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The CONFRASOUND project aims to research and analyse the devotional and musical activities of confraternities and guilds in the Iberian Peninsula for the longue durée c.1400–c.1700 in order to assess their impact on and significance for the urban soundscape. While this kind of approach has been brought to bear for a handful of Italian and Flemish cities, very little, apart from a few contributions on specific aspects of the relationship between confraternities and musical practice, has been undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula, and nothing from the holistic and interdisciplinary perspective adopted for the CONFRASOUND project. 

The contribution of these acoustic communities to the urban soundscape was profound, accounting for much of the direct musical experience of the city’s inhabitants on a daily basis, shaping musical performance and reception in the context of the manifestation of popular and civic religion, and adding greatly to the density of sonic and performative events within the urban context. The vast majority of inhabitants were members of at least one confraternity, which provided a sense of belonging to the community as well as welfare support, and these entities also involved women – as the wives of guild members and as independent members of spiritual confraternities – and the disenfranchised in society, such as the disabled and the poor. The synthetic analysis of these social, pious and charitable bodies has thus opened up new paths in order to understand the daily sonic and musical experience of almost all groups in society through agency of their devotional practices in the generation of urban ceremonial and, in particular, sound. 

The primary devotional aspects of each confraternity related to their patronal saints or dedications, but they also participated in civic processions of various kinds, and the ritual of death, since one of their main functions was to ensure that members received a dignified funeral and burial, and the spiritual aid needed for their souls to pass quickly through purgatory. Investment in the eschatological beliefs of guild confraternity members thus counterbalanced provision for their social, trade and physical welfare in a heavenly-earthly double economy that relied, for the main part, on charity and the payment of membership dues. Digital cartography is used to map the location of the meeting-places of the confraternities and of their chapels and altars within cathedral, parish and conventual churches which formed the focal-points of their devotional activities, as well as the trajectories of the many different types of procession in which they regularly participated. This mapping process developed for the CONFRASOUND project affords the possibility of establishing the topographical network and nodes of performance spaces – exterior and interior – in which they operated through trade, familial and social connexions and devotional practice. 

Confraternities and guilds were thus agents in the generation of musical practices and creation of music repertories – written and unwritten – within the city, and analysis of their activities enables urban musicology to go beyond the court-cathedral paradigm that has tended to dominate Spanish music historiography of the medieval and early modern periods. The CONFRASOUND project is based on new research in the archives and libraries of Barcelona, Valencia, Tarragona, Granada, Braga and Prague and the interpretation of that data through adapting methodologies from other disciplines – notably cultural history, social anthropology and sound studies – and through the use of digital humanities tools such as digital cartography and its related analytical database. Study of the urban ritual generated by confraternities and guilds helps to fill a major lacunae in understanding of the urban soundscape of the period, and it also involves new approaches to analysis of how sound and, more specifically, music functioned within the urban environment and within urban society as a form of communication that contributed to the creation of identity and a sense of belonging to the community.


Main lines of research

  • Confraternities and guilds as music patrons
  • The participation of guild and devotional confraternities in urban ritual
  • Guild and devotional confraternities and the creation of social identity through sound
  • Devotional practice in the urban context
  • The relationship between sound and space in the urban context
  • Mapping the sonic activities of guild and devotional confraternities
  • The contribution of guild and devotional confraternities to daily musical experience in the city


Research team

Principal investigator:  Tess Knighton (ICREA / UAB)

Advisory team: 

  • Jaume Ayats (UAB)
  • Noel O’Regan (Edinburgh University)
  • Jordi Sacasas (Arxiu de Santa Maria del Pi)

Working team: