A Safe Space radio show today

Clutter

A Safe Space internet radio show goes out live today from 1pm GMT from www.octopuscollective.org and is a live reinterpretation of the blog with electronics from Shaun and vocals by Kirsten Taylor – please tune in and see where it all takes us.

It will be available in the future from the same site.

Sorry I’ve not posted in ages – been a combination of new job and getting other work done, whilst keeping my head relatively straight. I will be posting in the next few weeks to bring everything up to date.

Hope you are all well out there and having a good day.

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Looking for a safe space in Penrith

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I was gave Janice a lift up to Penrith and had some time to kill before picking her up again so I headed into town with the idea of doing a couple of test broadcasts using my iPhone on 3G to see if it streams ok. I was full of cold and definitely not at my best so I parked up and had a wander round the charity shops – scored DVD of 80’s classic BBC thriller Edge Of Darkness for £1.99 for you fellow scavengers 🙂

So after this and feeling not so great both with a pounding head, runny nose and starting to feel a little anxious I decided to find some safe spaces to broadcast. My first port of call was St Andrews Church.

You can hear the brief broadcast of the fantastic clock in the foyer here

The recording was interrupted by the sound of Karen Carpenter, which was strange till I realised there was a funeral happening. I quickly left not wanting to interrupt the sharing of these moments and not wanting to be disrespectful. I thought I could go back later and try again.

After this failed attempt and feeling a little sorry for myself I decided food would be good, a nice warm in a cafe and to do some work on an application I needed to send in. With feeling ill, tired and anxious it took me a bit to find somewhere I felt comfortable entering – one place was empty, another a bit crowded, one had no menu outside, finally I found one that did pie and chips and that had tables I could have a bit of space at and there was a relaxed feel to it. Sounds complicated to non social anxiety sufferers? It is, my fellow anxious types will know the feeling but I eventually settled down ordered food and did a little work. I started to relax after eating, I think my blood sugars were dropping, which makes me hyper and nervous, so I decided to do a broadcast as a good cafe with good food is a very safe space for me. I think the place was called The Lemon Tree and the staff were lovely and it had a nice family feel.

Listen to cafe ambience here

After getting near normal, jam roly poly and custard can sort many problems I find 🙂 I set off for the church again but noticed I was passing the library. I love libraries, I don’t ever borrow from them but like cafes they are a good safe haven in strange towns, especially if you’re a little frazzled. The main benefit of them is that they are free and you can read the paper, read a book, surf the net or just keep warm and not be bothered by people. I popped in and did a little broadcast here and discovered they sometimes aren’t as quiet as we think, mainly because Of all the technology they have and that I set up near the photocopier.

Listen to the library here

Finally I got back to St Andrew’s now empty. I sat in a middle pew and started the broadcast. The church was very still and is beautiful. I do love churches, I especially love playing in them, they are great places to be in. I’m not religious at all, a life long atheist with agnostic leanings as it goes, but there is something to the architecture of these buildings that is just right, both aesthetically and aurally. The stillness was broken by the sound of talking and laughter coming from an antiroom, muffled but happy sounding, adding a nice human element to the space.

Listen to St Andrew’s Church here

I left the church to head back to the car but was taken by the beauty of the churchyard and had an idea of playing a little live set on iPad from a bench there. So using Audiobus running Samplr, Kaossilator, Live FX and Echo Pad I played from the iPad speakers into the iPhone mics, all a bit rough and ready with no headphones to monitor myself well but I was pleased with the quality of the broadcast listening back to it at home.

Listen to churchyard jam here

So despite a cold and not feeling my best I had a really good day of work, some interesting results with the technology working well and my mind focussing on what I actually think of as a safe space. Not so much specific places I love like Conishead Priory or Williamson’s Park in Lancaster, Barrow Cemetery or my home but where I am drawn to in a strange town when I’m feeling anxious. Places of stillness definitely, but that have a sense of community. Like the library you are around people but there’s not a need to interact, you can just be and that makes a good place for contemplation.

The other is for me based around comfort eating I guess, feeling rough I craved carbs so had pie and chips and jam roly poly, meals very reminiscent of childhood meals. I tend to like homely cafes with a family feel. Again it in retrospect feels like I search for the comfort of familiar things, which in this case is a feeling of childhood safety somehow. In these type of places no one looks at you, at what your wearing, what you’re up to. Everyone seems generally at peace with themselves and happy concentrating on their food and their company, so an excellent safe space for me.

