MIDWAY: The story of a London housing estate told through music and film
'The Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017 has shone a light on forgotten communities in increasingly wealthy areas of the capital. As large, ‘exclusive’ tower blocks increasingly appear in the surrounding area, Midway House is a reminder of the close-knit communities that are being torn apart in a rapidly changing metropolitan landscape. Part ethnomusicological study, part documentary film, MIDWAY is a socially driven work with an aim of celebrating community building in a city that is set on driving vulnerable communities apart.'
- Tom Barnes and Marco Alessi,
Tom Barnes has created and composed an audio-visual documentary in collaboration with Sound and Music and filmmaker, Marco Alessi, telling the story of a typical London housing estate and its residents. Intrigued by this union of architecture, communities and music, we were lucky enough to go its premiere at Islington Metalworks in Angel.
As I found out later in the post-show Q&A, Tom started the project to ‘get to know his neighbours better’, and did so by knocking on various doors and asking them to play ROLI's enviable Seaboard (makes an appearance Ryan Gosling’s synth solo in La La Land, just sayin). The film takes us on a journey around the estate, into different kitchens, bedrooms and hallways to hear each character’s story of how they came to live in Midway House in Islington, ranging from those who have lived there as council tenants when the estate was young, to young professionals willing to pay an arm and a leg to be closer to the centre of the city.
Interspersed between the residents’ monologues is footage of their solos on this curious instrument, a portable, rubbery, keyboard loaded with sounds recorded from around the estate. Using these solos as themes, Barnes composed the soundtrack for the film, which was played by a live string quartet. This gave an amusing, but beautiful sense of gravitas to the abstract improvisations of Midway House’s occupants, whether they were musical or not, and a serene accompaniment to the shots that tour the estate.
MIDWAY offers an impartial commentary on London's current housing situation, straight from the horse's mouth. And the horses, in this instance, are thoughtful, friendly, and often hilarious characters - one of my favourite moments has to be the interview with Ollie (c. 8 years old), and his brother, which features a recital of his poem, 'Sound Is All Around'. The range of backgrounds and opinions bought together in the film is inspiring, and the musical element is a perfect vehicle to reflect this. By removing any boundaries of musical ability with the intuitive usability of the Seaboard, music seems to be the common ground between the residents, echoing the unity in spite of difference that Midway House has motivated.
Not only is MIDWAY a sensory paradise, but it sends a message of conviviality and community against the odds that should be sung from the tops of the highest block, rooftop, or wherever you live.