A musical map of a city as told by its inhabitants. The Sounding City project, exhibited at Bristol’s Architecture Centre, and run by artist Jennie Savage is a fascinating exploration of what makes a place through a sense that we all have but rarely use in creating meaning.
Commissioned by The Architecture Centre as part of their ‘Our Place’ programme, Sounding City involved travelling around the area throughout 2016, and asking people for their thoughts, feelings and experiences about where they live. Artists were then asked to respond to these community sentiments through music, an audio transcription of their home and habitats. The result was a ninety minute long LP where 600 stories were turned into twelve songs that, as the Architecture Centre explain, are ‘ as a tuning fork – taking the measure of place through musical interpretation, and that the songs produced are a diffraction or a kind of reverb resonating like ripples across the city.’
Jennie’s work is grounded in the theory of cartography and psychogeography, but is site specific, and artistic. This blurring of creativity, physical place and intellectual ideas work is fundamental to ‘re-inscribing a place with its own narrative….allowing us to experience its complexity and the value of our story in it.’
Throughout the music we hear conversation and activity, clashes and extremities alongside the harmonies. The songs are communication in themselves, expressing the less tangible nature of a place that we forget about, those far beyond its physicality. Atmosphere, culture, belief, social networks, freedom, routine – all play a part in the identity of a place.
For Jenny ‘this is political. As cities have increasingly become places you visit rather than a part of, this is a way for people to take ownership of their townscape. Through this work I would like to state that cities are for people and should be spaces we are the co-creators of…where we can think about what architecture and town planning does and look at its end point – which is individual experience, collective narrative and shared stories. To explore the idea that cities are not simply buildings, they are what happens between people around buildings and on the streets.’
Our location is not a passive player in our lives, and just as we affect our environment, it impacts us. It’s this that makes a place become like home, or attached to particular memories. Sometimes we don’t see a place, instead relying on past knowledge to create a picture in our minds.
Jenny explains that ‘As we walk through an environment we develop an intimate knowledge of it which is at once the interpretation of what we see and, as our familiarity increases, this becomes entwined with our own store of memories and experiences. In this sense we digest the built environment and it becomes a language for us which is like a two – way mirror. Our landscape tells us who we are and what our place is within it, how we interpret this is extremely nuanced.’
There’s a vast variation in the genres, styles and subjects. Gill Simmons & Paul Lawless song about Georgian Waitrose is humorous, Alexandra Hamilton Ayres created a more abstract response to the line Tower Blocks and Terraces, and Joe Walker and Lewis Toghill made a beautiful piece which drew on a field recording they made with a busker.
Although the tracklisting does not follow any route, it would be fascinating to use the record as a guide to the city, and explore it as you walk it. If nothing else it’s an inspiration to pay attention to the world around you – your world.
For more on Bristol’s Architecture Centre and its community work, visit here.