Space is the Place

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Let’s do some space-talkin’. I’m copy-pasting some of the notes for the lecture I gave this week for first year Global Studies students.

How can we define space? We can see space as a surface upon which we, human beings, move from A to B, in an X amount of time. In geographies prior to the spatial turn and the rise a humanist branch, space was primarily seen as a physical, mathematical and geometrical issue, expressing the surface of cities, regions, etc. We can see it as something measurable, tangible, even as a parceled product where 1m2=X €. We can see space as a matter of distance and mobility, too.

Secondly. It is a matter of distance not only between different administrative centers but also between persons. We can talk about a personal space, about the distance between the student and the teacher and how that affects their interaction. If I, the professor, stay on the stage, I’m positioned higher which symbolically increases my power as the professor, my superposition in the hierarchy between students and the professor. However, if I come closer to you, or if I sit among you, we are closer to establishing a relationship among equals. Or, for example, if we had met for the first time in a bar, and if I’d asked you for permission to join you at the table, if we’d engaged in a conversation, you might me more likely to intervene or oppose my ideas. Or change the topic. However, right now, in this situation I choose the topic. And, amongst other aspects, it is the space that configures our interaction.

This leads us to the third point of view of space. The spatial environment  modifies our behavior as space embeds social relations. According to the socio-spatial dialectics, space is produced by social organization and production and, in the meantime, the way space is constructed shapes our social relations (Ed. Soja).  So we can speak about social space and the production of space. Briefly speaking, the novelty of a social view of space is that instead of seeing it as a mere surface that we step upon, it is a multitude of stories and histories that compound a complex matter that we, as quotidian travelers must have in mind in our dwelling.

Spatial turn

The term social space was coined by the sociologist George Simmel who positioned social interactions in a spatial context, being a pioneer at the time (end of the 19th century). However, the proper spatial turn took place around the 1960s-70s in the Humanities and Social Sciences that were opposing the dominating way of analyzing past events in a historiographical Hegelian key, seeing History and the past as something linear and ever-accumulating. Intellectuals such as Gaston Bachelard, Lefebvre or Debord contributed to the construction of a new body of analysis of past and present events, focusing primarily on their spatial aspect.  Why was the New World colonized? Why was Tianmen square the center of protests and bloody State oppression? This was a new type of approach, until the spatial turn space was seen as a lateral element of historical events.

One of the main scholars that contributed to the spatial turn and the tripartite division of space was Henri Lefebvre. Lefebvre was a sociologist and philosopher coming from the Hegelian and neo-Marxist tradition, in his early career he was a member of the Communist party and he also showed interest for the avant-garde movements such as Surrealism and Situationism and their somewhat utopian urban interventions. Funding his theory of Moments, he believed that ‘revolution’ either arrives in the everyday or it’ll never arrive. A Moment is, according to Lefebvre, a revelation that may arrive unexpectedly and never be repeated, however, one can recall the experience. Moments cannot be captured nor ‘ruined’ by the capitalist mode of production and are thus crucial instants for seeking and provoking a change. In his three-volume Critique of the Everyday Life he critiques…the everyday life of the consumptionist culture, similarly to Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle. In the midst of his critique of the everyday life, Lefebvre wrote his obra magna, The Production of Space, where he introduces the spatial triad, dividing space into perceived, conceived and lived space. Posterior authors such as Ed Soja and David Harvey have re-developed it and given it new or perhaps more convenient names, Soja dividing space between first, second and thirdspace; Harvey speaking about absolute, relative and relational space. Here you have a little explanatory table.

 

 The tripartite division of space

Edward Soja First space Second Space Thirdspace
Henri Lefebvre Material space/

Perceived space

Representation of space/

Conceived space

Space of representation/

Lived space

David Harvey Absolute space Relative space Relational space
Characteristics Measurable

Tangible

Physical

Administrational

Geometrical

Designed/planned for a purpose

Representative

Symbolical

Space of power/control

 

Imaginable

Appropriated

Political

Analytical

Utopian

A space “that will be”

Examples –        Euclidean geometrics

–        Cartesian coordinates

–                 €/m 2

–                 Built environment and physical  structure of buildings per se

–        Centre Cultural del Born and its surroundings as a space of power

–        Statues/monuments representing past events

–        Artworks that use a representational language to depict lived spaces

–        Domestic space projected for a determined family structure

–       15 –M

–       Urban interventions

–       Graffiti

–       Street performance (unauthorized)

–       Appropriated public spaces (Forat de la Vergonya)

–       Squats/invading uninhabited buildings

And some final quotes:

“ Space is not a scientific object removed from ideology and politics; it has always been political and strategic. If space has an air of neutrality and indifference with regard to its contents and thus seems to be “purely” formal, the epitome of rational abstraction, it is pre- cisely because it has been occupied and used, and has already been the focus of past processes whose traces are not always evident on the landscape. Space has been shaped and molded from historical and natural elements, but this has been a political process. Space is political and ideological. It is a product literally filled with ideologies.” Lefebvre, La Revolution Urbaine (1970)

