Here's what I've been up to during the first three months of the year 2018. Theatre with The Dept of Distractions, scoring Red Star's CG animation, being flexible with planning, reading lots of books, and preparing to start a new, big, challenging and exciting project.
Update 6th March 2018: ‘The Key’ raised a grand total of £61 for Crisis and Emmaus charities for homeless people. The track is still available to download, but if you want to donate directly to these or any other homelessness charities, please do!
There’s a man sleeping rough in an underpass on the way, so for a week I passed him twice a day. He sleeps on concrete slabs, next to a busy dual carriageway, sandwiched between two concrete pillars and surrounded by pigeon droppings.
This track is called ‘The Key‘. All profits from its sale will go to charities Crisis and Emmaus who help homeless people in Newcastle (the city where I was working) and Sheffield (where I live), respectively.
Working from home, and being a big old highly sensitive introvert, I’m less out-and-about in the world. Especially in the winter when it is cold (people from Yorkshire and further afield describe this fear of the cold as ‘nesh‘. That’s me to a tee). Like a lot of us, my distractions are online and onscreen and in print.
However, when I venture out into a real environment I’m often struck (and still surprised, distracted as I am by said media) by the increase in homeless people and people begging on the streets in recent years, and how incredibly impotent I feel when considering what I can do to help.
So maybe this is something I can do:
Pay what you like for the track, minimum £1; it’s a toe-tappingly good tune and features all of the musical themes heard in the play.
Give money to worthwhile charities, both with awesomely excellent and effective track records in helping people in dire circumstances.
Inspired by Emma Bright's article about her experiences of sexism - Girl On The Platform Smile - and in the spirit of solidarity, here are a few of my experiences with sexism that some may consider easily walked away from, ignored; as unimportant. Not worth making a fuss about. Sometimes I did make a fuss; sometimes I didn't.
15 Minutes Live by Slung Low, which played this year at The Holbeck (previously Holbeck Working Men’s Club), Leeds, was an awful lot of fun. More than I was expecting! I’m trying to pick apart why, and here are my thoughts. Is it just that I’m older and wiser, I’m working with friends, I’m far less caffeinated than I used to be? Maybe all these reasons and more…
The first 15 Minutes Live was performed in 2011 and since then (5 years ago) it’s become a streamlined operation. Originally we took a week to rehearse; now we’re at two days, including time for rehearsing the band and the dress rehearsal.
15 Minutes Live is a live radio play experience – radio plays presented as theatre, performed with scripts in hand and recorded for archive and posterity. There are five plays, each around the 15 Minute mark, and I think this time we had 11 performers over all the shows. It’s really rather a lovely and laid-back way to spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.
There is live foley, the sound design art that gives us a popped balloon if a gun is fired and all the other background sounds called for in a script. There’s a five-piece band, some of whom double or triple up performing different instruments (drums/percussion/glockenspiel, clarinet/saxophone, violin, cello and piano/french horn/melodica), MD’ed by me. If we cock up the recording, say, an actor fluffs a line, or kicks over a mic, or we in the band mess up a cue, we keep performing the play ’til its end and then go back and record that little bit again.
In previous years, I’ve always found the live part of this job, for me, particularly taxing. I’m elated at the end of it, the relief that I’ve got through it in one piece. I LOVE being behind the scenes; I’m even ok with calling some of the live elements in a show (like the choir in some of Converging Paths), but I’ve never been overly comfortable in front of an audience. Even as a violinist, I was plenty content in the trio playing for weddings and other functions – we were glorified background music for the most part. I never got used to solo performances. I have nightmares about them occasionally, even now, and I can count the number of times I’ve picked up that poor, neglected instrument in the last few years on three fingers (that’s three, btw).
Something changed in this last show though. Maybe I’m just getting older and more mellow. My hair’s certainly getting greyer. Whilst there was still a frisson of nervous energy, somehow I’d managed to reframe the experience as exciting rather than rabbit-pinned-in-the-headlights petrifying. It was no longer just a valuable, challenging experience, something that was character-building; I was actually reeeeally looking forward to it.
I spent what felt like a long time composing the music for this – three weeks is unnecessary long for the number of minutes of score. But it was way more enjoyable, and my work days were short, I had most of my weekends free, and I was always fresh and ready to sit down and really work on the music, seeing obvious ways in which previous work should progress, change or be edited, then ready to stop and spend the rest of the day on recharging pursuits (biking, baking, the usual) rather than slogging away hour after hour always with a deadline becoming the primary motivation. The latter is not the reason I went into this business in the first place, after all (even though, on occasion, that deadline becomes an essential tool to forcing the decision-making process).
The music got sent off to the band (for any feedback they might have, like whether or not it was actually playable) a whole week before the show, a first for me to be that early. During that next week, I mentally rehearsed the score a few times daily before the first rehearsal. Conducting does not come naturally to me and there are times that my head is counting in 3 and the baton counts in 4… However, I imagined it going well; and also envisaged where it might go wrong, and how I might have contingencies for mistakes.
