re hearing it out of context.

Accustomed to only listening to music in assigned spaces, or using specific playback devices, the idea that we might encounter it in a place we do not expect – take the street, for example – is increasingly novel. Not out of a ghetto blaster, or a car passing by, but live, played by real people.

The experience can be a bit disorienting. Inclined to dismiss such events because we associate it with panhandling, it’s all too easy to ignore what we hear when we encounter it in such contexts. The following recording was an attempt to avoid doing that. Hearing unfamiliar horn sounds in the distance, I decided to turn my iPhone’s voice recorder on, and capture what I could. As the musicians approached, their song grew louder.

Low and behold, the musicians were Roma, and their music, predictably exotic sounding. Not a fan of what might be called “World Music” (my tastes veer towards bass music and noise) I found myself amused by what I heard. Not because I necessarily ¬†‘liked’ the music, but because I knew I otherwise wouldn’t have listened to it if I had seen a preassigned category next to it in advance, like “Gypsy” or “Ethnic.” I guess I was lucky.

Photograph courtesy of quinet. Published under a Creative Commons license. Recording by Joel Schalit.