Posts Tagged 'Sound Thought 2011'

Sound Thought 2011 Part 3

The audience hushed as the presenter appeared in the beam of a spotlight with a ream of A4 sheets of white paper held to his chest. At well-timed intervals, successive sheets dropped from his hands and fluttered poetically into the darkness. “Hear the sounds all around you” read the text*on one. “Hear the sound of your heart beating” said another.

The audience was experiencing Benn Dunn’s ‘Signed Sound’ presentation, which began with a soundless performance piece, referencing, amongst other things, the composer John Cage’s experience in an anechoic chamber. Despite the hearing aid’s enthusiasm for sampling all the least poetic aspects of the unique acoustic ambience of Arch 6, I was enraptured. Even when one of the captions said “hear the gentle sound of this sheet of paper hitting the floor”. Well, that’s what imagination is for, I said to myself, but I started to get a bit worried when the size of the lettering suddenly started to become smaller a few sheets further on. “Raise your hand if you are having difficulty reading this” said a well-timed sheet. Keen to preserve my silent listening experience, I immediately stuck my hand up. I was the only one.

“Oh…” said Ben, introducing the first unplanned utterance to the silence. “Is it the lighting? How about if I stand here?”

Thanks to me, John Cage had just left the room.

Chairs creaked as nineteen silhouetted heads turned to see who the perceptually challenged person at the back was. Eager to ensure my soundless listening comfort, Ben followed the trajectory of his previous piece of paper and leapt athletically from the stage into the darkness.

“Better?” he said hopefully.

“No, it’s not the lights”, I replied, in the second unplanned utterance, “I’m just really short-sighted.” There was a burst of laughter from the audience, and I suddenly felt very glad of the darkness.

Half an hour later things were back on track and, to the delight of the woman at the back with the dodgy eyesight and the hearing aid, Robert Fulford’s ‘Hearing-Impaired Musicians’ Use and Experience of Hearing Aid Technology’ presentation appeared on the screen. Thankfully there were no sheets of A4 paper in sight.

A very poised presenter, Robert explained that he was in the first year of his PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music and went on to describe his research to date. He is interested in what motivates hearing impaired musicians, what challenges they face and how they are overcome. He has been interviewing a selection of musicians (ranging from amateur to professional) who use hearing aids, and recording their views on how useful, or otherwise, aids are to their performance and enjoyment of music. Some of his sample musicians were born deaf or hearing impaired, and some lost their hearing later in life to different degrees. Some used hearing aids when playing, and some did not. It was interesting to hear about those musicians, some of them profoundly deaf, who preferred to play unaided, and really sad to hear about those who needed to play aided, but lived in fear of their old analogue aids dying, because they found digital aids unusable for music. The personal accounts which Robert featured were very vivid and I look forward to hearing about how his research progresses.

We had a nice chat afterwards, and then I disappeared out on to the gale lashed streets. The musical mushrooms were still tinkling away merrily in their bell jar as I passed.


*my paraphrasing of Ben’s text from memory…apologies!

Sound Thought 2011 Part 2

When the first round of paper presentations finished, there was a 15 min break before the start of the ‘Sound and Industry’ session leading up to lunch. Hmm…Musical Mushrooms during the break, or a free cup of tea and a chocolate digestive? It was no contest, and I was soon wrestling with the tap mechanism on the tea urn and hoping no-one was watching as I missed my cup. Back at my seat, the satisfying crunching of the chocolate biscuit temporarily occupied my ears until the next three postgraduate student presenters took to the stage to discuss composers’ rights  and music in the age of digital reproduction. All very interesting, and as I headed to the restaurant for lunch afterwards, I was delighted to finally stumble across the musical mushrooms in a tiny darkened room. Trapped in a sweating bell jar and glowing green in the beam of a laser, their drifting spores were sending secret messages to a series of metal chimes which sounded at different pitches and emitted fleeting flashes of light with every tinkle.

After lunch, I prepared myself for the highlight of the day for me, the Sound and the Listener presentations, including the ‘Hearing-Impaired Musicians’ Use and Experience of Hearing Aid Technology’ paper. In order to make the occasion perfect, I needed to fit in another free cup of tea and a biscuit back at Arch 6 before it started. Now that I knew where I was going, I strode assertively to the glass doors leading to the Kafkaesque corridor, and pondered whether I would stick with the chocolate digestives or move on to the custard creams and jammie dodgers…BANG. I bounced noisily off the right hand door as I pushed against it with my shoulder. Undeterred, I pulled it instead, to no avail. Then I gave it a good rattle just to make sure. Must be the other door I thought, as I noisily rattled it as well, watched with disdain by some über cool types lounging on the sofas in the foyer, who knew a locked glass door when they saw it.

