Painting pictures with music – UKDHM Guest Post

This year, UK Disability History Month is themed around music.

To celebrate we are sharing guest posts from disabled musicians, sound artists, producers and more. We asked people to respond to the provocation: “How does being a disabled artist/musician influence your creative process? Indeed… does it?”

In our second post we hear from Hannah Shelmerdine, a new musician and member of our DMLab North West community.

Three people smile at the camera, Hannah has blond hair, a fringe and wears a patterned cardigan

Painting a picture with music: How my disability is influential to my creative process

My disability means the two main challenges that I encounter; are my very restricted range of movement, and of that movement, a lot being involuntary and uncoordinated. Also my impaired vision makes life twice as hard, and is yet another obstacle for me to overcome.

Even doing everyday things such as watching TV, reading a book and writing a letter are almost impossible. Watching TV in particular is difficult as I can’t see the screen properly, so I find it hard to make sense of it, and therefore cannot fully appreciate it.

Music on the other hand makes perfect sense.

I have listened to all genres of music, having a keen musical ear, always being appreciative. I feel that due to my limited eyesight, my auditory senses are enhanced to compensate.

I create musical compositions by way of experimentation. Working using this method allows for the restrictions of my disability to be both accommodated and utilised, achieving the best musical outcome.

When creating music in the conventional way, musicians have to be very precise in their timings and they also have to have a good knowledge of musical theory and be able to read and follow music.

So you might think having so many involuntary movements and having a visual impairment would be problematic, but I actually find it’s quite the opposite. The spontaneous sounds I create are all part of my music making process, and it is good fun as the outcome is always a bit of a surprise.

The music making process is implemented by using various types of software, which I access through a range of midi devices, whether they be made bespoke for me, or generic devices such as iPads etc.

Musical inspiration

My musical inspiration occurs at the most random of times and places. I could be lying in bed or sailing my boat, so, just about anywhere really, at any time, day or night.

With all musical pieces I create, my intention is to enable the listener to travel on a journey with me through the musical expressions of myself.

I believe that a musical composition, whether it be a brief given by another or a personal brief, it is for that composer and musician to interpret and create. The piece can be as rigid or as abstract as they wish, to be reflective of themselves and the emotions they are feeling at that particular time. It may also incorporate something of their life experiences.

For me, I use music as a tool which allows people to see beyond my disability and all it’s restrictions. It is an outlet. Instead of me exploding with frustration, I positively channel my energy into a musical explosion.

To me, playing a piece of music is like painting an auditory picture of my feelings and where I am on life’s journey, representative of my personal experiences.

Each instrument used in the composition symbolizes the different colours and textures used to create the illustration.

Each new musical note played is another brush stroke added to create the masterpiece. This gives the listener an insight into my perception of my visually unfocused and blurred world.

I may only be able to make very small brush strokes, but these strokes can create very big and varied musical sounds. This allows the world to see and experience the real me. The person I am inside. The raw, organic me. I can finally be seen and heard through the music I create.

Gradually the different layers of my life build so that the person I am slowly emerges, which mirrors the process of layering instruments in my musical arrangements, and the layers of colour that build the metaphoric painting in both my mind, and the mind of the listener.

At last my inner musical voice has been unleashed.

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