Suspended at the Draw Art Fair

We were very excited to learn that Suspended had won one of three Draw/Camberwell prizes and was to be exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the Draw Art Fair. Unfortunately, this had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, and is taking place on Instagram instead.

Here’s a link to the post showing Suspended

Women in the field

Slightly reluctantly, I found myself investigating women in sound and music for audio-visual media, as a university assignment.

I say reluctant, as these discussions of low representation – and why it’s low – always make me feel a bit scrutinised and defensive, being a woman myself.

I come up against the ‘boys and girls are just different’ thing again and again whenever the subject is approached, and deep down the (unintended) message registers that having two x chromosomes means I don’t naturally belong in this world.

And although this is surely not what people intend, some small voice in me also wonders whether I will have the natural gifts of my male peers – or perhaps that I’m some kind of freak if I do get into it!  I also have this nagging sense that if I am not instantly amazing at the work, I confirm in people’s minds that it’s not a girl’s game, rather than just thinking “ah well, on with the learning”.

I know, I know, it is ridiculous…!  I’m at liberty to pursue whatever career interests me, even if it is a highly competitive world dominated by the xy types.  But whenever you’re a minority in anything, it is impossible just to be yourself doing the work, no matter what people will say.  Whatever it is that makes you different is also visible.

However, things became a bit more positive as I went on.  I have had some fascinating and – actually – very encouraging interactions as a result of this work, and plan to extend it a little for my own interest.

I enjoyed my communications with Caro Churchill of the Delia Derbyshire Day charity based in Manchester, who has been privately sharing her experiences of teaching electronic music in primary and secondary schools and introduced me to the project Female Pressure.  She firmly believes that visibility is the key, that girls see women working in electronic music and draw their own conclusions.

Caro pointed out that Delia Derbyshire herself said “Women are good at sound and the reason is that they have the ability to interpret what the producer wants, they can read between the lines and get through to them (the producers) as a person. Women are good at abstract stuff, they have sensitivity and good communication. They have the intricacy – for tape cutting, which is a very delicate job you know….”  See here for the interview the quote came from!

I received a very supportive message from the good people of Spitfire Audio.

I have had some really interesting, nuanced answers from Dr Andy Hill, writer, film music scholar, former senior music supervisor for Disney and teacher of some very well-known names, about the culture in the entertainment business and to what extent it holds women back.

I had a fascinating chat with Donna Lynas of Wysing Arts Centre, a thriving ‘arts research’ hub that has a particular focus on being a platform for the less heard voices.

Many people are interested and concerned about this issue, this is quite clear; I think change is eminently possible.

Uni wanted a 13-minute video essay and I was under severe time constraints (both in terms of time allowed for the work and video length).  This meant that I was not able to include the breadth of content I wished to, nor to make the video as slick and professional as I would have liked.

I may yet make a longer version, with more input from other people in the field and maybe with a score by myself and/or other women. I’m still in conversation with quite a few people about that.

It also led to a new Facebook community after I privately shared it with some online peers, ‘Women Composers’ Collective,’ which has been fantastic – bringing together lots of hyper-creative women from all sorts of different areas of sound and music making!

This was a bit of a personal journey too, then, given that I began the process reluctantly!

For the time being, here is what I have produced so far:


A Bit Of Video Art On A Saturday

I am enjoying watching some video art on this site today.

Here are two that I particularly liked.

‘Mound’, by Allison Schulnik

I loved the representation of the vicissitudes of human experience, somehow portrayed so succinctly through a bit of clay and paint.  Aren’t artists clever?!  Although there is no soundwork in this piece, I did appreciate the careful, thoughtful syncing of her animation with the song she used.  This song-synchronisation is a basic but very effective way of working the chemistry between sight and sound.

I realise it is what I was doing here – and the interesting thing was most lay-people of my acquaintance did not respond to the musical setting of the poem at all when I made it public, but when synced with pictures that told a contemporary version of the story Auden was exploring, the same people reacted very strongly.  Many, in fact, said the song made them cry.  But of course, it wasn’t just the song.  And it wasn’t just the pictures, as these images have been familiar to us all from the news for four years now.  It was the entire experience.

Closed Circuit (in the Middle of Sweden) by Mattias Haerenstam

Now the sound in this one is designed – by the artist himself, I think – and it is worth highlighting a few of the devices used.

