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Aural Paris: The Changing Identities of The City of Sound in Music, Film and Literature, 1870-1940.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Aural Paris (Aural Paris: The Changing Identities of The City of Sound in Music, Film and Literature, 1870-1940.)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

‘Aural Paris: The Changing Identities of The City of Sound in Music, Film and Literature, 1870-1940’ received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 750086. The researcher was hosted between September 2018 and August 2020 by the Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage (CRAL) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. This project investigated the creative responses to the sounds of the city of Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Few cities accumulated the artistic power that Paris held during this period. This cultural hegemony, however, started to dilute as the 20th century unfolded, creating a deep sense of loss and nostalgia palpable in the writings and songs of the 1930s that conform the latest body of work analysed in this study. The changing landscape of the city is the background to this project, which considered how the sonic fabric of the urban context was conceptualised as a defining characteristic of Frenchness. The study thus addressed the dichotomy of Paris as a city of sound versus Paris as a village of music, two approaches clearly distinguishable in the politics of the modern city during the Third Republic. The inauguration and decline of this political cycle also find parallels in musical terms: just as a new era had opened up in 1871 with the foundation of the Société nationale de musique, the group of avant-garde composers Jeune France renovated French musical language in the 1930s.

The main objectives of the project were: 1. To investigate the role that sound played in the construction of a Parisian/French identity during the Third Republic. 2. To shed new light on scarcely analysed archival sources. 3. To study the capacity of artistic representations of the city to become part of ‘the case’ and to blur fiction and reality in life-writing. 4. To test a theory of modernist sound ecology alongside established notions of the urban nature of art in fields such as painting, literature and film. 5. To disseminate musicological scholarship amongst different audiences in order to foster new ways of thinking about the urban environment and its soundscape. 6. To contribute to the recent ‘history of the senses’ trend in urban studies by overcoming the visual focus of this field and analysing the site-specificity of French art during the Third Republic.
The work performed from the beginning of the project has been of a varied nature. Research and writing configured the nucleus of the action, but these undertakings were necessarily accompanied by a number of supporting tasks that included the following: communication to different audiences (at standard scientific meetings as well as at the radio or at outreach events), hosting and organization of academic gatherings, designing conference brochures and publicity video trailers, publishing calls for papers for both conferences and journal issues, traveling nationally and internationally to participate in events, networking with colleagues abroad, reviewing and editing journal articles, submitting publication proposals, designing social media strategies to widen the impact of the project, attending research events such as seminars and lectures, reporting to the supervisor, etc. In the particular case of this MSCA action, a very significant and impactful proportion of the allocated time resources (24 months) had to be dedicated to administrative tasks, some reasonable and expected within this framework, some arising from an inefficient management of the fellowship by the host institution. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 also provoked inevitable and profound alterations to the expected calendar of work, with the researcher using the “research, training and networking costs” to creatively and resolutely seek contingency plans.

In view of these impediments, a most relevant aspect of the time period that this report covers (the last six months having been completely turned upside down by the outbreak and the limitations it imposed not only on the accessibility of materials but on international mobility, which is a key aspect of MSCA actions), the main results achieved so far have succeeded in aligning with the objectives set at the beginning.

The project has produced two international conferences, it has allowed the researcher to deliver eight conference papers, to participate at roundtables and workshops, she has been invited to disseminate on the radio and to write for outreach publications, she has published four book chapters, one encyclopedia entry and two review articles, and she is working on an edited journal issue and a monograph.
This research project has unveiled and worked on little-known or unknown archival sources. This has allowed the researcher to compile and bring to light new materials that have advanced the state of the art in the fields of French film, literature and music in the period between 1870 and 1940. A case in point is the author and lyricist Pierre Mac Orlan, an obscure yet important figure of French popular music that the project has thoroughly reevaluated. Secondly, the project has had great impact in the field of the history of emotions, particularly of nostalgia, thanks to an international conference on music, memory and changing urban landscapes. Thus, the action has contributed to bridge the gap between cultural history, cultural geography and music studies. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the drastic halt it produced during the last quarter of the project, there are various publications and initiatives that will see the light when academic life resumes its usual rhythms in the months and years to come. The researcher will disseminate further advancements regarding the French history and, specifically, she will investigating the sonic and musical spheres of its popular and urban culture.

Precisely the context in which the project ends in the wake of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, attests to the life-saving role of research for society. It is hard to write about societal implications and socio-economic impact knowing that, in the middle of the pandemic, mayor funding bodies like the European Commission are planning to cut the budget of its flagship programmes include Horizon. We have seen that when lockdown was enforced, people turned to the arts for solace. In the wake of fake news, all scientific research fields including the social sciences and the humanities are needed to continue to offer reliable data, and to continue fostering debates and a critical attitude towards the information that society receives from various media. A strong case needs to be defended in favor of cross-disciplinarity, avoiding a polarization that would situate STEM and the humanities and the arts at opposing ends of the scientific spectrum. In the particular case of the arts and music specifically, the action has shown that large sections of the general public are thirsty for well-documented, scientifically sound research to be made accessible to them. This project has shown that music can become a prism through which to study issues that affect all of us, like certain emotions that are experiencing a peak at present like nostalgia. With music studies, outreach is a natural step to follow and one that society at large has proven to be grateful for because, after all, who doesn’t like music?