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Blow my whistle, baby (from Medellín’s contemporary fortresses)

Browsing through Medellín: guía de la transformación ciudadana. 2004- 2011  (Alcaldía de Medellín, 2011) I stumbled upon some interesting pieces of architecture that were constructed with the aim of providing peripheral areas of Medellín security and protection. What seems like a fortress at first sight, was allegedly conceived as a lighthouse meant to “illuminate and orientate man in dark lands”.*

Commissioned by EDU [Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano de Medellín], the architect of the seven security buildings [CAI-s periféricos], John Octavio Ortiz Lopera describes their conception in the following way: “these buildings are designed based on communal imaginary that allow us to recuperate and strengthen the positive image of the police and the state in peripheral developing territories. The physical investment is accompanied by social programmes and integral policies of security and cohabiting that seek the comprehensive transformation of the city.”*

The first thing that comes to my mind is how very awesome it is when architects know how to turn whichever piece of construction into a nearly sublime lived experience thanks to their well developed rhetoric. Secondly, what bullshit! Take a look a the building below (and check this video if  you don’t get the picture) and you’ll also be asking where is it that the interaction with the citizenry takes place. I mean, sure, the hillside areas need a stronger police presence because of the high crime rates, but must the surveillance system really be made so very obvious?

1328198424-cai-perifericos-6-referente-en-el-dia

1328198531-cai-perifericos-23-edificios-amigables

9 CAI-s were projected covering pretty much the whole hillside periphery of the valley of Aburrá (in which Medellín sits), leaving only the area corresponding to the district of El Poblado outside the surveillance network. El Poblado is Medellín’s high-end neighborhood where the majority of the city’s wealth is concentrated in tall vertical buildings equipped with private pools, gyms, etc.  The location of the buildings corresponds to areas that have been difficult to access and where the state has been absent thus far. Offering security through the 24h presence of policemen, the CAIs pretend to lower crime rates in areas where the arrival of police officers used to be nearly impossible or simply too time-demanding to correspond the necessities of the residents. As the architect contends, “during the daytime the CAIs have a friendly, colorful image, opposing the conventionally cold and monochromatic look of surveillance buildings.”*

Mapa ubicación CAIs periféricos.png

Both through Henri Lefebvre and Michel Foucult’s work, the idea of panopticism and the use of architecture as a means of social control has been disseminated. Going back to medieval times, hospitals, jails and orphanages were located in the peripheral areas of the city to maintain the ‘contagious’ at a safe distance to avoid them infecting others with diseases or malicious behavior. The church was naturally the center of the urbanization (and the Universe) as that is where good behavior and moral is taught. While Foucault speaks of panoptical architecture as structures with a central element that allow a special someone to observe his surroundings from above; Lefebvre revealed the dangers of  sublime architecture, especially the type that makes man feel small (churches, towers, skyscrapers, etc.) as according to him it serves the interest of making man obey those in posession of the construction.

Despite residents’ smiling faces that appear in the video commissioned by EDU, confirming their neighborhood becoming safer, I question the inclusivity of these buildings that are mainly designed as watching towers, including beds and a kitchen to allow the 24h presence of police officers. Despite its aims of representing “illuminating” architecture, the holes in the superior part of the building are more similar to medieval fortifications’ arrowslits that allowed shooting the enemy whilst remaining in safeguard.

 

*All quotes were translated by the author of the blog and taken from this article, just like the images. The video is courtesy of EDU.

 

 

 

What’s beat got to do, got to do with it?

Somewhat unexpectedly my research took a direction I never expected it to have: hip hop and the transformation of urban space. Even though, yes, the mix of music and space is rather evident to finish in queries on hip hop. Apart from guilty pleasure songs like Ice Ice Baby or some Lauryn Hill classics, I’ve never really considered myself a big fan of hip hop, not to speak of rap, probably because the rap I knew was about bros and hoes and about finding 50Cents in the club and Doggy Dogg Worlds etc. There is, however, way more to hip hop than speaking dirty about ladies and money-making. There is the fundamentally spatial aspect of hip hop being born in the suburbs as a contestation to urban regeneration plans.

