An attempt at the rhythmanalysis of Barcelona. Conference paper

Now back in Barcelona, back to some serious shit. I’m publishing the “fun part” of my conference paper presented today, October 20, 2016.

Rhythmanalysis: a means of comprehending the spatiotemporal production of everyday rhythms

 

Conference paper for International Colloquium in Geohumanities

Closing circles. Open horizons, October19th to 22nd, 2016

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

 

 

 

An attempt at the rhythmanalysis of Barcelona

In his seminal book The Tuning of the World (1977), Murray Schafer emphasized the importance of introducing the profession of ‘sound architects’ that would be in charge of a city’s soundscape, since the sounds that surround us have a big impact on a person’s health and mental functioning. Inspired by Schafer’s pioneering work of studying soundscapes, I have been taking notes on the sounds of my domestic environment and on the soundscapes of several public spaces of Barcelona, allowing myself to get grasped by the sounds and rhythms that affect me.

My first mental notes were taken rather spontaneously and without any previous knowledge of Schafer’s work. It was in my second home in Barcelona, shared with a British and a Swedish girl, where I started to appreciate sonorous privacy. A few weeks into flat sharing, I was perfectly aware of the intimate life of my flat mate and on no Friday or Saturday night would I forget to have my earplugs at hand. The intruding sounds would normally occur around 5-6 am as the British girl was a late partier and would only arrive our home on Casanova street in the early morning hours. Also, I learned that my neighbor’s digestion would become effective around 7 am every day. On that street, the containers of recycled glass would be emptied around 7:30 in the morning to make room for new wine and beer bottles to be thrown in.

In sonorous terms, my third home was a complete bliss. Located on a quiet street with several retirement homes, I shared my flat with a confirmed bachelor who would work long hours, and the rest of the building was shared with middle-aged conservative house owners that held a low profile. It was bliss until our neighbor decided to start renting his apartment to Airbnb users that would alter the building’s established rhythms, frequently introducing the sound of heavy suitcases being dragged up the stairs. Also, that is when I understood why Barcelona hates tourists- apart from always showing a totally inappropriate happiness; they also appear to have off-beat rhythms that collide with those of the working class, arriving home at 2, 3 or 4 am whichever day of the week.

My current house is what I optimistically call a rich soundscape environment. Located on a calm semi- pedestrian street, it is difficult to imagine how noisy it may become in some circumstances. Owing to its location between the hip neighborhood of Gràcia and the luxury shopping street Passeig de Gràcia, it seems to be the most rapidly transforming street in the whole neighborhood. If I were to define the sound of commodification, I would say it is nothing more or less boring than the noise of constant construction work mixed with electronic music. Then again, who am I to blame, I was only accepted as a tenant in the building because of being young and Nordic.

During my first year on Vic street, from Thursday to Saturday, from 12 to 3 am I would only hear the emotional talk of the bar customers enjoying a cigarette on the street. However, over the last few months this has been complemented by an inner vibration, felt through the walls of my bedroom that transmit the vibe of the bar below my house that seems to have invested in a more powerful sound equipment. Contrarily to Henriques’ (2010) thesis, this vibration does not cause any type of affect in me whatsoever. As for my morning wake-up at around 6:30, it used to be guaranteed by the 97-year-old neighbor from downstairs that unfortunately passed out a few weeks ago because of loud, chronic cough. I now have a more sporadic sleeping schedule that depends on the cries of the newborn baby that lives a couple of floors above me. On Sundays, however, the inhabitants of the building seem to be substituted by birds that sing all day long. Unfortunately enough, this only occurs on Sundays, on Monday morning the baby is back to his business, and so are the garbage trucks that sweep the street every day at 7 am.

Without much doubt, the repetition of these sonorous occurrences is what turns them into something familiar; they all end up as instruments in this quotidian orchestra, the soundtrack of my everydayness. As Augoyard and Torgue discuss in Sonic experience. A guide to everyday sounds, (2006), “the “rhythmic unfolding of everyday life goes through a familiar/singular determination, of which the primary material is the repetition effect.”[3] “Repetition is one of the key expressions of any social life through the integrative role of habit forming.”[4] On the one hand, repetition marks automatism that involves subjection or dressage, as Lefebvre put it; yet on the other hand, it also “characterizes phenomena of return, reprise, and enrichment by accumulation.”[5] As discussed by Deleuze and Guattari, the Ritournelle or refrain expresses the productive movement of Life itself, referring both to the process of creation as well as to what has been created. Repetition is thus both, the process of creating a habit, as the habit itself; it is the becoming of social life, and it is social life itself. In these terms, as an answer to questions made earlier, the repetition of certain sound marks can contribute to our understanding of the production of time and space. The observation of how certain sounds influence personal rhythms and their inter-dependence with other rhythms, such as the cleaning of the street, the emptying of garbage containers can explain how the individual is subjected to dominant rhythms.

The second part of my notes on the soundscapes of everydayness have been taken in different public spaces of Barcelona and as a general comment I must say they all sound pretty much the same. Agreeing with Murray Schafer’s opinion, “the principle feature of the city soundscape is random motion…It is composed by a million Mr. Brown and Ms. Smiths running around in their private circles or slipping through some more haphazard routines, rarely synchronizing their activities, rarely considering one another.”[6] It is the polyrhythmia of the people, transport and businesses that composes a polyphonic soundscape that does not necessarily sound like a homogeneous urban symphony.

As stated in Schafer’s thesis, a low-frequency roar dominates the soundscape of the streets and the squares of the city, except for the plazas where musicians try to make a living with their not-so-spontaneous acts. Surprisingly enough, even street musicians’ performances end up being squeezed into a rigorous timetable: those with an official license of playing music on the street, may only do it a maximum of two hours in a row, 14 hours a week, and may only perform twice a week in the same place. The most requested spots are the ones with the biggest flux of people –right next to the Cathedral of Barcelona, or on the main shopping street, el Portal del Àngel. As for those playing without a license and risking with their instrument being confiscated, the best spots to perform are precisely the ones where it is not allowed to do so –Plaza Reial or Plaza Sant Miquel-, as these are the squares many restaurant terraces where tourists like to enjoy a typical Spanish meal, a good glass of wine, and some good tunes, perhaps. Based on my observations, these illicit performances become most frequent around lunch or dinner time, thus following the rhythm of capital –when customers most spend on the culinary experience, they are also most likely to spare a dollar for the entertaining musician. Surprisingly enough, the rhythms of this group of people that could be considered as alternative and somewhat more “free” from the dominant rhythm, become subjected to the rhythms of the other. A street musician that wants to make ends meet by performing on the street, does not do it at random hours, but rather adapts his schedule to that of the potential audience. It is thus the dominant rhythm of tourism consumption that marks the rhythms of supposedly spontaneous street performances.

Notes:

1] Lefebvre, H (1998) The production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Pg.405.

[2] Lefebvre, H. (2004) Rhythmanalysis. Space, Time and Everyday Life. London: Continuum. P.27

[3] Augoyard, J.-F., Torgue, H. (2006)  Sonic experience: A guide to everyday sounds. London: Ithaca. Pg. 92.

[4] Íbid.. Pg. 94.

[5] Íbid. Pg. 90.

[6] Schafer, R.M. (1977) The Tuning of the World. New York: Borzoi Book. Pg.233.

 

Bibliography:

Augoyard, J.-F., Torgue, H. (2006)  Sonic experience: A guide to everyday sounds. London: Ithaca

Henriques, J. (2010) The Vibrations of Affect and their Propagation on a Night Out on Kingston’s Dancehall Scene. Body & Society, 16:1, 57-89.

 

Lefebvre, H. (1992/2004) Rhythmanalysis. Space, Time and Everyday Life. Oxford: Continuum.

Lefebvre, H (1998) The production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

 

Schafer, R.M. (1977) The Tuning of the World. New York: Borzoi Book.

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