Prison Music: Containment, Escape, and the Sound of America by Jeb Aram Middlebrook is a cultural history of prison in the United States from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, told through the sound of incarceration in American popular culture, policy, and protest. The book explores the popularity of prison in the United States through an examination of the aesthetics and politics of incarceration, and argues that prison is a foundational organizing principle for conceptions of freedom, justice, citizenship, democracy, and culture in the United States. The book makes this argument by analyzing sounds from and about prison in relation to: 1) music containing themes, lyrics, and/or sonics referencing the criminal justice system, 2) policies and practices of policing, imprisonment, and detention, and 3) organized protest and resistance to the prison state. The project offers an interdisciplinary and transhistorical approach to studies of music, prison, and race.
The chapters draw a sonic arc between the increase of prisons post-Civil War to the increase of detention centers post-9/11 by tracing sounds of prison across otherwise assumed boundaries of genre, discipline, nation, and race. The book analyzes how music, sound, and noise inform the possibilities and limitations of collective escape from the United (carceral) States. Prison Music draws from historical and community archives, prison literature, field recordings, popular music, and law in order to read sounds and images of prison music as analytical metaphors to think through the role of prisons in U.S. society and beyond.
The Prison Music Blog (prisonmusicblog.wordpress.com) is a collection of research objects inspired by the book, Prison Music: Containment, Escape, and the Sound of America, by Jeb Aram Middlebrook. This online collection references sounds, sights, and songs from or about prison past and present, and together help define what the author terms “prison music” or “states of prison”: political and aesthetic formations that materially and culturally structure the prison state in and beyond the United States. Contributors include students studying justice, race, and sound at California State University, Dominguez Hills, among others. View the research objects below.