Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Art of Living - Listening without Ears - BBC Radio 4

In this programme, performer Eloise Garland investigates how people with hearing loss engage with music.

"Eloise began to lose her own hearing fifteen years ago. Now aged 23, she's a professional singer, violinist and teacher - and reveals her very personal engagement with sound.

She considers different ways of teaching and appreciating music - some of which might surprise people who aren't deaf - and shares her deep emotional connection to an art form and cultural activity that is so strongly associated with hearing.

Eloise also meets Tarek Atoui, a composer and sound artist who brings together deaf and hearing people to make music with special instruments designed to expand the experience of sound beyond the aural. If music cannot be heard, what are the other ways of listening?"

The difference between hearing and listening is discussed; hearing is using the ears and listening is using the brain and the body.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My latest batch of film strips

I've been really enjoying preparing some film strips. Perhaps I have been influenced by the Christmas baubles, the festive lights and the colours of wrapping papers?

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Preparing some 16mm film for projecting

Following the cameraless film workshop that I did a couple of weeks ago with Hands on Film, I've purchased some 16mm film and have been working on some film strips to project.

Here are some in progress

Friday, 8 December 2017

Frank Ormsby on The Art of Living

My research into research auditory and visual hallucinations has revealed that these experiences are more common than I first was aware of.

In a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Art of Living, the poet Frank Ormsby discusses how his life has changed since he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. His medication, he believes, has aided his creativity. But it has also induced hallucinations. He finds himself sitting on his own in his study but surrounded by people, by the ghosts of his mother-in-law and unidentified visitors. And he's also haunted by a fear that the earth will open up and swallow him.

When he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, his response was unexpected. He embarked on a newly fertile creative period, documenting his experiences and finding a voice in his poetry that he was beginning to lose in his daily communications.

His first act was to search Google - for jokes. "Which would you rather have, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Obviously Parkinson's! I'd rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it."

As he discusses with Marie-Louise Muir, the illness has changed him. It's mellowed him. After a career as a school teacher, his daily life is now quieter and more solitary. There's a poetry, almost, in his pauses and silences.

I find his following poem about his hallucinations very powerful

"Wherever i sit

at the corner of my eye

they fade in fade out

melt into elsewhere before i can see faces

who is that girl i sense at my shoulder?

who is that dancing lazily on my table until i look up?

are they playing a game?

do they mean me any harm?

not one has appeared twice or uttered a sound

remote, indifferent

they will never amount to a family or a circle of friends


a black spider with its heart in its mouth is legging it across the floor tiles towards the nearest shade

he is strangely human

and visible all the way

so used to them have I become

so aware without thinking of their nameless presence and their ways of peopling a room

I spoke absently to one lurking in my mother-in-laws chair

and called it Jean

and asked about an imminent journey

when I looked in its direction it disappeared

not much conversation to be shared with a neurological disturbance

everyone else in the room

if indeed anybody else was there

remained invisible

and a lonliness beyond reason began to take hold

and things impossible lost themselves again

in a round of regrets

there was no breakthrough

there was no crossing of lines

my silent visitors wouldn't startle a mouse

so still they sit

sometimes on every chair in the conservatory

they might be teachers or civil servants

with a taste for line dancing and country music

at times they exude a kind of homelessness

displaced beings crashing at my pad

they have the fearsome patience of invalids

whatever it is they are waiting for

they'll wait forever"

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Frank Ormsby's poems used to help others understand Parkinson's Disease

Malachi O'Doherty writes,

"The Belfast writer, who suffers from hallucinations and twitching, is defiantly upbeat about his condition. He has turned his experiences into a new pamphlet which is being used as a teaching resource for student nurses learning about the degenerative disease.

The poet Frank Ormsby lives with hallucinations and with the prospect of the earth opening up and swallowing him. That is how he describes Parkinson's Disease in a pamphlet of new poems to be launched tomorrow night in Belfast at the famous No Alibis bookshop on Botanic Avenue.

One poem includes the lines: 'Who is that girl I sense at my shoulder? Who is that dancing lazily/on my table until I look up?'

He is surrounded by ghosts. They are no bother to him. He remarks on their lack of energy in one of the poems Hallucinations 3: 'They have the fearsome patience of invalids. Whatever it is they are waiting for, they will wait forever.'

Frank was hospitalised seven years ago with heart failure and diagnosed with diabetes. So he has two afflictions to deal with.