Even though the first commercial hip hop song was released in 1979, the roots of hip hop go back to the 1940’s. According to Romero (2010), hip hop is based on three different rhythms: R&B, soul/funk and disco. The first of them initially emerged in the 40s as race music, practiced and consumed by coloured people. Only some time later the genre that was nurtured by jazz and gospel, received the politically correct name of Rhythm&Blues. Ike Turner, Fats Dominio and Solomon Burke are a few of the artist to remember from those days. R&B was slowly taken over by the slightly more refined soul music that appeared in the 1960’s with names such as Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin who all left huge footprints in the musical track that maintained its ‘gospelish’ sound.  Parallel to political movements such as the Black Panther Party and the  notable influence of Martin Luther King, soul became the voice of black North America. With the passing of time, the justice-verbalising tone of soul music was gradually substituted by more festive moods, characterized by faster rhythms and often more jovial lyrics. Soul fused into funk, even and the two have ever since maintained very close ties. The essence of both genres is very much reachable in the Soul Train TV episodes that featured not only the latest trends in music, but also in fashion and dance moves. James Brown, his Sex Machine and other sensual lively tunes turned another page in the history of music, joining people in dance and diversion. As the genre evolved, synthesizers and rhythmic boxes were involved in the making of funky rhythms that would soon start defining hip hop on the streets of South Bronx.

An important step towards hip hop’s eventual character is the introduction of disc jockeys that would pick the background beat for the MC-s. Picking the music and playing it in public originated in Jamaica with aficionados who’d often bring the newest sounds from the U.S. and play it in their mobile sound systems that essentially consisted of medium-sized vans with special sound equipment that turned the vehicle into a mobile disco.  Many of these Carribean melomaniacs established themselves in New York, in search of better opportunities. And diversion. Lacking economic means to access clubs, the same mobile discos took the streets of the latin neighborhoods of NY. Musically equipped trucks and other DIY musical platforms that “borrowed” electricity from the public utility poles to play music at open air parties became the veritable precursors of an urban movement composed of music and marginality.  Two or more DJ-s would often connect their equipments to closeby poles and end up having battles for best sounding music, both in terms of volume and quality.  The person to come up with the final rhythm of hip hop was the Jamaica born DJ Kool Herc who was famous for his ultra-powerful sound systems and for his impressive record collection. Herc understood that the tunes he played at parties would always have a climax point where people went nuts for the music.  Seeking to extend this moment, he picked two examples of the same vinyl and played that peak sound for several times altering the two records. He called it the break beat that would eventually become the percussion or the rhythmical base of hip hop.  In musical terms, it’s the four basic bars that define hip hop tunes.

Besides DJ Kool Herc there were other central figures developing the first sounds of hip hop. Grandmaster Flash was a Barbadosian young DJ with excellent skills of street battles of DJ-ing. He also developed the technique of scratching (with pretty much all his mobile body parts) and as his limbs were occupied with mixing the music, he had to hand over the control of the microphone to fellow aficionados, giving way to MC-s who became the Masters of Ceremony, in this case, the vocal entertainers of the party. As hip hop parties had little or no protocol to be followed, the MC-s simply became Microphone Controllers, often announcing rather unrelated messages to liven up the public. With time, though, MC-s stopped being the ordinary entertainers of the party and started to spread a message that would interest the public.  “The Message” (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (his MC companions) was precisely one of the first commercialized hip hop songs with lyrics that expressed a particular concern about the life in the ‘hood.

It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

 

The discourse of the MC-s became more coherent, often speaking about everyday life issues that concerned the marginal neighborhoods and their inhabitants, going back to the justice-seeking roots of the urban black music.

Hip hop would not be complete without its remaining 2 elements: break dance and graffiti. Tagging and the latter ‘urban writing’ date back to the 1960’s with the first signs on subway trains and marginal spaces being spread in NY. Break dance, on the other hand, emerged at the same time with the outdoor sound system parties where dancers would accompany DJ-s. James Brown, the father of funk music undeniably inspired many of the future break dancers with his eclectic moves. However, break dancing had various influences, from African rite dances to acrobacy and martial arts mixed with fashionable moves straight out of the dance hall.  Break dance, just as the break beat was something unseen at the time, yet it summed to the urban movement, adding an even more embodied practice of spatial contestation.

Before hip hop’s commercial success, and before it became a means of traspassing a ‘message’, it was primarily a jovial phenomenon that emerged in the marginal neighborhoods of New York. It was about simple gatherings around rhythm, scratching or dance moves. It took a while to become the protesting resistance music against the established social paradigm.  However, in the first half of the 1980’s hip hop did start to get commercilized and began its track towards a somewhat stereotypical bling-bling-inpired style. But that’s another story for another day.

 

 

 

 

Some effects of musicking

 

Rhythm is a dancer
It’s a soul companion
You can feel it everywhere
Lift your hands and voices
Free your mind and join us
You can feel it in the air

(Snap, Rhythm is a Dancer, 1992)

The positive effects of music on human behavior have been studied in musicology, music anthropology, sociology of music, in psychology and in many other fields. For this research, the following aspects have been taken into account to develop the discussion upon the relationship between human beings and their everyday space that is intermediated by music.