So I’m now getting very excited about more live broadcasts, both of environmental ambiences and live performance in unusual places. Here’s to more of the same and please if you would like to contribute to the up coming radio show send me recordings of your safe space, or you talking about what helps you feel safe, maybe a poem or a short piece of you playing some calming music? All contributions will be used as part of a one hour live mix in March. More details coming soon but contact me at info@shaunblezard.com for more details.

FON Air – A Safe Space radio show

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I have been commissioned by the Octopus Collective to produce a sound art radio programme about the notion of safe spaces. This will be a one hour live show on 27th March 2013 and will be a sonic exploration of these spaces.

If you would like to be involved I am looking for audio recordings of or about safe spaces – it could be a field recording of a space you feel safe and secure in, or a snippet of you playing music that you think conveys this safety. It could be a poem, you talking about how you relax, what you do to feel safe. It is a very open brief, I only ask that you donate your recording under a Creative Commons licence and that you are happy for your work to be used as part of the project, both on the show and in future versions of work. I will of course credit people for work used.

If this sounds ok and you would like to donate a recording to the project send audio files to info@shaunblezard.com and I’ll add them to the sound stocks 🙂 feel free to ask for any further info.

I will be using these files plus my own recordings, including the series of live broadcasts I’ll be producing over the next couple of months – these will be broadcast quite randomly on Spreaker and will include music, chat and field recordings from places I think are relaxing and make me feel safe.

If you would like to be involved in a live broadcast please contact me with your idea – if you want to have a chat about mental health issues and what you do to help recovery, broadcast a place you find safe, play some music etc please let me know. I can travel locally to me (Cumbria or North Lancs) or I can try and sort something out via Skype.

I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to do this show and to start the creative journey with he support of such a great arts collective. I hope you will join me on this first small step of the safe space art adventure. For an idea of the kind of thing I produce see my work for the project Cumbria Remixed.

Oh and just to be clear, I can’t afford to pay anyone for contributing to this show, but don’t let that put you off 🙂

Using tablets to make music and more live radio

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I did the next test internet radio live broadcast using Spreaker a couple of days a go. It was a live broadcast of improvised music by myself (Clutter) and Phil Powell (Sleepy Gumbo) doing an ambientish set using iPads and streamed from his mac.

We hit a few technical issues so we had a few drop outs in the sound, but all in all a good experiment in 1. Using tablets to make live improvised music and 2. Being able to play live to whoever would want to listen.

It’s now available to listen again – listen to the broadcast here

I have been jamming with Phil for a bit now, both being geeks and interested in what technology can do so we started an ipad duo to test some things out. The first couple of sessions were mainly using thumbjam and locking the 2 iPads and an iPhone together so everything sync was together and we could both add loops to the mix. We created some interested ‘doom jazz’ type sounds and were quite happy with the possibility of a band of tablet players. Our sessions usually involve having a good chat about the possibilities of where the technology could go. There’s the obvious avenue of midi and using backing tracks but we’ve been much more interested about using a tablet surface live, like a combination of instrument and effects rack.

I’ve been using an iPhone as a core part of my live set up for around 4 years now and enjoyed the physicality it can give to my playing, something sadly missing in most laptop based work. I was then given an iPad and at first thought wow, this is great I can use all the apps I have on the phone but with more control. So the duo with Phil started.

We have now had in the last few months a wave of highly usable and quite simply amazing apps coming out.

First we have the real game changer – audiobus is a simple but very powerful app that creates a signal chain for apps to run audio through each other. You have an instrument slot, or more, this runs into an effects slot, then into an output slot. Simple but now you can add effects to that clean sounding thumbjam harp….very exciting, very easy to use and works very well so far, the odd problem with apps still running in the background if you drop them out of audiobus, which won’t be a problem once it’s more practiced.

Then we has samplr – a loop sampler with audiobus integration that is made for iPad – I won’t go into details and do a review but if you like messing with live looping, sampling and such like this and audiobus are worth buying an iPad for. It really does up the game for sound manipulation. We’re still getting to grips with these tools and then added to the mix there is liveFX – any fan of kaoss pads will love this 4 channels of xy pad effects with filters, delays, distortion and much more with recordable movements to add more life to the mix. Last super mention goes to Echo Pad – a great dub type delay app for really adding that dub echo sound to your productions – wonderful stuff. I now have as my preferred choice samplr in audiobus, running through LiveFX and then Echo Pad, Phil has been using a similar set up but with added drumjam for loops.

