Category Archives: works

Memory Lane

Despite having several gigs and performances under my belt (too many to list or even remember – I lost count many years ago), I haven’t been making music nor performing live as a musician or vocalist for that long (unless you count playing clarinet in a small town’s marching band when I was 12-14 years old). Before 2007 I had only participated in a handful of performances, and was disappointed with pretty much all of them. To others, what I did in those performances looked and sounded “fine”, but to me… it felt like a prison, I felt I wasn’t being me.

I was very depressed at the time, and isolated, and had this desperate need to express myself, to make contact in some way with the world. I felt music could be my outlet, my way to reach out and connect. What I had done in the handful of times I had performed felt wrong to me… I felt trapped, I felt as If I were enacting someone’s idea of what a girl singing in a band (I was only singing, then) should sound like and do. I desperately tried to sing melodies, my voice choking up with anxiety and my breath drying out… verse, chorus, verse, chorus, repeat, repeat, repeat (…is the song long enough? Should I keep going?) and end (and breathe).

After each performance I didn’t feel relieved, I felt ANGRY. Angry at myself for wasting an opportunity, for feeling so close to it, yet being unable to just… let go, to do something that others might laugh at, something that might be weird, off tune, ridiculous, wrong. It wasn’t fear of doing something different that scared me… it was fear of not being able to do it in a way that would make others accept it  –for example if I tried to vocalise in a certain way but would not be able to control my voice the way I wanted due to lack of “talent” (that mythical, hateful beast) or training and that something else would come out instead, something “wrong”. I felt that in order to be able to do what I wanted I had to first prove that I was doing it intentionally, and not just because it was all I could do (even though I might like the results either way). I felt I had to prove I could do the “right” thing in order to be “allowed” to do the “wrong” thing.  I wanted to show my inner self, but I wanted for it to be accepted, I didn’t want to be dismissed. So I felt I needed to find a way of justify whatever I might do, to get “permission” to do it. Therefore… I found it very hard to do anything.

Not only was I frustrated with my inability to let go and be myself in performance, but I also desperately wanted to create my own music, independently of others, rather than guesting in other people’s bands. Once again I felt that because I couldn’t play what others might consider a “song-writing instrument” (like a guitar, or a piano, for example), or even use music software, that there was no way for me to create music. It’s hard to explain my frame of mind at the time… but basically I felt completely stuck and helpless… I didn’t know where to start, or that I could ever learn to do any of the things that might allow me to create my own recordings. Every time I would try and learn I would come to a hurdle, and think that there was something inherently wrong with me for not being able to already know how to do things.

But then things in my life got even worse, and the need to have some sort of outlet overshadowed my feeling that I had “no right” to do anything, that I would never learn, that I did not know how to do things “the right way”.

So starting from approximately 2005 I began secretly creating tracks as Modersohn-Becker. These were incredibly lo-fi affairs: I had no knowledge of music technology or software, and hardly any equipment was available to me. I felt incredibly self-conscious about recording, so I would create my tracks sneakily, in a couple of hours, when I was sure I was alone in the house. I just had a desperate need to express myself… somehow. At first these tracks were made just for myself, as a way to relieve my frustration, but then I gradually and anxiously began uploading some of these to social networking sites in order to get over my insecurity. Because in the end what I wanted was to make a connection with the outside, to know that I existed.

For most of these early M-B tracks, I used Windows Recorder and a decrepit, taped-together old plastic microphone (later on I tentatively began using free Evolution software, but I had no idea what I was doing as I had never used any music-making technology before). I recorded mostly acappella and in one take, without editing the results as I had no way to do so. I had no mixing facilities, and mostly no effects available to me (bar some reverb on later tracks, when I discovered it was available, and how to apply it). All I did was record myself with Windows recorder, then open and play the recorded file whilst recording myself again in another Windows recorder window, so as to create a new recording. These “takes” would end up blended into one single mono track, which could then not be split into its parts again. I would keep repeating this process of playing/recording over the played file until I created several layers of voice. These recordings were the computer-user equivalent of a child playing with two tape recorders, making layers by playing from one whilst recording to the other.

I still have a copy of my first ever track, a cover of the Virgin Prunes’ “Theme For Thought”:

I remember how frustrated I was with the end product. I had no way to correct mistakes once the track was done other than starting from scratch, and I had too little time to finish it all in (I was alone in the house for only a couple of hours), so all mistakes stayed in the recordings. Now I kind of love this stuff…

Oh yes, and because on these early tracks I did not know how to create loops or edit, the background of this track consists of me going: “boom-boom, boom-boom” whilst shaking an egg-shaker non-stop at approximately the same pace (approximately – here too there many mistakes!) for the entire duration of the song…

Here’s more from the same era. This one is called “Stupid Fuck”:

Another track from the same pre-looping batch of the first two, this one called “Justice Jane”:

“All The Same”, my first experiment using a simple loop (in the background):

This was from a little later. I had some software, but I still didn’t know what I was doing. It’s called “Stain”:

Lastly, here I had also started figuring out how to use some software, but I was still incompetent in my use. The track is called “Hairy Nipples”:

Here are some more M-B tracks, from various periods:

“MOR”

“Song Of Tears”

“ROM”

“Here’s My First Number”

“Degenerate”

“Again”

“Earth Critters”

“TTB”

“First Time I Played With Myself”

“Your Instrument”

“The Hum”

Here are some mp3s of some of the tracks above, should you wish to own your very own copy.

