Monthly Archives: June 2016

Partly political broadcast

This week, I had planned to write a blog post breaking my own rule and talk about politics, briefly, with regards to the EU referendum, which has pretty much dominated conversations online and off for the last month, and frankly made it tricky to concentrate on getting any artwork done. On Wednesday, when there was a jolly scene on boats on the Thames, I’d got everything lined up ready to write. And then, as I’m sure you know, events took a much darker turn. As a result, I’ve chosen not to wade into things, but instead to tell a little story about how I became a teacher, and the EU’s surprising part in it all.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I ran a record label called Wasp Factory Recordings, which was successful in every way except financially. We had not one person on our crew who was any good at sales, but despite this we had some brilliant adventures, played some legendary shows and put out some amazing albums, a significant number of which are still in my mum’s loft. Whilst running the label, I was doing a lot of other music related things at the same time – working as a sound and lighting engineer, booking bands for showcase gigs, and producing the odd demo for local acts. All good fun, but none of which did appreciably more than pay the bills.

Whilst booking a room for a band to record their demo in – a local community centre with some recording equipment neglected in a corner – I enquired as to who was in charge of the space, and was told that the previous manager had left, that the funding to renovate the space was available but they didn’t have anyone who could continue the project, and was I interested in helping out? I grabbed the chance with both hands and gave it a hug. This turned out to be the beginning of my current career path, and within a couple of months I was working with local bands, and then students excluded from school and young offenders.

Then one day I saw an advert asking for someone to manage a music project going into schools and working in pupil referral units (PRUs), with NEETs (those not in education, employment or training) and other youngsters having a tough time at school. To my delight and surprise, I aced the interview and thus was born the In Tune project, based at Stroud College. For the next 2 years I worked with an awesome team running what I still regard as one of the best projects I have worked on. We would go into schools and PRUs for 3 weeks at a time, working with the students that other teachers were struggling to engage or, in some cases I’m sad to report, had given up on. Through a mixture of enthusiasm, naivete and a cavalier approach to the qualification I was supposed to be teaching, we were incredibly successful at re-engaging those we worked with, and many of them went on to study music or work in the creative industries. We gave 200 young people at risk of dropping out of education – and in some cases, society – the opportunity to be part of a team working together on something creative, and for the many, this was one of the few positive educational experiences they had since leaving Primary school.

And here’s the key bit – this project was funded by the EU, via the European Social Fund, which gave grants specifically to help underprivileged people across Europe. Without it, there would have been no In Tune project, and I doubt if I would have been given the opportunity to go on and become a qualified teacher and continue to be an advocate for providing transformative experiences for those facing barriers to mainstream education. The money we got was generous, and although there were intended outcomes (which we exceeded), we were given a level of freedom to run the project how we thought would work best, the likes of which I have not experienced since in my teaching career. Looking back, it remains a brilliant model on how music projects can be run and how massive their impact can be.

We’ve heard a lot over the last month or so about the EU, the supposed costs and ‘red tape’, but not enough has been said about all the positive work the EU funds for those who have had less opportunity in life. They have quietly and without fanfare provided a significant amount of money and assistance which has helped to change people’s lives, and in many cases plugged the gaps that have been left by recent government funding cuts. If we leave the EU, we will not be able to access this funding, and the work that I and countless others do for those in vulnerable situations could be severely compromised.

If you’ve made up your mind about the referendum, I’m not going to try and convince you to change it. However, if you haven’t decided yet, or are not fussed either way, I have a simple request – please consider those less fortunate than yourself when deciding how to vote on Thursday.

I think we achieve much greater things when we collaborate and work together than when we compete.

Sorry I’m late, miss…

The more observant of you will have noticed that I didn’t manage to hit my Sunday deadline for a blog post this week, for lots of reasons… which will make up my blog post this week.

preservation-201x300Almost all weekend I’ve been preparing music for our performance at The Wilson Art Gallery takeover, called PRESERVATION which is on this Saturday (18th June) from 6-10pm (free entry). I’ll be performing a temp0rary set with Adrian Giddings – and as is our way, what started off as a small-scale, straightforward event soon spiralled out of control.

The idea of temp0rary was to be a ‘band’ in the loosest sense that did A/V performances where it would be impossible to put on the same show twice, were every element was constructed live, and which could respond to the audience – even allowing them to take control of the show at points. We’ve performed our own shows and done some incredible collaborations with other artists in all creative fields. The show for PRESERVATION, called Suggestion Box, is actually a prelude to a working method we hope to expand in a later work, but the premise is that we will be taking audience feedback and recommendations for the direction of the visuals and music *as we perform it*. I have no idea what will happen, but in preparation, I revisited some of the previous temp0rary tracks, nearly 30 of them, and have been hammering them into a shape were they can be performed all together as a single piece of metamorphosizing work. Should be interesting…

Alongside this work, my wife and I have been popping along to events at Cheltenham Science Festival most evenings, which is a great way to keep the grey matter ticking over. I love the festivals we have locally, and the science festival may well be my favourite – I’m particularly fond of the ‘communicators’ ethic as typified by FameLab, which we saw the final of – I think it sets and excellent example of how dynamic and fun education can, and indeed, should be. Maybe we could have a similar thing for music?

So I was hoping to catch up on the blog on Monday, but I had my final music leader training session with Phil Mullen at BPM in Bristol. These sessions have been absolutely outstanding, and once more I came away with a head full of new ides, best practice, and ambitions to be a better musician and leader in future. This week we were talking about progression, and it reinforced some of my beliefs that music ought not to be seen as a ‘treat subject’, to be offered to students if they do their spelling and sums, with the threat of removal for bad behaviour. I learned about a lot of ongoing research on how music helps people to develop important interpersonal, emotional and cognitive intelligences, and it strengthened my resolve to go out, change lives and blow minds.

