LOCATION: THE ROYAL VICTORIA FOOTBRIDGE
Alberto: This is a very interesting location, the Royal Victoria Footbridge.
For quite some time in the last few years, there were talks about replacing this bridge as a part of the new Royal Docks developments, and this is one of those stories that are quite typical of the kind of planning history of this place. A history of future scenarios, boisterous claims, of massive investments projected and planning permissions that are given, and then of plans which fail to materialise and then become a planning history, that is hardly reconsidered after the next big plans come forth.
This site in particular has been at the centre of decades of possible futures that didn’t happen in the Royal Docks.
We do not have time to get into this, but we are discussing here the new crossing between the Excel and the Millennium Mills that was part of the granted planning permission in 2016 under the name Silvertown Quays to a consortium called Silvertown Partnership.
Alberto Duman: First of all, I think that probably we should acknowledge here that we are really listening to these tracks in a quick succession, as if they were tracks on an album, but of course they're not meant to be heard or experienced this way.
I'm saying that because I guess from my point of view, after having experienced Ecka Mordecai's Swansong which left us so open to many emotional responses, this felt a lot less emotional, and to an extent much more architecturally defined and attuned to the infrastructure in its materiality.
This one [Passing Currents] is really a field recording-centred piece. We hear the sounds of the bridge that we know very well from the type of metal platform and the specific sounds it creates ... it felt like a piece that is asking something to the structure, rather than an interpretation of the structure.
It collects those sounds, it mixes them into a sonic structure of its own, we feel like we are experiencing an actual structure, trying to tell us something. And, obviously after two tracks where voices are so prominent we notice the lack of voices here.
For these and other reasons perhaps I was less moved ... but this is not a judgement, more a question of tonalities and frequencies and the way that we find ourselves embodying these or not. The only other thing I wanted to say at this point is that it's interesting that in this case the musicians acknowledge they've newly arrived in the Royal Docks as residents.
And perhaps that arrival is into a place that is often a lot more silent that other parts of the city .. it is a space that remains still quite alien, and the musicians here are trying to probe, to prompt, to trigger a response using specific recording technology, the various capturing devices, almost like as scientists or explorers, with a sound archeology approach that – rather than being applied to ancient structures – is applied to contemporary ones, and their recent history.
It's as if the structures themselves are the way for them to understand this place they recently moved into...lacking in direct human storytelling, the place itself might have something to say…?
One strange aspect of listening to this piece is that it made the structure feel unstable. I felt like if I was listening to this track on the actual bridge, which might make me feel slightly uneasy? Perhaps that's exactly the point – to reflect the vibrations of the structure?
Joy White: Thanks for giving this kind of context into our listening task. To listen to these tracks in an order that really is quite artificial: we wouldn’t do it that way if we were on site.
For this one, I was interested in what you said: "it felt like it was asking a question but not answering it."
I felt like I wasn't going anywhere, but maybe that was the point? And even though it started off as a kind of soundscape without a rhythm, as it went on, it became more rhythmic and so I felt like I was on the move, but not moved.
When you talked about the instability you felt in your own listening, that was it for me: the instability was the holding on to those two feelings or sensations at the same time [on the move, but not moved.]
I didn't get a sense of any human input into the space of this listening, but again, maybe that's the point. Maybe it is to tell us something about how infrastructures can operate in those sonic landscapes. They dampen down the sound of the human, of the people, but there's also something about it that makes me think ‘I need to listen to that again and see where it takes me this time.
"Of course, so much of the Royal Docks is non-human, to the extent that it is also sometimes a place that dehumanizes you in a strange way, because of the way it is strangely fragmented, with all the crossings and infrastructure that you have to go through to connect with others. And because of all the time that it might take you to meet another human as you cross it."
Aside from some moments of bustle – and particularly for someone who just moved there – one of those strange reactions to being in the Royal Docks is like "Who lives here?’" or "Where are the people?’" Perhaps "What happened to this place?"
It's exactly the transition from a place that used to be so spectacularly full of activities, of work, of that mercantile energy, and people and humanity of all kind [but barred from visitors to see this because it was restricted to those who worked there] that’s kind of baffling to newcomers.
Then the Royal Docks closed and suddenly it supposedly became again a public space, but by and large evacuated by everyone who actually populated it up until that point in time [In terms of density, "London" seems to be very far away, aside from at specific busy places like the UEL campus.]
I think in some strange ways the Docks are still there, hanging on to that long transition. Why else would there be a need for such efforts of ‘placemaking’ if that wasn’t the case?
And that’s also why for newcomers that [who lives here, and where are they?] remains a baffling question.
Aside from the fact that [this emptiness] perhaps brings the pleasures of a more strangely peaceful place. I wonder if that’s why that question, in the case of Passing Currents, is asked of an inanimate, non-human agent which has witnessed people crossing, and using it.
Maybe that’s also the whole drive behind the Musicity project approach?
I mean, the musicians come here asking this to the infrastructure:
- "Please tell me about these people because I don't know where to get the stories of this place ... and maybe YOU [the structures] know something out of your frequency and response?"
- "Maybe, If I beat you with sticks and probe you with devices, maybe you will emanate ‘something’ in sonic terms that I can capture with my instruments and you'll tell me ... if I can read your coded sonic responses?"
But mostly it seems an attempt that is left unanswered.
That's the unsettling character of this piece of music for me, for us. We’d like to go and listen again...maybe we missed something from that beating … ?
It makes me feel like these are also some of the questions that the Real Docks Team are grappling with as they look to create an ‘identity’ for this place.
Knowing from its recent history, how every time, masterplan after masterplan, it has been packaged into a constructed identity. You can see why they probably would think of asking artists and musicians to ‘reveal’, ‘investigate’, make visible, or audible ... "please tell me how to find the voice of this place!"
And that possibly also means that either these responses are not coming from consultations and open voice forums, or the question is how to ‘read’ those voices? Or even, to an extent, a desire to listen to those voices once they are manifested, since they speak from other perspectives – other settlements with the place, other ways of imagining or imaging them?