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Art, music and new accessible technologies

Things are really happening with new arts technologies, particularly in (assistive Music Technology) AMT. Yes I am back with Drake Music Connect & Collaborate, trying to drum up, or tap out interest for London based artists/ musicians in getting together for monthly meetings, the first being in the Sackler Space at the Roundhouse, 12 – 3.30pm on 1st of March, only a week away.

Having completed my ‘Sonic Vistas’ project, like many other disabled artists I am wondering “where next and how?”  ‘Sonic Vistas’ funded by Arts Council England was a multi media project, combining music and visual arts to make a more accessible experience. I and 6 other disabled musicians performed 5 of our own songs with new music technologies including; Kris Halpin’s MiMu Gloves (in development by Imogen Heap and her team), MC Geezer’s Subpac (to literally help him feel the music), Rosie Vachat’s Soundbeam and iPad apps also used by Sophie Partridge, Howard Jacques’ linked array of Korg Monotribes and Mic Scarlet on regular synth. We were virtually an all-digital band, apart from the singing and rapping. Projected next to us was my digital imagery, making for an all-digital multi media experience. So where do I go next?

The main benefit of working with other disabled artists is that I can share in a wide melting pot of influences and ideas, find out about new technologies and extend and expand the parameters of my creativity. As disabled artists, we really can develop uses for AMT and other accessible arts technologies as pioneer the cutting edge. John Kelly’s ‘Kellycaster’ is in development. It is a digital technology to be played like a real guitar because it is actually part guitar. He will be attending our meeting at the Roundhouse, by the way. And recently filming Sue Austin (pioneer of the underwater wheelchair and the development of her 360º pop-up immersive visual display system) has been a great inspiration to me, both as a visual and sonic artist – so watch this space.

On Thursday 24th February at 11am, I will be answering questions for Decibels Twitter Q&A Unlocked - Mapping Technology for Creativity: the Twitter handle is: @Decibels.Org, hashtag for the Q&A is: #artistunlocked.

Are AMT and other new arts technologies the way forward? Definitely and defiantly yes. As a disabled artist, I embrace them and other disabled artist like me will give an imperative, vitality and visceral direction to these new technologies. We are unique in our wants and needs, with an impetus to develop and stretch our creative boundaries and now it is our time to forge ahead and be on the cutting edge.  

If you want to know more about the ‘Sonic Vistas’ project and see Kris Halpin demonstrate his MiMu Gloves and throw in a couple of his songs in to the barging, then join us at the Roundhouse on the 1st of March. After which, we can share our experiences and discuss what we want from the Drake Music Collaborate monthly meetings.

Posted by Ivan Riches, 22 February 2016

Last modified by Ivan Riches, 22 February 2016

Sonic Vistas rehearsals and performance

We did it. The Sonic Vistas project has been an illuminating and expansive experience. In an extremely short period of time, 7 of us disabled artists/ musicians have devised and recorded 5 songs, for which I made 5 film projections (now videos). We performed them live at the Liberty Festival London 2015, part of which was captured by Channel 4 and included in their National Paralympic Day programme, shown in the ist week of August.

This has been an amazing journey and a wonderful learning curve in our creative development. We were not quite prepared for the rigours of our extremely tight time constraints and associated pressures. This meant that we all had to be open and honest about our feelings and stress levels. Throughout, we learnt how to work together, new ways of working with new technologies and developing our respective creative skills and experiences. The support from our facilitators from Drake Music in setting up our AMT (Assistive Music Technology) instruments, extending our skills and knowledge of using them, recording and playing them live was invaluable.

The outcome of the Sonic Vistas project developed way beyond my initial concept. Entirely due the level of open creative sharing between us, 7 completely different artists working equitably together as a group. My initial idea was to make 5 films projections with text to inspire our music making. This was only partially working, so we developed a more open exchange between the music making and forming the visuals, achieved through group discussion, recording our music as we developed it and me taking those influences back into my filmmaking. From there on the project became much more organic. Mik Scarlet and MC Geezer contributed their own lyrics and Howard Jacques had some inspiring mobile phone film footage of his docklands light train journey, which I used. Rosie Vachat took the lead on developing our song about AMT, as she was our most experience AMT musician. MC Geezer, Howard Jacques and Kris Halpin (with his Mi.Mu gloves) developed the deep beats for deaf access to our songs. And Sophie Partridge provided us with some beautiful singing.  

