Stay At Home Artist Residency

I am a sound-artist, musician and musical instrument designer. This has been my full-time occupation for six years now and I have been lucky enough to work on some great projects with some wonderful people.

I have completed a number of artist residencies during this time; from a year-long stint as artist-in-residence at the Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham to week-long residencies, such as that as part of last year’s Supernormal Festival. Based on this experience and my (possibly misguided) analysis of the likely state of UK arts funding in future, I have come up with an idea for an artist residency programme.

The Stay At Home Artist Residency

As the name suggests, this idea centres around commissioning me to carry out an artist residency here, at home, with all my toys and tools to hand.


Recording studio / rehearsal space

What’s in it for you?

You get to commission me to create work for your event/venue. This could take the form of a sound art piece, a musical performance or composition, a piece of research, a presentation, or just a documented process for others to draw inspiration from. But crucially, you won’t have to think about the infrastructure, the travel/living arrangements, energy costs, health and safety etc.

It’s also super-flexible. A Stay At Home Artist Residency can be as short as a single day (in fact, I’d consider shorter!), or left to run until a suitable outcome is reached. No time is spent getting settled, setting stuff up or familiarising myself with a new environment. It’s flexible in terms of geolocation too. Nice as it is to travel, with a Stay At Home Residency I no longer need to come to your gallery in Japan for two weeks. I just post the outcomes (online or by courier) when the residency period is complete.

Cheap too. A one day residency will cost you £100. A full five-day week, £400. We can discuss rates for anything longer than that but part of the aim is to keep it cost-effective. For example, I have a lot of resources and materials here. As much as possible, my aim is to use what I already have to build stuff. If I need anything specific for a given idea, we can discuss this but an aim of these residencies is to keep the cost down by reducing the material costs in this way.


Woodworking workshop

What’s in it for me?

First and foremost…focus. I generally remain really productive in-between commissions but I have a tendency to flit between ideas. This can be great for learning and research purposes but it has also led to a plethora of half-finished items that are never likely to see the light of day. Many of my experiments get posted to Twitter (see below) in the hope that they will inspire others but there is a significant difference between the types of outcomes that arise from this self-imposed research and those arising from commissioned work.

The Stay At Home Residency also removes one of my primary frustrations with residencies: that of being removed from the tools and materials of my art. I find it quite stressful to leave stuff I might need behind and doubly so if I start to create something which is crying out to be made on a machine in my workshop, or using parts in my materials store. These restrictions can of course be liberating too but when you have to compromise a design due to a few missing bits of metal or the absence of a drill press I tend to find this a little frustrating.

It also presents an opportunity for my work to be experienced by others at your event/venue, which is always something I relish. And it’s a different way of commissioning me to do work. Another way to get paid. That’s important to my survival as an artist.

Yeah, but…

Yes, I realise that one of the strengths of an artist residency can be to remove the artist from their normal environment; to provide fresh stimuli. That’s still something I hope to do through other residencies but I believe what the Stay At Home Artist Residency lacks in terms of interaction with other artists and new surroundings it gains in terms of familiarity, focus, flexibility and having the tools and materials of my craft to hand.

Crucially, I am not the sort of artist that has a Proper Job and therefore gains the freedom to explore their art by going to do a residency. In many ways, I have the opposite problem: too much time and too many options. I relish the structure a Stay At Home Artist Residency would provide me with and hopefully it can lead to some exciting work for your festival/event/venue.

And yes, you could just commission me to make something for your event/venue but that’s different. With most of the residencies I have attended the emphasis is not on finished pieces of work but the process. A Stay At Home Artist Residency is different from a straightforward commission in that it won’t seek to the fully define the deliverables upfront. This is reflected in the residency fee and the lack of any cost for materials etc.

I’m interested

Great! Let’s discuss it further. Send me an email and we can take it from there. Hopefully, it will lead to some great work we can both be proud of.


Outdoor microphone


Outdoor tuba

Ear Candy – Cheltenham Jazz Festival sonic vending machines

I have just completed a commission for Cheltenham Jazz Festival to design and build 250 handmade musical instruments. Each one needed to fit inside a vending machines capsule, for purchase at the festival. Yes, it was as epic a task as it sounds; not least because I was responsible for the concept, management and delivery…as well as checking and maintaining the machines on site.

I developed six different musical instrument designs. It was quite a challenge, given how small they had to be, but the results were pretty playable little things, as demonstrated in the How To video I produced for anyone unsure of what to do with their Ear Candy.

There were three sonic vending machines installed at the festival. One in the VIP lounge, one in the Box Office and this larger one in the public bar area.

