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Sounding marginality and social disorder: the battle for Madrid’s soundscape, 1850-1930

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Abstract: From the 1850s to the 1930s, when Madrid experienced its greatest urban expansion, its soundscape could be described as a kaleidoscope of sounds and musical practices. During that period, the social inequalities generated by a rapid but uneven process of economic and cultural modernisation led to a battle for the urban soundscape. Madrid’s soundscape thus became an arena where the tensions between competing lifestyles and class interests, and where the struggle for survival, could be enacted; and where a series of issues that were central to the process of modernisation, such as the administration of social aid, the tackling of crime and the improvement of hygiene, could be negotiated. The rising middle classes sought to improve their comfort and extend an ‘aural hygiene’ across the city, coinciding with the implementation of the expansion plan known as ensanche. They tried to close noisy taverns by co-opting criminologists, hygienists and journalists to use their influence to condemn flamenco and gypsies publicly. Furthermore, the middle classes sought to wipe organ grinders and buskers out of the streets of Madrid by launching a criminalising campaign and prompting the legal and police persecution of those musicians. By contrast, the middle classes endorsed the town-hall-sponsored workhouse bands, which could serve as propaganda for the municipal programmes of social aid. These bands showcased former street urchins neatly uniformed as they marched and played together. The canon of musical practices that emerged after decades of police persecution and journalistic propaganda against flamenco and street musicians was ultimately predicated on the values associated with different musical styles and practices. The defence of the work ethic and the rising culture of comfort became the two most pressing concerns. Ownership of Madrid’s soundscape thus hinged on the power to determine what qualified as ‘music’ and what was a disturbing ‘noise.’ By the 1920s, it was clear that that power lay at the hands of those who controlled the media and the production of knowledge, and were thus able to shape public perceptions of different sounds and musical practices.

Biography: Samuel Llano is a musicologist and cultural historian specialising in the study of nineteenth and early-twentieth century Spanish music and in its relationship with other cultures, especially France. His current project deals with the study of Madrid’s soundscape in the nineteenth century, looking at how it helped to articulate social and political responses to a series of problems derived from social inequalities, such as poverty and crime. This research will be published as a sole-authored monograph by Oxford University Press in 2016 with the title Discordant Notes: Marginality and Social Disorder in Madrid, 1850-1930. His publications include Whose Spain?: Negotiating “Spanish Music” in Paris, 1908-1929 (OUP, 2012), winner of the Robert M. Stevenson Award of the American Musicological Society in 2013. Llano has worked as Research Associate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Cambridge for the past three years and is now a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies in the Durham University.

This talk is part of the Faculty of Music Colloquia series.

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