After our final rehearsal (which was recorded) and our performance over the same weekend, we were all shattered but elated.  The response from our die-hard audience was well worth all the effort. The Liberty Festival London 2015 event was open air with nonstop rain. As a result attendance was low and most of those who came sheltered in the surrounding tents. Around 100 people situated themselves in earshot or in front the stage to watch us and the projections. I can’t say how many actually heard us overall. That was the only disappointment of the entire project, but the weather was beyond our magic. Fortunately we had our performance filmed by Simon Purins. We have had many requests from people who couldn't attend who want to see us. Also our recorded demo songs with videos will be online shortly. From here we want to raise the funds to make an EP from our 5 songs. So watch this space.

I leave you with final words fro MC Geezer (our deaf rapper) “Yo sonic vistas, I can't wait to continue this band and do more songs and music and tour. This is my future I love every thing about this. I am now looking at this video of what Simon did. Let’s all meet up soon for a coffee and chat. Mc  

Posted by Ivan Riches, 6 September 2015

Last modified by Ivan Riches, 6 September 2015

Sonic Vistas: gearing up for a performance at Liberty Festival with Sophie Partridge

Image - Sophie.jpg

We, Sonic Vistas are organically consolidating as a group. And we couldn't be more different as artists and personalities, yet it works beautifully. And the key aspect of that, is in how we develop and construct our songs in their arrangement, with 7 of us in the band this is crucial. 

We cannot continuously bash away together at the same time, so not playing at certain times is as important as playing, like being in a mini orchestra. We also have to link our playing with the films I have made and in turn, I have to change the films to match our music. This is tricky at best, particularly when you are integrating text. 

For some of them, our timing has to be tight to the projected text floating in the imagery, while with others there is less need and we have more freedom. And all this has to be
channeled to our deaf and partial hearing audience via our deaf rapper MC Geezer. Exciting stuff.

We have one more rehearsal then we are recording the songs, the day before we perform them at the Liberty Festival London, Sunday July 26th. But that’s enough from me, Sophie Partridge was the last member to join us and I have asked her for her impressions of our project. Over to you Sophie.

"I think secretly I've always harboured a desire to be part of a band.. but never thought it would actually happen!  They say good things come to those, who wait and now - being a lady of a certain age - it has; as if technology is finally catching up with the aspirations & creativity of disabled people and I'm no longer assigned to whacking the triangle as I was all those school years ago...  

My favourite thing is being able to play tabla drum through the ThumbJam soft-ware.. that & singing backing vocals to Mik!  I've always loved singing and somehow, being able to access different instruments through AMT and just be `musical', has boosted my confidence here also. The band tell me I'm in tune! I'll take their word for it… ;-)"

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 24 July 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 July 2015

Sonic Vistas: Kris Halpin talks about his MiMu gloves - new technology developed by Ivor Novello award winning artist Imogen Heap

We have now done our third session as Sonic Vistas and the development of our set is well on its way for the Liberty Festival London 2015. 

In this blog I am introducing you to Kris Halpin: “So today I embarked on an intriguing new adventure. I’ve joined Ivan Riches’ Sonic Vistas project, a collaborative collective of disabled musicians. I’ve played with plenty of bands in the past, but this is two firsts. I’ve never worked with other musicians with access needs before, and I’ve never used the MiMu Gloves in an ensemble setting before.    

Using the gloves in a group setting is an exciting first; I believe I’m the first MiMu collaborator to do this. My own work with the gloves has been in building up layers of sounds as a solo performance. They allow me to rec reate my studio productions in a really unique, natural way. This involves a lot of layering and looping; none of this is particularly relevant in Sonic Vistas. In this setting, the gloves are an instrument like any other; I must weave my way through the sounds of the group, and find my space as any other instrumentalist would, It’s been intriguing so far. 

