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Review: Paisajes sonoros históricos / Historical Soundscapes

A review of Paisajes sonoros históricos / Historical Soundscapes, a website exploring historical urban soundscapes, directed by Juan Ruiz Jiménez and Ignacio Lizarán Rus

Published onMay 30, 2023
Review: Paisajes sonoros históricos / Historical Soundscapes

Paisajes sonoros históricos (c.1200-c.1800) / Historical Soundscapes (c.1200-c.1800)

Project Directors
Juan Ruiz Jiménez, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Granada
Ignacio Lizarán Rus, Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía

Project URL

Project Reviewer
Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden, University of North Texas

Project Overview

Juan Ruiz Jiménez and Ignacio Lizarán Rus

Paisajes sonoros históricos / Historical Soundscapes is a website designed to explore historical urban soundscapes with the outreach potential made possible through new technologies. This innovative approach allows users to recreate music of the past in historical locations through the use of online interactive maps and digital resources (e.g., documents, videos, sounds). The web page was inaugurated in September 2015. In the first phase of the project, we aimed to create a digital platform to map the soundscapes of the cities of Granada and Seville as a paradigm that would be adaptable to any urban center over different historical periods. 

The original idea for this project came from Juan Ruiz Jiménez, a musicologist and member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of Granada, who is responsible for the academic material presented on the platform. Ignacio Lizarán Rus, computer engineer with a degree in ibrary and information science, works at the Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía and built the complex website with Django, Vue, and Leaflet. It is a personal project without funding.

In 2016, we completed our initial short-term goal: to include thematic self-guided urban itineraries that direct users through a thematic, physical, or virtual tour in which spaces and sound experiences are interconnected within the perimeter of the urban fabric of a city. These are based on the sound events that have previously been incorporated into the platform.

In 2019, we incorporated the "Interconnected Cities" tab, going beyond Granada and Seville to geolocate any city in the world, making the platform collaborative by giving colleagues the possibility of incorporating their own content. In May 2022, we launched version 2.0 of Historical Soundscapes, transforming the general structure of the home page and incorporating significant new features, such as the tabs “Cities with Historical Cartography” and “Cartographic Projects.” These significantly expand the platform’s cartographic and analytical possibilities. Currently, the platform has 1503 events in 1305 locations, in cities in four continents.

Since the beginning, we have analyzed the platform’s impact using Google Analytics. As of November 2022, the audience overview showed that 100,238 users from 4,002 cities in 138 countries have visited 354,362 different pages accessible in Historical Soundscapes, confirming the international reach of the project. Google Scholar indexes all content, thus multiplying the number of citations in academic articles and the incorporation of the website url in different portals such as EADH, Early Modern Soundscapes, and Medieval & Renaissance Studies.

The contents of Historical Soundscapes aim to be inclusive and to facilitate a deeper understanding of urban culture, enabling an intellectual dialogue about aural history through an interdisciplinary approach that meshes urban musicology with cultural history, art history, and other fields. Historical Soundscapes aims to provide a useful and innovative tool for a city’s educational institutions, museums and tourist boards, and thus affords an effective and realistic way to transfer knowledge and bridge the gap between academic research and public knowledge.

Project Review

Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden

The online platform Paisajes sonoros históricos (c. 1200–c. 1800) / Historical Soundscapes (c. 1200–c. 1800) offers a rich collection of sonic primary sources from cities across the globe, predominantly located on the Iberian Peninsula and South American continent. Musicologist Juan Ruiz Jiménez and computer engineer and information scientist Ignacio Lizarán Rus present four methods to navigate the project: historical cartography, interconnected cities, cartographic projects, and itineraries. Historical cartography pages pinpoint sound events on 17th- and 18th-century maps of six Spanish cities. A global map displays interconnected cities, which are more specifically illuminated in themed cartographic projects. Curated itineraries guide visitors through a series of related pages. Map markers open separate pages to provide brief yet detailed narratives about music and sound in each location. Sidebars supplement the text with images of primary sources and relevant recordings from external platforms like YouTube and Spotify. The pages also contain careful bibliographic citations and provenance information. 

The project’s content scale is at once highly ambitious and quite specific. It adopts a broad, though musically centered, definition of sound. Visitors can follow itineraries trailing Cervantes through Seville or a Corpus Christi procession through Granada. The project jumps between noisy religious festivals, scattered music manuscripts by composer Francisco Guerrero, letters approving the transport of Black minstrel musicians throughout the Atlantic world, and women musicians from Germany to Mexico. Even book history lurks throughout these digital pages. 

A basic premise of Paisajes sonoros históricos is a now-accepted scholarly assertion that the senses can and should play a crucial role in historical analyses. Ruiz Jiménez and Lizarán Rus situate their work in urban musicology, at the intersection of aural and music histories, and in conversation with fields such as architecture, religious studies, and beyond. By tending to the ways sonic dimensions constitute place and experience, researchers can unpack historical acoustemologies — the knowledge and knowledge systems developed from, within, and in relation to sonic environments.1 At its best, this scholarly work promises to bring under-documented populations and the more-than-human into the historical fold. Indeed, pages in this project dedicated to the non-musical, such as running water in the Alhambra’s Lion Fountain, demonstrate the kinds of recordings that might be expanded to extend the project’s critical potential beyond music. The pages do not tell visitors how to listen to accompanying recordings and, thus, shy away from elaborating the values encoded even in musical sources.2 

Sound remains a tricky medium to present in large-scale digital humanities formats. Lizarán Rus built the project using Django (a Python framework), Vue (a Javascript framework), and Leaflet (a Javascript library for building mapping applications). Immersive aural history projects often foreground sound over text.3 For example, Moravian Soundscapes, a web app built with ArcGIS StoryMaps, anchors listeners on the interactive map as they explore information and recordings that appear in separate pages on Paisajes sonoros históricos.4 Because the contents are so expansive, an internal method for visitors to individually curate the platform’s contents — in a manner akin to traditional databases — would be helpful. However, this kind of technology admittedly lags for extensive sound mapping. The addition of network visualizations might clarify interconnectedness between individual sonic nodes and to make navigation more seamless.5

Many of the sources gathered in Paisajes sonoros históricosare fresh and novel. A recent book review noted when a sonic history of Toledo failed to consult them.6 The project’s abundant materials will certainly serve diverse audiences, from music history students to historians without the resources to travel for archival research. Moreover, its ambitious scale and detailed approach prompt scholars to imagine how sound might be further amplified in the face of ocularcentric technologies and musically dominated aural histories.

Review Response

Juan Ruiz Jiménez and Ignacio Lizarán Rus

The project directors of the digital platform Paisajes Sonoros Históricos / Historical Soundscapes would like to thank Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden for her positive review of our work, but we would just like to clarify a couple of questions and an error. Our aim is not to map sounds but events that in an open way contribute, whether directly or indirectly, to the configuration of historial soundscapes in the urban centres where they are produced; wherever possible, these events (or short articles) are accompanied by recorded examples. The interactive keywords incorporated in all the events, linked to the fields of the platform's database, allow searches to be made that automatically present results. An independent powerful search engine permits the combination of all the terms in the database with its operating structure and/or with its different fields, and also the visualization of results, both through the locators on the maps and through a sidebar in which these are classified by countries, cities and locations. Finally, the author has confused the city of Toledo with Seville, which is the city to which the author of the article refers in note 6 when making reference to Paisajes Sonoros Históricos / Historical Soundscapes.

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