Third year BA (Hons) Sound for Film & TV student Aaron Kennedy takes us inside his ambitious final year project, 'Lennon-McCartney Geographically'; an immersive soundscape documenting key moments in The Beatles history without ever using their music.
The global impact that The Beatles had in their short lifespan has been exhaustively documented over the years across books, television and film, and with the latter two mediums, their music has always played a key role in telling their story. But what would happen if a chapter of The Beatles' story was told without ever hearing a note of their music? For Aaron Kennedy, this question sparked an idea to create a unique experience that celebrated the relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney and would offer a new experience to fans around the world.
Ask Me Why
"I've never really been into creating conceptual art, but during the innovation module in my third year, Dr. Emmanuel Spinelli introduced me to a lot of really interesting approaches to sound; one of which was a sound walk. Our class spent about an hour walking along the river in the city and silently listening to everything. It got some weird looks, but it was really interesting because there's a whole world of sound there that you just tune out."
This moment would be the inception of Aaron's ambitious project. A big fan of The Beatles, Aaron had recently gone to The Beatles Story Museum as well as the Magical Mystery Tour in Liverpool, and seeing such iconic places in the flesh stirred something in him.
"I've got a weird obsession with locations where things happens. It could be historical, but also carries over to film and my favourite TV series, such as 'Lost'. I've been to Hawaii where it was shot and sought out locations in the jungle where they filmed. I'm not religious person, but it is almost a religious experience that's so physical and tangible.
"I had this idea to try and represent locations from The Beatles history for this piece. This was three or four months before we needed to have the idea, but I was so excited that I called Emmanuel just to talk about it and get his feedback. He really liked the idea, but suggested that it be an audio representation of The Beatles without using any of their music, so that was what I ran with."
There's A Place
With the idea in place, Aaron set about creating the framework that would house the project.
"Using Max, I created a really basic patch that would hold a selection of soundscapes created from field recordings at key locations in Liverpool that I captured myself. The locations were; the gates in front of Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, Mendips bus stop (John's neighbourhood), Forthlin Road bus stop (Paul's neighbourhood), St. Peter's Church Hall and Mendips to Forthlin Road; the walk John and Paul would regularly take to meet at each other's homes."
Initially, capturing these recordings would be as simple as setting up a microphone on location and absorbing the history of the space, but Emmanuel was once again on hand to push Aaron to create something even more immersive.
"St. Peter's Church Hall was where John and Paul first met each other in 1957. John and his band The Quarry Men were playing at a Summer Fair, and Paul really liked what he saw so he went backstage (the church hall) to speak with John after the performance. Originally, I was just going to record the sound of the church hall, but Emmanuel suggested the idea of playing interview clips of John and Paul in that space and recording them.
"When I arrived on the day to record, I set up the speakers where John was sat and then set up the microphone roughly by the door where Paul would have been and simulated that first meeting. It was a really cool idea to run and quite personal and emotional because I was making John and Paul's voice fill that room again.
"I took inspiration from Alvin Lucier, specifically 'I Am Sitting in a Room' and recorded five versions in the hall to get a range of sonic profiles, as both John and Paul are unintelligible, it's just the tonal qualities of their voices in that space. For me, that was the exciting part; putting them back in that room. I hit play just as a test for a few seconds then hit stop and listened to the sound fill this huge space. All I could hear was the reverb of John's voice surrounding me, which was an incredible feeling, especially from a nerdy Beatles perspective!"
A Day In The Life
Aaron's desire to push for a more immersive project didn't stop with St. Peter's Church Hall. With John and Paul's relationship at the centre, the need to put himself in their shoes came through in his recordings.
"I knew at an early stage that I wanted to record a sound walk between John and Paul's house, because it was the core of the idea for me. Everyone walks to their friends house and doesn't think anything of it, and only John and Paul experienced that journey in that way. Initially, I questioned whether hearing my footsteps on the recording would be appropriate, but I decided that every recording needed to emulate and embody these innocuous trips John and Paul made. I deliberately took older lanes that were more likely to have been there 60 years ago and made sure that the sound of the concrete, the leaves on the ground, all that stuff became a part of the sound walk.
"I also did some specific bus stop recordings outside John and Paul's houses because they both have a little bus stop a few feet away from their front door. When I was recording I thought to myself, If John was getting the bus, he would be sat here and the road and then the vehicles would be coming passing. This is what he would hear and the same with Paul. This is the acoustic journey they would go on."
Though the music of The Beatles was absent from the project, it still played a huge role in helping Aaron get into the right headspace.
"I listened to the Beatles all the way there and then all the way back because like, why wouldn't you [laughs]? When I was in the hall and I had everything set up, I put on my headphones and listened to 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. It's one of my favourite songs, but I just wanted to take that moment to enjoy it almost independently of the project; just being in the space and being on my own and having it all to myself.
"I was sat right where John would have been and I just reflected on the fact that this was where it all started; literally right there. A person just looked up and saw someone that would change their life forever. I guess it gets a bit like overly deep, but that's what I really enjoyed about the project it definitely helped to get me in that headspace of being emotionally ready to embark on this day of recording across the city."
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