Sowing the Seeds of Community Engagement

Composition lecturer Dr Brona Martin tells us about an exciting recent commission and the sounds and connections it has fostered:

Earlier this year I was commissioned by Seed Studios in collaboration with the Vonnegut Collective and the MANTIS Festival (Manchester Theatre in Sound), Manchester to facilitate some workshops in soundwalking, field recording and composition. I was also commissioned to write a piece of music using the recordings gathered during the workshops and a soundwalk excursion in the vicinity of Seed Studios. The participants also used these recordings to write their own works which were performed as an installation at the MANTIS Festival in October 2018. My new work Sowing Seeds was also premiered at this Festival at Manchester University.

A little bit about Seed Studios:

Seed Studios is an arts and wellbeing organisation running music and media studios in Old Trafford, Partington & Broomwood (Timperley). We work holistically to tackle health inequalities by empowering people to achieve their creative goals. Using music as a tool we improve wellbeing, confidence and social capital, helping local people gain a better chance in life.

At the core of our activities are community workshops offering creative and social opportunities for everyone nearby. We encourage trained volunteers to lead sessions, sharing skills and equipment while developing their own artistic practice inspired by local diversity. Commitment from volunteers is produced through time-banking and the opportunity to use the studios for personal projects out of hours.

As an Electroacoustic composer who creates works that explore specific soundscapes, I spend a lot of time listening and recording sounds of the environment, gathering materials for my compositions. When introducing students and participants to soundscape composition I often begin with a soundwalk, an excursion that involves listening to the sounds of the environment, exposing our ears to the various layers of the soundscape such as manmade sound and natural sound. Participants then have the opportunity to make field recordings of sounds that they find interesting, which they can then use as the material for their composition.As a group we explored the local soundscape, taking a walk through a nearby park and also exploring the sounds within the Seed Studio building. My favourite part was when we arrived at Centenary Gardens, a small park, where participants began to improvise, singing and making sounds with voice tubes and also exploring the sounds and textures of other objects within the park.

The next step was to gather all the field recordings and make a sound library. This sound library was shared amongst the participants to use as the source materials for their work. During the workshop I introduced participants to Ableton Live, demonstrating editing and composition techniques. Over the next three months participants composed a soundscape piece with the help of Seed Studio staff and volunteers.

For my own composition I initially had an idea where I would create a sonic portrait based on each of the participants and their sonic experiments. The rich variety of recordings gathered during the workshops provided me (the composer) with a rich palette of sonic material. There are many stories to be told based on narrative and sonic explorations. I cannot separate the sounds from their makers. I know exactly who recorded each sound, where it was recorded and what we talked about.Sowing Seeds is based on three movements, where each movement explores a specific moment during the workshops which I found inspiring. These movements are:

  1. Roger’s Song
  2. Radio Mute
  3. Lima’s Improv

Have a listen to the piece here.

Having the opportunity to share my own knowledge and skills with a diverse group of people creates a space where we can exchange ideas, share stories and question our own relationship with sound and place. The participants at Seed Studios taught me a lot about their interpretation of place and home and the sounds that shape this relationship. I also learned about people’s passion for sound, discovery and creativity, their bravery to explore something new like building an instrument, improvising with the sounds of the environment and the objects within it, making a sound library, their openness to new ideas, their eagerness to make sense of it all while helping others. Each person on the workshop created something very special. They told their stories and shared their own experiences and were eager to find a way of telling these stories through recording sounds, improvisation and composition.

I would like to thank Seed Studios and all of the participants for their energy, ideas and eagerness to embark on a creative journey that involved listening, soundwalking, recording and learning how to use Ableton. As a composer I love teaching people new skills in Music Technology and facilitating conversations about sound and composition. But it is the participants themselves that made this project so exciting, interesting and most of all, fun. It is their ideas and stories that have influenced my own compositional process which has resulted in my new work Sowing Seeds. Thank you to all!

Sowing Seeds was premiered at the MANTIS Festival, University of Manchester on the 28th October 2018 and also performed at BEASTdome, University of Birmingham 2nd November 2018

Upcoming and Recent Performances: