Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sonic Youth

When I was a child, I played the violin. My teacher was a young prodigy, just a few years older than me. She gave lessons in the living room of her parent's house. I remember only fragments now: dark wood floors with eastern rugs, an exquisite piano, an array of wind instruments. I loved hearing the richness of each note as my playing improved. I played duets with my teacher. My part was simple: long, sustained, tremulous notes beneath her fast, fluid melodies. I loved it.
My lessons ended abruptly when my teacher's mother died. I didn't see her, or play my violin, again. Later, after my parent's divorce, the instrument was sold.
I lived with my father after the divorce. We didn't have much money. He bought me a tin whistle and a book of traditional Irish jigs. I taught myself to sight-read them by reading the instructions in the front of the music book. I practiced the more complex melodies. Each was faster and prettier than the last. The whistle and the book were lost in one of our many house moves.
When I was 15, I moved in with my mother. I began learning the piano. I didn't like the teachers much, or their choice of music, but I practised and any time I felt low or angry or bored, I played. I started with scales, to see how fast and precise I could be, or if I could express emotion through the way I played them. The sheet music I was given sounded like versions of scales. It didn't really touch my heart. I ended up experimenting with sounds and figuring out how to play songs I knew from the radio. I taught myself to sing in tune by singing the notes as I played. I don't remember why I stopped. Maybe I felt it was going nowhere.
At university, where I majored in art, I played around with a lot of different media. I became interested in sound as an art experience. I was going to a lot of D.I.Y. trance, tribal, Goa-influenced, industrial raves. I listened to '80s hip hop – melodic rappers like Slick Rick and Dougie Fresh, and raw, percussive beats, like L.L. Cool J.'s Rock The Bells.
I was fascinated by how sounds could elicit responses and emotions in ways different to images and words. If I closed my eyes, sound inspired patterns and colour in my mind. I convinced the head of the music department to let me take the electronic music elective. The classroom was full of basic computers, each with a keyboard. Finished pieces were recorded onto VHS videotape, for better quality sound. My compositions were percussive and industrial, centred around a rhythm abstracted from a heartbeat. I also used these compositions as part of my Visual Arts course.
In a group exhibition at the university, I built a make-shift box that was black inside and out. The listener had to step within it to reach a pair of headphones. They experienced the music in darkness, their senses isolated so that they weren't distracted by sight, touch, movement or changing smell.
Now that my interest in using different media has revived, I want to explore all the disparate strands of those early experiments. I thought of doing music before I committed to art but it required equipment and money I didn't have. My boyfriend is coming around tomorrow to show me how to use the Apple's GarageBand application on my laptop. I can't help but be excited that I might be able to return to some of the concepts I laid aside. As I become more adept with media beyond the surface of paper, canvas, and board, I am more and more inspired.

3 comments:

PunkClown said...

The more I learn about you through your writings here, the more I marvel at your wealth of talent and experiences, along with your commitment to explore creativity across eclectic fields. It was interesting to hear how you approached learning and playing the piano, sounds like you have a natural "ear" for music.
I hope you have a healthy, safe and joyous holiday season, with lots of laughter too! All the best for 2007 Hazel.
Cheers,
Cameron

sue beyer said...

Garage Band is really fun. I have never learnt a musical instrument, but I can play with Garage Band for hours! much to the annoyance of my partner :-)
Hope you have a nice Christmas :-)

d.edlen said...

Very cool project! I just learned yesterday that we hear before we see.