Writing Disabled-ly – UKDHM Guest Post


Through UKDHM we will be sharing guest posts from disabled musicians, sound artists, producers and more. We are proud to work with an incredibly talented group of people across our artistic, tech and educational programmes and we are glad of this opportunity to share their thoughts and insights into their creative process.

We asked people to respond to the provocation: “How does being a disabled artist/musician influence your creative process? Indeed… does it?”

First up, a guest post from Emergent commission winner, conductor and composer, Ben Lunn.

Ben stands conducting, his arms outstretched against a dark backdrop as he is lit from one side with a green light.

Disability History Month 2018 has drawn in, and this year the theme is music.

The history of music for the disabled is quite a curious one, mostly because it is hard to find a discussion of history with quite so much euphemism for disability.

Admittedly our understanding of disability is still evolving, mostly because those who are disabled by the confines of society or the material world around them is still changing, it must also be highlighted that disabled as a movement or identity only really began to exist after the First World War, driven by veterans who were demanding Rights Not Charity.

When we look at the history of music it is easy to point out composers who went blind, deaf, had problems with limbs, depressed, or were ‘quirky’. Names like Erik Satie, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Holst, Christophe Betrand, or Bedřich Smetana are often cited for their circumstances and how it impacted, inspired, or challenged their music, but never is the word disabled used.

So how does one respond to this challenge of history? A history full of double entendre or brushing the truth under rugs?

This year I have had the joy of producing a concert full of disabled composers, from all walks of life and corners of the world.

The concert, Destination Sound, will show off the wonderful diverse and world disabled composers find themselves in.

The timing I feel is quite a curious one. Mostly because we find ourselves at a weird balance of really positive steps and some truly horrifying movements to the contrary.

The recent findings from the U.N. about poverty in Britain and how it affects certain areas of society is truly horrifying, sadly not surprising, but still numbing. Having witnessed the onslaught of terrible news since the implementation of austerity I, like many other disabled people, have simply been scared of what the future holds as we watch people like us essentially dropping like flies.

At the same time, we see truly positive steps to address imbalances in society, especially within music, as festivals like the BBC Proms or Darmstadt striving to achieve 50/50 representation – which is about time really.

So it is a curious moment, filled with optimism for things improving while, the foundation is being pulled away from beneath us. This either shows us that a lot of the changes are superficial in nature and just window dressing the problem, or more optimistically, there is a hunger and a need for things to change.

I have been an advocate and member of a trade union for quite a while now, and it does fill me with a brooding optimism to see the populace hungry for change.

However, I must draw the fact that often progressive ideas tend to forget the disabled, despite our existence essentially being revolutionary by design. Disabled people do not fit the world around us, but they show us another world is possible. So brooding optimism, does describe it well.

As we embark on Disability History Month 2018 we must let disabled people highlight their history and existence and utilise the hunger we all feel.

As a composer, I doodle dots on a page to express identity and interpret the world around me, my fellow composers do the same, but sadly disabled composers are so poorly recognised or understood.

Yes, people are finally realising its not just old dead men who compose, but we forget the disabled, we are kind of left at the bottom of the pecking order; but despite the sadness of the circumstance there is hunger to change that.

To conclude, it is hard to really say what in my music sounds disabled or autistic, however if you are curious to find out what it could sound like, I’d highly recommend coming to Drake Music & DaDaFest’s concert Destination Sound on the 28th November, at 19:00 in Blue Coat, Liverpool.

We hope to see you there.

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