Of course, the palette of possibilities the Gloves offer is broad. Today I’ve been live drumming, conducting invisible string sections, and controlling synth bass through flowing gestures. I’m relieved to see how expressive and natural it feels. Without the looping structure of my solo work, I’m much more free to weave sounds into the audible landscape.     

The sounds the rest of the group are making are intriguing. Howard brought some great analogue drum machine and bass synths, which formed the backbones of much of the arrangements. This is not like any band I’ve played in before. Almost no traditional instruments appear, save for a couple of keyboards. As well as the gloves, iOS devices are used to offer accessible playability. It’s wonderful to see this action, as I’ve been a champion of the iPad as accessible musical instrument for a long time. 

Another cool thing from the day is that this is the first time I’m making music with broadcaster Mik Scarlett, who also joins Sonic Vistas this year. Mik and I have discussed collaborating for a while; we both share a love of 80s electronica and synthesis. Mik actually played an interesting role in my own development as an artist. In the early 90s Mik presented several TV shows, and was the first disabled musician I ever saw on TV. I was around 10 at the time (he won’t thank me for making him feel old) and I’d just got a guitar and the music bug. The idea of being a rock star with a disability seemed pretty far out; seeing Mik on TV gave me enormous confidence that I could do it. It’s great to get to know him and now work with him today; one of a long list of wonderful opportunities to come via Drake Music. 

I re-join the band next week for more rehearsals. My next day back is split between our rehearsal and a MiMu gloves presentation I’m doing at Abbey Road. Yes, that Abbey Road. Somebody pinch me. I apologise to the rest of Sonic Vistas if I’m bouncing off the walls when I get to the rehearsal after my trip through musical history… ;)”

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 13 July 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 13 July 2015

Sonic Vistas, with accessible, deep, resonating sounds and beats

Sonic vistas, as both an arts project and a group/ band is developing beyond all my expectations. Over our past 2 sessions, it has been a privilege to work with such talented and creative artists/ musicians, Kris Halpin, Howard Jaques, Mik Scarlet, Rosie Vachat and rapper MC Geezer. And the amazing Sophie Partridge will be joining us next session to complete our 7-piece band for our performance at the Liberty Festival London 2015.
To give a brief overview of the project, Sonic Vistas is a crossover art-form, made up of music with deep resonating sounds and beats for deaf and partial hearing access, combined with projected imagery incorporating text.

It will be an all rounded audio/ visual feast, creating a more accessible experience. 4 of the musicians will be using Assistive Music Technology (AMT). Some of this technology will facilitate our more physically disabled musicians to make music and play live in real time. This includes 'Soundbeam' which interprets the smallest movements into sound, MiMu gloves that also map movement into sound and various disabled user-friendly iPad apps.

Our rapper MC Geezer, from Deaf Rave is using a 'Subpac' sending vibrations from the music we play, through his back to facilitate his performance.  
For our fist 2 sessions I made 3 video projections and wrote some lyrics to inspire us to work together and create our music. From these sessions the music began, in turn to inspire my video projections.

The lyrics I originally wrote were altered for MC Geezer to sign. He is now penning is his own lyrics for us, as is Mik Scarlet. Not only that, there has been an exchange of ideas around the visual footage, images to work which Mik's lyrics. Also, Howard Jacques has given me mobile phone video footage to work with.

This way of openly sharing ideas is enriching the project and my personal development as a visual artist and musician, improving my original concept. We are becoming more of an organic entity and we are Sonic Vistas.
Howard Jacques: Synthesizers, electronics and wizardry
Kris Halpin: MiMu gloves
MC Geezer: Subpac, rapping and vocals
Mik Scarlet: Synthesiser and vocals
Rosie Vachat: Soundbeam and iPad
Sophie Partridge: iPad and vocals
Ivan (me): Synthesizer, Keyboards and vocals
Many thanks to James and Snooks of Subpac and Imogen Heap and her MiMu glove team.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 29 June 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 June 2015

Sonic Vistas: Live music ensemble with video projection

Image - Ivan_Riches_2.jpg

I had two creative passions in my late teenage years, songwriting and visual arts. It was the time of post punk, new wave and two tone, so naturally I opted for forming a band. Writing the songs and arrangements was an exciting process, but live performances were stressful.

I found myself getting lost in my own compositions, playing live and forgetting to come in on the chorus or bridge was an extreme annoyance for my fellow musicians. I had no idea why I kept losing concentration, so I put it down to stage fright.

Not until a full blown hospitalising seizure and subsequent smaller ones many years later, was I diagnosed with epilepsy. So what I put down to stage fright was a stream of absences unchecked for over 20 years. The thing about absences is that you are absent to their presence and I get them frequently, so I am told.

So from then on I shied away from communal music making. I decided to follow my other passion and went through a wilderness of various jobs while I frantically drew, painted and got myself into Art College at the age of 23, a late start for such a vocation. I trained as painter, got my 1st degree and also discovered photography, film and video production.

After university I found myself a studio space, worked as a PA for a physically disabled man for 3 days a week and painted for the remainder. I am not absolutely clear as to how we got round to it, but we ended up deciding to make a film about his living in the community and wanting to pop his cherry at the age of 45.

On the strength of a video we made under our own resources we had a meeting with the BBC and over two years made a video diary with a trip to Amsterdam included. The musician in me resurfaced and I asked the producer if I could write and perform the music for our film. I was officially commissioned and paid for this and other short films made by the Disability Programmes unit. By good fortune music was back in my life.

Last year 2014, I was working as producer of Connect and Collaborate London and associate artist for Drake Music - leaders in using innovative technologies and ideas to open up access to music for disabled artists/ musicians. Through a history of showing films at the British Film Institute Southbank, I secured an opportunity for a commission from DM and the BFI for three disabled artists/ musicians and myself to record some music for a short silent film called 'The Fugitive Futurist' as part of their Sci-Fi Programme. The resulting commission is on BFI player.

Later that year I was approach by Chas de Swiet, organising the Liberty Festival London 2014, to do a live performance of the film on the main stage. Three of us did a 25 minute set, including the 'Fugitive Futurist’ and a film I made called ’Into the clearing’.

Playing live to films is hard work with timing. My primary worry was zoning out with absences while playing - and I was back to the fears of my youth. At the end of our performance we were cheered and I finally got over my fear of playing in front of people and even enjoyed the experience. I may have had absences but no-one either cared or noticed.

This year I was contacted again by Liberty Festival, asking me if I and my fellow musicians Howard Jacques and Rosie Vachat would do another performance For 2015. I was pleased to be asked and I wanted to perform more upbeat music that would get the audience moving, possibly even dancing. This time I would make screen projections to work with our songs/ music rather than play to them.

I approached Drake Music with the idea. Mary Paterson, the national team associate creative producer was keen to support the project. She suggested that I could increase my project’s scope and fully financially support everything I wanted to do by I applying for an Arts Council England award for the arts. Initially I found the idea daunting, but after a few meetings with Mary and help from Felicity Green, DM's fundraising fellow, I completed the online application.

For any individual artist, applying for an ACE Grant for the arts award is a difficult process, many artist's writing their applications in isolation. I spent three solid weeks writing the proposal for 'Sonic Vistas' defining its artistic merit, its benefit to audiences and participants and making a realistic budget.

Throughout this time I found the support from Drake Music absolutely essential. In terms of support, I have found organisations like Drake Music, Shape Arts and Disability Arts Online vital for disabled artists. Arts Council England are extremely helpful when you call them, but they can only give so much information. My application was successful and I am now making the video projections and on Monday the 8th of June 2015 we had our first ensemble practise.

Sonic Vistas is an ensemble of deaf and disabled artists/ musicians. Integrating projected video/ visuals and assistive music technology, Sonic Vistas is a crossover art-form, incorporating music created and performed by deaf and disabled musicians including Howard Jacques, Mik Scarlet, Rosie Vachat, Kris Halpin, deaf rapper MC Geezer and myself - to be performed for an audience of deaf, disabled & non-disabled people alike.

Mik Scarlet and I will be reporting the progress of the 'Sonic Vistas' project on this on-going blog, kindly supported by DAO as part of their 'The Sound of Disability’ programme.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 15 June 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 15 June 2015