“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 only one tiny part of Brussels is still officially a swamp. It's the swamp of Ganshoren, a municipality in the west of Brussels. The tiny swamp is ensnared between two 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. The area is 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 filmmaker and 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 was part of the official selection of the , as part of their Bright Future program. The film had its cinematic world premiere at the Rotterdam festival. Murmur was also selected for the and the in Montréal. It won the second prize at , in London (UK).
"The little what rest of the swamp where the city of Brussels was erected, awakens slowly in this intriguing immersive object by Jan Locus and Stijn Demeulenaere. The work stands out with its magnificent black and white photography and its exemplary sound work. In this film anxiety and beauty are one. It's impossible to resist this hypnotic outdoor odyssey." (our translation)
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.