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Power and the Audiovisual

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.

 

October 23, 2014
Urban Space, Spectacle, Memory and Music in Nineteenth-Century Vienna
Nicholas Mathew (Music)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mathew presented on the role of music and sound in the emergence of modern civic sensibilities in Napoleonic Vienna, and how printed music came to shape a new politics of urban pedestrianism.

 

 

by Brandon Harrell

 

On October 23, Professor Nicolas Mathew gave us a taste of the Congress of Vienna as it was post-Napoleonic War. He challenged his audience, our classroom, to focus on the words “spectator” and “audience” as he explained how the Congress would organize grand events in urban spaces to acknowledge the elite heads of state while also arousing the masses. The large spaces, once bustling the day before with activity, were converted into pavilion-like landscapes where all things regal were admired. Again, I thought to myself, dramaturgy. I am being compelled to view the city as a spectacle where everyday life is a performance, where the image of the city is mediated by a binary social relationship, where individual choices are made in the sphere of production and consumption. In this case, the state of Vienna was producing an image, organized with symphonic arrangements to be consumed by the masses. The music would blast, sonic boom after sonic boom, and the words (in German) would describe and glorify particular events, solidifying them in historical memory. These elite narratives were more aural fantasy than anything and, as the music boomed over the spectators they were not being shaken into obedience, but becoming aware of themselves as an audience en masse. The public became aware of its own presence. Individual privacy of expression is gone when one becomes usurped by the crowd. All is laid bare; what would be a passive, disorganized sound becomes an active clamor of the masses.

The urban experience is fragmented and dramatic, and as Mathew focused deeper on the music and grand public performances of Vienna, I could not help but ask, “Where does state-sponsored music and performance fit into our cities today? How do we produce sound and communal identity through performance theory?” Knowing that the U.S. government maintains power norms through the commodification of resources and space, I believe that sound and image cannot be separated from space. We often don’t think of the commodification of land and space as directly affecting our audiovisual opportunities and what those audiovisual opportunities can do for us but let’s ponder for a moment: as more and more land becomes privatized, there are fewer public spaces in which to perform, to act, to play, to be free, physically. The cars, planes, drones, and construction drown out the music, the rhythms, the voices, the stories; that car blasting Drake or Lil Wayne as it winds down Telegraph only passes by for a second. Then, the roars and bustle are quickly back at the forefront-–that is the norm. Billboards, fast-food signs, curb paint and road paint, streetlights and the entangled web of telephone poles and wires, all distract from our relationship with space, passively extracting opportunities for collective voice and expression.

Where and how can we reclaim space, reclaim our voice? All of my examples come not from those in power, but the oppressed. Performing participatory pedestrianism–from the gypsy, flamenco culture of Andalusia, Spain, to the Black, hip-hop culture of North America–-they all screamed, “Fight the power! Pa’lante siempre!” By existing in these spaces we reclaim them. That message juxtaposed against the monolithic drone of commerce and mainstream media kind of summarizes U.S. society today…

Here is some local inspiration… a response to the death of a young, Black boy named June.

Brandon Harrell is a graduate student in the Master of City Planning program at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.


The Sound of Urban Spectacle

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 23, 2014
Urban Space, Spectacle, Memory and Music in Nineteenth-Century Vienna
Nicholas Mathew (Music)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mathew presented on the role of music and sound in the emergence of modern civic sensibilities in Napoleonic Vienna, and how printed music came to shape a new politics of urban pedestrianism.


by Swetha Vijayakumar

“The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”
- Guy Debord, The Society of Spectacle

In 1967, Guy Debord offered a radical critique on modern societies in his book The Society of Spectacle by arguing that the nature of society changes with the advent of mass media. Raymond Williams in his book Keywords (1985) describes “Spectacle” as a “Theory of Sight.” While much has been said about the role of sight in the making of a spectacle, Nicholas Mathew presents a new component of spectacles. He throws light on the role of sound in creating urban spectacles. In his presentation titled “Urban Space, Spectacle, Memory and Music in Nineteenth-Century Vienna,” Mathew discusses the relationship between music and social life, and the making of public spectacles in 19th century Vienna. The images of the 1814 Vienna Prater Fest that Mathew showed are depictive of this, illustrating many people gathered to witness a musical performance. It was described as “a poetic and sublime scene beyond description.” “Spectacle” in the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “a person or thing exhibited to, or set before, the public gaze as an object either (a) of curiosity or contempt, or (b) of marvel or admiration.” For the burgeoning middle class in the 19th century, a large concert by a famous musician like Beethoven was not only a marvel of music but also a sight to behold. Beethoven’s piece that Mathew played during the presentation, when first performed in Vienna, he explains, was as visually captivating as it was musical. The Victory Music was intended to re-create the imageries from a battlefield for all those who weren’t present. The orchestra, divided into two parts, marched onto the stage from two sides and met in the middle to perform this piece.


