As an associate musician for Drake Music in the North West of England, I was excited to be invited to work on a recent innovative project called ‘On the Go’.
‘On the Go’ was a music production and performance course run by Drake Music North West in Spring 2015. It gave four disabled music producers the opportunity to collaborate with MOBO-nominated Manchester jazz composer Matthew Halsall using assistive music technology. The successful applicants jammed and played with, sampled, remixed and performed with Matt on trumpet and the team of Drake musician facilitators.
As Drake Music is committed to deleting barriers to making music, it was our job to ensure the participants had adapted technology for their needs. Creative solutions that the participants could continue with independently included fellow Drake Music Associate Musician Kris Gjerstad‘s MIDI Touch capacitive buttons which can be mapped to trigger sounds in Ableton Live software:
For another participant, we really wanted for Ableton Live to be more accessible for musicians with visual impairments. But due to Ableton’s graphical interface it isn’t. Yet. Music producers with sight impairments require a screen reader such as JAWS to operate computers. So far the only digital audio workstation we could find that is compatible with JAWS is Cakewalk’s Sonar 8.5 (an old version) paired with a Windows 7 operating system. So this is the system Gareth used. Later in the project he explored using The LaunchPad (MIDI trigger/controller module) for live performance which was easy enough once we had set up the MIDI mapping for Gareth, but this was far from ideal for him working independently. So we called our regional Ableton sales manager and he assured us that Ableton is looking to become more accessible in this area. Watch this space – we will be keeping in touch with them and look forward to this development for this otherwise pretty accessible software.
So we began the course with Matt, his turntablist and double bass player performing a couple of tracks from Matt’s back catalogue at the lovely Band on the Wall with its untired sound system. After sampling Matt on his trumpet, some turntablism and double bass loops, the participants set upon producing a remix. The four producers spent a week learning new technologies, sampling and production techniques and experimenting with remixing Halsall’s music. And how lovely the distinctive styles and musical voices that emerged: Drum n Bass, ambient folk and Soca music (a genre of Carribean music also known as the soul of calypso).
These pieces were then performed in a live performance setting and 3 SEN schools and colleges in the Greater Manchester area. What struck me here was the value of performance – both for the audience members and participants. As a live performer, one gets used to the navigating the great variety of experiences one can have when performing live and I feel this was a valuable opportunity for the participants to learn about the rewards and challenges of performing live. Meanwhile the audiences seemed enchanted to have a live performance as part of their school day and many were up and dancing to the music, allowing for further internalisation and a richer individual and collective listening experience.
So, a lot was packed into a relatively short time and all participants and DM team members thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Matt Halsall claimed it was one of the best music projects he had been part of and the participants said they particularly appreciated being able to learn and develop more knowledge and confidence aswell as the opportunity to spend time with musical people ‘who spoke the same language’, working as part of a dedicated and enthusiastic team of music makers and players.
On the Go was funded by Awards for All Big Lottery Fund. Big thanks to Abigail Ward for her conscientious and committed project management and all involved in this project. In the words of an audience member, a pupil at Camberwell Park Specialist Support School: “That was awesome”!
And here are the wonderful musical outcomes:
Matt Halsall Faraway Place Remix by ‘On the Go’ participant Sarah Fisher
Soca Haze – Pan Soca Jazz by ‘On the Go’ participant Glenn Greaves
Drum & Bass remix of Matt Halsall by ‘On the Go’ participant Gareth Hughes
Caro C is an Associate Musician with Drake Music North West. Caro is an experienced facilitator working in community and educational settings as well as an internationally-active composer, producer and performer of electronic music.