  • Music, rhythm and the brain
  • Music, identity and community
  • Music, society and power
  • Music and space

 

MUSIC, RHYTHM AND THE BRAIN

The inquiry of music and its effects on human beings must begin with the influence that music has on the human brain. It has been widely discussed that listening to music releases endorphins (Dunbar et. al., 2012), that it helps relax the mind and increase concentration levels (Lesiuk, 2005). In a study on the effects of music listening on work performance, Teresa Lesiuk points out that the beneficial effect of music on task performance  may  be  explained  by  increases  in  state  positive  affect: when music evokes a pleasant mood  and  an  increased  arousal  state,  participants  perform  better  on  non-musical  tasks that require problem solving (Lesiuk, 2005: 173).

Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and best-selling author of books based on clinical studies has conducted numerous neurological researches and written extensively about patients with different health problems that entail memory loss or partial physical disability. In his seminal book Musicophilia (2007), Sacks explains several cases of brain damage that have been alleviated by the implementation of music. The most noteworthy of Sacks’ patients was the man who “mistook his wife for a hat,”[1] due to a severe case of amnesia that left the eminent English musicologist with a memory of just a few seconds. Reintroducing music in the patient’s life improved notably his wellbeing. Despite an almost complete loss of memory, the patient’s piano playing skills had remained intact, allowing him to interpret long musical pieces. Also, singing helped him manage everyday tasks that would otherwise result impossible: “eating songs, dressing songs, bathing songs, everything. He can’t do anything unless he makes it a song” (2007: 258)[2].  Sacks emphasizes the role of music on the motor area of the brain, specifically how rhythm can help perform tasks that require physical movement. There are also numerous studies and footage of patients with Parkinson’s disease who temporarily manage to recuperate their mobility thanks to some familiar tune that awakens the motor area of the brain. The same mechanism used to be implemented by peasants working the fields. Before the Industrial Revolution work was often wedded to song, the rhythm of labor was synchronized with the human breath cycle, or arouse out of the habits of hands and feet. As Murray Schafer claims, singing only ceased when the rhythms of men and machines got out of sync (1977).

Familiarity of the songs is important, as John Blacking, a pioneer in ethnomusicology confirms. Rhythm or timbre can make listeners “move to the beat” if they find some kind of excitement in it. Blacking says that music, as bodily stimulus, may portray motor impulse and/or nervous tension in the listener if the “ideal motion of music (i.e. its rhythm) and/or its tone-stress […] is perceived in relation to cultural experience” (1995: 38). That is to say, there must be some familiarity, some recognizable characteristics or simply some pleasant features in the music that trigger the listener into movement.

Rhythmicity is also important in binding people together as it turns listeners into participants and synchronizes the brains and minds of all who participate (Sacks, 2007).  Blacking adds that the “collective movements of musical performance can generate collective feelings and collective thought, which is the basis of cultural communication” (1995: 152). Therefore the initially physical experience can transform into an emotional experience, from one individual to another, communicating nothing less than pure emotion. Oliver Sacks asserts that the primary function of music is collective and communal in all societies; it binds people together and because of it, music has a crucial role in community making.

MUSIC, IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY

An individual’s musical preferences form part of his personal identity and may facilitate his belonging to a determined group if the values of the individual prove to be similar to those of the community. For Simon Frith, musical practices (be it listening or active music making) are processes in which identity is actively imagined, created or constructed. He insists that rather than coming from the inside; identity is something we “put or try on, not something we reveal or discover” (Frith, 1996: 122). This type of “identity testing” is especially recurrent in the earlier stages of life when intentional aesthetic and ethic decisions that construct self-image are delivered. Listening to a particular type of music is but one of the many preferences that define a person’s values and may help the individual pertain to a certain group.

Participating in conversations about the most recent musical findings and performances, assisting concerts and certainly playing in the same band are all ways in which music may create a shared community. Essentially, what defines a community is its values through which a sense of belonging is created. By sharing the same values and experiences, individuals empathize with one another and are likely to identify themselves with a determined group. Identities evolve from an individual to a group and back forth. As Frith put it: “Music, like identity[…]describes the social in the individual and the individual in the social” (1996: 109).

Sharing music and its multiple values can be done through analytical or emotional discussion, it can be shared through a mutual embodied experience of listening live or recorded music, and it can be actively shared in the act of making music together. Christopher Small coined the term musicking to introduce the idea of music as an activity rather than a still-standing aesthetic product.  “To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing” (Small, 1988: 9). Following Alfred Schütz’s phenomenological approach, musicking can be defined as a social relationship that is established by “the reciprocal sharing of the other’s flux of experiences in inner time, by living through a vivid present together, by experiencing this togetherness as a “We”” (1951:96). Music is what people make it to be, its meaning lies in the relationships that are established in a time-space where the act takes place. Furthermore, music is not only about relationships that “actually exist in our lives as about those that we desire to exist and long to experience: relationships among people […] and also perhaps with ourselves and with our bodies[…]” (Small, 1988: 183).  Thus forth, in music lies a potential for what is yet to come, it can be the temporary realization of life as we would like it to be.