As ever, if anything, I over delivered. I even ended up doing the sign-writing for the machines…but despite literally dotting the “i”s, one issue slightly scuppered sales. Somebody decided to issue a new £1 coin. I flagged this early on and took advice on the roll-out schedule but these old machines only provided the option for old or new coins; not both. Sometimes you just have to take a punt…and that aside, things went swimmingly. I received a number of excited tweets and snippets from people enjoying playing the instruments. NICE!

I’d like to give a big shout-out to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival organisers – especially Emily – for sterling project management, assistance and artist care. Top drawer! It really was a lot of fun and I hope it brought joy to those who bought and played them!

Lastly, here is a daft little promo video I did showing me playing four of the instruments together…

Why I have stopped making art, in order to raise money for charity

I am lucky. By most standards very lucky. I am a full-time musician and artist and as such am living the dream. Yes, it’s often poorly paid and involves far more sales and admin type tasks than anyone likes to admit but I know I lead a charmed life. To some extent I do so because I am scratching an itch. I live through doing this stuff and I find not doing so for a prolonged period causes me to get like a stop-valve needs releasing.

For a long time now there has been certain background tension though, which stems from a sense that I am not giving enough back. Art is good. It enriches lives. It is often also radical and challenging. But with the broad political trajectory of the past few years and in particular very recent events that just didn’t seem like enough any more. So, for a while I have stopped making art to run this campaign: www.dancehowyoulike.co.uk

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If I am honest, I didn’t plan to stop making art entirely while this 21 day campaign is running but it has proved far more all-consuming than I had envisaged. So far, it’s also failing pretty miserably. At the time of writing this the campaign has sold a total of 23 t-shirts. I paid £120 to have 20 t-shirts printed for the promotional activities, including the video below. At present, the charity donation will be around £100. MEH! Must try harder. It could only take one celebrity endorsement or some good press and away we go…but I have also decided that this first iteration of this project and that Dance How You Like will continue beyond this first 21 day campaign. I’ve learnt a lot, including that charity work is fraught with challenges and that you have to work your ass off because people just aren’t going to get to hear about it otherwise.

I will never run a vanity project, so I will quit this if/when the time is right to do so…or if I decide upon other ways to help make a difference. Dance How You Like exists to raise awareness of tolerance and integration issues in the UK – as well as money for Citizens UK. That’s it.

If any of this is making you think you could help an inexperienced soul in this world of fundraising, or maybe you just want to let people know about it, here is information on how you can support the project / get in touch: dancehowyoulike.co.uk/support.html

Oh and here’s that video I mentioned earlier…ENJOY!

I wrote this blog post in part to give myself permission to continue with the project and still avoid making any art for a bit. This may last the full 21 days of the initial campaign but I do have a couple of time-critical projects I will probably do some work on in that time. We’ll see. That itch is certainly getting itchier by the day!

Tumblr blogs

I started a couple of Tumblr blogs:

What’s He Building In There? is a place to house updates on what I am up to that don’t really warrant a full blog post on here. Work in progress / experiments etc.

Sounds From Outside features weird and wonderful sounds and musical instruments. A means of driving and logging my research in this area.

Halldorophone

I hope you might consider “following” them…

Creating Amplification 5

Amplification at Millennium Point

The final blog post detailing our work creating Amplification. Now on show in Millennium Point, Birmingham.

Overview

Week commencing 25th May
What a week! A bit of a blur really but we got there in the end. In fact, we had the van packed with Amplification by the end of play on Wednesday.

As ever though there was a lot of admin and surrounding stuff to sort out ahead of the installation on Saturday. OH and then within an hour of it being installed, somebody broke it…so we arrived at 7:30am on Monday to fix and reinforce it; so it opened at 9am as planned.

The early opening was because we got it installed early and thought we’d just go for it! It provided a useful phase of beta testing…

Day by Day

25th May

  • Buying parts for final tweaks – such as silver piping, plinth, polish
  • Cutting and test fitting plinth

 
26th May

  • Final work on aesthetics and strengthening
  • One last test build

 
last-studio
 
27th May

  • Packing up and loading into van

 
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28th May

  • Project admin

 
29th May

  • Signage and paperwork
  • Final nice-to-have tweaks to headset &c

30th May

  • Installation at Millennium point, with David
  • As I arrive home I get a call to say it has been broken so make plans to come in first thing on Monday

 
start
 
end
 
1st June May

  • Fixed and reinforced piece opens to the public at 9am – BINGO!

All that remains is for people to enjoy it and for us to do the documentation and rounding off…yay! Oh and any further maintenance of course ;)

Have a look/listen at Millennium Point, as part of All Ears.

Creating Amplification 4

rush

Here is the fourth and penultimate weekly blog post detailing our progress creating Amplification.

