This summer Juan Londono (’26), created soundscapes in Madrid, working with WFU Music’s Dr. Elizabeth Clendinning and through the generosity of the Joseph G. Gordon Scholarship. Before he left Juan shared his vision for his research with WFU Music, and his plans for future studies at Wake Forest University:

*interview has been edited for brevity and clarity

WFU Music: You are working with soundscapes in Madrid. You want to look at communities, the ways that they are interacting with the world sonically. How would you define soundscapes?

Juan Londono: There’s a bunch of ways to study cultures and study people. You can read books, you can watch movies, you can watch documentaries, you can use all your different senses and skills. You can taste the foods, you can see the things that they make. A way that most people don’t usually think about to study culture is to hear the sounds they produce. A soundscape does that. It’s studying culture, studying the way that people live their lives, and the way that a culture has led people to live their lives up to this point, through a sonic environment. What are the sounds they produce, and why?

What historically led this church to play this song? Why are there street vendors on this street? Why are they saying these specific words? Is it that these words are culturally-loaded words, or are they a random word? Soundscapes open a horizon to understanding people in a way that no other form of studying culture does.

WFUM: It’s music, it’s the built environment as well, it’s linguistics, it’s the whole world.

JL: Yes, you get to study music, you get to understand the music that they play and why that’s the case, but also conversations. Things that they say, perhaps in labor practices, for example.

I think we take talking and sounds for granted. To be able to study these sounds and what they represent in a culture gives a lot of insight into the type of culture that you’re looking at.

WFUM: Was there something specific about Madrid that drew you to go there? Were there other places you were also looking at studying?

JL: So the project started off as a comparison between Madrid and Barcelona. Barcelona is very interesting because it’s a part of Spain, like Madrid, but there’s been a movement in the past decade to separate from Spain and establish the state of Catalan with Barcelona. This project started off as a comparison of the capital of Spain and a state that wants to be completely independent.

For now, I focused on Madrid because I think Madrid plays a unique role in history and in the world. It was the capital of such power in a period where the world was expanding and growing. When the Americas were first found by Europeans it was Madrid where a lot of the decisions that shape today’s world were made. These buildings, these physical structures where these decisions were made are still there today. The families that were there in that moment, they’ve evolved, they’re still there, they’re still in the city, they’re still present. To be able to go there, to be able to study the culture that’s been left behind from this history of power, and then destruction of power, revolution and colonialism, trying to see the different levels of the culture there today I think is interesting.

I think it’s interesting looking at what the centralization of power in a city looks like decades or centuries after that centralization of power is present.

WFUM: Are there other areas in the world you’d like to explore?

JL: I would love to do a soundscape of every city in the world. If the opportunity presents itself I’d love to continue this work.

Dr. [Elizabeth] Clendinning and I have been talking about this, with her past with music ethnography, it’s so different in every city and every culture that you can’t fully map out what you’re going to find. When I’m in Madrid I’m going to find such different results than I’m expecting that it’s going to go to this completely different path that I’m not even thinking about right now. When I find that path, when I find that new idea, that new purpose I think I’m going to be even more excited which makes me want to go even more to a new city for a new soundscape.

WFUM: Have you thought about bringing this work back to do a soundscape of Reynolda campus at Wake Forest, or in Winston-Salem?

JL: I think it would be awesome to see what a soundscape of Wake Forest looks like. I think doing soundscapes throughout the campus, throughout different seasons, and seeing what sounds each season elicits on campus would be awesome.

I’d like to understand the student body in a way that makes them feel heard. What better way of hearing the student body than literally listening to them?

WFUM: You’re not only a student of sounds, music and language, but also a student of economics. You’re talking about very human aspects of the world. If you had to do a soundscape of the economy, how would you do it?

JL: Economics is the study of how people make choices, right? It’s seeing the motivations behind a choice. What are the factors that people take into consideration? I went to a math-based school for ten years. I think in graphs. I think in functions. Economics allows me to think of people, to think of what they do and why they do it, and to put numbers behind those decisions. See trends. What that may lead to in the future. The significance of their actions. It really empowers me to understand people and make assumptions about what people want and what they desire.

I think in a world where people are not heard or understood or being properly represented, I think economics is a powerful tool that allows us to literally see what people are putting their values on and then acting on that. And I think in terms of soundscapes, in the grand scale of national economics, I think soundscapes of economics in the U.S.A. would look like going to different sectors and seeing what the conversations in those jobs sound like. The type of conversations happening on a farm are not necessarily the type of conversations happening in a consulting firm. Seeing what kinds of conversations they have on a lunch break. During a lunch break is when people will digest their day. People on a farm I think would talk about prices of food, prices of labor, maybe immigration. People in a consulting firm may talk about the national debt crisis, the national debt ceiling. Those moments when people are just being themselves, saying what’s on their mind.

Understanding people and the way they act is the true power of economics. I think the true essence of economics lies in understanding people and delivering for people.

WFUM: You’ll also take photographs of the areas you’re exploring with soundscapes in Madrid. How does visual meet sonic in your research?

JL: I’m going to go to three neighborhoods in Madrid: the financial district, a local (residential) district, and a tourist district. What do these different spheres sound like? The financial district: finance and government. The local district: more day to day life. The tourist district: exhibits, museums. I have pre-selected places in these neighborhoods to see what the center of activity in these neighborhoods looks like, what it is, and I’m going to be revisiting these places a couple of times throughout my stay in Madrid. Going out to these centers of activity and recording, analyzing these centers on the spot, I will be taking photos.

I’m a visual person and I will be taking photos so that in my analysis later on seeing those photos will jog my memory and will allow me to think about the things I was thinking about in the moment, and that I wasn’t able to jot down immediately. I think the photos will ultimately play some role in my research paper. My goal is to be able to show how physical landscape alters sonic landscape. My soundscape analysis is going to be based off the sounds, and the photos will enrich the analysis.

WFUM: Have you thought about how else to put this information out into the community?

JL: Professor Clendinning and I have been talking about the idea of having an interactive map. You’ll be able to go to the map and click on the different spots that I went to and hear a clip of what I’ve heard, and photos I took in the moment, paired with my brief analysis.

WFUM: That sound map “sounds” really cool!

JL: (laughs) Thank you.