Paal Fagerheim

Nord University, Norway;


Silent disco is a fairly new form of collective musical listening. While listeners are present in a collective context, like concerts, parties, or performances, the listening in a silent disco is individual with technology like wireless music streaming and headphones. In some cases, listeners can choose between different tracks. On other occasions, you must follow the selection from the DJ. The phenomenon challenges some fundamental aspects on listening to a performance in a collective event. Silent Disco enables listening in context that traditionally is not suited for listening. Examples is museums, libraries, shopping centers, and other public spaces. Historically, we discuss silent disco in relation to developments of technology that facilitate wireless systems and individual listening. This is not a new phenomenon, but recent technological developments facilitate a new kind of shared individual-collective experience that leads to new forms for music appreciation. We also discuss social and cultural perspectives, arguing for the relation between rave and house party culture, pop up culture, and connections to social networking concepts which are not conventionally tied to location, time, and place. The paper takes an ethnographic starting point, exploring a recent event of silent disco in Norway. The event included students gathering for their semester start and arranging a silent disco in the woods. The event is described, using fieldwork and participant-observation as methodology. Other studies have previously studied silent disco in relation to psychological perspectives, cognition, health care and technology, and memory. But ethnographic research which are theoretically situated within music sociology and anthropology lacks. We interpret the event with theories from subcultural theory and especially milieu studies, investigating the practice of silent disco as a performative social and musical event, strengthening the participants interconnectedness, belonging, and sense of shared experience.

Keywords: Silent Disco; Music Sociology; Ethnography.


Paal Fagerheim is a Norwegian professor in musicology working mainly in popular music studies, music anthropology and ethnomusicology. Research interests include music, space and place, ethnicity and indigenous music cultures, ritualization and performativity, and technology and music production. He has a PhD focusing on Norwegian rap and reggae. Fagerheim is also an active musician and runs a Norwegian music publishing company. He is editor-in-chief of the Norwegian Journal of Musicology, and board member for the Norwegian Music Publishers Association. He is a research partner in the ongoing EU-projects BELEM and Musika Peripherika.