Overview

Week commencing 18th May
Our penultimate week certainly had its ups and downs. Luckily our work on Saturday ended on a positive note.

Now we are into the phase of final tweaks – which always take ages – and nice-to-haves before pack down; ahead of installation at Millennium Point on Saturday. It’s going to be a exhilarating and tiring week. Let’s hope everything goes to plan…and then let’s hope people enjoy using it.

Day by Day

18th May

  • Day off; pondering

 
19th May

  • Plinth arrives – yay!
  • Setting out plinth and elements to go on it
  • More welding
  • More ordering of parts

 
Laying out
 
20th May

  • Drilled lots of holes in the plinth – EEK!
  • Set stuff out on the plinth
  • MORE ordering of parts

 
21st May

  • Spent all day tweaking, hacking and installing our first proper test rig – and it failed. As a test that is pretty useful; just a tad demoralising

Setting up
 
22nd May

  • Going round trading estates buying parts to fix some of the issues we were experiencing
  • Bonus: found a great local micro-brewery on a trading estate ;)

23rd May

  • Modified a few things and set up a test rig again. MUCH better. We even had it tested by some almost genuine punters; who loved it
  • Onward!

Sanding the base
Making new clamps

Knackered and exhilarated; in equal measure.

To follow: Creating Amplification 5…the final week.

Creating Amplification 3

happy

Here is the third weekly blog post detailing our progress creating Amplification.

Overview

Week commencing 11th May
As you can see from Phil’s face and thumbs, this week went pretty well. We got a serious amount of the production sorted, resolved a few issues and generally got a lot closer to finishing the thing. My role was sourcing the advice and parts we’d needed, consulting with Phil and holding/shifting stuff as required, trying to find someone to document it and making coffee; all of which I did! Phil just cracked on, as he does, with the making!

The main thing that remained outstanding at the end of the week was the lack of the main stage / plinth, which was a nightmare as that’s what it is all constructed around. I was chasing like mad but it still hadn’t arrived by the Friday. Somewhat stressful.

Day by Day

11th May

  • Researched and ordered flange bearings that could go on top of the platform
  • Chasing plinth

 
12th May

  • Spoke with Chris Keenan of Prime Objective about video documentation and he agreed to do it – yay!
  • New flange bearings arrive and are tested
  • Uprights polished and tweaked for use with new bearings
  • Chasing plinth

 
pole
pole1
pole2
 
13th May

  • Welding; lots of welding
  • Sent demonstration video and audio to Chris to check it was correctly set up for video – bingo!
  • Chasing plinth

welding
welding2
 
14th May

  • Ordering more parts
  • Chasing plinth

 
15th May

  • Set up ear trumpets on stands, using retort stands to clamp; Adjust, repeat…
  • First full mock up. Testing audio routing, via pipes through chair and into ear trumpets on stands. It only worked!
  • Found new local supplier for nuts, bolts and other hardware. Great!
  • Chasing plinth

As with last week, we actually did a lot more than that…including head scratching, coffee drinking and other actual work but sometimes we were too busy doing it to write it down ;)

To follow: Creating Amplification 4…

Creating Amplification 2

amplification2

Here is the second weekly blog post detailing our progress creating Amplification.

Overview

Week commencing 4th May
We made significant progress this week. Many things started to fall into place and many of those things you can only really assess once you put stuff together were tweaked accordingly. Gradually we are reaching the tipping point where it goes from rushing around trying to source stuff and work stuff out to just bolting it all together. That’s not to say that it will all work when we bolt it together and there is still a background chance of total failure but that’s always a feature of making ambitious new work. Sometimes making art is scary; not only in terms of getting it finished – for example, this week we drilled through a very expensive chair. EEK!

In addition to the development of the piece itself, we also had – at last – some positive discussions with someone who might video document it. Yay.

Day by Day

4th May

  • Researched and ordered: hearing defenders, p bone mouthpieces, pipes and fittings

 
5th May

  • Researched: bearing options, pipe milling, machine shops

 
6th May

  • Received steering wheels
  • Drilled into expensive chair
  • Desoldered and reconstructed custom sousaphone pipework for routing audio via stands
  • Bought more tools
  • Received various items in the post – a now daily occurrence
  • Sent pillars to be machined
  • Discussed ideas for linking rotation of stands – David Morton as technical consultant

holes
heat
valves
build
 
7th May

  • Made base for chair
  • Made headset
  • Made base pivots / bump stops
  • Tested headset via pipework through chair

 
base
headset
 
 
8th May

  • Pillars returned, fitted, and tweaked (to eradicate wobble)
  • Found a new supplier (Acorn) for bearings and other parts – they actually took us seriously and want to feature the finished piece in their promotional materials!

