Revenu talk about Hull past and present, collaboration and the creative process

We asked Revenu (Liam van Rijn and Joseph Bird) to talk to us about the new piece we’ve commissioned them to create as part of Hull Jazz Festival’s 25th birthday celebrations this November…

What’s your approach to a commission like this, that combines audio and visual elements?

We started by obtaining a variety of field recordings from places all over the city, the plan being to manipulate the sounds and weave them into the performance. As the premise of  the project concerns the ‘sound of Hull’ it made sense to start on the streets, collecting the genuine article. Incidentally this has gotten us thinking about the city whilst also providing a few locations that have been useful for filming.

We’re both quite tune orientated, but for this project it feels more appropriate for the music to drift so as not to intrude on the imagery. When writing parts we try to keep it quite loose, with emphasis on the spaces between the notes.

The accompanying video has a loose narrative, a journey through Hull over the course of a day, and one of the things we’re thinking about is how much the music should/could reflect the changes that are happening on screen; time of day, weather, subject matter etc…

We’re not trying to be genuine; we just see the piece as being an alternate soundtrack to the city.

Liam van Rijn and Joseph Bird

Revenu – Liam van Rijn & Joseph Bird (c) Jamie Akrill

Your new piece draws on Hull’s historical heritage and its contemporary culture. What elements of the city’s history have you found yourselves most drawn to, and why do you think they resonate with you?

Wandering around the wasteland of St. Andrew’s dock the other day, its deep locks all silted up, there’s still a sense of scale and the economic prowess the fishing trade once commanded in the city when confronted by the colossal ‘Lordline’ and ‘Bullnose’ buildings, long since abandoned and vandalised.

It’s quite a melancholy place, and I’m strangely attracted to these ghostly shells that are the only remnants of an area once teeming with activity.

Like any other city, Hull is built on the bones of an older one; its functions and purpose vastly differing from the one that stands today. There’s still a dialogue between these two eras and it’s present in things like faded signs on the ends of terraces, former warehouses now converted into flats, (some with winches still attached) and on roads where cobbles peek out from crumbly tarmac.

The local Flashback newspaper, which shows pictures of Hull’s past, is great to see how the landscape of the city has changed over the last century.

The visual part of the piece tells the story of the city through things that are everywhere and overlooked. Why was it important for you to focus on the things that people might pass by every day without noticing?

Sometimes there is just as much drama going on in disused streets and quiet residential areas than outside clubs and on busy junctions. It’s a drama of a different sort. For some reason it made sense to show the unnoticed and inconsequential things to best illustrate ‘business as usual’; the million acts of normality that occur daily in a city.

Taking these things out of context and seeing them isolated and enlarged, they take on a different persona and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

When filming I try to avoid anything that has been deliberately placed to draw the eye, (fountains, statues etc.) not out of any system, but because it’s difficult to get an interesting/original shot out of them. So no sunsets over the Humber bridge I’m afraid…

I’m finding that the bits that are embedded in the background often allude to the genuine history of the place, be that industrial, cultural or natural.

People don’t really feature in the film, which gives the impression that Hull is a bit of a ghost town, but the thinking behind it is that we tend to emote more if other humans are involved and I wanted it to come from a more dispassionate place.

The performance of the piece in November will feature a variety of electronic and acoustic instruments. Can you give us a sneak preview of the instruments and musicians you’ll be working with? And what’s your approach to collaborating with other musicians?

We’ll be working with a group of dignitaries who we’ve collaborated with previously, and all happen to be from Hull: James Rushworth (percussion), Pete Minns (saxophone) and Will Blake (bass).

The piece will also feature a smattering of synths, samplers and drum machines.

We improvise quite a bit when we play together, which churns out lots of potential material. Playing in a group, things invariably happen in the moment that can be missed at the time or can never seem to be recreated when you have another go at it, so recording everything is a pretty integral part of our process as it means we can sift through and extract the interesting bits later.

We’ll sketch out a part if we have something particular in mind for a musician and they’ll usually play around with it until they find a version of it that works for them, this keeps the music from feeling less rigid too.

It’s a constant back and forth trying to refine ideas and arrangements.

You can see the premiere of Revenu’s new work at Hull Truck Theatre on Friday 17 November at 7pm, along with the world premiere of a new piece by guitarist Stuart McCallum. You can find more information and booking details here.

The new work has been commissioned with the support of the PRS Foundation.

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