Image showing a huge gathering of people on the other side of the bridge – Prater-Fest, Vienna 1814. Image courtesy: Nicholas Mathew


Vienna is the capital and largest city of Austria. It has had a long-standing tradition of classical music, where several famous musicians like Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Arnold Schoenberg lived and worked. Vienna houses some of the best opera houses, theatres, and concert spaces in the world. Viennese Balls are major tourist attractions, and have been a part of the city’s cultural legacy since the 19th century. These Balls are night-long events held in large concert halls or opera houses where up to nine live orchestras perform together. Music is often said to be a key part of Viennese culture and urban life. Mathew briefly discussed the role music plays as an instrument for political expression. In Napoleonic Vienna, musical compositions were often responsible for shaping new public experiences in urban spaces.

The new musical compositions reflected changes in society and responded to them in various ways. With the advent of a new class of bourgeoisie, the classical period in Vienna (late 18th century to early 19th century) was when public concerts were first held on a large scale, and became an important part of daily life in the city.


Performance under the direction of Antonio Salieri of Haydn's Creation at the Old University Hall in Vienna on 27 March 1808. The 76-year-old composer attended; he can be seen seated in the front, at the center, wearing a black hat. Image courtesy: https://sites.google.com/site/jarice18thcmusic/17-vienna-in-the-napoleonic-era


The moving away of musical performances from courtly rooms to the public sphere was reflective of an egalitarian nature of music. Ignaz Von Mosel, an 18th century Austrian composer, notes here the bonding effect of music:

Here music daily performs the miracle that is only otherwise attributed to Love: it makes people of all social stations equal. Members of the nobility and of the bourgeoisie, princes and their retainers, those in authority and those beneath them sit together at one music stand, the harmony of the music making them oblivious to the disharmony of their social standing.

In a city like Vienna, which has a strong classical tradition, and which in the 19th century was arguably at the forefront of radical musical creations, the city itself becomes a living museum for showcasing past musical traditions. The place is simultaneously both real and imagined. In his famous book Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau compares the act of walking to speech:

The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language. It is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of language).

Here the city can be thought of as the metaphorical theatrical space of everyday life. Then, to quote Mathew, “public would be actors. They will be both spectators and performers in the city.” Lefebvre describes the experience of the “polyrhythms” of the city as “he who walks down the street is immersed in the multiplicity of noises, murmurs, rhythms.” Mathew’s presentation of the role of music in creating new civic sensibilities in 19th century Vienna can be understood as the historical backdrop for the impact that thousands of live concerts and public performances have on public life. Music, even today, has the potential to create an urban spectacle like no other.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna
http://www.habsburger.net/en/stories/classical-music-nineteenth-century-vienna
https://sites.google.com/site/jarice18thcmusic/17-vienna-in-the-napoleonic-era

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donals Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Swetha Vijayakumar is a PhD student studying the History of Architecture and Urbanism.


An Engaged Populace Through Music

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 23, 2014
Urban Space, Spectacle, Memory and Music in Nineteenth-Century Vienna
Nicholas Mathew (Music)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mathew presented on the role of music and sound in the emergence of modern civic sensibilities in Napoleonic Vienna, and how printed music came to shape a new politics of urban pedestrianism.


by Matthew Goodman

This week’s lecture provided an interesting glimpse into how music shaped culture, patriotism, and national allegiance in 19th century Vienna. Beyond that, it provided a lens through which to evaluate the role that music can play in creating a shared civic identity.

Nicolas Mathew’s insightful lecture showed how the dissemination and recital of printed music gave the Viennese a sense of communal belonging. Music created a tableau depicting how important battles, including the Battle of Leipzig, played out. Intricate pieces by celebrated composers, including Beethoven, constituted music as theater, where percussion was often used to quite realistically represent cannons being fired. It struck me as being almost a reversal of silent film; instead of artists using soundless visuals to depict a story, composers recounted civic glories solely through sound.

Here’s an interesting link about the continued legacy Beethoven left on the city of Vienna: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/note-perfect-beethovens-spirit-lives-on-in-vienna-1650203.html

The most interesting issue raised by Mathew was how these battle songs acted as a means for catalyzing the creation of a shared civic identity. These songs were not recorded – the written notations were provided to Viennese citizens using a burgeoning printing industry so families (notably women) could play these songs in their homes and together recount heroic and victorious battles. Citizens were no longer passive “spectators” but now an involved “audience.” The result was an engaged populace, one buoyed by civic pride and a sense of inclusive civic identity.


Image: The Linus Pauling Papers. http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/MMBBPQ_.jpg


Unrelated to the points above, I couldn’t help but recount a lecture from earlier this year by Georgina Kleege and Chris Downey about how blind people experience cities. They described how important auditory inputs are for blind people in understanding their surroundings and city at large. Sound is a sense sighted people often take for granted, choosing instead to walk streets listening to pulsating Apple earbuds. Kleege, Downey, and Mathew all describe the role that sound plays in reading, sensing, and defining cities.

Upon leaving Mathew’s lecture, I couldn’t help but recall the famous first scene of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” where Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is used to provide a canvas upon which to paint a picture of New York City. Romanticism, chaos, loud, quiet…all things conjured up in the song that symbolize various elements of Manhattan. Music can be an interesting prism through which to learn about and sense a city. Mathew’s lecture took that idea a step further by illustrating how music can have a profound impact on how citizens relate to one another as well as appreciate their heritage and nationality.

Matthew Goodman is pursuing an MBA at the Haas School of Business.