The reason I am posting all the above is that I love this stuff (yes, I finally said it!). And I still make it (although far too sporadically now). And I STILL do not quite know what I am doing, even after graduate and post-graduate qualifications in sound-related (though non-technical!) fields. This is me at my purest, in a way. This is what comes out.

In early 2007, at around the same time I had begun posting my M-B tracks online, I also started to regularly meet up with my friend Smike Bardwell, who had been recording as Earth Creature for several years with intermittent collaborators.  Now on his own again, he had wanted a vocalist to join up and we had hit it off musically after a first improvised gig (my first time completely improvising!). Other than my improvising, that first gig felt no different to all the other gigs I had taken part in before – I felt constricted by my fear of doing something “wrong”.  But I stuck around because Smike was my friend, and I liked what he was doing, and I felt accepted by him, that he wouldn’t freak out if I experimented a little, and that I could perhaps begin to let go.

The more we met up, the more I began to experiment, but I was still afraid of the public, and I still tried to sound “right”. Until our second gig, which I consider my first, real gig.  I sang the first song, playing the role of singer, then I hummed, made some vocal sounds, still tying to find my place. Inside, I was sad and angry at myself. I had all these feelings I wanted to get out, these feelings I had to keep hidden in my personal life… and here was the only place I could let them out and turn them into something that might be interesting as well as liberating… and I just… couldn’t… let… go. It went on for a few minutes like that, until a voice inside me just cried out: “this is YOUR time, this is THE ONLY PLACE where you can be yourself… and you are wasting it! I am NOT GOING TO WASTE IT”… and then THIS happened, I finally let go at this precise moment:

That was the first of many EC gigs. Smike and I have been a due since then, though things have changed a lot and as well as providing vocals, these days I play a variety of things (contact mics, polystyrene, theremin, saw, mixer and pedals, anything or anyone at hand…) and Smike has taken to using a bass in live performances, on top of his usual electronics and samples and bits and bobs, but in the future things may change again.

Here are some more videos. Sadly we stopped filming years ago, so there isn’t much video documentation of certain phases in our playing:

[I have a lot of EC audio files, mainly gig recordings, so as soon as I have managed to go through all of these, I will post some.]

Since that 2007 gig I have played countless gigs with countless different outfits in countless different situations. I taught myself to play the theremin, and have become adept at free improvisation. EC led me to live performance and improvisation, and M-B led me to go to university to study Sound Art.

Part of me, after several years of academic study in a sonic field, feels that I should hide my DIY music-making, because it’s too instinctive, too imperfect, laughable, because it displays my technical shortcomings… but this music is ALSO me, and I now refuse to regress and hide again, so here it is, because this too is my practice. And you know what? I love its imperfection, its instinctiveness, its silliness, and its lo-fi aesthetic. And since now I have a little bit more time, there will be more – watch this space.

My first curatorial experience

Here is a video of my MA class’ interim show, “Jack Harris: a retrospective”, which I curated (I was not responsible for the title which was voted in before I assumed curatorial duties… but I worked with it!):

[thanks: Julie for her assistance in the earliest stages of co-curatorial planning before she got too busy to be involved, Alison for her lighting help and general awesomeness, Nathan for his amazing tech skills, Saj for the beautiful flyer, Daniel and Jack for writing the press release, Leila for filming, and thanks to those who helped with grunt work setting up and taking down the show!]

It was a lot of work, but worth it!

Programme notes for “Variations”, my new work

Variations is a series of investigations of the common ground between therapy and art. The work aims to remain open, an origin for further and continued exploration and interpretations, by its creator and others, in ways perhaps unforeseen by its author.

At its core is a collection of event scores consisting of therapy exercises culled –with as little alteration as possible – from various forms of therapy and self-help literature. Presented here are some of the ways in which the artist has chosen to explore this material.

Not only do event scores and therapy exercises, upon reading, present similarities in appearance, but their aims also intersect: both event scores and therapy exercises seek to, through their reading or execution, elicit thought and create awareness, to invite both the spectator (and the interpreter) to consider and experience things differently. Event scores have an effect on the performer and audience just as therapy exercises do, and therapy exercises can be as theatrical, contemplative or poetic as event scores are. The greatest difference between the exercises collected for Variations and event scores like those of George Brecht or Yoko Ono is in fact context.  And as shown by Duchamp’s urinal, the way it is presented (its context) is what renders an object a work of art.

The therapy exercises thus become scores by being presented as such: they are collected in a handmade workbook and as cards in a box inspired by Brecht’s Water Yam. They are presented as literature and as an art object, imitating in both cases traditional ways to display event scores.

Some of the scores thus created were then chosen by the artist for their particular sound-eliciting potential and properties and were interpreted as sound recordings. For these sonic performances, the artist has chosen to execute the exercises in as precise and literal a way as possible, as would a therapy patient, attempting to feel their benefits as a patient would. Though executed in real time as much as possible as therapeutic exercises, they are also presented as sound art, and selected for their sonic potential. The artist feels the benefit, and the listener experiences sonic performance art.

[see previous post for pictures]