“Place and sense of place do not lend themselves to scientific analysis for they are inextricably bound up with all the hopes, frustrations, and confusions of life…” (Relph) 1
With some albums, it would not matter if the listener knew the background to the tracks and sat content in their own interpretations, even applications.The latest offering from Over The Hill (OTH) Collective, ‘Room Songs’ has its own documentary of the same name produced by Film Maker Matty Killen with Jonny Woods on sound.
The camera follows four older male musicians living alone, during a national lockdown in the wake of their industry being decimated. The narrative explores the thought processes of trying to deal with living with the same four walls for months on end. An experience that serves to divide us; but the creation and sharing of music did unite us.
The intellectual interrogation for these four musicians went thus:What does your room say to you? What do you say in reply? Can I write music to describe this? ‘Room Songs’ is the progeny of this collective process. The making of an accompanying film, as opposed to a series of videos, was a new departure for OTH. Never ones to shy away from something new, they really pushed the boundaries of their creative process in lockdown and previous ways of working. Perhaps there was little left to lose.
“After we all chatted via Zoom it felt like we were all on the same journey, obviously with four very different voices but we did discover a camaraderie there. We had a tacit agreement to be totally honest with both our music and what we might say on the film.”
Sample of the Song writing idea
Sometimes the best place to begin is the end. The track that alerted me to the importance of this album, was closing Track (8), entitled ‘Alpha Omega’. It made me want to immediately listen again and delve deeper into the other tracks.
Paul Kane describes the connexion between the inspiration from the physical space and the energetic frenzy of Yiddish music played on Klezmer-sounding instruments. They serve as a filler in midst of a sombre ‘birth’ and death’ knell via Spoken Word to be heard on ‘Alpha Omega.’
“I remembered that I had read in the original deed, that my house built in 1900 was originally home to two Jewish Cattle Merchants called Moses and Joshua. That was the spark for the idea of my track…..as I thought about Birth, Death and Marriage. I then thought, well if I’m feeling this way about my room maybe others would too? Sometimes the inspiration it not so much waiting for life to begin again, as death pulling you closer. That can be a honing and sharpening spur to action and a shedding of the public perception thereof.
The Concept of Place in Time
A sense of place is determined by a mix of personal experiences, social interactions, and identities. Understanding sense of place in the urban context would be incomplete without a critical consideration of cities as socially constructed both inherited from those who went before and amended by those who live there now. It is defined by those you see, and equally those you avoid. A good sense of place in time will carry a person on a solid bedrock probably for the greater part of their lives, where a negative one will scar them with a sense of recurring displacement and distrust.
A lot of judicious reasoning is carried out in individual ‘hives’/rooms, a lot of direction similarly is found there. Mostly these are decisions to involve other persons, but the room is the only one party to these plans. Rooms carry experience and history within their walls, maybe the womb is classed our first waiting room. It’s a true observation that people build rooms not knowing who will occupy them.
Rooms can be analogies for a lot of phrases or actions in life, letting someone in, shutting someone out (Track 5 ‘Outside In’).
Paul Kane describes a lot of existentialist travels he undertook from his armchair, fleeing his isolation. The power of imaginations knows no limits of time, possibility, or distance.
“I took walks to Greenwich Village in New York, I walked around Broadway in Nashville, to Kigali in Rwanda, to Matagalpa in Nicaragua, and I felt as if my bedroom was facilitating this experience. I started to think about the other rooms in my house, and what my relationship was with them might be…”
I am reminded of ‘This Room’, a poem that is based on Imtiaz Dharker’s own experience whilst living in the city of Mumbai/Bombay. It focuses on the idea that a room can suddenly become unstable and start to fall apart physically.
This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
The bed is lifting out of
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
This is the time and place
to be alive:
The ‘room’ and body habitation become inextricably wound in language. Moreover, the room is a metaphor which stands for personal change within, which affects change without. Rooms are shells, but are bodies too? What if our body is just a shell for the human consciousness/soul and our body isn’t really ‘us,’ but rather it’s a home for our soul/consciousness to inhabit? There would be a different engaging with souls if this was apparent.
Place is “what takes place ceaselessly” 2 Alan Pred, 1984
Room Songs is a unified work, almost imbued with a spiritual song dimension; exhorting us to be grateful for our lives thus far and realising they can be far from over yet.
Heard in the bittersweet work of Chip Bailey on ‘How Did I Get Here’ and ‘Reflections’ (“a dangerous pastime”), who had one experience of a home bustling like ‘Paddington Station’ to a single bed/single life.
[In fact, the English word “home” is from the Old English word hām (not bacon) which actually refers to a village or estate where many “souls” are gathered. It implies there’s a physical dwelling involved, but the main idea is that it’s a gathering of people.]
Having empty spaces, but knowing hope, gratitude and memories that can fill them, leaving ‘room’ for something new maybe that hasn’t yet been prescribed or even defined. The furniture is the strength, wisdom and opportunity-taking to go from A to B…..“Change is everything now.”
There is an experimentation with sound as not ventured by OTH before, ‘Entropy’ by Jon Moorehead is bold and expansive, based around experimental riffs, yet carefully pared and balanced. It and ‘Outside In’ vaunt a big statement guitar sound. Obviously for the Collective to have taken the keyword ‘room’ and shaped an entire album around it would be characteristic of their writing process, but I don’t think one concept has been the basis of their entire work before. This ‘one hack’ approach to creative endeavour to making an album and/or to end creative stasis.
Kane summarises, “I think we exceeded all our expectations in this project. There were times when it was difficult to produce something creative, but we had an idea to work from, we did not have to come up with a complete concept and the premise was open enough to include any really off the wall ideas as well. We were all in this to make the best film we could and having both Matty and the Jonny Woods on sound meant that we could be sure of a broadcast quality piece of work. Apart from the content, the audience commented very positively on both the look and sound of the film, which was brilliant!” Another creative device seemingly at work was the film genre influencing the song style. Kane admits he “tried to think in a more cinematic way to express myself.” I see this theatrical expanse and story running through ‘Doppleganger’ and ‘It Wont Always Be Like This’ by Bernard Jackson.
On next steps Kane is optimistic, “We hope to try and use the idea with both the members of OTH and potentially as part of workshops with older people.”
I think. because of the common experience of pandemic, although affecting each and every one in disparate and unequal ways, this project has immense resources to offer all generations. It knits together intergenerational experiences of dealing with threats to continuance of life itself and the different approaches to such from the rooms of history.
The Room Songs album can be found at the link below
And the documentary can be seen below
1 – Seamon, David & Sowers, Jacob. (2008). Place and Placelessness, Edward Relph. 10.4135/9781446213742.n5. accessed at https://www.academia.edu/10820364/PLACE_AND_PLACELESSNESS_1976_Edward_Relph_2008_
2 – Allan Pred (1984) Place as Historically Contingent Process: Structuration and the Time- Geography of Becoming Places, Annals of the Association of American Geographers,Vol. 74, No. 2 (Jun., 1984), pp. 279-297
Post-script from an affordable architecture website: https://the-opendoor.net/what-makes-a-house-a-home/
A home is a place of refuge. A person’s most personal belongings are kept in a home and it’s where a person feels safe and accepted. A home tells a story and expresses a person or family’s interests. To create a home requires an emotional connection and sense of belonging, not physical things.
A house can be a home but a home can’t be a house. You can live in a house that doesn’t feel like a home. Or you can find “home” in a house that isn’t yours because home isn’t a physical construct, it’s a feeling. To be a home, it needs to feel comfortable, like a place you belong to and are at peace with.