MUSIC, SOCIETY & POWER

Therapeutic uses of music, music accompanying labor tasks and conforming individual and collective identities have shown this far that music has a purpose, it is not neutral, not even when used as Muzak –as background music to accompany purchasing or to create a relaxing meditational ambience. Music has a purpose, it is “more than a decorative art; […] it is a powerful medium of social order. Conceived in this way, and documented through empirical research, music’s presence is clearly political, in every sense that the political can be conceived,” (DeNora, 2000: 163). In her groundbreaking study of music in everyday life, DeNora develops a theory of music’s active role in the construction of social life and highlights the aesthetic dimension of social order and organization in modern societies. Focusing on the non-verbal aspects of music, the author explains that music may act as a clarifying material that serves as an index of conduct for matters as diverse as how to move, how to imagine one’s self-identity, how to mould one’s appearance, and how to think, feel and act.

If not always verbal, music has the power to express opinions, it can empirically manifest one’s ideas, or it can accompany, encourage and incite the expression of repressed feelings.  As Jacques Attali declares in his seminal book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, “Music is prophecy. Its styles and economic organization are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible, that will impose itself and regulate the order of things; it is not only the image of things, but the transcending of the everyday, the herald of the future” (Attali, 1985: 11). Prophecy or not, there are plenty of examples of groundbreaking music, from Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1971) that represented the elusive nature of political culture in Nixon’s America, to patriotic resistance songs, such as No Country Is Alone (Matiisen and Leesment, 1987) in Soviet Estonia.

Christopher Small’s thesis of musicking being both about existing relationships as well as about those that are yet to come can be expanded with the idea of prophecy, the idea of music as a container full of revolutionary potential, as a means of imagining an alternative world.  As other previously mentioned authors, Frith too underlines the importance of music in the construction of our sense of identity, time and sociability that situate us in imaginative cultural narratives (Frith, 1996). Music, as other forms of art, can be a way of dreaming, but also a way of portraying new realities, as DeNora says, music is a resource that provides affordances for world building (2000: 44).  Attali goes even further to assert that sound, whether constructed as music or noise, is the most important component in the construction of a community or other social entity (Attali, 1985). According to the author, all music or any organization of sound is a tool for the creation of consolidation of a community. Just as church bells used to mark the counting of time and summon villagers to mass, La Marseillaise was meant to mobilize and motivate the Frenchmen to fight for the patria; work songs synchronized the cutting of crops, capoeira was born as a secret martial arts practice among Brazilian slaves, and hip hop aimed to denounce injustice and show opposition to the urban transformation projects. What must be asked then is who is in control of the music? Whose interests does the consolidation of a community serve?

MUSIC & SPACE

In a study of the nationalization of rap in Cuba, Geoffrey Baker asserts that “music-making can enable a community to generate rather than simply embody a different social order and a distinct set of moral values,” (2006: 225) further developing the idea of music representing a potential change. According to Baker, the collective practice of music is not only an ambiguous embodied experience, but one that can lead to actual deeds. This study focuses on how space can be changed through the practice of music. This far we have seen that musicking is about relationships that are established in the place where music making happens; therefore music also concerns the place where it happens. Consequently, musicking is not only about the existing and future relationships between persons, but also about the relationships that are established with the environment, with spaces that are dwelled through music and with places that appropriated through musical practice. Music is more than decorative art; rather, it is a medium of negotiating and transforming hierarchies of place and social order (Stokes, 1994; DeNora, 2000). It provides affordances for transforming space.

 

[1] The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (1985) is Sacks’ most famous book. One of the chapters is dedicated on the case of the British musicologist Clive Wearing who was left with a memory of a few seconds after suffering from herpes encephalitis.

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.

Tomar la plaza con la música

Esta semana he estado recorriendo las escuelas de música que forman parte de la Red de las Escuelas de Música de Medellín que nació en el año 1996 con el objetivo de dar a los pequeños habitantes de los barrios más desafortunados de la ciudad la oportunidad de aprender instrumentos poco comunes como el violín o el chelo. La música tenía que convertir en una oportunidad de vida. Y una arma de paz.