And in between the gaps I have been keeping the plates spinning for my Mix & Mash summer school as part of the Of Course We Can programme, preparing the performances (multiple; four at last count…) for the Cheltenham Music Festival between 9th & 16th July, and marking late work from tardy students. Anyway I’ve got 2 blog posts all sketched out for next time, one about the financial side of being a freelance music leader, and another with some thoughts about a piece of homework I did for Phil about the skills you need to be a community musician. That’s if I don’t fall asleep between now and then…


preservation-201x300Saturday 18th June, 6pm – 10pm
‘PRESERVATION’ – The Wilson Art Gallery Takeover
temp0rary performing ‘Suggestion Box’ – a long-form silent disco performance with audience interaction
Wilson Art Gallery, Cheltenham
Free Entry


Saturday 9th July (Time TBC)
The Great Gamelan Experiment
Performing with a gamelan orchestra and live electronics
Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry


Sunday 10th July (Time TBC)
Live Electronic Music show & tell
Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Sunset-Lumiere_600-210x300


Saturday 16th July, 7.30 – 10.30pm
Sunset Lumiere
temp0rary performing a full A/V set with very special guests TBC
Skillicorne Gardens (next to Imperial Gardens), Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry


Sunday July 31st, 6pm
Dali Males
Performing improvised electronics as part of Vinestock Festival 2016
The Vine, Cheltenham
Free Entry


mixandmash2016Monday August 8th – Friday August 12th
Mix & Mash summer school
Friendship Café, Gloucester
£55 for 5 days
See The Music Works website for details

 

The naming of the thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blog from last week, and I have to confess that I may need to go back to that ‘I make music for a living’ statement. It’s not that it’s inaccurate, more that it doesn’t actually cover the most important aspect of  how I make music for a living.

I’ve already discussed in previous blogs what I do, and to some extent what I don’t do. This came up in conversation when speaking to a new client a couple of weeks ago, who asked if I did Music Therapy. In the strictest sense, what I do isn’t music therapy although it shares many of its goals and methods. But to be a qualified music therapist requires years of theoretical study, and a musical proficiency on conventional instruments that remains a barrier to me.

What I do instead doesn’t really have a name yet, and that’s part of the problem. What I’m very good at is taking my 30-odd years of knowledge and love of electronic music and bringing it to bear on the core belief I have that literally everyone has the potential for artistic expression through music – if given the right instrument.

So whilst part of what I do is make music for a living, increasingly, and I feel perhaps more importantly, my job is also to research different ways of making music, and then modify, tweak, hack or build them to the specific needs of those that I work with.

There was a perfect example of this work over the last week. I had done a one to one session with a new client – let’s call her Cee – who has Multiple Sclerosis. She has limited movement, which renders most musical instruments impossible for her to hold, let alone play. In the first session, where I had experimented with some movement based instruments like SoundBeam, I noticed that she had a strong grip in both hands. In between the first and second sessions, I built a music controller that was based on pressure.

What followed was almost unbelievable. Cee was controlling the pitch of a sound through pressure whilst I joined in on keyboard and guitar, playing call and response phrases and pitching notes. She then went on to add movement with her head to play the SoundBeam at the same time, effectively acting as a one-person band.

I’m not the only one doing this sort of work or realising this need – aside from the outstanding work that Drake Music, BPM and similar organisations are doing, there are several inventors and musicians creating exciting projects that have the potential to re-shape music performance. Here are a couple of my favourites:

Firstly, Imogen Heap and her MiMu gloves:

More info here.

And secondly, a Kickstarter for Dato Duo – a synthesiser designed for two younger people to play together:

More info and Kickstarter here.

Part of my goal is to make myself obsolete, which might sound like a strange endgame, but hear me out… What I would ideally like to do is to work with people who want to make music and help to break down any and all of the barriers they face, be they physical, emotional or behavioural, but then to give them the tools to make music as independently as possible rather than relying on me and my boxes of tricks. What I’d like to move towards with everyone I work with is to find inexpensive and simple ways that everyone can make music so that they can do so whenever the muse takes them, not just for the hour or so when I’m in the room. Music can change lives, but I believe that to unlock its full potential, people need to have access to music making all the time, not just in workshop sessions.

So, what do I do for a living? I’m still not sure what to put on the next lot of business cards. My friend Rodney Orpheus defines himself as a ‘Technology Evangelist’ and I am very fond of that title. So with his permission I might have to borrow that until I can think of something better myself.


Forthcoming events:

Saturday 18th June, 6pm – 10pm
‘PRESERVATION’ – The Wilson Art Gallery Takeover
temp0rary performing ‘Suggestion Box’ – a long-form silent disco performance with audience interaction
Wilson Art Gallery, Cheltenham
Free Entry

Saturday 9th July (Time TBC)
The Great Gamelan Experiment
Performing with a gamelan orchestra and live electronics
Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Sunday 10th July (Time TBC)
Live Electronic Music show & tell
Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Saturday 16th July, 7.30 – 10.30pm
Sunset Lumiere
temp0rary performing a full A/V set with very special guests TBC
Skillicorne Gardens (next to Imperial Gardens), Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Sunday July 31st, 6pm
Dali Males
Performing improvised electronics as part of Vinestock Festival 2016
The Vine, Cheltenham
Free Entry

Monday August 8th – Friday August 12th
Mix & Mash summer school
Friendship Café, Gloucester
£55 for 5 days
See The Music Works website for details