The band’s rehearsal didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would. These people are all pros – always employ people who are better than you; it makes life so much easier. Also, most of these guys have been with me since the second show, one since the first. They all know the drill well enough by now, they know my easy(!) film-musical stylings and I know their proclivities: who’s happy with improvisation, who likes a challenge.
Quick conversations leading up to the show with some of these chaps over Facebook messenger or email about options and possibilites for instrumentation and orchestration were easy, and the fun of writing for the group always came to the forefront of my experience – the pianist/french hornist even bought a new instrument (a melodica) in time for the show. Now that’s commitment.
Between the last 15 Minutes show I worked on in 2013 and this most recent one, I somehow stopped drinking caffeinated drinks – its not a moral thing or anything and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a vice. It just makes me act and feel just a bit weird, jittery, scattered – I’m very sensitive to it, as I’ve heard is pretty common for introverts. I don’t need it to stay awake, and in fact I’m more awake, focussed and, crucially, function better later in the day without it. I don’t get such extreme highs and lows and life feels loads calmer since I kicked it.
I definitely had more consistent energy resources available to me through the whole on-site rehearsal process than I’ve had in previous years… (except for after I’d had seconds of Hansa’s takeaway curry just before the dress rehearsal. Possibly a mistake. A very tasty mistake. But I got a second wind after a couple of hours, yay! and phew!). It was most noticeable during the performance – at no point did my energy wane and the 2-and-a-half-hour show just flew by. In previous years I’d blame excessive fatigue down to being around people for too long. Just didn’t happen on this occasion (’til the Monday after, but that’s post-show elation come-down for you!).
There’s a rough and ready feel to the show, appropriate to this working men’s club environment. We’ll make mistakes, but it’s ok, we can got back and re-record those bits, and the audience is in on the magic – it’s actually exciting that rather than a polished sleight-of-hand we all get to see behind the scenes!
There’s a contentedness I feel with this particular group and format that isn’t surprising though – I’ve worked with the producing team and some of the cast for over a decade now, others for almost as long. It is bloody lovely to make shows with your mates, you know? Is it purely the familiarity creating an air of security, a safe place to take more risks? There’s also feeling that we’re all in this together, and we’re including the audience in our gang.
Honestly… I just don’t know. All I know is that I didn’t feel nervous, I felt excited and behind that was a strange calm that knew it would all be ok on a deep, visceral level (not the usual intellectual ‘of course it’ll all be fine… f**&&*^^%k!’). We were all looking out for each other – we’d all bring our A-game and if one of us happened to stumble the rest would be there to pick us up.
tl;dr? I got old, I worked smart, I rehearsed, I quit caffeine, I work with excellent and lovely people. Can these be the reasons I enjoyed actually performing this particular show…?
Maybe. Though I do sometimes wish I’d stop over-analysing these things and learn to appreciate them for the joy that they are. Plus it was pretty sunny over most of the weekend and that usually does it for me. So it was probably that. Glad I got that sorted, then.
This would have filled 27-year-old me with dread. She would find the not knowing quite when the next paycheque will come in daunting.
36-year-old me is different. She’s relieved. It’s been a busy few years since I had an appreciable gap in the schedule like this one, and I’m due a break. I’ve started sleeping longer hours. Mornings are sedate affairs; afternoon naps de rigeur. Work gets done in its own sweet time without the tyranny of the clock. There’s a little bit of ‘cushion’ money in the bank, and royalty cheques appear now and again to tide me over. I even caught a cold! A sure sign of an imminent holiday if ever there was one in our time-poor, workaholic, ambition-driven business*.
It’s interesting to me how work patterns re-align themselves when I’m not uber-scheduled and hyper-focussed on delivery. It’s a relief that I still want to write music; there have been times before when burn-out put composition at the very end of the list of things I would voluntarily spend my time doing. So tracks get written, I submit to production music libraries, they get accepted or not. I’m still hustling for potential projects here and there. Work still gets done but it’s no longer something that requires a concerted effort to keep going.
21-year-old me would be pretty disgusted that I’d need to put in any effort, never mind ‘concerted’, to get the music written. ‘I mean, for crying out loud, it’s your dream job!’ I hear her proclaim, with a certain youthful exhuberance. However, 15 years in the ‘biz’ (in one way or another), does turn an obsessive hobby into a 9-5 by necessity; it’s naïve to think that there’s no willpower involved in sitting down week after to week to invent, from scratch, new ways of putting the same 12 notes in different orders at different times to make an audience feel something, feel anything…
It’s still a dream job. I still pinch myself to check I’m awake, and that I really do get to do this for a living. That real, live people actually still pay me to organise sound in time, package it up and present it to them before a certain date. It’s odd to read that particular description of my occupation, but there it is. I still pinch myself.
