Having two blogs isn’t working this time…
It’s working much better over on my website where it’s all in one place. Just because I’ve previously had a “project blog” in addition to the main blog (Threads) doesn’t mean I always have to…
So what will happen is I’m going to retire NOTES and paste the last two posts from here over to Threads and take it from there… the whole point is that the disparate elements of my practice merge, so it makes no sense to try to separate it again. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but sometimes you have to see it happen before you realise, sometimes you’re too close to it…
So goodbye NOTES and hello to a fully integrated practice, in a fully integrated blog!
It’s a weird thing really, the landing of an Arts Council Grant. It’s not as if I haven’t been working in the studio for the last year, and if I hadn’t got it, I would of course have carried on working.
The work has been physically running along one (visual) track, while the imaginary funded (music) work runs along far behind in my head. I would have got round to it eventually, with saving up for music studio and producer time, but it would have been piecemeal. Therefore it would always be lagging behind, and would not be having a real effect on the visual work, as I hoped and wanted. I believed (and still do) that what would be important in developing the work would be working on the sound work AT THE SAME TIME as the visual work.
Since hearing the good news, I have contacted everyone involved and arranged to “start”… and it really does feel like a start.
I’ve organised myself, my work space, my files… I’ve made lists and notes. I’ve sent huge music files through WeTransfer to Michael Clarke for review. A starting point. We have had a zoom meeting to discuss what that starting point is.
I learned through my previous funded project that it is a really good idea to have someone to document the project as it goes along. So I also have a carefully planned socially distanced meeting arranged with Laura Rhodes the project photographer. A starting point then… where am I now with the visual in one place and the sound in another? Have it captured as it is now, so that at the end of the project, about a year from now, I have something to assess progress against. We are quick to forget how things were…
A chance conversation about sound artist Bill Laybourne has led me to a conversation with him, and some collaboration on his project. We have very different skills and sensibilities, but have found touch-points in our work that are really interesting and inspiring. He has lent me a small contact microphone so that I can listen to my drawings, on paper and in wire, while I work on them, and while they hang. A week in, and already I’m seeing how working on both aspects simultaneously can make a difference to how I go about things. I can see me getting new equipment and mic’ing up everything I work on…
So now the money has landed in my account I can start in earnest.
It is worth noting that in the same week the money arrives, Birmingham goes into local lockdown measures, and 3/5 of the band, the recording studio and my producer are in Birmingham. I am just over the border, with one remaining band member a couple of miles away.
So my first task is to figure out how the plan can change in the short term (hopefully) to accommodate this. So my diary is filling, but with zoom meetings rather than real ones. We are creative people, I am sure we can figure it out. But the annoying thing is online meetings are not real time. Collaborative music making just doesn’t work. So it will consist of talk, and the transferring of files, but not true interaction.
However… I am careful not to be downhearted. I am grateful. I still have access to these wonderful people. And the real difference is in my own head. Previously I have held my sound ideas in a bubble… unable to do anything with them until after the fact of making, while saving up. So what happens is a bolting-on of sound after. What I am already feeling is that shift of thinking. The fact that I can record things, manipulate them, send them to Michael* for him to work with, and discuss with him the possibilities, and feed them back into the work I’m drawing/making almost immediately is fantastic.
My photographer Laura** is also in Birmingham. Originally we planned to do a starting point studio visit to document things that would get picked up and followed. Maybe we can do this while the weather is nice, in the local park, or my garden… but not just yet… I shall take not such great photos, and we can record a sort of Q&A together, and also with my fellow artist and project co-curator Sarah Goudie… but I think a little creative and clear thinking will be required to make this read coherently at the end.
It is interesting that any documentation of projects all over the place at the moment, are also documents of pandemic response, not just the work. I think we have to not just come to terms with this, but embrace what the restrictions make us do instead, that perhaps we would never have thought of. And to make us appreciate the luxury of sitting in a small room with another person, a microphone and a musical instrument.
Deep breath, and then GO…
Arts Council England said yes.
I’ve been at this for over a year. If you count the first abortive attempt, nearly two years.
This was the seventh attempt. Six unsuccessful applications.
