Soundspace, a new radio-based series focused on new modes of listening, presents Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell, a new longform audio work by composer and sound artists Roarke Menzies.
Anamnesis Study: The Little Bell
November 6 & 27 | 12 – 2pm
"Anamnesis... is the often involuntary revival of memory caused by listening and the evocative power of sounds. [...] This effect can span very different periods of time while retaining its intrinsic nature: it can happen on the scale of an entire life – a song that evokes a childhood memory – or a short span of time... The particular timbre of a voice recalls a specific person; a certain song allows one to revisit a day in the past; a particular ambiance evokes memories of years past. Thanks to sound, a forgotten moment of our life is restored."
– From Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds, ed. Jean-Françcois Augoyard & Henry Torgue
In the Summer of 2010, as part of research for a video project I was scoring, I was given an untitled MP3 that contained an a cappella recording transferred from vinyl of a men's choir and a soloist singing in a language I couldn't determine. Not knowing at the time who was singing or what was being sung – the unnamed file was one of many in a shared folder dedicated to musical inspiration for the project, yet somehow none of my collaborators knew what it was or where it came from – I was moved by the solemn beauty of the voices, and I decided to use the MP3 as source material for a sound piece, which I recorded that summer.
Years went by, the files sat on my hard drive, and periodically I would revisit them and try to identify the original recording. Finally, in the summer of 2015 – after presumably many advances in Content ID databases – I was able to identify the MP3 using an iPhone app. The song, it turns out, is a traditional Russian folk tune, performed here by the Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda with the Russian Men's Chorus. The song's title translates to "Monotonously Rings the Little Bell." In it, a lone traveler describes the singing of his coach driver, as well as the ringing of the coach's bell. These sounds recall memories to the traveler of times gone by, and of the distant fields and forests of his home. The bell echoes. The traveler is reminded of how far he has to go, and he weeps.
The song's lyrics provide a beautifully distilled portrayal of an effect that has long fascinated me. The philosopher and musicologist Jean-François Augoyard, in his book Sonic Experiences, calls it anamnesis, "in which a past situation or atmosphere is brought back to the listener’s consciousness, provoked by a particular signal or sonic context. [...] Sound, and more specifically music, intervenes metaphorically as an open catalyst: the past is not recomposed, with all the details of its authenticity; rather it is presented as an evocation, delimiting a flexible framework that each nostalgia may colour in its own way." Inspired by this revelation, I decided I would revisit the 2010 recording I'd made and turn it into a longer audio work. This is the result.
– Roarke Menzies, November 2016