Love for Bedford

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with running workshops. On the one hand, they are a lot of work and require me to put in a lot of effort to engage people. On the other hand, the outcomes are often amongst the most pleasing I experience in my practice. Specifically, I like to think that after my workshops some of the attendees will be inspired to act differently or will continue making noisy things.

I recently visited Bedford College to deliver a Noise Box workshop to a group of about 12 students, over two days. In the run up to this I had my concerns. What if I couldn’t engage the “youth”? What if they didn’t like what we were up to and stormed out? What if they started fighting…with soldering irons!? I’m really not one for thinking the worst in such situations but I hadn’t delivered a Noise Box workshop to a group so young before and I guess having two parents who taught at college might have tainted my view slightly ;)

As it turns out this was the most rewarding workshop I have ever run!

Everyone turned up on day one and was really attentive, asking questions, getting on. They worked mainly in pairs and by the end of the day there were six finished noise boxes. I was shattered but Leah Kardos (the lecturer who got me down for this – and a damn fine musician too!) looked after me and by day two I was ready to make some more noise!

Day two was a really pleasant surprise. As day one had gone so well I wasn’t sure how much we might have to keep everyone occupied on day two but everyone was still full of enthusiasm and we added various things to do on an ad hoc basis, which worked really well. I knew it was going to be cool when a chap called Tom turned up with a part built step-sequencer that attaches to the extension on the synths they had made overnight, and another lad (Miles) turned up with an old radio, keen to build his synth into it. ACE!

Those who had worked in pairs on day one got on with making their synths, with the help of the person they’d helped make a synth the day before, whilst others stuck their synths through Logic to add effects etc. There were a couple of impromptu performances.

Additionally, people were asking about circuit-bending a lot after I introduced it at the start of the first day. One lad popped to his car to get a toy belonging to his daughter and two people chipped off to the charity shop at lunchtime. It was great, a real hive of activity.

I worked with various people through the day to make sure they got the most out of it. My only regret is that close to the end we broke one of the circuit bent toys – despite my best efforts to salvage it. I worked with Miles to make sure we used as many of the original radio controls for his synth and Tom finished his sequencer, which he put in a see-through envelope at the end of the day exclaiming that he had now made a Noise Box and a Noise Bag. HAAAAA!

A really rewarding workshop! I genuinely got the feeling that people were inspired to at least dabble some more. Miles seemed keen to try something more elaborate and we (MortonUnderwood) hope to commission Tom to complete his sequencer so we can see what the demand is like amongst owners of our synths. Hopefully something useful for his CV!

Lastly, I’d like to thank Leah for inviting me down (she’s a star!) and her colleague Richard for his help over the two days. It is always nice to have a helper that knows what they are doing. He makes cool stuff: customguitarprojects.co.uk / Facebook page. I hope to head back to Bedford College because that was very rewarding indeed!

Ideas for Breakfast

I am doing a talk/presentation on “Sonic Graffiti & Active Listening” on the 19th of August, at the rather swanky looking W Hotel in London. I’ll be discussing my Sonic Graffiti project and then spending some time getting people to focus on the sounds that they might normally ignore or filter out.

This is part of W London’s Ideas for Breakfast series, which is aimed at inspiring (and feeding) people. Here’s what Design Week had to say about it: Ideas for Breakfast

 

Hello Barrow!

I recently headed up to Barrow-in-Furness to deliver a Noise Box workshop and chat about possible future sonic happenings with the guys at Octopus Collective – the people behind the marvellous Full of Noises Festival.

Their enthusiasm and courtesy was evident from the start, which made me keen to go and visit. Then they mentioned the park! Octopus Collective is based in a house (formerly used by the park keeper I believe) in the middle of Barrow Park. The park has a lake, a bandstand, a memorial, a skate park, a little railway and all sorts of other stuff – and artists are invited to explore this space.

Octopus Collective HQ

On the Friday we talked about Barrow, surrounding industries and areas, previous happening and thoughts for the future. Something very good is going to come of this! On the Saturday we brought another ten Noise Boxes into the world – YES! Oh, and at some point I was hastily handed a phone to chat with a lady on Radio Cumbria – have a listen, John from Octopus Collective up first (sorry for the clicks and pops – seem to be on the BBC stream!).

Here are some pictures of the space available. I will be back to explore these further!

Bandstand

Park

Ducks

Train

Lake

Memorial

Inside Octopus Collective HQ

Workshop

I was treated really well from the start. It seemed in their nature. This made me feel great, just like I did on my recent trip to Denmark. More of this please.

Oh, and many thanks to Nikki Pugh, who recommended me to Octopus Collective. You rock!

Hello Denmark!

As my first blog post of the New Year I decided to pull my finger out and blog about something I attended in December 2011. I was asked by my friends at The Centrifuge to conduct an electronics workshop, building my Noise Boxes, in Helsingor, Denmark. This was the venue (Photographs by Quintin Lake). How could I refuse?