En la Escuela de Música Boston que está ubicada en el centro de Medellín (lo cuál implica ser una de las zonas más “movidas de la ciudad) están intentando organizarse a nivel comunitario para un fin formacional. Quieren hacer una toma de la plaza del frente de la escuela para que los niños puedan practicar su instrumento allí en el aire libre ya que en la escuela no hay espacio suficiente. Eso sí, en companía de los papás y la policía porque sino, eso acabaría siendo un fracaso total con niños golpeados e instrumentos robados. Hace poco que instrumentos como el violín se introdujo en los barrios, pero el delincuente ya conoce su valor monetario. Hay que tomar el parque para que los niños, los pequeños habitantes del barrio puedan hacer lo que les hace ilusión y lo que un día puede convertir en la oportunidad de su vida. Hay que liberar ese espacio público de su privatización delincuencial y vencer al ladrón con la práctica de música. Para alguien procedente de una provincia donde se jugaba en la calle hasta las horas nocturnas resulta difícil comprender que el mero hecho de seguir yendo a las clases de música puede ser un acto de resistencia a la delincuencia porque si uno deja de ir a la escuela por miedo de acabar dando el “paseo millonario”, se entrega la victoria a los mecanismos pervertidos cuyo ley es la fuerza violenta.

Barrio Moravia. Del basurero de la ciudad de camino a la gentrificación

El día 18 de agosto volví a visitar a Moravia, uno de los primeros barrios de la ciudad “construidos por la gente,” como me contó don Orlei. Este señor es un vecino orgulloso del barrio que a dirario lleva a curiosas como yo a conocer las calles de esta zona de Medellín que hace poco se conocía como el basurero de la ciudad. Moravia, que empezó a estar poblado en los 1950s por campesinos y más tarde por los desplazados que se establecían en el barrio dedicándose en la recogida de basura, llegó a tener la mayor densidad poblacional de todo el país. Hoy, gracias a (o por culpa de) la transformación que se hizo del morro de basura en un jardín público, Moravia empieza a sentir la presión de varios agentes que tienen su interés en sacar aprovecho de esta zona bien ubicada. Como se ve en una de las fotos, sigue habiendo algo de resistencia y no todos los habitantes del morro fueron replazados (desplazados?), sin embargo, caminando por las calles de Moravia tuve el presentimiento que todo esto será tumbado de aquí en nada. Todo menos la gancha de fútbol (Foto 1) que fue arreglado por Pablo Escobar cuando el capo estaba de campaña para el Congreso.

En la segunda foto se ve los últimos “ranchos” que quedan en los alrededores y dentro del morro que era una montaña de basura, nacida inicialmente en una laguna del río Medellín a la que la gente iba tirando los desechos. En el 1977 con la aprobación del decreto municipal, el morro se convirtió oficialmente en el basurero de la ciudad. El morro llegó a tener una altura de 48 metros y más de 4000 familias habitando sobre ella, la mayoría de ellos viviendo del reciclaje y de economía informal.

 

Más ideas sueltas sobre lo que está ocurriendo en este lado del charco

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Típica tarde de Medellín (descontando el busecito en movimiento)

