City, University of London
By Sam Pryce
Field recording observes the spontaneous and un-orchestrated noise – both natural and manmade – that occurs in the world around us. Its musical potential was discovered by 20th-century avant-garde and ambient composers, and it’s one of the main preoccupations of composer, DJ and sound artist Tullis Rennie. Over the course of this concert at City University, Rennie’s music explored the relationship between sound, place and the self.
The concert began with what Rennie described as ‘an annotated soundscape’ called ‘Carioca Sound Stories’, comprised of field recordings and music accumulated in Rio de Janeiro over the course two months in 2014. They were accompanied by projected annotations that described the thoughts and feelings Rennie experienced on revisiting these sounds. A collage-like composition, it evoked the dynamism of the city and all its contrasts.
As well as conveying a sense of place, Rennie’s field recordings are concerned with our personal responses to sound. The piece ‘Muscle Memory’ involved an obsessive discussion between the composer and his friend Graham South on a specific orchestral recording of the Miles Davis song, ‘So What’. Here, Rennie intended to show ‘how many memories can be held in a single moment … and how much influence that moment can have on one’s own musical identity.’
Similarly, ‘Getting Lost’ – a collection of ‘sound diaries’ exchanged between Rennie and the musician-singer Isobel Anderson – dwelt on their individual reactions to their environment as they wandered through the countryside. Despite Rennie residing in Derbyshire and Anderson in the Scottish Hebrides, there were stark similarities between their spontaneous narration.
The traditional objective of field recording is to capture extraordinary, spontaneous sound that occurs during recording. However, Rennie became interested in the bland, uninteresting background noise we hear every day, but often ignore. In the live piece ‘Snapshots’, Rennie mixed train noise, commonplace buzzes and rumblings recorded around London with live improvised trombone and electronics. The result was a compelling and sensitive ‘audio photograph’ of the strange, quotidian drones we tend to block out.
With his unique combination of experimental electronics, improvisation and field recording, Rennie’s music seems to reach towards a hyper-realist kind of ambient. His pieces are sensitive to the importance of noticing sound, however subtle, and its evocative qualities. Vividly atmospheric, they plunge you in the moment, listening carefully to the world around you.