A ‘Sound Grammar’ for the City: The spatial and temporal dimension of Barber’s concerts

María Teresa García Sánchez
  • Organised Sound, July 2015, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s1355771815000096

The soundscape of the city: space and time in the urban design

What is it about?

This article focuses on one of the most suggestive proposals within the sound domain of the twentieth century: the concerts for bells and bell towers devised by the Spanish musician Llorenç Barber. His original idea of transforming the city into a monumental instrument provides the starting point for the analysis.

Why is it important?

In order to access the competing claims of sound art versus music, the text approaches Barber’s creative thinking as if it were a sound grammar devised specifically for the city: materials and performance techniques become a ‘phonetics’, structural elements as a ‘morphology’, the ‘syntax’ of sound- handling strategies, and the formal structure of the score as a ‘narrative’ of the concert. Within each dimension, the text shows how the ‘city instrument’ has extended Barber’s creative horizon by transforming musical problems into unclassifiable strategies of dealing with sound, which are capable of producing a sonic experience deeply rooted in the historical and cultural development of the city.


María Teresa García Sánchez
The Technical University of Madrid

This research shows how uncertainty, indeterminacy, ambiguity, accident or change (unacceptable concepts for the traditional musical domain) become an essential part of these works. Inevitably, such aspects require from the ‘composer’ a kind of pragmatism that seems to be inherent in the outdoor sound design.

Read Publication


The following have contributed to this page: María Teresa García Sánchez