For now, in this quiet time, as autumn takes hold and the nights draw in, I’m relinquishing that tight grip on my daily diary and, instead, I go with the flow. I ride my bike, I bake, I take photos, I do yoga, I see friends I’ve not seen in years, I go to vegan pop-up restaurants, watch shows, write little ditties, upgrade and update operating systems and software, file accounts, take stock, think about the future and put my ducks in order**. It feels busy when I write it all down like that as a list, but it’s not. I’m revelling in the not-busy. In the spaces in between to just be and observe and non-judge, to just sit; to feel creative juices begin to coalesce and condense and fill up that mental well ready for the next time it’s needed; that’s where I am.
78-year-old me will look back on this time and smile***.
*which the masochistic in me still loves 🙂
**knowing full well they won’t stay in order for long. Ducks have minds of their own, after all.
*** I hope. Rather that than say, ‘get off your ass and find some effing work you lazy piece of s***.’ I’ll probably be pretty cantankerous at that age, let’s be honest.
The symbol of procrastination. Not that I procrastinate ever.
Finished work at 4.30pm, did a decent bit of yoga til 5.30, cleaned the flat til just after 6, made dinner with John (stir fry with Sweet Mandarin Chilli Sauce SO SCRUMMY) then finished writing this by 7pm.
Yesterday we went to the Northern Vegan Festival in Manchester. SOOO MUCH FOOD. Just about made it back home to Sheff before slipping into a sugar coma. But, my, it was good.
John’s hotdog was prettier in picture than the giant spanokopita type pasty I had (was scrummy though):
Then we had spring rolls from the lovely lady, Lisa Tse, who also made this sauce…
… runs Sweet Mandarin Restaurant in Manchester with her twin sister, and got the funding on Dragon’s Den for these sauces. Their BBQ sauce was also sooo moreish she’d already sold out by the time we got to her at 11.30am-ish.
Then came a Ms Cupcake Ferrero Rocher SO GOOD (John’s cupcake in the background was also delish):
Here’s the ginormous Ms Cupcake Choc Chip Cookie Sandwich we nommed on the train back:
And the tastiest little morsels of raw chocolatey goodness for dessert in the evening (and two for breakfast this morning heheheheh):
All of this, the popularity of the festival yesterday (the queue to get in was snaking down the street from when we got there at 11am, and still doing so when we left at 3pm), sampling loads of yummy foods and drinks, talking to lots of compassionate, passionate, friendly people who are actively trying to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants, and the general atmosphere of generosity and enthusiasm…
For an hour and 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week, yoga keeps me sane(r).
A YogaToday subscription, an EcoYoga natural rubber and jute mat, two cork blocks, an organic cotton strap and blanket. Yes I was definitely attempting to ‘tread lightly’ with all of these acoutrements to make up for the electricity I’m burning through by streaming these videos through a modestly large LED TV and amped speakers. The irony is not lost on me.
Eventually I hope to be able to just freestyle it without the aid of the video guides but I’m not sure that’s happening any time soon. Not quite confident enough to just make it up. Plus the production values on the videos are AWESOME – crane shots and the Teton mountains in the background, so they’re just lovely to watch too. (The sound is sometimes a bit ropey but they’ve definitely upped their game in the last couple of years. And the subscription is so bargainous – works out at around £60 for the year, so I can forgive them!)
Then there’s always a good book or two on the go, and the next episode of Supernatural or American Horror Story or a film from LoveFilm to chill out to. But nothing quite compares to the savasana at the end of one of Adi’s vinyasa videos. Aaaaaah…
The next film I’m working on (after the current Red Star animation) is with Kilogramme, for the 3rd of a 4 part series for internet security clients Kaspersky.
Watch the first one below (it got nominated for a Roses Award! Yay!)
The next film we’ve got cued up to watch from LoveFilm is The Artist. When it came out, everyone was like, “You have to see this at the cinema! Don’t wait for DVD, see it on the big screen!”
That was perfect reverse psychology. Thank you that person. I’ve a complete bee in my bonnet about being told what to do, what I should and absolutely have to do… well, that puts me right off (like most people, really). Secondly, I really rather dislike going to the cinema, what with all the other people being noisy and eating the most stinky food and the picture not being quite right and the audio having some weird compression… I know it’s a bit weird for someone in my profession, but there it is.
Also, then someone else exclaimed, “You’ll just love this film!” Oh jeez louise, will they ever learn. Don’t tell me what I will and won’t like, lady.
Needless to say, I’ll watch it, I’m sure I’ll love it, but now there’s so much pressure. Och.
Anyway, the next film I’m absolutely peeing my pants about going to see is Star Trek Into Darkness. No words can describe. Bring it JJ, I’m counting on you.
PEEING MY PANTS.
I wrote some tunes for the Arthur C Clarke Awards back in 2009 (I’m hopefully getting round to releasing the album at some point next month so you can download/stream the full tracks). It’s a science fiction book award, so it’s totally related. Segue.