So the live broadcast was using these tools mainly which gave a much looser, organic feel to the sound, just decide on tempo and away we go, we started to pull together some interesting ambient dance type things together, not unlike The Orb etc.

It really is an exciting time to be using this technology, with new avenues opening up on a weekly basis. We’re both looking forward to seeing what comes next. The developers are having amazing ideas but the really interesting things are coming from small teams that are listening to us the musicians and moving things forward very quickly.

Dance, dance, dance to the radio

20130115-235945.jpg First off, let’s get this straight….the title was obviously a reference to Joy Division but there won’t be a right lot of dancing going on. It was nearly called the Internet killed the radio star or some such nonsense so let’s just run with it for now and not over analyse it…..

A Safe Space is the blog but it’s also an art project, or more to the point I’m building it slowly into one. I’m not sure the direction I will take with it but the first step was to start writing the blog and start researching how I can use music/sound art and technology to help my recovery from depression. Or if not that at least give me a creative output for my emotions and a way to maybe help others in the future. At this stage all I know is that I want my career and my illness to be more respectful of each other, hopefully they can become friends and help each other. They have a history of fighting, but I’m trying to get them to see eye to eye, even if it’s just a begrudging nod of the head to each other when they pass on the stairs? We’ll see….

So I’m writing, but I’m also talking to other creatives about how they deal with mental health issues, including the start of guest blogs: you’ve already seen one’s from Beth & Jim and there’ll be one tomorrow from Alex. The future holds making art with people and how this can help recovery, I think maybe it will be very much a personal journey as if I try and create work for everyone it ends up being too bland. (See quite a bit of community art) Already I know from starting to put a playlist of calming music together that it is very subjective. I find some suggestions really grate on my nerves, mainly the modern pop ballads, the likes of Westlife and Boyzone really put me on edge. It just doesn’t resonate with me, I’m not particularly snobby about mainstream music – I quite like Take That, loved some stuff by All Saints, think Kate Bush is a genius but the Modern pop ballad, sorry no. Not for me. We’ll leave it there for now, it is something I’m very interested in though, why people like certain pieces of music, what pulls at them? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

My first piece of work outside the blog is a commission for a sound art radio show for Octopus Collective. A brilliant music and sonic arts collective in Cumbria. I have won a commission as part of their FON Air series – radio shows looking at space and art radio. I am doing a live broadcast in March using the concept of the safe space, where we go to feel better, that could be a loved place that calms you, a place in your head you go to get away from it all, music you listen to that helps. I will be asking for recordings of these safe spaces to use as part of a big remix for the show. Keep a look out for more details about this soon.

I had a brilliant meeting with Andrew from Octopus today about the show and talked about content, threw some ideas around about what makes it radio in the Internet age? About digital culture and the ways art can help with mental health. Very energising chat and one that I’m sure we will carry on. Is it radio if it’s on the Internet? If the show is pre-recorded is this radio or a podcast. Does it need to be live? Does it need to come through an analogue radio? My feeling is it must be live, there must be a chance of something going wrong, even if it’s streaming digitally. So I’ll be improvising the show live on the day. I talked to Andrew about the apps I have downloaded to do live audio broadcasting on iPad/phone and the idea of broadcasting live from safe spaces. Not like a radio show but just broadcasting environmental sounds, a 20 minute live broadcast from the beach say. Then this collection of live events will become source material for the radio show.

Excitedly I did my first of these broadcasts tonight, a 15 minute broadcast called Live from the kitchen (click link to hear it) which was the sound of my kitchen. Starting with a boiling kettle, then dying down into just the ambient sound of the room. The buzz of the freezer and the chugging and creaking of the fridge. It was a great test run for the concept and worked well, with thumbs up from Andrew who listened in live 🙂 next I will look at coming off wifi and try and do a live broadcast using a phone and 3G to see if that works. Really excited to see what I can do, will try some live music also from different locations.

For all you technology types you might be wondering how you had the chance to hear my freezer live on the air? I’m using Spreaker on my iPad. There’s a great free app to get you started really quickly, you can use the built in mic plus also 2 ‘record’ decks linked to iTunes if you want to play tracks. There’s also an iPhone version , won’t broadcast on my old 3G though, you need a 3GS at least, and an android app. Look at their site for more details. I loved it and can’t wait to try it on 3G to see how it handles that. Check it out, or one of the other apps that do similar things. I only went with this first as it is the only one to load on my phone, then still not broadcast able as I said. (Getting near time to get a newer phone I guess).

