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Binaural babies, family-friendly raves, heritage and history: inside Roxana Vilk’s Lullabies Project

Roxana Vilk has spent the three years collecting Lullabies. Beginning in 2018, her aim was to accumulate songs representing the 90 different languages spoken in Bristol.

By Katie Chalk, Arts Editor

Roxana Vilk has spent the three years collecting Lullabies. Beginning in 2018, her aim was to accumulate songs representing the 90 different languages spoken in Bristol. Since then, her search has gone global thanks to a feel-good feature on BBC news. The project hopes to capture the universality of human experience and the potential for the medium of lullabies to pass heritage through song.

On Saturday 19th June, an immersive Lullabies celebration will take place at the Trinity Centre, for whom Vilk is an Associate Artist. The project gives audiences an exciting insight into a so-far unfinished project. Epigram’s Katie Chalk catches up with the forward-thinking artist ahead of the event.

‘I wanted to take the idea of lullabies and swing it on its head and say, what if you could remix lullabies to a really good house beat, or a really good drum and bass beat and actually stay up all night? It’s all material isn’t it!’ Roxana muses.

An immersive light instillation at Trinity Centre provides a backdrop for the project | Courtesy of: Khali Ackford

She is referring to the family-friendly ‘rave’ featuring remixed lullabies by female DJs Marla Kether and Emmy Luscombe which will take place as part of the Lullabies celebration in the Trinity garden.

This merging of the modern and technical with the timeless medium of lullabies sums up the spirit of the project, all aspects of which will be on display at Trinity on Saturday.

Another example is the immersive sound instillation created with Squid Soup and Vilk Collective which is a striking example of new performance and sound technologies. The instillation is a prototype research and development project which is still a work-in-progress.

‘We’ve built this rig into the Trinity space where we’ve been experimenting with turning all these orbs that are hanging in the space… into a specialised instrument. So each of those orbs is a speaker and a mini computer.’

Further development is to take place before Bristol Beacon will be housing the instillation in September, where, Roxanna revealed, she will have a wearable instrument which puts her in control of the sound coming out of the orbs and the lights.

In addition to the rave and instillation, the event will also include an exhibition of portraits by illustrator Jazz Thomson featuring some community contributors, and a Film projection co-created with Limbic cinema.

At the heart of the event, however, are lullabies, which Roxana suggests have a universal power. She explains her anger at the rise in racism and the post-Brexit vision, and how she wanted a project that was ‘community co-created and talked about our shared humanity and how we can have all these differences from the cultures we come from but at the end of the day, at one point we were all babies.’

The city of Bristol provided the perfect starting point for this.

Roxana plays keyboard amongst the immersive light instillation at Trinity | Courtesy of: Khali Ackford

‘It’s open and for that reason I feel very at home here as someone who is of mixed heritage, navigating different languages, and seeing that there are lots of people like me in the city who come with different cultural backgrounds is really inspiring, and something that needs to be celebrated in this city and brought right up to the forefront of how we talk about Bristol.’

The project began whilst Roxana was teaching English to refugee mothers at the Malcolm X Centre and re-captured the importance of passing on heritage through song. The Trinity centre commissioned her to take this idea to the next level, allowing hundreds of people to share their experiences and lullabies which, as Roxana explains, has been far from the ‘fluffy’ project it may seem.

‘It’s really quite a moving, powerful, fragile relationship you have with the person sharing it because they end up talking about perhaps their childhood, perhaps their parenting, perhaps that dark moment in the night when a song comes.’

Rehearsals take place for the live performance | Courtesy of: Khali Ackford

Not everyone who shared with Roxana has been a parent though. She revealed her connections with international students from both Bristol and West of England Universities, many of whom, having moved to a new city during the isolation of Covid-19, share the experience of as Roxana puts it, the ‘craving for the mother tongue.’

As such Roxana insists, ‘It’s much more than a thing for parents, it’s about sharing how music makes you feel.’

The Celebration on Saturday is only a snapshot of a journey which is far from over. Roxana reveals the exciting next stage which involves expanding the use of binaural technology into unexpected new places.

Image captured at a Lullaby workshop in Bristol | Courtesy of: Alexa Ledecky

‘When you were sung to as a baby, if you were lucky enough to be sung to, you were getting a sound bath, you were getting this deep, really powerful sound immersion, and that’s what I want to explore tech-wise.’

Essentially, spatialised sound is created using a head-shaped microphone to mimic the movement of sound into the human ear - creating a 3D effect when listened to though earphones. The Lullabies project, however, will take this a step further with the creation of a binaural baby by Aaron Hussain, which people can hold and sing to.

An example of the binaural baby which people can hold and sing to 

As a result, the sound created will mimic the comforting ‘sonic blanket’ experienced by a small child, rather than through a normal microphone.

Given the year and a half we have had, I am looking forward to attending Roxanna’s Lullabies celebration and absorbing the spirit of community and kindness she so passionately exudes. As Roxanna herself proclaimed to me, ‘music unites us.’

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Featured Image: Khali Ackford

The Lulabies Celebration Day will take place at the Trinity Centre on Saturday 19th June from 11am until 8pm and tickets are sold on a pay-what-you-can basis. You can find more information here.