Sonic Vistas: Kris Halpin talks about his MiMu gloves - new technology developed by Ivor Novello award winning artist Imogen Heap
We have now done our third session as Sonic Vistas and the development of our set is well on its way for the Liberty Festival London 2015.
In this blog I am introducing you to Kris Halpin: “So today I embarked on an intriguing new adventure. I’ve joined Ivan Riches’ Sonic Vistas project, a collaborative collective of disabled musicians. I’ve played with plenty of bands in the past, but this is two firsts. I’ve never worked with other musicians with access needs before, and I’ve never used the MiMu Gloves in an ensemble setting before.
Using the gloves in a group setting is an exciting first; I believe I’m the first MiMu collaborator to do this. My own work with the gloves has been in building up layers of sounds as a solo performance. They allow me to rec reate my studio productions in a really unique, natural way. This involves a lot of layering and looping; none of this is particularly relevant in Sonic Vistas. In this setting, the gloves are an instrument like any other; I must weave my way through the sounds of the group, and find my space as any other instrumentalist would, It’s been intriguing so far.
Of course, the palette of possibilities the Gloves offer is broad. Today I’ve been live drumming, conducting invisible string sections, and controlling synth bass through flowing gestures. I’m relieved to see how expressive and natural it feels. Without the looping structure of my solo work, I’m much more free to weave sounds into the audible landscape.
The sounds the rest of the group are making are intriguing. Howard brought some great analogue drum machine and bass synths, which formed the backbones of much of the arrangements. This is not like any band I’ve played in before. Almost no traditional instruments appear, save for a couple of keyboards. As well as the gloves, iOS devices are used to offer accessible playability. It’s wonderful to see this action, as I’ve been a champion of the iPad as accessible musical instrument for a long time.
Another cool thing from the day is that this is the first time I’m making music with broadcaster Mik Scarlett, who also joins Sonic Vistas this year. Mik and I have discussed collaborating for a while; we both share a love of 80s electronica and synthesis. Mik actually played an interesting role in my own development as an artist. In the early 90s Mik presented several TV shows, and was the first disabled musician I ever saw on TV. I was around 10 at the time (he won’t thank me for making him feel old) and I’d just got a guitar and the music bug. The idea of being a rock star with a disability seemed pretty far out; seeing Mik on TV gave me enormous confidence that I could do it. It’s great to get to know him and now work with him today; one of a long list of wonderful opportunities to come via Drake Music.
I re-join the band next week for more rehearsals. My next day back is split between our rehearsal and a MiMu gloves presentation I’m doing at Abbey Road. Yes, that Abbey Road. Somebody pinch me. I apologise to the rest of Sonic Vistas if I’m bouncing off the walls when I get to the rehearsal after my trip through musical history… ;)”
I had two creative passions in my late teenage years, songwriting and visual arts. It was the time of post punk, new wave and two tone, so naturally I opted for forming a band. Writing the songs and arrangements was an exciting process, but live performances were stressful.
I found myself getting lost in my own compositions, playing live and forgetting to come in on the chorus or bridge was an extreme annoyance for my fellow musicians. I had no idea why I kept losing concentration, so I put it down to stage fright.
Not until a full blown hospitalising seizure and subsequent smaller ones many years later, was I diagnosed with epilepsy. So what I put down to stage fright was a stream of absences unchecked for over 20 years. The thing about absences is that you are absent to their presence and I get them frequently, so I am told.
So from then on I shied away from communal music making. I decided to follow my other passion and went through a wilderness of various jobs while I frantically drew, painted and got myself into Art College at the age of 23, a late start for such a vocation. I trained as painter, got my 1st degree and also discovered photography, film and video production.
After university I found myself a studio space, worked as a PA for a physically disabled man for 3 days a week and painted for the remainder. I am not absolutely clear as to how we got round to it, but we ended up deciding to make a film about his living in the community and wanting to pop his cherry at the age of 45.
On the strength of a video we made under our own resources we had a meeting with the BBC and over two years made a video diary with a trip to Amsterdam included. The musician in me resurfaced and I asked the producer if I could write and perform the music for our film. I was officially commissioned and paid for this and other short films made by the Disability Programmes unit. By good fortune music was back in my life.
Last year 2014, I was working as producer of Connect and Collaborate London and associate artist for Drake Music - leaders in using innovative technologies and ideas to open up access to music for disabled artists/ musicians. Through a history of showing films at the British Film Institute Southbank, I secured an opportunity for a commission from DM and the BFI for three disabled artists/ musicians and myself to record some music for a short silent film called 'The Fugitive Futurist' as part of their Sci-Fi Programme. The resulting commission is on BFI player.
Later that year I was approach by Chas de Swiet, organising the Liberty Festival London 2014, to do a live performance of the film on the main stage. Three of us did a 25 minute set, including the 'Fugitive Futurist’ and a film I made called ’Into the clearing’.
Playing live to films is hard work with timing. My primary worry was zoning out with absences while playing - and I was back to the fears of my youth. At the end of our performance we were cheered and I finally got over my fear of playing in front of people and even enjoyed the experience. I may have had absences but no-one either cared or noticed.
This year I was contacted again by Liberty Festival, asking me if I and my fellow musicians Howard Jacques and Rosie Vachat would do another performance For 2015. I was pleased to be asked and I wanted to perform more upbeat music that would get the audience moving, possibly even dancing. This time I would make screen projections to work with our songs/ music rather than play to them.
I approached Drake Music with the idea. Mary Paterson, the national team associate creative producer was keen to support the project. She suggested that I could increase my project’s scope and fully financially support everything I wanted to do by I applying for an Arts Council England award for the arts. Initially I found the idea daunting, but after a few meetings with Mary and help from Felicity Green, DM's fundraising fellow, I completed the online application.
For any individual artist, applying for an ACE Grant for the arts award is a difficult process, many artist's writing their applications in isolation. I spent three solid weeks writing the proposal for 'Sonic Vistas' defining its artistic merit, its benefit to audiences and participants and making a realistic budget.
Throughout this time I found the support from Drake Music absolutely essential. In terms of support, I have found organisations like Drake Music, Shape Arts and Disability Arts Online vital for disabled artists. Arts Council England are extremely helpful when you call them, but they can only give so much information. My application was successful and I am now making the video projections and on Monday the 8th of June 2015 we had our first ensemble practise.
Sonic Vistas is an ensemble of deaf and disabled artists/ musicians. Integrating projected video/ visuals and assistive music technology, Sonic Vistas is a crossover art-form, incorporating music created and performed by deaf and disabled musicians including Howard Jacques, Mik Scarlet, Rosie Vachat, Kris Halpin, deaf rapper MC Geezer and myself - to be performed for an audience of deaf, disabled & non-disabled people alike.
Mik Scarlet and I will be reporting the progress of the 'Sonic Vistas' project on this on-going blog, kindly supported by DAO as part of their 'The Sound of Disability’ programme.