So stay tuned for more transmissions and do let me know your thoughts – it might be a little arty farty for some, if it is please tell me why. Art becomes alive in these bits of conversation, and good discussions promote better work. Any ideas for further reading or research on the boundaries of mental health, creativity and technology greatly appreciated.

Guest Blog – Jim (Depression & Photography)

SunriseMy name is Jim and I’m a long-term sufferer of depression, going back to when my Dad died when I was 12 (I’m 53 now, 3 years younger than my Dad was when he died. For a coalminer, he didn’t have too bad an innings). As life has gone on, the depression has ebbed and flowed, but never left. I’ve occasionally been deluded enough to think it had run its course, but it always comes back to haunt me in many varied ways. Sometimes it has obvious and evident causes – relationship breakups, a few severe physical traumas, unemployment and so on, but now and again it’ll catch me unawares.

I’ve had most of the modern antidepressants – I started on the lovely Amitriptiyline, which I now take in a much lower dosage for nerve pain, but they won’t allow me to use it as an antidepressant anymore. I don’t get on with any of the SSRI’s I’ve tried, so I’ll only use them as a very last resort. The last one I tried was Citalopram, which seemed to have less side effects than the rest, but it still increased my anxiety levels to beyond the pale.

Anxiety has been a constant companion for the past 20 or so years, following an unprovoked attack in which I was stabbed and almost killed. I was on diazepam for 5 or 6 years, but came off that cold turkey after hassles with psychiatrists. I’ve also used Beta blockers (propranolol) for lengthy periods of time. They’re fine if you can live without adrenaline.

I’ve undergone various therapies, mostly in vain. 2 equally disastrous attempts at psychoanalysis has left me with a healthy contempt of analysts. Counselling helps, but only up to a point. A course of CBT worked well, but I felt it was a bit too short. I still use tricks I picked up there to help now (but at the end of the day, they are just tricks).

I’ve kind of drifted around from job to job, quite successfully at times. After school I lounged around on the dole for a bit before going to Art College. Prior to Art College, I’d met up with an Art Therapist during a period of hospitalisation, who remains a good friend to this day, and he had kickstarted me into taking my artwork seriously. College was a bit disastrous, really and undid all the good he’d done. When I left I never wanted to paint again. I did gain some experience of photography and darkrooms, though, and a love of photography has remained with me ever since. I never did get the chance to build my own darkroom, but it was always a plan until digital cameras came along.

During student life I did as many others did and worked in bars and restaurants to keep myself solvent and drunk. When I left, I kind of stayed with it, finding a sleazy late night place I liked and taking on the kitchen duties. I was the chef, interior decorator, menu designer, and promoter of a small but select back street dive with a late licence and live music every night of the week. Life did not get much better. When managership was offered, I took it, along with becoming the sole licensee of the premises when the owners moved on to bigger and not necessarily better things around the corner. It wasn’t to last. (see 3rd paragraph, I don’t want to talk about it)

I lost about 5 years or so to Post Traumatic Stress, lived on benefits, became a recluse… that kind of thing. While I’d been running the venue, I’d used my “showbiz” contacts and had a good run as a “performance poet”, doing regular gigs on my nights off from the club, self-publishing a couple of books, recording cassettes and so on. That all stumbled to a drunken halt too, though some friends did get me to record a CD with some funding they procured. I didn’t promote it and it didn’t serve any purpose, really, except as a vanity project.

I met my wife around this time, and when she became pregnant with our first child (we now have 4!) it occurred to me that I should quit my low down lounging ways and get back into the world of work.

What to do though? I’d had enough of restaurant and bar work, but there wasn’t much else I was any good at, so I ended up slaving away in a string of call centres just to bring a wage home at the end of the week. It made me desperately miserable, but I had a potential family to support, so I gritted my teeth and answered those phones as cheerfully and helpfully as I could. As soon as one job got too much, I’d move on. That kind of work was plentiful, once you had your foot in the door, and most places had a high turnover of staff.

Once we had a baby or two in our arms, it became clear to us that city life had lost its attraction, and when a chance came up to drop everything and move to rural Wales, we did just that. I scrabbled around taking any work I could get for a while, while trying to live as simple and uncomplicated a life as possible. I gave up car ownership when my Transit van was leaking oil everywhere and due to fail its MOT. I started to use my bicycle, which I’d always had, as my primary mode of transport. I got a job in a bike shop. I went to work for a cycling charity. I now teach safe cycling and general road safety to children.

