Tilly and I have been taking part in a fascinating afternoon of Disability Awareness Training at SENSE HQ. One of the exercises involves us putting on ear protectors and blindfolds, we are then given a sealed padded envelope with bits in. I open my envelope and tip what feel like different sized bits of plastic onto the table. I become totally absorbed in playing with these pieces, creating mental and acoustic images of what they are, enjoying the variety of smooth and sharp textures. My sense of time seems to change as I forget about the room around me. When we take our blindfolds off I look at all the plastic pieces scattered across the table in front of me. To my right Tilly is staring at her perfectly formed toy plastic snake.
I've been thinking a lot about the concept of presence, the idea of experiencing a mediated environment as though it were unmediated. There seems to be a great paradox; the more we increase presence through the taking away of particular perceptual stimuli, the more we reach out in compensation.
Also in mind are the comments of artist Aaron McPeake that "if you're blind you don't develop superhuman hearing, or any other perceptual facility, you learn to use what you've got."
One of the most poignant and moving moments that I've experienced in a long time occurred during a vocal solo when one of the SENSE support workers pointed out that it was probably the first time the participant had heard her own voice. Through digital transformation and with the participant leaning over and touching the audio monitor she was able to feel every murmur. As Stephen Connor suggests, it's through our vocal sounds that we not only give our voice to the world but give the world its voice
The first sessions with the members of SENSE were as exciting as they were scary! It's been funny to observe how some of the support workers often seem more challenged by the activities than many of the users. Our 'band' is going from strength to strength, with some great trios, duos and solos taking place as well as full ensemble moments.
I've been having some great conversations with some of the SENSE staff, one of these found us enthusing over how working with groups such as this one can really impact on creative, technological developments in an artists field of work. In researching new creative tools for our group I'm constantly reminded of parallels in current creative research between the fields of disability and the creative arts. Tools being developed for those with disabilities of exciting opportunities for artists.
I've spent some of the last week rethinking ways of using more traditional instruments such as drums by combining them with live-electronics. I originally introduced drums and other percussion into the ensemble as a means of working with rhythm and tempo. However drums in particular have been really popular, often more so than the different midi-controllers we've also been using. It's obvious that generally traditional percussion still provides a much more meaningful physical interface than trendy midi controllers. Tomorrow we'll be contact miking the drums and processing the results.
We've started spending some time outside of Park Theatre, recording the local environment. I'm generally used to going field-recording on my own but the experiences of some of the group have reminded me what a collaborative act it can be!
We've been conducting today, trying ways of communicating normally visual instructions in different ways. I've realised that sight isn't a pre-requisite for a successful conductor.
The ensemble pieces are really starting to come together and it's great to see personal instrumental techniques, with some really virtuosic moments occurring. It's that time of the project where there seem so many possibilities. This week I'll be recording with and through hearing aids that I've bought.
Spent day in studio mixing some of our recordings and attaching surface transducers to the table. The group have generated so much material and I'm finding it hard to let the sounds "speak for themselves" and not impose too much personal taste!
Working with the group, both Sense users and carers, over the last couple of months has led me to think that the affordance of possibilities offered by any musical environment is as wide and varied for those with disabilities than those without. To therefore talk in terms ability in relation to music seems ludicrous.
Steve Goodman in his book Sonic Warfare talks about a 'politics of frequency', were music and sounds outside of those normalised by mainstream society are signifiers of the predicament and experience of marginalised social groups.
These use of these frequencies holds radical potential for marginalised groups and can lead not only to an understanding of their situation but of our sonic environment in general.
"Space is not only high, it's low. It's a bottomless pit."
I've spent some of the last couple of weeks since the performances at Park Theatre editing the recordings of the three ensemble improvisations.
What impresses me in particular is the consistency of each improvisation, especially in terms of individual reactions to the material produced by others and the tightness of the ensemble.
It's probably part of the creative condition that leaves you highly critical of outcomes, saying this foremost in my mind was to help produce an uncompromising piece of music terms of expectations and the type of material produced and I think we managed this. Above all, I wanted to reaffirm and demonstrate the power of collective musical experience.