What is your role in the devising process with Frozen Light?
My role within the devising process is primarily two fold. Firstly, I have to translate the narrative or sensory experience into sounds and music. Secondly, I have to create a sound journey for the audience to embark upon. I guess this is the same in any ‘art creation’ in that you have to keep one eye on the macro and the other one on the micro at all times.
I love the devising process, it seems like magic but it’s just thinking deeply enough about something that it takes on its own life. When you have a team of people that you trust artistically with a shared goal, that’s a really powerful tool and great to be a part of. The core team spends a lot of time together during the devising process, normally a few feet away from each other in the same room and all aspects of the show are openly discussed, feedback on work can be achieved instantly (which is a good and a bad thing depending upon my mood!) so I see my role as well as specifically writing the music but also to support the artistic directors in whatever way I can to get ‘the vision’ to become reality.
Having worked with Frozen Light since they were founded I am fully invested in their aims and their ethos and I consider it a real privilege to create work for a PMLD audience. It’s not an easy process, making work for such a vulnerable group who are mostly unrepresented in our society. It is both highly intellectually stimulating whilst at the same time making you continually question your ethics and morality, which is never a bad thing.
What are the key things you think about when composing music for audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD)?
It’s very easy these days to think that technology has all the answers. In music this is no different, why get a cello and learn to play it when we can learn the comuter and it can do a million things for us and play the cello more reliably than I can? Well in reality, because they are totally different experiences. A Frozen Light show is about a two-way communication that in many ways traditional theatre is the antithesis of. This is why we believe if a musical instrument can be played live it should…no, it needs to be. This is especially important for the audience that Frozen Light creates work for because the opportunity to hear live music is so much more limited. Live music is not always practical logistically or in terms of the budget- but that’s the goal.
I try to not make any compromises. A PMLD audience has such limited options to access culture that is specifically designed for their needs that we as a company feel a great responsibility to get it right. Obviously ‘right’ is subjective but the feedback we get and the audience engagement we receive tells us that we definitely get it more right than wrong.
How has the music you’ve written changed or developed since working with Frozen Light?
Hopefully it has got better, what I mean is that you keep learning with every show you do. Every show needs different qualities both in terms of creation and performance. I’ve certainly learnt to trust my instincts.
Everybody enjoys ‘good music’. No matter how difficult we think it could be to relate to someone because of their physical appearance. Music connects us in a timeless and ethereal way that probably comes from a pre-language point in our evolution (I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere…the internet? It must be true!). What I’m trying to say is that I’m not sure my music has radically changed…my attitudes definitely have.
As well as being in the rehearsal room and composing music for the shows, you’ve also performed in all of Frozen Light’s productions. What are the various responses you get from audiences? Have any of these responses surprised you?
I guess from a performance point of view the main thing I’ve learnt is not to be surprised by anything. I’ve literally performed to an audience that don’t even enter the main theatre space because they are anxious and coming to the theatre may be a new experience for them and so it’s completely overwhelming. Some audience members need to explore the instruments physically, some walk around, make noise, join in…you name it, it’s happened in a Frozen Light show. No two shows are the same because of this, which makes each performance a huge amount of fun.
What has been your favourite instrument to work with in the productions and why?
This is a really difficult question. As a self confessed audiophile I am obsessed with sounds and instruments both harmonically and tonally. I believe that any instrument played with passion and care can produce an emotive response within the listener…even if the sound is not “nice”.
I love the guitar, I always have. I can clearly remember as a child bugging my parents for a guitar, the sound just gets me and so it’s (nearly) always a pleasure to pick it up and whether that’s for a Frozen Light show or something totally different.
Talking more specifically about Frozen Light, massive percussion is always fun, the gong we used in HOME was both epic and beautiful. The saxophone was really interesting as the tonal quality it has seemed to make our audiences really responsive. Ultimately however you can’t beat vocal harmonies- when the cast is singing together and it’s bang on that’s really satisfying and the audience really engage with it.
Any insights on what the music might be like for the new show? (no spoilers please)
Personally I would like to explore a closer relationship between sound and movement and light…beyond that I’m not sure I want to say any more. If however you want to know more you are just gonna have to come and see it.