In this cramped year, hours of podcasts, playlists and television soundtracks have poured over me, taking me out of my four walls. Soundscapes transform space and transport us, saving us from stasis. Marinella Senatore’s song for Ljubljana certainly transported me.
The song was composed by Senatore and Emiliano Branda out of soundbites from an open call to people from Ljubljana. These ingredients included the delicate creak of bicycle spokes, sighing streetcars, crooning buskers and the hubbub of markets, which were cooked into a kind of lively orchestral jazz. The piece was set to playful animations created by students to forge a nugget of the city’s soul. Given the travel restrictions that befell the Europe’s Kitchen project, I thought sound was the perfect medium to jump the hurdle and instantly transform my immediate space. A crackle of speakers and away I went- if I couldn’t go to Ljubljana, Ljubljana would come to me.
I first listened to Marinella Senatore’s song for Ljubljana a week and a half into self-isolation. Taking care of a relative of mine who had Covid while working remotely, the days merged into a slurry of chores, spreadsheets, series and YouTube workouts. What was once a spectre on the news was now coughing through the floorboards, metres away from me.
By the point I’d heard Senatore’s piece, I had been stuck between the same walls long enough that my primary emotional activity became longing. Living in London, I have a love/hate relationship to the bustle peculiar to cities. When the cabin fever set in, I longed for what were once mundane nuisances; the deafening chatter of shopping centres and the squeal of trains. I missed the changes of rhythm and sounds that reiterate one’s place as a cell in the wider urban organism, sounds that make you feel less alone.
The accompanying animations perfectly matched the togetherness, sincerity and spontaneity of the audio. Frenetic lines and shapes traced collages of the city. The changes of pace jumped along with the colourful shapes, creating an immersive spectacle. Small indicators of place such as a boxy Yugo car and the timeless Lljubljanica animated together in a chaotic tour. Though abstract, I conducted the restless energy in the animations and the quotidian orchestra’s lively cacophony. They sparked a fleeting senses of communion.
It was also interesting to hear about Eva Kleinschwärzer’s role of pulling together soundbites earlier in the year from the streets of Ljubljana which would later feature in the piece. The intimacy of the physical encounters came through as Eva mentioned how the bells of Stolnica Sv. Nikolaja and flowing Ljubljanica were particularly important to the Ljubljanians. When I heard bells and water, I recognised it as the harmony of the Thames and peal of St Paul’s, connecting me to these strangers and their love of the city.
“One of the most important issues is the lack of belonging. This can be addressed by creating containers for things to happen”. Explaining her process, Senatore reiterated the importance of taking a step back and tempering the ego, describing having too much of an influence on the music as “abusive”. This resonated with me as I feel like the internet has been a very shouty place as of late- writing this blog on the song for Ljubljana has been a grounding exercise in listening.
Amid a spike of technophobia spawned by Zoom fatigue, Senatore refreshingly champions technology as a means of conveying the intimate. From phone notes, to recordings of silence and calls to friends, Senatore takes a very attentive and respectful approach. She spoke of her responsibility as a composer handling the audio notes, pieces of the contributors, as a matter of human dignity. She described the final piece as “a portrait of memories, wishes, frustrations and dear things”. It was interesting how these snippets were saturated into every second of piece yet one could easily take the composition as something born entirely out of a programme using synthesised samples. It made me more attentive to the hours of music that wash over us each week, something easily taken for granted.
The five minutes and ten seconds of Senatore’s piece is a journey through Ljubljana in timbres and tempos. In conveying the minutiae of Ljubljana, the song made me feel a kind of exhilarating homesickness for city life and its collective thrum. While I have never been to Ljubljana, there was something universally urban in the piece that paradoxically soothed me with its hectic energy. I let this saturate my room. I listened to it over and over again as it sawed through the thick stillness of the days. By the time I took my first walk out of isolation this week, my small neighbourhood ballooned to the largest it’s ever felt.