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Travelling phonographs in fin de siècle Spain: recording technologies and national regeneration in Ruperto Chapí’s El fonógrafo ambulante

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Through analysis of the zarzuela El fonógrafo ambulante (1899; music by Ruperto Chapí, libretto by Juan González), this article discusses how the arrival of recording technologies in Spain (1877–1900) was influenced by and in turn influenced discourses concerning modernity, regional difference and interregional mobility. With recent critical accounts of the early history of recording technologies having emerged mostly from the study of technologically advanced countries, this article is also a reminder of the role of cultural context: the study of the arrival of the phonograph in Spain indeed reveals how early users of recording technologies related their experiences to broader discourses of modernity and identity that had often been taken for granted elsewhere. Intended to entertain large contingents of people across a variety of social classes, El fonógrafo ambulante portrayed an aspect of late nineteenth-century life in Spain that its audiences would have been familiar with, that is, the travelling phonographs paraded through Spanish cities, towns and villages during the 1890s. The work also embodies views on sound-recording technologies which would have resonated with its audience – in accordance with zarzuela’s defense of an integrative, progressively industrialized, urban, somewhat relaxed in terms of social mores, yet still ideologically conservative Spain. In fact, whereas the arrival of a phonograph in an Andalusian village at the beginning of the zarzuela is initially presented as a potential danger to social practices, reservations are quickly overcome when it becomes clear that mobile recording technologies can make the Spanish pueblo thrive by encouraging mutual understanding between Spanish regions and ensuring the preservation of gender roles. However, El fonógrafo ambulante shies away from defending transformative uses of phonography that other, more regeneracionista sectors of the population anticipated; in doing so, it ultimately presents a sceptical view of modernity as the path to national regeneration.
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Keywords: Chapí; Regeneracionismo; mobility; phonograph; recording technologies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

Publication date: July 3, 2019

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