This semester at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, I am taking one of the most interesting and unique classes I have taken in my college career. The class is called Paisajes Sonors (soundscapes), and it focuses on studying the neighborhood of Lavapiés through its soundscape and audiovisual characteristics. We are learning basic sound editing and composition, studying soundscapes and audiovisual artworks by artists from around the world, as well as about gentrification, noise pollution, and how these things play a part in the quality of life in a big city such as Madrid. We have discussed how the soundscape of Lavapiés has changed quite a quite a lot over time, due to certain ethnic/cultural groups moving out and relocating, new groups of people moving in, as well as gentrification and tourism; all of these physical and social changes to the neighbors effect and are reflected in the soundscape of Lavapiés. Through studying the soundscape of a neighborhood, I’ve learned, you can learn a lot about the current culture and population of a neighborhood as well as the history of it.
Last Tuesday we met in a small park in Lavapiés instead of the UAM campus, where we were each given a map of Lavapiés, broken up into small groups, and were designated a specific route to follow within the neighborhood. We were to follow these routes silently, while we record the sounds, noises, music, and everyday life we encountered on our walks. We set off in our small groups silently, recording the sounds of drum kits coming from an open window of an apartment building, the sounds of sliding doors of the markets opening and closing as customers came and left, and the clinking and chiming of metal utensils and glasses coming from restaurants we passed by. The walk lasted about 45 minutes, during which I realized how much I could learn about a place just from taking time to be more quiet and observing the little things around me I typically miss throughout the day, whether I have my headphones in while I’m on my way to class, chatting with a friend, or even because I have not actively turned my focus outward toward the space around me as I move through the city.
Truly, I learned a lot in just 45 minutes of not talking and just listening to the world around me. I realized a lot more languages other than Spanish can be easily spotted; Of the ones I recognized, I heard English, French, Italian, Russian on my walk, as well as a few others I couldn’t exactly identify. I heard a lot of different music from drumming to disco to pop music coming from inside a crowded cafe. I heard people laughing and making jokes with friends, a little bit of arguing, lots of people ordering food and asking questions about menus, and definitely many cars and motorcycles.
During Thursday’s class last week, we met at the UAM to edit and “clean up” our audio recordings; as we replayed our recordings, we edited out any wind sounds obstructing the soundscape of the city, and edited through to pick out the best parts of the clip. With these edited recordings, we are eventually going to compile everything that we found as a class, and create a collective audio piece to reflect the soundscape of Lavapiés.
I am really looking forward to how this piece is going to turn out, and to learning more about the history and current culture of Lavapiés, as well the importance of this neighborhood for the wider community of Madrid.
Aja Goldman, student blogger primavera 2020