In 2010 I developed a condition that took away my ability to speak, not being able to make sound and communicate with the outside world was the most isolating and devastating experience, which lead my obsession of researching other forms of communication, other than spoken word.
I have been a professional singer/ songwriter for 20 years, I have also developed and delivered music programs within the community with a focus on using music and creative arts as therapy. Through my research into sound, I have discovered papers and research programs showing scientific evidence of the effects that sound has on our brains, emotions, body and even our cellular structure.
When I began my educational journey into the world of art I thought I had left music behind. I remember my first month on my foundation course and telling my tutor that I wanted nothing more to do with the music industry and just to concentrate on visual work, he laughed out loud and just said, we will see. I recently looked back into my development journal from art foundation and it was so clear that there was music and sound swimming around everything that I was creating. I brought out a painting that I created 8 years ago called colours in motion, I didn’t realise at the time I was painting sound. I am really excited that I now have a better understanding of my work. I have a clearer vision of my art practice.
I am no longer fighting myself or what my past represents, I am listening and moving in the natural direction. I no longer have to write commercial music or perform commercial songs for fear of paying my bills and I feel totally liberated that I am no longer in a stagnant place.
At my lecture on Sonic art , I left feeling rather old. The lecturer was explaining about how music and sound have developed, the journey it has taken. I can remember buying my first sampler, I can remember setting up my studio with an Atari and Tascam reel to reel, I can remember when records moved to cd, then to DAT then to mini-disk then finally to audio files, mp3. I can also remember when a group of my friends starting building computers in the late 80s. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Starting to think I knew it all and I was past it, he then showed us a youtube video of John Cage talking about Silence: which stirred my interest but agitated my relationship with conceptual art, but there is something very clear about John Cage, his passion. The glint in his eye when he speaks of sound. Finally I realise actually I don,t love music I love sound, everything to do with sound, the formation sound makes, the organised chaos of sound, even the sound of silence.
Over the last few weeks I have dipped in and out of interest with Sonic Art. I have found some of the aspects that I have been introduced too frustratingly ridiculous, one being Music Concrete, but after doing more research I see this was the prototype and the beginning into sampling and EDM. Max Mathews who was part of Music Concrete Movement introduced taped music which transformed music from being ephemeral to being permanent. Pierre Schaeffer the founder of Music Concrete lead the way for the sampler to be invented with his digital signal processing compositions. It was in 1940s that his work began, but it was not until 1979 when the Quasar M8 sampler was introduced that the musicians embraced and flourished using music sampling.
Steve Reich is a composer, his compositions are very complex but I would class him as sonic artist and not a composer. I also did not think he was an artist or musician but again after further investigation I discovered his forward thinking was what brought the art of phasing into the western world, phasing being when two identical melodic patterns gradually fade out of sync. After discovering this I listened to Daniel Variations 2006, Pendulum Music 1968, and Drumming 1971 with a new understanding and a new found knowledge I could appreciate his skill but still the music pieces are far from beautiful although I now know that is not Steve Reichs requirement from his work.
Looking into the coding of music has been interesting, discovering all the variations of musical scales from other traditions and parts of the world. It does appear that it is very much a western approach that we have the need for order, even in music. Whilst researching into Steve Reich I came across Karl Hein Stockhausen and Luciano Berio they were working with just twelve notes, they would invert them, over lap them but kept only to the twelve notes. In a way they were trying to create their own code. The Twelve notes lead me into listening to Arvo Part- Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britton, this piece consists of minor chords descending and overlapping, creating the phasing that was introduced by Steve Reich.
I work on a regular basis with cubase and pro tools there is another code in regard to music technology which is more visual, its laid out more like a graph and is marked out as straight lines taken the notes across the time line. You can also view the sound wave and manipulate it and effect it as you like. All these codes that are developed are only an interface in which we are invited to interact with one another using the same language. I have in the past become very frustrated with classically trained musicians that I have worked with, when I have played a chord and they have told me that it doesn’t exist, when it clearly does as I have just played it. I have an understanding of why we need order and codes within music but it also creates barriers against creativity.
Its not very often that someone inspires me, but today I have just discovered a painter who is blind. He is a complete inspiration to any one suffering a disability, his name is Sargy Mann. This man has ignored his disability and become a world renowned painter. He has not let his disability take ownership of his identity, which as a disabled person myself I can tell that is a very difficult thing to do. You not only have the inner demons shouting in your brain but you also have the surrounding environmental factors to contend with, such as when your doctor tells you there is no cure for what you have, you will have it for the rest of your life and thats it!
I was a full time professional singer/songwriter, singing teacher, with an album just recorded ready for release, and a busy stage school running over 7 schools around Wales. I thrived on stress and loved working to all the deadlines for musicals that I had written, and singles set for release dates. I woke up one morning with the most croakiest voice ever, that day I had rehearsals with my band and two singing classes of 30 adults to take. I continued to battle through, because that is what you do when your self employed and in the music industry. You are always aware that someone may steal your spot so you have to soldier on and keep this spot clear of predators.
Over the weeks and months my voice and chest became so bad that I had to give up my teaching for a while. I had seen over 7 ENT consultants, constant cameras up my nose, and down my throat, 3 speech therapists and so many doctors appointments, I cannot even remember. For this voice issue I was suffering from, I was offered Anti Depressants, Counselling, and Speech Therapy all did not help and my condition got worse to the point that I had lost all my contracts in singing and teaching. The ironic thing was I could still sing, sometimes some of my lower range was a struggle but my falsetto was almost angelic and better than it had ever been. How could this be I could sing but couldn’t speak without suffering really bad pain and spasms in my throat. I continued to sing and record in my home studio but I became very anxious about speaking with people, due to the fact I was in pain when I did speak.
It took 3 long years to be diagnosed with Laryngeal Dystonia. In that time I had a part time job with the local council teaching young people aged 11-25 performance skills, animation and film making. The young people just seemed to except my weird voice and I also had a great colleague who was a massive help to me throughout this time. I was told that the condition was life long, there was no cure and it is very rare, so I decided to go public with my condition and raise some awareness for Dystonia. My hope in doing this was that people would know or maybe have heard of the condition when I would say what it was that I was suffering from.
I cannot tell you how embarrassing it is when you are speaking with someone and your voice and throat lock up and you cannot get words out, then when they do finally come out they are all broken up. Talking is like walking a tight rope for me. You then have that embarrassing moment which feels like an eternality when the listener is just staring at you in disbelief.
I now have treatment for my condition. I have botulin injections into my laryngeal muscles every 4 months. Being a singer and part time/singing teacher, YES I am back teaching! this is a nightmare as my vocal chords are constantly changing, so I have to keep retraining them and doing strange vocal tricks but I always did enjoy a challenge.
So against all adversity we have a blind painter and a singer/songwriter who without poison being injected into her throat cannot speak.
Do not let your disability become who you are, you are much more than you will ever take credit for.