  •  A low, rushing wind sound appears at the beginning (before we see the place, even), but this sound is not reflected in the very, very still, dank weather conditions depicted.  What then, is its function?  The place is rather desolate and the theme of the piece would at first glance appear to be about how we can be literally consumed by a place and a repetitive routine tying us there,  pulled deeper and deeper in by economic or social realities, or psychological state, binding us to them perhaps.
  • As the camera moves down the street, we do not hear footsteps or engine sound.  This first of all suggests to me that the place is more the subject than any observer within it.  We do, after all, hear background traffic and the footsteps of a man passing the end of the road (rather closer than we should, making it more claustrophobic).  Or, perhaps we are simply being asked to focus on the ambiance and the mood it lends.  Or, more likely I think, the space is being cleared sonically for us to hear and feel…
  • The impending event of consumption.  As the ‘gravity well’ [‘gravity well’ defined here!] of the hole is entered, we begin to hear the new ambiance associated with inside the hole/digestion, as though the sound is the pull of the suction towards it.  (Sounds like maybe a reversed stretched gong or something, but I don’t know!)
  • The internal sounds.  The heartbeat begins after we first enter the throat/gut.  The clacking teeth slightly set mine on edge!
  • Interestingly, the camera is not swallowed first time around, but moves over the epiglottis and passes through the vocal folds.  The street-mouth should have ‘choked’ – which is perhaps why we appear back at the start of another loop of the closed circuit, despite the street now being body-coloured and the continuation of the heartbeat suggesting we remain ‘inside’ the ‘creature’.  Anyway, I love the way the artist makes the vocal folds look so evil as we approach them – and the little hiss of air as we pass through is a great, evocative sound effect, echoed by…
  • The release of air at the end of the sequence inside the gut, when we pass through the rectum and the sphincter releases us.  Lovely little sound of a temporary vacuum being equalized and, of course, we immediately think of passing wind or fecal matter.

I really liked this one a lot and found I was able to watch it several times in a row to unpick the sound design without tiring of it at all.

Gravity wells – sonic Rossini crescendo – building a frequency tower

The sonic representation of a gravity well is something I should like to have an opportunity to explore myself.  It occurred to me that this could be used effectively as an emotional device – getting pulled (perhaps reluctantly) into a state of mind or situation or decision of immense emotional gravity.

This is often done in Hollywood with ‘whooshes’, ‘rises’ and the like.  There is always a crescendo involved.  I’d rather like to try a kind of ‘Rossini Crescendo’, adding sound systematically to create a sense of getting closer to something emotionally.

Or perhaps I could try deconstructing a sound rich in overtones to its constituent frequencies.  I could then build the noise back up from scratch like an edifice, revealing it as I construct.  I wonder if this would have a quality of revelation to it?

Image for this post taken from Closed Circuit (in the Middle of Sweden) by Mattias Haerenstam, 2011


Little Interlude…

Just as an aside before I plunge back into With The Light and points of audition, my helpful tutor set me on a trail that led me here.

To me, it seems to be a meditation on the constant observing, self-observation and being observed that is a staple of existence as a woman, and on the feedback loop between these observations and our projected identity.

I have often thought about how the lines get blurred in our heads between this projected identity and the autonomous identity that we would otherwise derive from our core of personality.   I think Tai Shani might be looking at how the make and break of female identity depends on how we are observed – particularly the conclusions people draw solely from our appearance – and how confusing it can be to try to identify our authentic responses to what we experience.

In the end, the withdrawal of male scrutiny, the lack of identity bestowed, ‘kills’ the real being – and the watchers too!  And yet the scrutiny continues.

Difference in male and female experiences of identity, how we are respectively perceived and how we respond accordingly are definitely an area I could explore!

Strange and dream-like though this art is, I picked up a few concrete technical ideas that I really liked.

  • One is the way this artist deliberately blurs lip-syncs.  This to me conveys quite nicely the interruption of language communication by social anxiety, poor communication, disrupted social expectations, emotive states, people communicating with opposing agendas, or any number of interesting phenomena within dialogues.
  • Similarly, she often ‘mis-points’ the camera away from speaker to confuse who is the speaker and who is the hearer, whether the voice is external or internal.
  • Sometimes, the wrong person is issuing the words.   It is as though the man looking on the corpse (for example) has become a voice in the woman’s head indistinguishable from her own – another phenomenon I thoroughly recognise from personal experience.
  • Another device I liked is the alteration of the sound quality of the opening music as we switch between points of view.