PACE: Creating Music Through Technology

In May 2019, artist Melissa Mostyn and I delivered workshops at the PACE Centre primary and secondary schools in Aylesbury, funded by Decibels and the Sobell Foundation.

The workshops were designed to introduce the students, who have complex motor disabilities, to music and art through technology – specifically, the SUBPAC – using the theme of Audiovisability’s recent Dressage project. The 2018 project was a collaboration between Artistic Director Ruth Montgomery, para-equestrienne Laurentia Tan, Dressage composer Tom Hunt, and percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

The first part of the workshop was a 45-minute assembly where Melissa and I introduced the Dressage project to the students and showed them the short film summarising Laurentia’s story between September and December last year:

The students then had the opportunity to see and feel the SUBPAC vest up-close, take a closer look at Melissa's art work, and watch Melissa demonstrate a live drawing while ‘listening’ to the music via the SUBPAC.

The following week, we returned to PACE to continue with the second part of the workshop, which saw the students split into rotating groups. One group focused on arts activities led by Melissa, where each student could choose their own arts materials to create a painting while feeling vibrations from the SUBPAC. Here, Melissa summarises her thoughts:

“The results were very exciting. The children had clearly made mental notes of my live drawing, and created their own movement paintings. Some even managed to evoke the sense of a galloping horse in their abstract marks. You could actually see their confidence growing as they went on – I got the sense they felt empowered by the vibrotactile qualities of the vest. You can see in the below selected images how they responded to my original live drawing.”

Another group, led by me, explored music through emotion. Here, I challenged the students to think about the different emotions or feelings that Laurentia (or they!) might feel while riding a horse and competing in a Dressage competition. Many emotions and feelings were discussed, including happy, excited, nervous, frightened, silly, and ‘in love’. We then explored ways of representing these emotions through sound by using fast or slow, loud or quiet, and smooth or staccato (detached) sounds. Each group composition was then recorded and, at the end, played through the vibrating SUBPAC!

At the end of the day, the students and staff had the opportunity to reflect on what the project had taught them. Feedback from the teachers and Learning Support Assistants included:

“Really interesting and innovative workshop. The music and emotions part was particularly useful for our children who are learning to recognise their own emotions.”

“Exceptional piece of equipment presented in an easy to understand way.”

“Very interactive and creative work shown to the children. Allowing the children to explore with different instruments, music, etc.”

“Innovative, opens the door and gives lots of opportunity for people to live normal lives and access sports and dance.”

What a pleasure it was to work with the children and staff at the PACE Centre, and of course, to work with Melissa to deliver these sessions! Most of all, a big thank you to Decibels and the Sobell Foundation for making this possible.

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