This might make you want to pee.
This might make you want to pee.
One of two tracks looking for a vinyl release as part of a site specific project in Eskdalemuir, Scotland.
Using a coil induction mic is a terrifying experience, as you wave it around you can hear all sorts of electrical activity in the air, the walls, from switches, modems, but microwaves in particular are very angry sounding. This is a medley of three typical household objects…
One of several field recordings made on Thursday 22nd March 2012 investigating the use of hydrophone recordings for uncovering or rediscovering my local environs. In attempting to listen in different ways of the local landscape, it is hoped that closer links will be forged by the results of different ‘ears’ on the place.
As my illness entered a fairly sustained and severe phase, I had been looking for ever simpler ways in which to create music in a practical but also metaphorical manner. And so began the relationship between two broken things, myself and the on-it’s-last-legs piano we recycled in Ayr last year.
We’d had it tuned and eased but since our 20 month old was born it has taken a number of hard knocks from him, but perhaps he is just a catalyst with all the hammer-stems eroding. The whole machine is stiff, creaky and fracturing. So that’s the metaphorical bit. The practical bit is me using a portable 8 track recorder, a really cheap but cheerful Tascam DP008 and recording with it because my illness cannot take the wiring and the thinking that goes on behind using my mac as a multitrack recorder. I use the mac instead for finalising. So this recording is the first fairly harsh sounding foray into working with the 8 track and the piano. Only three crudely-mixed tracks, not really mixed cleverly or anything, but made during a very sick week.
I’ve now made a virtual version (.flac/.mp3/.mp4/.pdf) of the installation commissioned by Ayr Renaissance for Holmston House / Doors Open Weekend Ayr 2011 – it’s on bandcamp and it’s free and it is especially aimed at the chronically ill and/or incarcerated. http://chrisdooks.bandcamp.com/album/moons-or-these-knots-are-not-knots-2011 – I’d be really grateful if you would share this in your networks…
One of the reasons there have been few posts on this blog is simply exhaustion. But I have a lot to catch up and blog about and I’ve made a one minute manifesto as part of a symposium in Dundee. And it lives here:- http://chrisdooks.bandcamp.com/album/the-one-minute-manifesto-of-the-exhausted-artist – term is about to resume and hopefully my energy will follow.
Well, it’s poster week at UWS and I’ll be in Ullapool. So, in the meantime, here is my work in progress essay/poster. You’d think being an artist there’d be more pictures? Well, it’s about clarifying my aims at the moment, so there are words words words…
“The Adaptive Prism”
Emancipations for the Exhausted Artist
The Creative Practitioner and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
“Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance” Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
“Adaptability [is endowed with] a highly personal dialectic nature, one of disruption followed by one of rapid response” – Havi Carel, Illness
Adaptation towards my personal illness with its murky causality and for which treatment was ineffectual has necessitated an equally personal triage and treatment: in my case, I self-medicated with bespoke art and music projects, with strategies developed over a ten-year time frame.
I am a digital artist and musician/composer. Since my diagnosis with M.E. in 1998/9, I appear to have been unconsciously creating my own ‘Art School for Exhaustives’. The work of consciously unpicking and evaluating these projects has just begun. Practice has preceded formal research or reflection until now. I am also creating new work based on these reflections.
At the heart of my art school’s ‘imaginary charter’ lies a metaphor – the Adaptive or Augmented-Prism. In reality, this is the process of identifying and implementing those alterations, adaptations and strategies which successfully augment this particular chronic illness.
Primarily qualitative and auto-ethnographic in approach – even idiosyncratic, this PhD asks what is required to define and hone those techniques which may liberate (in the first instance) the art practitioner with exhaustion-related illness? Then, via a methodology which covers bases as wide as conceptual art, existentialism, biomusicology, minimalism, psychogeography and astronomy – asks: (in the second instance) what lessons learned in the artist’s auto-ethnographies can liberate others with similar illnesses?
If a beam of light can be thought of as a metaphor for a healthy life, then this light, when refracted through a prism, creates a rainbow of the full visible spectrum. Continuing the metaphor, each colour here could represent an aspect of human opportunity; health, independence, leisure, happiness, prosperity, and so on. We may call this a rainbow of opportunity for the well. I came to call this ‘full-spectrum living.’
But in the sick and ill, the light-source is not steady or bright, but erratic, unpredictable or weak, then so it follows that the rainbow would be compromised. This led to my main question:
What lessons have been learned in the Art School for Exhaustives – in order to implement ‘An Adaptive Prism’ reinstating or even improving on the idealistic ‘full spectrum living’ ? – and if that couldn’t be done, what could replace aspects of it?
What is required would be a kind of living-prism of the psyche – which would be both analytical and diagnostic in approach, but also, crucially: adaptive and philosophical in execution; contained within a feedback-loop of listening and dispensing – the very definition of reflexivity; illuminating, articulating and formalising the creative insights of this particular sickness.
In this way, we create a new Prism, a listening Prism capable of being re-calibrated. Pushing the metaphor even further, instead of a hard quartz crystal we have a more fluid, dynamic instrument, a personable, flexible Prism. Or, as my fellow North-Easterners would say, a canny Prism.
I like this quote from philosopher Havi Carel:
“Being able to improvise and create new ways of compensating for a lost capacity shows the plasticity of behavior and the human capacity to adjust to change.”
