We first started working with Dr Mick Grierson and his team at EAVI Goldsmiths when we were commissioned by Unlimited to deliver an innovative 7 country digital art project which involved 72 disabled and non-disabled artists making 23 new pieces of music and video inspired by the vision and imagination of the young autistic artist, Dean Rodney. The EAVI team transformed the Dean Rodney Singers seven dimensional universe in to a psychedelic arcade installation that took over the 5th Floor of the Royal Festival during the Paralympics in 2012. One of the unexpected outcomes of the collaboration was a bespoke Dean Rodney Singers app which gave the user an opportunity to play and remix one of the musical arcade games on their mobile or tablet.
The success of this collaboration gave us the confidence to approach Creativeworks London to develop another bespoke app with Goldsmiths – this time to accompany the physical and digital release of the Heart n Soul produced glitch pop band, The Fish Police. The Fish Police are themselves a collaboration between two young autistic young musicians and their one time music tutor and current MD for Grace Jones, Charles Stuart. Both Charles and lead singer of the band Dean were heavily involved in the Dean Rodney Singers project so there was a natural momentum and synergy to build on with the Creativeworks London Creative Voucher project.
The result was the Fish Police App another groundbreaking mix of visuals and music that built on and enhanced the work on the Dean Rodney Singers app and was a collaboration with the programmer Chris Kiefer from Goldsmiths. User testing was essential to this process and resulted in a far more creative and accessible piece of software.
Our interest and knowledge in making digital music had been ignited by both projects and alongside Digital Associate Justin Spooner from Unthinkable and the ex-Sony games designer and technologist Cas Sawyer from Public Domain Corp we embarked on our biggest digital project to date, alongside Goldsmiths and the EAVI team. This was an 18 month piece of research and development funded by the ACE NESTA Digital R & D fund and has resulted in the SoundLab project which has thoroughly explored and tested ways that a range of digital instruments, apps, iPads and software can we used to together to make expressive musical possibilities for people with learning disabilities (and consequently everyone else) more accessible and available.
The culmination of that project is both the sharing of everything we have learnt, which is on the Make Your SoundLab website as well as an innovative sharing event taking place at NESTA in November 2015.
We are now carrying on the relationship into our fourth year with Goldsmiths through the Creativeworks London Boost project where we are researching and testing out new innovative ways of supporting arts charities to benefit from a new fundraising/giving and receiving platform.
One of the most positive things that I hear most at Heart n Soul is that we create an environment where people feel free to be themselves. It is central to our ethos and values that we try to make spaces where people feel safe, free and creative. This is as true at a Board of Trustees meeting as it is at a SoundLab electronic music experimentation session and has been an essential element of how we have worked with our tech and research partners on the Creativeworks London Creative Voucher and Boost projects.
Giving people space, permission to make mistakes, to experiment, have fun and try new things and new ways of making stuff happen is in the DNA of Heart n Soul. We are at our most comfortable when we are in a secure environment but not really sure what is going to happen next – but whatever does will be ok – the worst thing that is going to happen is that we will learn something new!
It is by tuning into what might be described as the aesthetic of learning disability culture that we have all found the confidence and belief to model these ways of being. To be authentically present and open to all possibilities at all times.
The principles and framework we have chosen to achieve this have been to create and inspire an environment that is completely informed by respect and trust – this has been essential. To remain open to all possibilities at all times – to not have a hidden agenda that you are not sharing with people, being prepared to work with what is happening right here, right now in front of you and to not be worried if that is taking you in a direction that you had not necessarily planned for. If you are unclear about this methodology you can potentially become a bolt on/part of an existing process/project that has an already prescribed outcome that will not give you the freedom to explore and experiment.
Picture caption: Do Your Own Thing digital pop-up band
Photography: Tim Mitchell