Each day we actually did a lot more than that, including head scratching, coffee drinking and other actual work but sometimes we are too busy doing it to write it down ;)

To follow: Creating Amplification 3…

Creating Amplification 1

Amplification

This is the first in a four-part series of blog posts to document the final stages of work towards the installation of my / MortonUnderwood‘s most ambitious sound art installation to date. I must confess that for a while now I haven’t felt the urge to spend time writing about my work; as you can see from the date of my previous blog post on here. There are various general reasons for this, from not wanting to spend my time in front of a computer to wondering who would be interested in reading this stuff anyway.

Where this project is concerned though, there is one other thing that has held me back from documenting it: fear. Specifically, fear that it won’t be completed on time and what I will be documenting is in fact a terrible failure. Suddenly, last week – with four weeks to go until the installation – I had a change of heart regarding this. This stems from the fact that I think the chances of failure are now somewhat diminished, that I am bound to documenting it as a condition of the funding I received, and crucially, that I feel documenting even total failure might be of interest and help to others. So here we go…the first of four blog posts documenting the creation of Amplification.

(Unlike the remaining blog posts on this, as the first, this documents the process so far; rather than just the week prior.)

The story so far…

As an introduction to the project itself, let’s start with some blurb from the press release:

Amplification is a stereo acoustic amplification system, developed to encourage deep listening to environmental sounds within a space. Users of the system will augment their listening through two large ear trumpets. In addition, they will be able to adjust the stereo field of what they can hear by swiveling each horn; creating a distinctive and unusual listening experience.

During their time exploring the collection at the Birmingham Museums Trust, MortonUnderwood was struck by the efforts made by developers of the music boxes, gramophones and orchestrions in the collection to amplify the sound output. In a world where we can easily dial in more electronic amplification, many of the innovative approaches seen in the collection are now obsolete. Through Amplification MortonUnderwood hope to highlight the beauty of passive, acoustic amplification systems.

That’s the plan and I put this idea to the Arts Council, who duly supported the idea via their Grants For The Arts scheme.

grant_jpeg_black-sm

I am so pleased to have received their support; and at the first time of asking as well.

I could finally make something where money didn’t pose so much of a constraint. Where cobbling together could be substituted with professional fabrication. Where taking a few images and posting them online could be substituted with full video documentation.

BUT, as I know from years of running my own businesses, with every opportunity comes risk. Any step-change presents many challenges as well as openings…and that has been the story of this project so far.

The first thing my colleague David Morton and I had to do was make it a solid idea that properly sparked our interest. We played with a few ideas and prototypes before deciding on the approach outlined above. I suspect most people have seen or even used mono acoustic listening devices before and with David’s experience of using a mid-side microphone array we were confident we could create some interesting effects by making a stereo listening device, with a matched, stereo pair; where the user could alter the stereo field. It sounded easy enough at the time!

amplification3-sm

At the same time as developing a prototype of this ourselves, I started to look for firms to fabricate it and contacted someone I had used before about documenting the project. I anticipated that finding a fabricator might be hard but sadly even the chap who we had hoped would document it was unavailable, due to personal reasons.

In the end I wrote/drew a full specification for the piece in order to take it out more widely to fabricators. I was soon reminded of the benefits of cobbling together. In the words of one fellow artist I contacted regarding this, “It’s usually communication issues with commercial outfits in my experience, different mind-sets etc”. And so it went on…until one day, with time rather tight, we found a fabricator. Sadly, it took us two further weeks to discover they weren’t the right people for the job either, at which point we took the bold / scary decision to try and find another fabricator with only five and a half weeks left…

The only reason I feel able to write this now is that our new, and final fabricator, Tuba Phil (pictured below) and I are making reasonable strides now and will have something to present at the end of this month. I kick myself that I didn’t think of Phil before. I play in Collective43 with him but for some reason I didn’t consider him for this job until pretty late in the day. So far it has been a great pleasure working with him and I can see much good coming out of this in future. For one thing he acts as a conduit between what’s in my mind and the means of making this a reality…but also, we have a mutual respect and understanding.

One further thing I realised through this is that giving up the production of one of our pieces is going to be harder than I anticipated. Event pieces like A Word In Your Ear – where the idea was predominantly David’s, the box was produced by our friend Neil and all I did was manage the process and install the electronics – I had to play some part, beyond just the conceptual side of things. Maybe this will always be the case but I hope I will one day accept that the art is in the idea and you can happily let others create the piece itself, as they are probably better at that bit…

tuba-phil
Photo: Dave Grubb

To follow: Creating Amplification 2…