So the lesson is, keep going. If you need it, if you think the project is worth it, keep at it. Like a dog with a bone. Don’t let it go. And actually, you do get a bit hardened to rejection. It’s character building! (Not that I need any extra character, frankly, but you know what I mean?)
I do have to thank ACE also for the feedback, support and unrelenting cheerfulness with which they answer queries, and in some cases, they seemed genuinely gutted that I didn’t get it, and were very encouraging all the way through. They are, in spite of difficulties, technical issues, covid-19 nightmares, a true national treasure. Keir Gill has been an absolute star, so he gets a special mention.
The first six unsuccessful applications were essentially Research and Development. Every bit of rejection feedback centred on audience and engagement… and I was having a tough time trying to meet the requirements for that. It was speculative, and from my end, I had a hard time with that… predicting what the outcome might be, and consequently how people would engage with this mythical outcome is hard. I know they say they welcome R&D applications, but if you are going to give that a go, try to figure out that bit and pin it down.
The difference this time was that over lockdown, with a chunk from the ACE emergency fund, and a chunk from the government SEISS, I was able to do much of that research. The seventh application therefore, was able to concentrate on the actual project itself. And therein, I think, lay the success. Now I knew what I was going to do/make I could reliably state what sort of audience and how they would engage, even in the current circumstances. The application was much clearer for the writer as well as the reader I’m sure.
So what am I going to do?
I have two blogs on a-n, one that is the same as the one posted on my website, and the other just on a-n concentrating on my musical output. (I’m posting this on all of them, but may start a separate project blog…?) The music over the last few years has become a stronger entity, and in my head, if not in the exhibition space, runs alongside, through, is entangled and enmeshed, fully integrated… but only in theory really. Because music production is expensive, and requires technical skills and music knowledge I don’t have much of. But the thing is, I can hear what I want.
The money then, will pay for the time and space (and people) for writing, recording, experimentation and eventually production of the sounds and music at the same pace and time as my drawing, and will be cross-pollinating. I have very basic recordings, a library of sounds waiting to be manipulated, drawn out and drawn on… the drawings are pulling out from the page into three dimensional drawings, and now I can pull them further out into sound. This will culminate in an exhibition/installation/event/performance in 2021 which will definitely have an audience to engage!
It’s going to be a fun year!
Songwriting. The ultimate process driven art form?
A song is never finished.
At last night’s rehearsal for no gigs we refreshed our memories of old songs:
“What’s the chord between the mid8 and the chorus?”
“Am I supposed to sing that twice?”
“Did I come in too soon or too late?”
“How do we end this damn song?”
What’s nice is that sometimes out of confusion or lack of memory, an improvised moment causes something different to happen. Fresh. An old song gains something extra. A song we have written between us and played dozens of times is a living thing.
I’m always astonished, honoured, sort of bewitched by the process of writing that we have accidentally fallen into. I write words. Lots of them. They can come easily to start with, and are then reviewed and edited, and usually parked and revisited before handing them over. I was cautious at first because it exposes, makes you vulnerable. Especially as some of my lyrics feel very close. I have discovered the way to cushion a blow is to send things out in a batch. When someone asks if I have anything (answer always yes) I will send out at least four sets of lyrics. If I send out one, there’s a greater chance of rejection. If I send out a few, someone will find something they think they can work with. Miraculously, so far, there’s never been any competition, they pick different things to work on. Then, sometimes weeks or months later, there’ll be a return of some sort. And I might get sent a recording to see what I think. This is still far away from the finished, giggable item… but it’s a newborn.
Last night was a bit maternity ward. We looked at two or three new songs. We played and sang. Each time played is slightly different once other people get involved. There often is a lyric change/edit. I always sing it differently to the others, the phrasing and delivery of the lyrics I wrote… they have been handed back to me wrapped in a blanket and then it’s my job to look after it and bring it up properly. There’s a matter of arrangement and harmony as the rest of the family get to know the new baby. But we can usually tell, in those first playings, that this can be something lovely.
I hope that I never lose this sense of wonderment. I can’t believe I ever found it! It’s creativity at its most alive. I have rehearsal recordings on my phone, complete with interruptions and false starts and repetitions. I will listen to them over and over, and look forward to the next family outing.