MxCM – Tania Nwachukwu & Bump Kin
Tania Nwachukwu is a Nigerian-British writer, poet and performer from London whose storytelling springs from profound, personal matters and from the lives and experiences of Black communities in Britain (see her project Black in the Day). Tania is supported here by fellow Barbican Young Poets Alumni, music producer and beat maker Bump Kin (Gabriel Jones).
For Musicity x Culture Mile, Tania and Bump Kin created a piece in response to the space of Citypoint.
Here, they share their insights:
Citypoint itself is a concrete clearing in a forest of towering glass and chrome. A public not-so-public pedestrianised walk-through walled by office with a skirting board of Pret, Costa and places to grab a wine after work. At 11am on a Monday it seemed to be relatively quiet, but actually there is a thundering alive hum; a white noise of lights, air vents and electricity. The sounds of cars and the city are deferred the background. Bump Kin got there first. Walking around with audio interface, laptop and cables in his hands and holding up an SM58 to air vents looking a bit like a hacker.
The specific point in Citypoint that was being responded to is a covered walkway between a giant glass monolith of office space. The walk has a cavernous high ceiling that curves upwards. Bump Kin had his laptop out, recording the whole hour that was spent walking and conversing through the initial responses, an introduction from Solen (Musicity) and several explanations to suspicious security guards. Tania spent most of the visit looking upwards, enjoying sound of her claps echoing along the glass, towards the sun.
Bump Kin’s initial response to such spaces is ‘conditioned’ (he admits), based on negative associations with corporate and consumer use of space and a fascination with the amount of human hours and technology that go into creating material structure of this size, coupled with the fact it doesn’t seem to marry to what satisfies us as human. His first attempt at a track ran with this pre-conceived notions, sampling one security guard saying ‘No’ with a minor chord melodica riff and some ominous bass. It was rubbish; a response to his narrative and not really the space.
In the conversation, Solen (Musicity) commented this covered walkway was a sort of ‘uncharted cathedral’ and this became the jump-off for the next version. Lost cathedral seemed to be more what the actual space was; echoes that fly upward and the sun that beams down through the glass.
Bump Kin’s workflow comes from a tradition of beatmaking and sampling on Ableton.
For the base of this new track he sampled a lo-fi piano, chopping it to a rhythm then adding filtered delay and reverb until it sounded relatively ‘cathedrally’ and like it was similar sonically to the field recordings. He chopped up claps, laughs, conversation section had in the space and a particularly enthusiastic air vent. Some of these are left evident with the spatial acoustics audible and some have been incorporated as percussive elements or processed so they blend into the soundscape. The track turned out to be dream-like it a bittersweet way following the ‘lost cathedral’ motif.
Bump Kin sent Tania the beat and she wrote a poem and song in response, using some of her initial writings from the field visit. Tania thought a lot about the light that breaks into the walk-way and how the fractured glass structure facilitates that. She was particularly interested in the feeling of sun on skin, and the reminder of the outside within a space surrounded by offices, metal and glass. How easy it is to forget simple beauties when one is marching to the rhythm of London life. The perspective of her writing and what she saw in the space lends to a beautifully nuanced response. Her perspective itself is almost a hidden cathedral, there is abundant light and grace in the lens of her poem; it teases out the human in the heavy layer of brick and concept that make up such city spaces; focusing on the builders posing like dandelions’ and the ‘delicate wrist flick’ of the Barista pouring water over coffee.
The poem was recorded using a futon on its edge curved into a semi circle, providing a sturdy sound booth. This gives a clear focused narration to contrast the echo and reverb of sounds fling around. As the listener is guided to look at the space with gentle and forgiving eyes. The song was recorded in the high-ceilinged room next to kitchen in Bump Kin’s house, using the natural reverb of the space and little processing. As the song breaks later in the track Tania sings this repeated lullaby, opens up the space, internal and external that encourages something old and healing to slip back in between the modern architecture.
‘A Synonym For Light’ by Tania Nwachukwu & Bump Kin releases May 18 as part of Sound Unbound 2019.
To listen to ‘A Synonym For Light’, open the Musicity x Culture Mile Web App and go to CityPoint Brookfield!
Photo credit: Mark Allan.