Publico el correo que envié a mis colegas en Barcelona. Más ideas sueltas, nada de discurso organizado.
Julio 27 de 2016
Estoy descubriendo muchas, muchísimas cosas. A veces (a menudo) paso miedo porque, desde luego, el país sigue en guerra. Y a pesar de que para mucha gente de la ciudad el conflicto ya quedo “lejos”, es decir, en las periferias, no lo es para tanto. Y como bien podéis imaginar, hay partes muy chungas en donde no se puede andar. Y claro, el tema de ser mujer, vamos, ahora sí que me siento como un pajarito enjaulado. O bueno, al menos a partir de las 19 de la tarde cuando se hace de noche y las niñas con razón no van a ningún lugar sola. Complicado.
La ciudad es maravillosa en cuanto al clima y, sobre todo, la gente. Los paisa son la hostia, jamás en mi vida he conocido gente tan, tan amable y vacana, como dicen aquí. Me ayudan con todo. Además, son bastante como los catalanes en el sentido de ser montañeros. No, no en el sentido del amor por los Pirineos. Aquí ser montañero significana no (querer) conocer más allá del valle de Aburrá. O sea, con Medellín se acaba el mundo. Y es un mundo bien riiiico que tienen aquí, o eso dicen. A pesar de que la tasa de homicidios ha vuelto a desplomar este año. Al menos la ciudad ganó el premio Nobel. Bien. Los paisa aman a su territorio y son muy, muy orgullosos de ello.
A mi sorpreder, también son muy trabajadores, y a eso quería llegar. Mi tutor de aquí, Luis Hernando Gómez, que es sociólogo, me está “cuidando” bien, pero también dándome mucho trabajo, lo cual está bien. Hoy tuve mi primer día de trabajo de campo por allí en la comuna 6 que es un distrito de la ciudad más bien pobre. Para contextualizar, aquí hay un sistema muy fuerte de estratificación: el precio de gastos de agua, luz y gas se calcula según el estrato que uno tiene/en el que vive, así que el estrato 1-2 paga poco y los “ricos” del 4-6 subvencionan el consumo de los “pobres”. A mi humilde opinión, está todo mal, totalmente basado en la reproducción social de la pobreza. Y riqueza. En fin. La situación en la comuna 6 está chunga, este sábado hubo dos homicidios por allí por  el tema de “fronteras invisibles”, o sea conflictos entre bandillas que reinan en varias partes del barrio de Castilla. No sabía que la cosa estaba tan caliente cuando programé la entrevista con unos chavales de allí, pero al final tampoco fue nada del otro mundo. Me recibieron unos rastafaris muy lindos que llevan 12 años haciendo su música pacífica desde el barrio. Muy buena onda.
Antes de ver a ellos tuve otra entrevista en el Parque Biblioteca Doce de Octubre  que forma parte de la red de bibliotecas. Es decir, es una entidad institucionalizada, pero que, según el gestor de la biblioteca, tiene mucha libertad a la hora de programar las actividades. El enceuntro me ayudó bastante entender las dinámicas de todo aquello y hacer más contactos con otra gente que trabaja con proyectos comunitarios-musicales en el barrio. Esta biblioteca está situada arriba-arriba en la comuna 6, lo cual hace que el acceso al barrio sea un poco más pesado. Como en muchas comunas periféricas, una parte importante de la población de allá son los desplazados por la guerra y la violencia, provenientes de diferentes pueblos de Antioquia. Hoy conocí a dos chicos qua habían llegado a Medellín por esta misma razón: los paramilitares habían entrado en su pueblo para supuestamente limpiarlo de la guerrilla, lo cual generó una situación de inseguridad constante y por tanto sus familias habían decidido marcharse para la ciudad de un día a otro. Muy duro, muy muy duro. Y a todo eso, eran unos personajes hermosísimas.
Bueno, como veis, la situación es muy compleja aquí y aunque todavía no tengo muchas amistades, cuento con la opinión y ayuda con varias personas que me van abriendo los ojos. De hecho, Juan Camilo, un paisa antropólogo que conocí en Barcelona, me invitó a dar alguna clase en la Universidad de Medellín que es donde trabaja él. Yo me siento completamente inútil porque la verdad es que con el conocimiento que la gente tiene aquí, lo mío parece una mera bobada estética. Voy  a tener que calcular su oferta. Lo que sí que prometí es que como fruto del trabajo que hago aquí, escribiría un artículo en colaboración con el tutor de aquí. No sé cuando, ni cómo, pero algo tiene que salir. Hay mucho input así que ALGO tiene que salir.
Ah y para rematar el tema del día (y de muchos días por venir):

La Ciudad (que suena a) Guerra y las primeras visitas de trabajo de campo

Hoy la ciudad suena a pitos aún más que en un día normal porque la Nacional de Medellin juega en la final de la Copa Libertadores y esto es, evidentemente, la cosa más importante que puede ocurrir en la ciudad. El día laboral es reducido, igual que la movilidad por la ciudad debido a la masa de hinchas que han llegado aquí desde varias partes del país. El portero de mi edificio me enseña de manera secreta su camiseta del Nacional, escondida debajo del uniforme laboral; carritos de maní, cerveza, cigarros sueltos, helado, banderas del club, pitos etc aparecen de cada esquina de cada calle. Medellín se viste de blanco y verde mientras yo trato de vestirme de autóctona para llevar a cabo mis primeras visitas a entidades que trabajan con la música y el territorio.

