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.

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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.