Sometimes I think storytelling was stalking me like a hunter through my childhood, or perhaps not storytelling but one particular story. It’s a story about a place, and the place was where I grew up. But the story in question is very deep and mysterious, and like all deep stories it seems to be sentient with a will of its own. But of course that’s just a way of talking. The truth is it is us that is deep and mysterious, our minds sentient and unfathomable, and the places that we inhabit are by extension magical. It is this simple truth, this little spark of wonder that arcs between story and place that lit up my childhood, and has led me like a torch ever since.
That’s not to say that all the stories I tell are about places, but certainly all of them are places. They are landscapes in themselves and I love storytelling because I love stepping into them, finding their geography in my body, in rhythm, gesture and movement, or in my voice through language and song. At the same time familiar and new, ordinary and extraordinary, they are like well-trodden paths that never cease to surprise, and it’s like walking in a spiral that leads inwards but never takes you from the space you’re standing in. Storytelling (the word itself made up of two words: story and telling, the story concerning an ‘other’ place and the telling concerning the here and now) is an expression of the fundamental tension in our physic architecture between being here and being somewhere else, and its power is that it shows us that life is more porous than we think, and that we are more luminous and spacious than we appear, and that the universe is breathing.
The move to perform online during the pandemic posed huge challenges to this, but restrictions inevitably lead to new freedoms and I have become fascinated by audio performances, whether live or recorded. Not only can audio invite a particularly deep level of intimacy, but all my interests around sense of place and embodiment that were key to my work prior to the pandemic are translated into projects in which places and the voice are in conversation. So I have started to make podcasts in which I record a place in binaural, super, high-quality, then tell the story of the place and, in conversation with another storyteller begin to unravel the story to find it’s universal themes. Finding the universal in the particular.
Also, the exploration of audio has enabled to experiment with sound and music in ways I had not before. Using loop systems, electric harp and various processing effects I have stumbled into exciting territories where the relationship between music and voice is fresh and new to me. This has been of huge value to my live performances too, as I learn to improvise with the new technology. Needless to say, I’m having a huge amount of fun!
But without doubt, now I am in new artistic territory, without many of the old parameters to guide me, and it’s very scary. I don’t know where my work is leading me, don’t know what it will look like, and don’t know how helpful my instincts will be on the journey. However, I draw deeply on the strength of the oral tradition, of the power of the story being told, and hold close the memory of those who have helped and inspired me before, which gives me some courage to find my way through the new world that lies ahead.
Name: Nick Hennessey
Residence: Near Kendal, Cumbria, UK
Employment: Full-time freelance storyteller and musician