I am sat in a corner of the city. Before me a mural extols the virtues of J. Arthur Rank. Above me the sun blazes from an azure blue sky, and emanating in the heat of the late afternoon, a soundscape. I hear bird song and bees drone; wind and water; the sound of a stick running against a metal railing… all sounds found, and recorded within the immediate surroundings of the urban farm Rooted in Hull.
These are the opening strains of [resonance] a sound art project led by musician and composer Stewart Baxter, who aims to create new work, build and nurture collaborations between different artists and community groups, and then share/perform the resulting soundscapes within those communities.
The work feels playful and engaging and by shutting my eyes I allow myself to be transported. The sounds coalesce into repeated patterns, aural motifs that over time become familiar, so much so I begin to anticipate them. I reach a state of calm, you might want to call it meditative, as I wait for and am rewarded by the sequence’s reappearance at the same intervals.
I’m reminded of the many hours I spent sat in Red Gallery on Osbourne Street listening to strange sounds on a Sunday afternoon. Where the hardiest of live art aficionados had dragged themselves from the comforts of home, to sit on hard floors, as a sonic wizard or three crouched, over a board of blinking lights and wires, to conjure crunchy digital concerti.
Listening together. Each and every one of us entranced by the music. It’s a shared experience but one in which the listener is taken to their own realm of imagery and imagination.
The looped sounds are interspersed with live instrumentation from Mark Slater on piano, lever harp played by Stephanie Halsey, and on guitar Stewart. From my vantage point I can see him busily turning dials, increasing and decreasing reverb and echo, as the sounds become distorted.
Suddenly the harp, those long strings thought only capable of producing soothing crystalline sounds, becomes angry, brash and demanding, jolting the audience from their reverie.
The muso in me reaches for comparisons: oh it sounds like the ambient genius Morris Gould; now early Future Sound of London; this some how feels like Mogwai or Johnny Greenwood off of Radiohead, and here, as the sounds of the natural world come back to the fore, we are returned blissfully and somewhat nostalgically to Chris Watson territory.
Hearing the work in its own environment, in the open air, enhanced the experience threefold, something about being there at that time, listening to a one-off performance, a meeting between improvised and recorded sounds; a meeting of communities, that feels very special.
The uniqueness of the experience was underscored when upon overhearing Stewart describing the joy he derived from recording the natural world. He spoke about how each and every sound, the conditions and characteristics of the place from where they are found, are completely unique. and that no matter how you might try, you can never recreate that exact same moment, that exact same sound ever again.
RESONANCE – Live tape loop & found sound performance by Stewart Baxter was made possible by the support of Sound and Music, Back To Ours and Rooted In Hull.