ICREA International Workshop ‘Hearing the City: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes’, 24-26 September 2015, Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona

After 18 months of planning, the ICREA International Workshop ‘Hearing the City’ took place at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, thanks to a generous grant from ICREA (Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats), the URBANMUSICS research project supported by the Marie Curie Foundation, and the Societat Catalana de Musicologia and its President, Jordi Ballester. Thanks, too, to all the participants who came from three continents and eleven countries to gather in Barcelona, bringing with them their methodological and cross-disciplinary expertise and wealth of knowledge of music, art, architecture, literature and ceremonial in the urban context. Thanks especially go to the two principal advisers to the Workshop: Dinko Fabris (Italy) and Tim Carter (USA).

Dinko Fabris

Dinko Fabris

Tim Carter

Tim Carter










As hoped, it proved to be a lively event, packed full of presentations that ranged over many fields of inquiry, geographical regions and methodological perspectives, with discussion spilling over into the patio of the IEC during the breaks. The results will take material form in a collection of essays to be published by Brépols, but the more intangible but nonetheless real benefits of bringing together so many experts in the field will spread along established networks, create new lines of transmission as well as personal and institutional contacts, and thus, hopefully, give a boost to a field of inquiry that offers so much potential for development not only at the level of pure academic research at the highest, cross-disciplinary level, but also as a forum of cultural interaction that can increase knowledge and appreciation of urban cultural heritage to reach many others, including schoolchildren, students, tourists and visitors, and indeed anyone interested in the city soundscape, past and present.

Discussion in the cloister

Discussion in the cloister

Particularly revealing and suggestive in this respect was the session dedicated to existing projects, as well as others in the process of research and development, that use technology to inform, educate, entertain and involve through the application of research to digital formats such as interactive platforms or educational programmes. Among several pioneering developments, for example, is the online digital platform ‘Historical Soundscapes of Andalusia (c.1200-c.1800)’ being prepared by the musicologist Juan Ruiz Jiménez and the computer expert Ignacio José Lizarán Rus, demonstrated how the soundscapes of two Andalusian cities—Seville and Granada—can be mapped in and accessed through a virtual context that offers rich historical source material, stunning iconography and the recreation of actual sounds matched to spaces and to musical resources. It does not presuppose a musicological training on the part of the user, but at the same time offers a huge amount of information to any scholar of urban studies. It is not difficult to imagine its use by educational establishments of all kinds as well as tourist offices, visitor centres, and online, as a portal to understanding and even to some extent recapturing past musical experience. The project ‘Sons de Barcelona’, presented by Agustí Martorell and Ilaria Sartori of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, is already up and running and working to inspire thousands of schoolchildren in the city. The use of technology such as recording equipment and various computer programme to create, for example, sonic ‘postcards’ or collages, taps into the creativity of young people and opens their minds to the urban soundscape around them. It is hoped to introduce a historical or heritage element into this project, kindling an interest in the past through the concept of sound.

Juan Ruiz and Ignacio Lizaran

Juan Ruiz and Ignacio Lizarán

The remainder of the morning brought together representatives from different cultural entities of the city of Barcelona (the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the Museu de la Música, the Museu de Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA), the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC) and the Societat Catalana de Musicología) in a discussion of ways in which scholarly research might combine to enhance the activities of these centres and help to make the city’s cultural heritage and resources more accessible to and widely apreciated by everyone who lives in or visits Barcelona. The importance of the potential for developing the connections between researchers and cultural centres through the use of technological resources was clearly expressed and acknowledged, particularly in the light of the outreach possbilities outlined in the projects discussed earlier in the session.

Helen Hills

Helen Hills

The opening session both picked up the threads of urban musicology—as Dinko Fabris reminded us in his opening keynote address—already woven at the dedicated conference held in Valencia in 2000, and led to presentations from different research institutions and how they might and should interact with the wider world, both through teaching and using technological resources to work with their urban hinterlands. Particularly impressive here was the presentation by Richard Wistreich concerning the interactive role played by the Royal College of Music in London with its neighbouring institutions and surrounding communities. Quite a number of those present had participated in the Valencia conference, and it was fascinating to see the route this area of the musicological discipline had followed. A key factor in recent directions is the clear need to communicate with urban and cultural historians from other disciplines in a ‘constellation of competencies’ in order to aim at a global perspective in which all the elements of urban cultural practice can be taken into consideration. Bruce Smith’s keynote was a brilliant resumé of the latest research on the acoustic world that led to a discussion of the sensorial frame of social and political heirarchies.

Matthew Laube, Alex Fisher, Reinhard Strohm, and Jan-Friedrich Missfelder

Matthew Laube, Alex Fisher, Reinhard Strohm, and Jan-Friedrich Missfelder

The second day was devoted to the mapping of urban musics with papers focussing on different musical and acoustic ecology of different cities throughout Europe, consistently placing sound markers and musical impact in the broader context of urban society. These papers (which were too numerous to mention individually here, but whose range and variety can be seen from the full programme posted on the URBANMUSICS website) will form the bedrock of the Brépols publication. In his keynote, Reinhard Strohm took the opera theatre as a symbol of a city’s culture that connected differently to different social groupings and traced developments in its geographical location that corresponded to these groupings and to other factors pertaining to spatial awareness within the city. Tim Carter took the notion of ‘acoustemology’ further looking at how urban cultures established their identities not only through things seen, but also things said and heard, making for a dynamic approach to urban studies with the central role of aurality/orality. He considered the relationship between composer / provider with the performer / event and the listener /recipient and the development of listening skills in the Renaissance. But, he argued, musical judgement was not confined to musical practitioners and conoisseurs but sprang from the impact of the music itself on the listener, that is listening to music through feeling. This presents all kinds of challenges for those of us working in the field of urban musical heritage, but, as Tim brilliantly and convincingly showed, we should not shy away from them. Indeed, the impact of not only of sound but also of musical Works is exactly what we need to try to convey through our research and the communication of it.

TK 5/11/2015

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One Response to ICREA International Workshop ‘Hearing the City: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes’, 24-26 September 2015, Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona

  1. Reading your report, it sounds great!
    all best,

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