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Points of Listening #4. Magic and Loss: an evening with David Toop

Review by Cheryl Tipp

On a sunny Wednesday evening a group of listeners came together to join David Toop in an auditory exploration of mystical objects and ancestral sound. The event itself was the latest in a new series of monthly gatherings, organised by Mark Peter Wright and Salomé Voegelin, which seek to encourage and promote collective listening through workshops, soundwalks, screenings, readings, debates and listening sessions.

The chosen venue was London’s Swedenborg Society, established in 1810 with the primary aim of translating and disseminating the works of Swedish scientist and philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. As the  group gathered in the society’s bookshop, thumbing through titles and catching up with friends, a sense of anticipation and excitement began to drape itself around us.

At 19:00 the doors of the lecture theatre opened, the darkness within calling silently to our curiosity. As a natural hush descended over the audience, Toop took his place at the helm, turntable and vinyl at the ready. Watching Toop in the dimly lit room, the only source of illumination coming from the warm glow of a table lamp and a few shards of light breaking through the heavily-blinded windows, it felt as if we were watching somebody at home, moving between their favourite records as the weather raged outside or sleep remained elusive.

The ethereal song of the Rufous-throated Solitaire, taken from Jean Roché’s fabulous 1971 collection ‘Oiseaux des Antilles’, was a perfect bridge into the world of ritualistic songs, whispers, chants and music that was to come. For the next hour we sat and listened, individually and mutually fixated by the rhythms that snaked their way around us. With no playlist to hand, our imaginations were left to roam free and follow these sounds wherever they might lead us. Toop’s movements were equally ceremonial; a table of contents at the front of the stage was slowly constructed as he worked through the recordings, embellished with instruments, literature and the discs themselves. A subtle hint of incense caught at our nostrils, making us question whether this was real or just an olfactory hallucination summoned up by the imaginings of our minds.

Aside from the natural enjoyment experienced by an audience such as this, with hungry ears that are never sated, the practicalities of the event itself made me consider afresh new approaches to collective listening. How commentary or formal introductions are not always necessary, how a lack of information can help focus the ear and inspire complete immersion in the sound, how conversation post-event can be just as effective and complimentary. Information could be gathered and questions answered once the needle had been lifted for the final time and the lights came up, but for me I was content to go away with just my sonic memories, collected during one of the most fascinating listening sessions I have ever attended.

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David Toop website
Points of Listening website