I’ve been working on the for-Wards Hall Green project on and off for the past six months. It began by meeting with the different community group leaders, explaining the project and getting a brief glimpse into the places and people I would be working with. There were then 3 sessions with each group. The first session involved making field recordings of the local area. The second and third sessions involved recording various sounds in time to a click track. Each participant would wear headphones and separately make noises either with their mouth or body, or with an instrument either provided by me or one they had made themselves. When I say instrument, this ranged from glockenspiels to egg whisks to homemade shakers to air bed pumps to Theremins! I wanted to show the groups that they could play and compose music with virtually anything, and that they didn’t need to be a trained musician. For this reason, I chose to work with community groups that weren’t specifically musical.
When I had finished recording everyone’s sounds, I was able to pick through and edit all of the various contributions. It was really interesting to see what they had come up with! Some people sang, some whistled, some provided rhythms by clapping or with mouth percussion. And these would all be pretty much in time as they recorded them to the click track. I could then listen to the instrument recordings and start to find different melodies and ideas and again edit them into the different tracks. I then added the field recordings. Thanks to the wonders of technology, it is now possible to easily tune the sounds so they could be in the same key. After a few hours each track started to take shape, structures developed and melodies stood out. I see this bit of the job sort of like a DJ searching through old records trying to find the killer tracks!
Once this process is complete, you are left with a track that everyone has written and contributed to, yet no one is completely responsible for! Magical music appears from each individual’s imagination. I then did some arranging, adding some instruments and filling out the harmony. At the start of the project, though I had tried this process once before, I had no idea where it would end up musically. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well it turned out. Interesting rhythms, pretty melodies and lots of humour all came from the participants and it was inspiring to see what is possible with this method of group composing. Whilst I put my stylistic stamp on the final piece, all of the ideas came from the groups and therefore went in all manner of directions. I particularly enjoyed working with the children, I actually went back for an extra workshop so they could hear how their contributions had turned into their track. One little girl just sang blah for a minute to the click track. But she varied the rhythmic pattern consistently, improvising an incredible array of rhythms that I couldn’t have thought of. Though it’s a cliché, children’s minds are so much more creative and open, and I think there must be a ton of untapped musical ideas lurking in there somewhere. We must mine them!
The best thing to come from this project has been the children who have told me they went home and started coming up with their own melodies, and also a teenager who has become a master of the Kalimba having discovered it in one of the workshops! The final concert featured viola, saxophone, recorder, wine glasses, drums and percussion accompanying the recordings we had made. I also made the audience blow bubbles to the underwater section and sing along with The Blah Blah Song. It was very pleasing to have all of the different group leaders tell me at the end how much they enjoyed it, and how fun it was watching the different participants react when they heard their contributions. I even had some parents say they didn’t realise their children were so musically gifted!