The workshops I conduct provide an opportunity for me to share my skills, in the hope that others might be inspired (at the very least) to “hack things better”, rather than accept that all electronic devices are untouchable. They also provide a great opportunity for meeting interesting people and engaging in some deep and worthwhile discussions. To then get my expenses and my time paid, have amazing food, drinks and accommodation provided, and be treated with the utmost courtesy, made my time in Denmark really remarkable. It was quite clear how much value they attach to the arts, based not only on the venue we were at but the future plans and the general approach. It warmed my heart!

The workshop went really well. My mini lecture went well too. Much fun was had. Everyone was charming, relaxed and professional. The Centrifuge crew delivered.

I’d like UK arts organisations to take note. If you treat us well we will reciprocate. Expect us to deliver many hours of our time at a loss, with a load of stress-heads beating us up about the whole thing and you get what you deserve.

That is all.

 

 

BIG thanks to The Culture Yard and The Centrifuge for making this happen.

PRSF New Music Incubator – Initial response

Last week I attended the UK leg of the PRSF New Music Incubator, for which I was selected earlier this year. This was held at Brunel University, the Swedish leg takes place in some remote northern Swedish town in April 2012.

Here is a list of the current participants.

I decided to write an initial response to my time there before memories fade. I have not reflected on stuff in great detail, in fact I just wanted to blurt some stuff out there. I find this a valid part of how I document stuff and also quite cathartic. More measured thoughts to follow…maybe.

The schedule and process was pretty intensive. Each day we’d make our way to the food hall at 8am for breakfast, then to the main hall for 9am to be divided into groups and to be given our theme for the day. Each evening at 8pm we would “perform” whatever we had managed to achieve that day. Days were pretty long, creatively charged and were followed by long sessions to evaluate what had been presented. These were sometimes quite impassioned affairs.

On the first night it became apparent that the people chosen were all really pleasant, as were the people leading the programme. That was a great start and put me immediately at ease.

For me personally it was an emotional time. I had to travel back on the first day to attend a meeting to see whether the studio I had spent all my life savings on having built could be rescued from possible demolition, as it was too tall. I find planning a pretty dull subject area but the potential consequences were substantial for me and had been causing me stress and bouts of depression for months. I was really nervous but I am so pleased to say that it was passed and can now be finished. This is GREAT news but the whole episode left me even more emotionally drained than just the intensity of the programme itself. My instinct was that I wanted to be around people I was already close to that night and the next day but it was actually really nice just getting on with stuff and seeing how happy those who I told were for me. Again, it showed how damn pleasant the people on the programme are.

At times I felt out of my depth. I am clearly at a different stage in my musical development to pretty much everyone else there, which included accomplished composers, players, or experts in their fields. By the last day this feeling got to me a little but overall it was really good to be given an indication of what level I should be looking to achieve. It also meant that I learnt shedloads from everyone else. I hope I was able to give something back but some of the time I just felt I was leaching expertise.

I was reminded how much I want to excel on an instrument or in a given area, rather than as is currently the case, where I am fairly proficient in a number of areas. People demonstrated some amazing work throughout as part of how we got to know each other. On the last day I had demos from Robert Ek, a hugely accomplished clarinet player, and from Mark Fell. I consider both of them to be at the top of their games. This just made me want to concentrate my efforts more than ever.

As ever I didn’t document stuff as well as I’d have liked. We were busy! The best I did was take a few photographs of my group on the last day (below). More material will no doubt surface in due course.

Lina Lapelyte

Robert Ek

Mark Fell

My kit

We all provided feedback about the programme on the last evening. There’s no need to go over that here, other than to stress one thing, I think it could be even more successful given a broader range of people and influences. I don’t really know what sort of music PRS hope the programme will result in but for me the participants were drawn from too narrow a selection of musicians and backgrounds.

I have not stopped thinking about the week we had together. In the shower, on my morning bike ride etc. It has really challenged me and I believe it will focus my efforts greatly. In particular the single-mindedness and expertise demonstrated was just a big kick up the arse for me. I admire so many of the people on the course, it was great to spend time I their company. It was all I could’ve hoped for.

I am really looking forward to Sweden and am confident interesting collaborations and future works will arise.
I’d like to thank everyone involved in the programme and a special thank you to Capsule for nominating me. Your support is hugely appreciated!

Dooooooh Doo Doo Dooooh

I’ve been doing quite a lot of work with young people over the last couple of years. This mostly involves introducing them to new ways of making and thinking about music. I have continued to do this work during my sabbatical as I hope it might go some way towards creating a more enriched future.

The latest event I attended was the “Change Day” held at Billesley Primary School in Birmingham. I spent between 45 minutes and an hour with groups of 15 kids, showing them how sampling and looping works and then writing a short tune using this technique to form the basis. Given the short period of time available I was really pleased with the results. As well as creating the rhythm and the “bassline” the kids also wrote and sang the lyrics.

Here is the catchy ditty year 6 created:

[audio:http://www.mrunderwood.co.uk/audio/Yr6_I_Want_My_School_To_Be.mp3]

I would like to thank everyone involved for helping make this inspiring day happen. The other creative practitioners were really great and I think the goals of the day were exceeded.

And relax…kinda

With the completion of another hugely successful (and fun) Theremin Day workshop last weekend, I have decided it is time for a rest from public-facing events for a while. 2010 has been a very busy year for me. As well as my full-time job I have committed to and delivered so many projects that my time for reflection and learning has been severely rationed. That’s not to say I haven’t learnt stuff through the things I have done this year. I have learnt a lot of stuff! To think that I had never built a circuit from scratch until this year is still pretty amazing to me, especially given the confidence and knowledge with which I ran the workshop last weekend! Also, 2010 has been about planting seeds for the future, working with people I admire on projects that inspire me and generally trying new stuff out. I am more than happy with the outcomes!

I have a couple of major projects in the pipeline that need some time devoting to them, plus I want some studio time to try out some ideas I’ve been pondering. Add to that the various conversations I am having with some inspirational and influential people and I hope there is some really exciting stuff to come.

I leave you with a few pictures of people enjoying the workshop last week and of what they created…plus one of me going boggle-eyed trying to find a fault ;)

Thanks to Martin at DMC for the images and for organising the workshop!

I am cool, by association!

As part of my efforts for Supersonic this year I am getting to work and perform with some great people. This is really inspiring, flattering and rather daunting! Here’s a little round-up of who I am working with and why that’s cool, and why that makes me cool by association, maybe.

The Saturday stats with me doing a performance and workshop, featuring myself in the morning and the super cool Dosh, or Martin Luther King Chavez Dosh it seems, in the afternoon. Dosh is a multi-instrumentalist who uses loopers to layer really great tunes live. I’ve never seen him live myself but I’ve admired his work from afar for a while. Cool stuff, check it:

Then, on to my Noise Box workshop. I have been working with the super cool and always enthusiastic Dr. Kate Sugden of Aston Uni on the design of the updated Noise Box. She’s also kindly helping out on the day!

So far, so good…a talented musician and a scientist!

Lastly on the Saturday, I have been asked by Andrew Moscardo-Parker (of Einstellung fame) to be part of the Lash Frenzy Big Band vs KK NULL. I first met Andrew when I supported Melt Banana last year. Lash Frenzy were supporting too. They are noisy bastards and this incarnation will be no different. As well as having a lot of love for Andrew and Einstellung I am also super chuffed to be playing with / against the mighty KK NULL. Here are a couple of videos showing how cool they both are:

Finally, on the Sunday afternoon, when I perform Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music for torch and Optical Theremin I will be joined by the amazing (and cool) percussionist Joe Snape. I only found this out today. Well chuffed! Check his shit out:

Obviously being involved in Supersonic to the degree I am is pretty damn cool in itself but having the opportunity to work and perform with such a lot of cool people is a real honour! Frankly, whether it makes me cool by association or not is of no consequence to me. I am just going to enjoy the experience!

Supersonic Sam

With my workshop and midi-octopus performance at the British Science Festival complete I thought I’d update you on what’s next >> Supersonic!

Yep, it’s official, Supersonic 2010 will see me rushing around like a fookin mad man!

Saturday kicks off with me doing Big Sounds for Little People at the mac. Then I will be rushing over to VIVID to run a workshop to build Supersonic Noise Boxes on the Saturday afternoon. Then a brief rest before playing tuba in a gimp mask on the Saturday evening as part of the Lash Frenzy Big Band (with KK NULL). Finally, on the Sunday I will be performing a specially adapted version of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music, for four Supersonic Noise Boxes and four torches.

That is a pretty full-on schedule and one I am very proud to have been asked to deliver! Nietzsche would agree that if it doesn’t kill me it will certainly be very cool ;)

Thanks to Andrew Moscardo-Parker for offering me a part in the Lash Frenzy Big Band, Richard Hawley and his friend who owns a tuba for sorting me out with that, and of course Capsule for allowing me to do all this wicked stuff.

Before all this kicks off though, I am going on HOLIDAY!! See you on the other side.

Life after Theremin Day

After weeks of preparation and hard work, Theremin Day took place on the 24th April. It went rather well!

Many people, including myself have blogged about it :
Theremin Day site | fizzPOP | Genzaichi | Hellocatfood | Digbeth is Good

Phantom Circuit kindly covered the event in full : Phantom Circuit #36

All great stuff, but there is life after Theremin Day and I wanted to let you know a little about it! Firstly, building on the success of Theremin Day, I am talking with two festivals about workshops and musical performances. I have planned some really special boutique hardware for this. Secondly, I have my next Glatze gig coming up in July – details soon. Also, I am gearing up towards my workshop and debut midi-octopus performance at the British Science Festival. I am writing a score for an animated film. Lastly, my debut Glatze EP is almost good to go now, sounding groovy!

That is all, carry on…