Conseguir companía para explorar zonas conflictivas ha sido difícil y a la vez fácil. La tarea fue resuelta gracias a Couchsurfing donde demasiado gente me ofreció acompañarme. Qué lindos!
A las 7:45 del miércoles me encuentro en el metro Suramericana, esperando a que un chico que aún no conozco me lleve a un lugar que no conozco para hacer una entrevista con alguien que no conozco sobre un territorio que no conozco. Veo a un joven sentado, esperando, con dos cascos para la moto y pienso que debe ser el Christian. Se lo pregunto y el joven me contesta “No, no soy Christian. Ojalá lo fuera”. Vamos bien. Espero un ratico más y aparece mi querido transportista. Hermosísimo. Nos vamos a desayunar ya que le había propuesto invitarlo a un café para conocernos un poco y sobre todo, para devolverle de alguna manera el favor. Qué ingenua, obvio que no me deja pagar por el desayuno. Tan majo, con ojos grandes. Luego resultó que él es otra de los miles de personas desplazados hacia la ciudad por culpa de la violencia, en su caso de los paramilitares que invadieron su pueblo con la excusa de expulsar la guerilla (que no tenía presencia en el pueblo) y que con ello lo convirtieron en otro de los numerables pueblos-fantasma, resultado de la guerra. Y a todo eso, tan lindo y amable el chico. Me subió a la biblioteca en su motito, practicando el típico estilo pueblerino- metiéndose entre camiones y coches. Pero llegamos bien al Parque Biblioteca Doce de octubre. El gestor Gabriel Fernando Londoño que me recibió fue muy amable y me hizo una visita de dos horas.
La llegada a Tarmac fue algo más “complicado” reflejado sobre todo a través del nerviosismo del taxista que parecía temer la zona de Castilla, lugar de frecuentes homicidios, los más recientes de hace cinco días. Pero llegué bien. Los chicos pensaban que yo era de la Secretaría de la Alcaldía por una llamada que habían recibido el día anterior, pero no no nooo. Soy una rubia de Estonia, además músico. “Ah vaaaale. Pues…fumas?” “No, no gracias, ahorita mismo no” y se sacan su bote. Buena gente, pacíficos, rastafari.
Saliendo de la burbuja del bienestar del campus universitario vallado y del barrio del estrato 5 (sí, este sistema de estratificación huele a castas y reproduce las dinámicas que impiden a las personas salir de su situación socio-económica un tanto miserable), Medellín tiene unas dinámicas muy complejas de las que aún no me atrevo hablar. Mi comprensión de la ciudad llega hasta aquí: es bella, increíblemente bella, pero igual que las mujeres de este tipo, Medellín tiene su lado bien oscuro y yo me pregunto si la quiero conocer de verdad, o prefiero taparme los ojos y oídos y quedarme con el mero imaginario de lo bello. Estando en contacto con personas que trabajan en la esfera social, me voy enterando poco a poco del impacto que tiene la guerra (si, en formato del presente, porque la vaina sigue) especialmente en la población antioqueña. Y es muy lamentable que los desplazamientos sean tan comunes, que la gente cuente estas experiencias personales de manera tan “natural”. Pá soltar solo una cifra, el número de homicidios en Medellín aumentó un 80% en el mes de mayo de 2016 en respecto al año pasado, registrando 42 asesinatos frente al 24 del mayo de 2015. En el primer mes del año el aumento fue equivalente al 33%, y eso teniendo en cuenta que, según mi entendido, la táctica de mantener la tasa de homicidios baja es tan sencilla como llevar los cuerpos a otro municipio para que las cifras queden “bien”.

Cosas negativas aparte, y déjandome volver a lo imaginario, los paisas (gente de Medellín) que he conocido hasta la fecha son gente absolutamente maravillosa. No canso de repetir que no entiendo como puede haber una población tan, tan amable y servicial, es todo un misterio para mí ya que soy un miserable producto del individualismo nórdico que no ve más allá de su propia propia barriga.

Mientras sigo en mi camino de mirar, escuchar e inhalar esta sociedad, les dejo algunas fotos de las visitas de hoy.

 

 

Pasantía en Medellín, Colombia

Hace un tiempito ya que sentía la necesidad de vistar el país del llamado realismo mágico. Y ahora, aquí estoy por fin. Voy a ir publicando cositas en el blog, igual no serán de gran valor informativo, sino más bien fruto de mi percepción e imaginación. El post que sigue es la publicación que hice en mi página de Facebook después de mi visita a Ciudad Bolívar, un pueblo cafetero que queda a dos horas hacia el suroeste de Medellín. Tuve la ocasión de acompañar mi tutor de aquí de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana en su trabajo de investigación que estudia la noción que tienen las personas de allá sobre el concepto de “región” en su imaginario.

 

17 de Julio de 2016

Todavía no soy capaz de escribir nada decente sobre Colombia, por tanto os dejo sólo un trozito de lo que fue mi visita a la Ciudad Bolívar, un pueblo cafetero muy simpático. Tuve la suerte de alojarme en el mejor hostal de la ciudad, llamado Los Vitrales. El nombre del alojamiento se debe al hecho de compartir una pared (y sus hermosos vitrales) con la iglesia principal, lo cual me permitió escuchar unas cuantas misas, mi favorita siendo la que me despertó esta mañana a las 6 en mi bonita habitación que tenía cierto aire de un convento de monjas. La fuente sonora del vídeo es pues la grabación que hice a través de mi ventanita.
Más allá de cantos religiosos, hay tantísimas cosas que alimentan mi infinita curiosidad, por ejemplo ¿por qué es que la ocupación del espacio público en un pueblo como éste es 95% masculina? Y por qué en las heladerías no se vende helado, sino más bien alcohol? Por qué en el Centro Social del pueblo (que creo que también fue sólo un bar) no hubo ni una mujer? Como se hace la lulada? Y el sancocho? Cómo son los árboles de café? Casi que me sabe mal por la gente que me acompaña en mis viajes ya que mis preguntas no se acaban nunca. Y eso es lo que me encanta de estar aquí: estoy constantemente comiendo con mis ojos, con mis oídos y claramente con mi boca que ha tenido la suerte de probar tantos platos ricos que sin duda ninguna han hecho al Señor Colesterol más que feliz.