I bought one of the first waterproof and shockproof digital compact cameras, and still have it. I took it everywhere with me. It fitted nicely into my pocket, and didn’t fall apart if I fell off my bike or dropped it, or wandered into the sea with it. Having a bicycle and a camera is a magical combination. Driving along and seeing something magnificent is frustrating if you can’t stop to get your camera out. On a bike, you nearly always can. Having a camera gives you an excuse to look at things, and to look at them again, from another angle. It gives you an excuse to lay down on the floor an look closely at a beetle or a flower. It gives you a reason to look outwards from yourself, which is sometimes very difficult if you’re in the grip of a deep depression. A camera is something to go for a walk with. You don’t need another person (though another photographer is always perfect company – they won’t talk you to death or walk too fast!).

Through posting my photos online I’ve met many like-minded people, some have remained online-only friends, some have become firm real life friends, just because we both enjoy taking and posting pictures.

I learned a lot from other bloggers and my own photography took on new dimensions. This wouldn’t have been possible without the interweb and digital cameras. I briefly joined a sketching club many years ago, and I’ve been a member of too many writers’ groups to know that an Amateur Photography Group who meet at the local fishing club headquarters every other Thursday would never have benefitted me in the same way.

I bought a DSLR, thinking it would open new doors, give me more creative control, but it wasn’t the right size, and it didn’t sem to do a great deal more than my compact does, so I let it gather dust for a year or so before passing it on to my wife, on condition that she buy me a new compact. It’s even more shock, water and freeze proof than my old one (which my oldest daughter now has) and will soon, when I’ve got a cradle for it, be heading skywards attached to the string my kite. KAP, or Kite Arial Photography is something I’ve wanted to try since my online friend Joker posted some photos…

I’m deeply depressed at the moment. I broke my wrist in a cycling accident about 3 months ago, and the lack of physical activity coupled with the general trauma and pain of a badly broken bone has sent me into a downward spiral. I love my wife and children more than anything in the world, but home is a bit claustrophobic at the moment, and `I must be a right pain in the arse to live with just now. The dreary wet winter weather doesn’t help, but even when I can’t get out, I can find something around the house which will make an interesting subject. My camera can captivate me like nothing else can, but capturing the image, perhaps tweaking it a bit (I used to be a photoshop obsessive, but beyond a little light cropping I don’t retouch or manipulate at all anymore) is only half the process. It’s not “done” till it’s been posted online.

Last year, my friend’s mother attracted my attention by creating a blog called “Silent Sunday” which consisted of a single photo, taken during that week and posted every Sunday, with no words or title or caption or anything. I started one, but it fell into disuse. I’m resurrecting it this week. It’s here

My camera, it’s window I can look out of, wherever I am.

In search of a superhero?

I’ve been playing with my iPad a bit over Christmas, partly to try and push the winter blues away through being creative and partly to see what apps would be good to use in mental health settings.

I will be writing a more detailed blog about audio apps, I have found some great things but need to look at them more closely before working out how I can use them to make music.

So just a shortish post looking at a couple of little fun art/creative apps I have been playing with. I’ve never been that great at drawing but have always been interested in comics and graphic novels and have had great fun with this –

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Buddy Poke is a 3D avitar maker where you can create a comic version of yourself easily and then pose it for photos, change clothes, make little films. Great fun and I can see it being great to use in workshops. This is myself and how I want to approach 2013, feeling good and upbeat 🙂

The other app I have played with is Comic Life a comic making app that uses templates to easily get a comic built using photos and putting your own words in – here’s my first attempt. Setralineman was an attempt to tell a serious simple story using images I had on my iPad. I think this kind of simple easy to use app shows real promise to work with people to express themselves through art, without having to be scared of drawing etc. you can concentrate on the narrative and what message you want to get over.

Will look forward to getting stuck into it more and making a longer form comic to try and tell more of my story and to find ways for others to do the same.

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I will be writing much more about such things but will say again I am not a professional mental health worker, I am a community based musician and digital artist with mental health problems, so this is very much a personal journey for me, both emotionally and creatively. If you suffer from any mental health issues please go and see a professional, go to your GP, go to MIND or another like minded organisation, all the comments on this blog are about me and are personal observations rather than anything else.