Absorbed by Sound: playing things our way

(The following piece is written by Drake Music Associate Tara Baggott, who plays bass guitar in this film)

Absorbed by Sound is a group made up of young disabled musicians who meet fortnightly at Colston Hall to create and perform music together. Funded and organised by Drake music, a charity for disabled musicians, the group have been involved in several projects creating music together for a number of years.

With the help of assistive music technology and traditional instruments being played in unique ways, Absorbed by Sound continues to break down barriers and misconceptions of disabled people’s ability to compose and perform music.

Projects such as creating soundtracks for short films as part of the Bath film festival and public performances at Colston Hall have been highlights for the Absorbed by Sound group. But perhaps one of the most intriguing performances thus far has been the one featured in this lovely video made during the Sanctum performance series in Bristol, which happened in the wintery months of last year.

Sanctum was a unique experience of music and performance that took place in a remarkable structure within the bombed-out remains of Temple Church in Bristol. For 24 days, 24 hours a day, the site was transformed into an intimate place of listening in which to hear the city like never before. Absorbed by Sound were honoured to be asked to perform at this event and as you can see in the video they thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!

Accompanied by music leaders Marcus and Tara on the drums and bass respectively, the performers use various instruments and their voice to create an eclectic piece of improvised music that borders on alternative prog rock and experimental electro music.

One performer, Josh, uses his voice through a microphone plugged into a Kaos Pad that has the ability to alter sounds using effects such as reverb and distortion. He improvises vocal sounds with a few recognisable lyrics here and there (namely one of his favourite songs to sing Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feelin’’) to create the main melody of the piece.

Next to him on the stage is a young performer called Sherwin who plays a synth keyboard using three very different and very eclectic electronic sounds. Sherwin switches between sounds by using pre-set buttons on the synth. The overall sound is a quite haunting and sometimes wonderfully jarring which gives this piece a feel that is very unique and captivating.

On stage next to Sherwin is Ian, a talented musician who uses various assistive technologies in our Absorbed by Sound sessions. Ian has an Eyegaze in front of him on stage, which is an instrument that allows him to play music using just his eyes. The piece captured in this video has Ian playing the crash cymbals very enthusiastically. With heavy metal being his usual music of choice, Ian always enjoys making lots of noise! The audience clearly loved the performance and it’s easy to see why – such a group in such a setting was truly a unique experience for everyone involved, one that will surely be remembered for years to come.

Asorbed by Sound is part of a ‘New Ambition’ project supported by the Bristol Music Hub aiming to make music a fully inclusive endeavour to all young people in the Bristol community. It is a one-of-a-kind ensemble that supports the needs of young disabled musicians outside of the school environment, something that Bristol hopes to expand upon and develop as a pioneering city for this type of activity in years to come.

With plans to develop Colston Hall into a fully accessible venue and performance space in the next few years the success of groups such as this and the South West Open Up Youth Orchestra expand the possibilities for young disabled musicians to develop their music making and ensemble skills.

Music workshops and performance opportunities such as the one shown in this video certainly show that music can be a cathartic form of expression as well as a social glue that encourages young artists to come together, regardless of barriers and social constraints.

You can listen to a live recording here of Absorbed by Sound playing at the Fast Foward Festival in June 2016 at the Colston Hall, Bristol.

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