His response to Parkinson's in his poems is a mix of humour and horror. He says: "It is hard to beat humour as an instrument against disease or unhappiness. I suppose as a writer I have always had a strong sense of the absurd."

You might think he would be deeply pained at having to live with hallucinations. In fact, he seems more bemused than bothered. He writes about taking these ghosts for a walk every day round the Waterworks on the Antrim Road, near where he lives. He wonders if the dogs there will sense their auras.

He says: "I think that people just naturally have a certain disposition or temperament and I seem to have the kind of temperament that sets considerable store by jokes and what you call whimsy. I am very glad to have this approach to life. It certainly helps to make negative experience a lot more bearable."

But the story is a sad and shocking one.

"From time to time I would think of the limitations of having this temperament. In these poems there is a certain amount of humour but you could go through them and pull together an awareness of the darker side."

But Frank says he is looking forward to the day Billy Connolly makes his Parkinson's the subject of a stage act. "I think there was always a part of me that wanted to be a stand-up comic."

But is there not a danger that others who have Parkinson's might not appreciate this humour, might find it insensitive to their own experience?

He admits: "I've got certain niggling doubts about that. I could imagine somebody who had Parkinson's say for 10 years or 20 years more than I have had it might listen sceptically to poems like these and say he knows nothing about it.

"Ten years from now, if he survives, let's see if he's laughing then.

"It's not as if I am putting myself forward as the laureate of Parkinson's but I am aware that it could seem like that, especially to someone who had suffered and really suffered for it for much longer than I have."

People who haven't met Frank in recent years but maybe knew him as their teacher when he was head of English at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution will see that he has slowed down, that he speaks much more softly, and that his left arm twitches. He hasn't lost the whimsicality they will be familiar with but they might feel instinctively a bit more protective towards him.

Parkinson's does not kill but it erodes a person progressively.

And the damage shows.

Yet he says: "Funnily enough, I wouldn't describe it as a bad time. That would seem to me to be an exaggeration. I think if I am going to have a bad time it is going to be in the future at some point.

"At the moment, I suppose I have a tremor in my left arm, I have certainly got a lot clumsier when it comes to doing or undoing buttons or tying shoelaces or the ordinary little things that you do in the course of the day. I certainly got slower there.

"Neither of the diseases - I'm talking about the diabetes and Parkinson's - that I have got involve pain, or at least they haven't so far. I suppose the real damage that they do is that they soften you up for heart attacks and strokes and so on, but it's about seven years since I have come out of hospital and in that time I haven't had a single day's illness.

"So I suppose, I feel lucky because of that and maybe that is something that feeds the optimism."

Poets often talk of their ideas coming to them rather than them going out looking for them. They don't sit down in the morning like a working journalist with a job to finish before lunch; though some journalists might think that some poets would be more productive if they did.

Frank says: "I'm always surprised that there are certain subjects that almost put a pressure on you to write about them and there are other subjects that don't. In 2009, I spent three weeks in hospital with heart failure and I went home fully expecting to get a quarter of a book of poems out of this experience but, in fact, I never wrote about it at all.

"Yet when it emerged that I had Parkinson's disease I found myself reading articles watching material about it on TV, discussing it with a few people I knew who were my age and writing this sequence of poems and they came quite quickly over about a month or so."

A psychologist might ask at this point if the poems helped him cope, might assume they were therapeutic.

"I suppose I had some kind of half idea (that they would help me to cope with Parkinson's) but only a half idea.

"I think to sit down with some sort of intention to help yourself or of writing poems as a form of therapy I think would be detrimental to the poems themselves.

"You'd end up with something forced, something jerry built, something that didn't come naturally or had no lightness of touch about it. As it turned out these poems did come fairly easily and I didn't allow myself to become too conscious of them as therapy but I have no doubt that they helped."

In the poems he reflects on the changes in him.

In Side Effects 2 he writes, 'Gone my teacherly gulder. …The voice that broke at thirteen has again broken.'

His former Inst pupils remember him as a teacher who could take charge of a class and be a commanding presence in it. Several senior figures in the Northern Ireland media have sat in front of him while he explained poetry to them. They include BBC NI's Stephen Nolan, the music writer Stuart Bailie and Peter Rainey, who is picture editor at the Belfast Telegraph.

The new poems are already being used in Scotland to train nurses who will be working with patients with Parkinson's, for they bring to life the internal experience of the person you see shuffling and shaking, the arm twitching, the distracted look on the face.