This “plasticity of behavior” could lead to the emancipating the practitioner. What I previously thought was a series of low-energy works to occupy myself in illness has unconsciously been the beginnings of defining a practical philosophy of illness. Over the remainder of my PhD I hope to refine my adapted bricolage-approach into a meaningful and potentially transferrable praxis.
So, to recap: I am developing a series of short-form, bespoke, reflexive art experiments & texts, aimed at both myself and other art practitioners who suffer primarily from the suite of health conditions known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E., Post-Viral Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and CFIDS.
Here are some of the aims and outcomes of designing a series of art projects and texts :
1. To improve the quality of life to the practitioner
(i.e. maintaining access to education within cognitive fog, fun, satisfaction, participation, wonder, awe.)
2. To explore the value of ‘Process Vs Product’ in participatory arts
(i.e. Would you know it was made by an ‘exhausted’ artist – and if so does this add or subtract professional value to or from it? – is it important that a product is made at all?)
3. To explore the idea of simplicity across disciplines
(i.e. To what extent is the project conceptually sleek? Does it require a lot of cognitive activity to register the insight of the practice? What can be gathered from the history of minimalist art and music here?)
4. The idea of replicating the process
(i.e. To what extent does this research interest only artists with exhaustion related illnesses? Who is this aimed at, what level of skill does it require? What is the easiest way of making the project inclusive without diluting authenticity? Do you have to be ill to benefit from this research?)
Here are just a few questions the project aims to investigate.
What techniques and paradigms would this new “exhausted school of art” have to develop in order to function at a level alongside that of non-exhausted peers? Should it even have to try and do so? What are the insights of such an art practice? Must there be compromise? Can a creative practice in itself help the sufferer develop qualities across other strata of life? To what degree is such an art practice political? What place do aesthetics have here? What are the lowest energy forms of art practice? Within biomusicology: are there frequencies which aid healing across a wide range of individuals or is this also a personal and bespoke area? Is overtly therapeutic art a lesser art? Minimalism: Is not making art at all the ultimate art? Investigating broken instruments as metaphor and many more questions and investigations.
“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – Benazir Bhutto
At the request of my wife, I’ve started a photo blog, mainly about my life in Ayr but also tootling some other things along the way. I’d love it if you subscribed.
I’ve been asked to write some words for Montage Press
A publication circulating Glasgow Film Festival 2011.
Hibernate In Arran : An Unmade Film
In December 2010, I asked my wife if she minded me nipping across the water to the Isle of Arran for a week where I’d make a kind of sound art / travelogue piece about our life. I’d split my time writing & recording odd observations and composing doggerel and music. All of this would be sprinkled over a slow-cooked stew of drones from contemplative record label, Hibernate Recordings.
I am pursuing a PhD which is (currently) entitled “The Emancipation of The Exhausted Artist” and I spend most of my time crawling around Ayrshire, attempting to evaluate which art projects can outfox my illness. The curious bio-squatter in question is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) – which despite rogering me of my film-making career for 13 years, has gradually forced me to be resourceful, cunning and maybe even a little tender towards the malady.
If I was healthier, I might be trying to make a feature film. However, all cultural projects made with M.E. end up being continually reduced in scale. It’s a humbling and humiliating experience at times. Adaptation is key for a film-maker who is too poorly to make films, so I frequently create isolated soundtracks which are lighter and more restful ‘films’. Hibernate in Arran is such a work, made as an attempt at a ‘cinema for the ears’.
Sound recordings or music that inspires imagery are nothing new. I remember at school studying ‘Tone Poems’ and Aaron Copland’s works such as Billy The Kid – classically ‘visual’ music – rather like Tex Avery’s Tom and Jerry scores. But it wasn’t until I heard the more religious sounding music of Ligeti, Arvo Part and Steve Reich that I felt my internal cinema really turned on. Do these composers affect the body more viscerally? Harmonic drones seem to have a profound biomusical affect on me, and drone-work is the musical theme of Hibernate.
If radio producers are aware of radio’s visual manifestation through unconscious audience ‘participation’, then there is potential for a kind of internal or ‘pensive’ cinema here. While I might do a bit of cooking whilst listening to a panel discussion, if I want to listen to a radio documentary, I’ll consciously limit my visual distractions to contemplate the images. Sometimes this happens automatically when good radio is playing, it can root me to the spot. If it’s really good, I might shut my eyes for the best pictures.
I’m not creating ‘straight’ documentary. The soundtracks I make aren’t isolated poetry readings, nor ‘pure’ music; but a whole collage of thematically connected fragments. I am calling these mixes Unmade Films where the listener ‘completes’ the visual aspect of a sound recording in their head. Convenient, huh? Cheap too!
But on reflection, I’ve never made ‘proper’ films – in 1997 I’d gotten a Scottish Screen grant to make one of their Prime Cuts series. It was called No One Sees Black – the only non-narrative film work to come from that stable. I gave them a hard time (and got one back) what with not having a script. I also made some TV arts documentaries for STV and The South Bank Show around this time. But reflecting on those works, I’ve only recently realised that most of them are about sound. Little did I know that I would be slowly wandering around Brodick, fifteen years later trying forge soundtracks for the head and, I hope, also for the heart.
If you’ve been moved to download ‘Hibernate in Arran’, you may do so here
You will need the password: ‘binary’
If you like it, you may wish to plumb other sonic depths here, where I will be your humble and grateful sonic stockbroker.