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.

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.

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.