“Now we are safe. Now we can stand upright again. Now we can stretch our arms in this high canopy, in this vast wood. I hear nothing. That is only the murmur of the waves in the air. That is a wood-pigeon breaking cover in the tops of the beech trees. The pigeon beats the air; the pigeon beats the air with wooden wings”
Virginia Woolf, The Waves
“It hadn't been a different world - it was this world turning a new, unknown side to him. This side was revealed to him for a second and then disappeared, before he had time to figure it out.”
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic
Brussels was built on a swamp, and its name is the Frankish version of “Broekzele”, which means settlement in the swamp, and was the name of one of first settlements on an island in the Zenne river, where the city has its origins. Today, there is only one tiny part of Brussels that is still officially a swamp. It’s the swamp of Ganshoren, a municipality at the western edge of Brussels. The tiny swamp is just 11ha large, or roughly 8 soccer fields. It’s in the middle of the city, ensnared between twee railroad tracks. Just behind the tracks the city commences, with high-rise social housing, an industrial area, and just a bit further, the ring road highway that surrounds Brussels. While now a protected nature reserve, throughout the last 50 years, the area was continually threatened by development, in so much that now it is in fact too dry to be a real swamp and should be classified as a marsh, because of preliminary draining works to build another highway. However, the area is still a mix of damp prairies and patches of bushes and trees, and is home to a lot of small wildlife such as birds, rodents, bats, amphibians and even ringed snakes. It’s a small green oasis, in the middle of a concrete landscape. The city completely engulfs it and acoustically permeates it, draping a continuous permeating bassy drone over the landscape.
MURMUR is a collaboration between filmmakerand sound artist Stijn Demeulenaere. On two occasions they went to the swamp in the late hours of the night, just before first light, to record the dawn chorus. A dawn chorus is the awakening of the world, or the biotope. Just before dawn, the animals wake up, almost one species at the time, and start making their presence known, creating a lush symphony like soundscape that lasts till the sun is well up in the sky. At the same time one hears the city awakening in the distance, the continuous bass drone gets louder, the traffic picks up, the overtones of people waking up and getting to work start to disturb the night’s calm.
The city drone permeates the sound of the swamp, and a strange mix enfolds between the sound of an awakening nature and a very human presence. It gives the place a very otherworldly atmosphere during the twilight hours of the morning. MURMUR is a study in sound and image of this place during this blue hour of the morning.
MURMUR is a film by Jan Locus and Stijn Demeulenaere
A special thanks goes to, , Desirée De Winter, Yves De Mey, Fan Yau Wing, and Jannes De Kort.