I have spent the last decade examining cultural production in Latin America: architectural plans, newspapers, literature, photographs, paintings. But more than anything, I listen to music. As a researcher, I am specifically interested in the forms that art takes and the experiences they curate. ¿How does the shape of a building change how we feel when inside it? ¿How does a verse/chorus format influence which lyrics we perceive to tell the greatest truths? ¿How does artwork shape who people believe they are? For me, the most fascinating object of study for such questions is a symphony. So for the last three years, I have been doing that as I have put together a manuscript for my first book, Composing Brazil..
In Composing Brazil, I track a series of artists and composers in 1930s Rio and São Paulo that teamed up with local ethnographers and psychologists. Together they formed a generation of social reformers committed to using music in an ambitious nationalist project aimed at speeding up "cultural evolution" of what they believed to be the nation's collective psychology. The book project uses archival documents, ethnographic recordings, and symphony manuscripts to show that Brazilian concert music in the 1930s was backed by a scientific framework. The composers believed that their symphonies would induce mental development and create experiences that could be qualified as scientifically Brazilian.
I have a couple of hopes for the book project. One is that it will help people understand the history of Brazil's commitment to the arts. Another is that the people reading it--especially those that really, really "feel" that they are American--or Brazilian, or whatever--will learn how such feelings are a result of generations of conditioning to songs and rituals, many of which have been curated specifically to make nationality feel real. That, I hope, will help people take nationalism less seriously, making it easier for them to accept people of all geographic and ethnic backgrounds. And at the same time, maybe it can help people take music a bit more seriously.