Archive for the ‘prisoner education’ Tag

Recordings from the prison

I spent the day at DF’s studio (he being the sound designer on the prison project I have written about recently). We had the task today of going through all the recorded footage from our workshops in the prison, and with the children and families of prisoners, and selecting the excerpts we know we want to work with in our recording sessions with the orchestral musicians.

It was a big task, as we recorded everything that took place in our workshop sessions! But I am writing this at 6pm and we are ready for our next studio day. We have a project title, and subtitles for four sections. We have started to plot where the musical and spoken excerpts fit in each section. We are also gathering short excerpts that could work well as transition music/sounds.

Here is how it maps out:

The other side of the window (our title, taken from a line in a poem by one of the guys)

Section 1 – What do you see when you look out a light window?

Section 2 – What do you see when you look out a dark window?

Section 3 – What do you hope to see through your window?

Section 4 – What is the most special or beautiful thing you have ever seen through a window?

We have two songs, with words drawn from poems written by two of the guys (and sung by our multi-talented roadie). One of the songs is linked to a much longer instrumental piece. We also have a number of guitar loops, that were the starting points for long improvisations in our workshops.

When we meet again next week, DF and I will first pull out all the short excerpts we want to use, and place them in the most appropriate section. We didn’t have these titles already in mind when we conducted most of the workshops – the idea only came about in our final workshop in the prison. However, lots of the material we have fits under one of these subtitles or themes.

We are working in ProTools.

I’ve been feeling worried about the enormity of this aspect of the prison project – recording work can be so time-consuming, and it is hard to predict how long it will take. Our timeline, however, is completely set and inflexible. Our studio time is already booked (from about 12 months ago). We need to get approval from the Prison Management on the raw footage we want to work with, before we can start moving it around and putting effects on it, or processing it and arranging it in other ways. I have CDs to send them first thing next week.

But it feels good to have met with DF today, and to start going through all that we have. Now I can at least be starting to shape it in my head a bit more.

I’m still feeling a bit weak and weary with life in general. Here is a ‘clear water’ image from Blagaj, Bosnia-Hercegovina – a place where I used to love to sit and just be still and calm and empty of all thoughts.


Suspended cymbal?

“Who wants a suspended cymbal?” asks percussionist J, ready to hand a cymbal on a stand over to one of the group.

“I’d rather have a suspended sentence,” was the bone-dry, rapid-fire response from one guy, and we all roared with laughter.

The Orchestra’s project in the prison started today. Me and three musicians from the orchestra, along with our fantastic sound designer D, and the music teacher from the prison S, had our first music workshop with nine guys from the prison. It’s a project idea that I have been nurturing and progressing at the Orchestra for several years now – so this day is particularly satisfying.

This has been one of those projects with a lot of unknowns that were never going to be answered before today. Things like:

  • How would the prisoners respond, and what would they be into?
  • How structured could the session be?
  • Would we be able to move away from simply jamming on songs they knew, towards freer, possibly more esoteric, improvisations and pieces?
  • Would the microphones distract or inhibit people’s responses?

This is a complex project, and its many elements came into being as a response to the characteristics of the environment. We are in a transitional prison, so we wanted to make sure that everyone who took part – even if they would only be around for one session – could somehow contribute to the final piece; we wouldn’t be able to do a final performance, not even in the prison, as many of our participants might not still be there by that date, therefore we needed a project design that didn’t lead to a performance outcome.

To get around all of these issues we have a sound designer involved. I’ve worked with David on different projects since 2000 – he is an amazing collaborator, very generous, very open to experiments, completely skilled and expert in his craft, and wonderful at translating the esoteric wordy descriptions of classical musicians looking for a particular sound into… exactly the sound they are looking for.

David comes to every session. He is recording all the conversations, all the improvisations, catching sound bites wherever he hears them, able to process in an instant a grab of sound, to make a cool rhythmic loop over which more improvisations can happen.

After the workshops in the prison are finished (and the workshops with families – we have two workshops for parents and/or children of people in prison) the musician team will gather together for a further three sessions, in which we will devise a performance piece, or suite of pieces, using the material from all the workshop sessions, and record it.

The CD of this recording will then be sent out to all of the participants, wherever they are. That will be in May.

Continue reading