“Can I help you?” said a steward.

“I’m trying to get to the 2:30 presentation”, I said, making no mention of the free biscuits.

“Take a seat in the foyer, Madam, there’s a slight delay, we’ll let you know when it’s starting”, said the steward.

I slunk over to a cube shaped leather pouffé and pretended to take a great interest in the contents of my handbag while I waited. Time was running out on my biscuits.

“Would the presenters for the 2:30 paper presentations please assemble in the foyer” said an announcement over the pa system. Ah, so they were actually running late I thought with relief. My biscuits were safe. I could relax. I was just drifting off into a nice daydream featuring a packed pastel-coloured cakestand, when a very polite chap approached me and said,

“Excuse me, are you talking at Sound Thought this afternoon?”

I was seized by a sudden bizarre impulse to say ‘Yes’ just to see what would happen, but settled for a slightly hesitant “No…” instead.

If only I had kept to my word…

Coming up in Part 3:

  • I play safe and decide to stick with the chocolate digestives
  • My eyes cause even more trouble than my ears.
  • I finally get to the point

Sound Thought 2011 Part 1

Non-musical mushrooms

“I’m looking for the musical mushrooms” I said, pointing to The Secret Sounds of Spores Installation in the Sound Thought 2011 brochure, “but I haven’t a clue how to find my way round this place”. I was in The Arches, the cavernous converted Victorian railway arches beneath Glasgow Central Station, and I was running late because of the unfortunate oversight of rushing out the house sans hearing aid and having to go back. I was there to enjoy the promised festival of ‘mould-breaking music, sound and performance research’, and was particularly interested in the afternoon session on musicians’ use of hearing aids.

“Just go right to the end of that corridor, turn right and someone will direct you”, said the friendly girl at the box office. Several minutes and a quite a few hundred metres later, I reached the end of the Kafkaesque corridor, where a Type 5 Inaudible steward emerged from the gloom and said something, well, inaudible. I was just about to say “I’m here for the mushrooms” to end the verbal impasse, when I was swiftly ushered through a set of double doors and found myself in almost complete darkness.

A strong smell of disinfectant assaulted my nostrils as I entered the space. I could hear voices, and once my eyes adjusted, I realised I was in a huge brick vaulted cavern illuminated by red safelights and the reflected glow from a projector screen. This isn’t the flippin’ mushrooms, I sighed as I noted the silhouetted audience of fifteen scattered round little metal cafe tables near a stage with a microphoned presenter on it. Oh heck, it’s the end of the first set of paper presentations, I thought, as I slid into the only available seat at the back while I worked out my next move. Resigned to a slight detour in my fungi-finding schedule, I settled in and cast my eyes around the scene. I saw with great satisfaction that the stage had two enormous speakers and an amp on it, and I basked in the nice warm glow of clearly audible voices from the stage.

My joy was short-lived, however, as the first of many trains rumbled noisily out of the station directly above my head. Dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..thudded the wheels  on the track joints, as 400 tons of slowly moving metal bore down on the meticulously arched Victorian brickwork overhead. The hearing aid rattled with great excitement at all the unusual low frequency reverberations, before being enticed into a high-pitched duet with a bleeping forklift truck which had started up in the space next door. When a passing underground train now shook the concrete floor between my feet I felt relieved that, with the notorious exception of The Tay Bridge, the Victorians were renowned for the over-engineering of all their load-bearing railway structures.

Between trains, as the undecayed echoes from a distant bout of industrial hammering along the corridor bounced straight into my gaping lugs, I realised that the day was going to be an interesting listening experience for all the wrong reasons.

Coming up in Part 2:

  • My greed for free tea and biscuits results in an embarrassing tussle with a glass door
  • I get mistaken for a missing presenter as I eagerly await the start of the Music and Hearing Aids session
  • I catastrophically destroy the poetic silence of a soundless performance piece
  • I finally get to experience the Music of the Spores

Who Would Have Thought

Now, if anyone had told me a couple of years ago that I would get really excited about the above presentation which is part of the Sound Thought Event in Glasgow this week, I would have thought they were having a laugh or trying to cast even further aspersions on my notoriously erratic performance on the pianoforte.

Ah, how things change. I can’t wait for tomorrow afternoon’s session at The Arches, although the hearing aid is a little apprehensive over what might be said about its role in my unique playing style.



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