He says: "It all began with a poetry reading I did at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and two things happened as a result of that reading. One was that the two people who were on Mariscat Press, Hamish White and Diane Hendry, offered to do this pamphlet of the Parkinson's poems and one look at the beautiful pamphlets they had previously done and I was accepting the offer immediately.

"The other, to me, surprising development was that a teaching nurse from the Queen Margaret University approached me. She was teaching a class about neurological diseases and she had the idea previously that she might be able to use poems as a teaching aid. It would be a way of stimulating interest and emphasising certain priorities."

That nurse gave her class the poems "to read and discuss and to explore the various themes and apply them to their own work". She then challenged the student nurses to write poetry in response, using the Japanese haiku form that Frank writes a lot in himself, where each poem has only 17 syllables.

How did that go down with students who were expecting a more practical and scientific education?

Frank says: "I suddenly in the mail had 16 haiku poems arrive. And it was pleasingly evident that they had responded to the main points in the poems and I could suddenly realise how the poems might teach them something."

The connection with the hospital is ongoing.

"I am writing an essay about their responses to the poems. The essay may or may not be published in a journal of nursing research. All this was unexpected but exciting as well."

Monday, 4 December 2017

How opening our ears can open our minds: Hildegard Westerkamp

"Soundscape composer Hildegard Westerkamp hears the world differently than most people. Where many of us might hear noise, she uncovers extraordinary beauty and meaning. It's all in how we listen to our environment. 

In this interview, Paul Kennedy joined Hildegard Westerkamp on a sound-walk through Vancouver's downtown eastside, and explored how opening our ears to our surroundings can open our minds.

Westerkamp uses environmental sounds her instruments. She refrains from using any effects, and feels it is important to do her own field recording as opposed to using pre-recorded sounds and it encourages her to listen actively. When in the studio, re-listening to her field recordings, Westerkamp often picks up on other sounds that she had not previously heard because she does not have as many other sounds competing for her attention.

"To be in the present as a listener is a revolutionary act. We absolutely need it, to be grounded in that way."

She comments that people no longer practice listening to the environment, are afraid of silence and so turn to music to fill the perceived void.

"People are afraid of silence, because it's perceived as a vacuum. It's not perceived as a source of inspiration…. The tools to search out the environmental sounds that heal us have been lessened as a result."

"Listening will help us reconnect to the environment. If we can understand what listening can do to reconnect us to our environment, we can understand what's happening to our environment... we would be enriched, hugely."

To listen to the interview and sound walk visit:

To find out more about Hildegard Westerkamp, visit:

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Drone Ensemble performance at the Great North Museum: Hancock on 13th December, 6-8pm

An Artistic Encounter
Wednesday 13th December, 6pm-8pm
Great North Museum: Hancock

On Wednesday 13th December The Drone Ensemble will be performing as part of An Artistic Encounter, an evening of contemporary art and live music staged amongst the collections of the Great North Museum: Hancock.

It is hosted by Connecting Principle, the multi-disciplinary research forum at Newcastle University.

The digital artworks showcased will be set in dialogue with the museum's rich collections of natural history, archaeology, geology and world cultures.

Visual artists:

Aurelio Andrighetto, Enrique Azocar, Murray Ballard, Daniel Brown, Irene Brown, Keith Brown, Paul Bush, Roi Carmeli, Chris Cornish, Juliet Flemming, Andrea Frank, Nils Guadagnin, Lois Hobby, Michael Jank, Ant Macari, Simon Martin, Jasmine Matthews, Michael Mulvihill, Colin Priest, Claudia Sacher, Sabina Sallis, Wolfgang Weileder, Albert Weis, Louise Winter

With live music:

The Drone Ensemble and The Improvisors’ Workshop Ensemble

The project builds on a collaborative research project between Newcastle University, Montpellier University, La Panacée: Centre d’art contemporaine, Montpellier, and the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Montpellier Agglomeration. In an exhibition staged in University of Montpellier’s medieval libraries, a series of newly commissioned artworks were presented in response to artefacts held in their historical scientific, medical and art collections.

Connecting Principle is an art centred international multi-disciplinary research forum at Newcastle University instigating a dialogue between art and other disciplines. The aim of the forum is to increase opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration within academia and independently. Connecting Principle sees itself as an international network of artists, theorists and researchers.