Quote: How Music Works

I love facts like this. Mainly because they reframe concepts of what is “real” – something many musicians obsess over. There’s a popular idea that old recordings are more real, that modern recordings are full of tricks and cheats and it’s-all-done-with-computers to make them sound better. But of course; there’s nothing new about the thinking, only the technological means…

“Drums and upright basses posed a big problem for these recording devices. The intermittent low frequencies that they produce made wider or deeper grooves (in the case of the Edison machines), which make the needles jump and skip during playback. So those instruments were also shoved to the rear, and in most cases were intentionally rendered almost inaudible. Blankets were thrown over drums, especially the kick and snares. Drummers were sometimes required to play bells, wood blocks, and the sides of their drums instead of the snares and kick drums—those thinner sounds didn’t make the needles jump, but could still be heard. The double bass was often swapped with a tuba because its low end was less punchy. So early recording technology was limiting not only in terms of what frequencies one heard, but also in terms of which instruments were actually recorded. The music was already being edited and shaped to fit the new medium.”
― from “How Music Works”

It’s a fantastic book, by the way.

When I Grow Up: Drake Music @ DaDa

In rehearsals today for DM’s evening at DaDaFest next week. DaDa is a leading organisation in disability arts, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with them before. Next week I’m performing my guitar/gloves piece, When I Grow Up (originally commissioned by Drake Music for the DM20 celebration, and supported by the PRSF’s Talent Development Partnership) at the Drake Music event at DaDa on the 28th in Liverpool.

Today I’ve been rehearsing the guitar part of the piece. I’m really aware of how far I’ve come to be able to share this. My guitar playing was on the scrap heap, so it’s a quite a journey to get to this point. It’s gonna a long series of posts unraveling my struggles as a guitar player, but for now, I’m just going to say this feels like a huge achievement, posting this. It’s only phone footage of a snippet from rehearsal – we’ll do something more Pro with it soon…

Tickets for the Liverpool performance on 28th are HERE!

World CP Day: What CP Is Like For Me.

This piece contains frank discussion of ableism and ableist language, and is intended for older audiences.

The Tic Tac No, as it’s known, is something I designed in my art college days to represent a particularly insidious problem. Put simply, there are things in life that we accept as right, even though we kinda know they’re wrong. The right answer could be in plain sight, but we see the wrong answer as the truth. Right now, I can’t see the Tic Tac No without thinking of the fall out from Kavanaugh. It’s message is clear, it’s application is fluid. I created it (and had it tattooed) to remind me to always look for the truth. As it’s World CP Day, I wanted to share some of the wrongs I’ve faced, because of my condition, that I accepted as right. That I put up with. That I accepted as truth, when the truth was in clear view. And in case you’re wondering, this Tic Tac No is green to acknowledge the official colour of World CP Day. And I scribbled it out on my iPad about 5 minutes ago.

I have symptoms of both Dyskinetic and Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy, meaning I have both involuntarily tight & weak muscles (dyskinetic) primarily on my right side (Hemiplegic). I had a brain injury during birth, caused by lack of oxygen. I “died” for a few minutes, and came back wonkier than I would have been. It’s manifests kind of like a stroke might. No, my kids couldn’t have caught it off me.

There are two realities to having CP for me. There’s the one you know; the one you can see. So first let me tell you about what that reality is for me.

My having CP is a very visible thing for me, and that brings a lot of baggage. The wobbly walk, the bent knees, the spazzy arm (it’s OUR word!) – those were the things I worried about as a kid, and the things that made me deeply self conscious as a young adult. But those things bother me less and less nowadays.

I used to wear the baggiest trousers I could find, to try to hide my legs. Nowadays, I’ll happily rock skinny jeans. I’m totally okay with how it looks. There’s something a bit Punk Rock about making my impairment super visible. I get to reclaim it. I feel just cheeky enough, just confrontational enough to draw your attention to it.

I’m literally a different person now though. This version of me can handle that. Me 10 years ago, he’d be scared of this guy’s world. I’ve put up with so much shit for the way I walk, it seems unthinkable to me now. I’ve been shouted at, laughed at, spat at, threatened with violence – there are people in this world who seemingly hate disabled people. I don’t know. It brings out something ugly, in ugly people. I lived in fear for most of my early twenties. Seeing a group of men together in the street (it’s usually men) I’d freeze. I knew what was coming. “OYYY SPACKKAA!! ARRRGGHHH LOOK AT HIM!” People are weird. And cruel. I’m not a big fan of people.

I’ve no doubt that my recently acquired confidence is a factor in diffusing all that; it rarely happens nowadays. Cruel people are like angry dogs. They smell fear, and they act on it. If it happened tomorrow, I think I’d laugh. It seems so weak, so pathetic. Imagine being trapped in a brain that’s so basic, so bitter, so lacking in empathy. Ewww. Despite that, it’s worth saying: my fear was not the cause of this. To suggest otherwise is victim blaming. If people treat you that way, it is not your fault. Read that again. It is not your fault.

How I feel about how I look nowadays, well if that was all there was to my CP, that would be okay. Totally able to handle that. But that second reality – the one that matters to me – is about how I feel, and most of the time, I feel like shit. My body aches, my muscles burn and twitch, and I take a cocktail of painkillers and muscle relaxants to deal with it.

Living with pain and fatigue is tough. It’s made harder because nobody can see what you’re going through. I can’t walk to X. That’s totally understandable. I’m too tired to do Y. You should have gone to bed earlier. Society struggles with what it can’t see. People have a hard time trusting you on that. School and college were brutal in that regard. Being raised in a very British put-up-and-shut-up fashion, I rarely spoke up. I was pushed and pushed, and if I struggled, I was lazy. I was playing on it. I’ll never forgot one of the rare times I spoke up at college. My lecturer told me that I was only disabled when it suited me. The idea that my condition had aspects to it – invisible aspects – that affected some areas of my life some of the time, was untrustworthy. If that sounds familiar, let me say again: it’s not your fault.

So there’s one word I’d like people to reflect on for World CP day: Empathy. CP is a weird and cruel condition, and the worst of it isn’t even visible. I read countless horror stories on social media of young people with mild forms of CP who are bullied by society, by the adults they trust, to push themselves to do more with less. I worry a lot about teenagers and young adults with “mild” CP (as mine is laughably described) – society is unwelcoming to that. We can accept (and applaud) people at the peak of fitness. We can accept (and feel sad for) people with severe conditions, unable to move or care for themselves. But in that wide spectrum is where a lot of young disabled people land.

These young people have a lot to do to make sense of themselves, their ambitions, their health, and they’re doing that in a society that doesn’t make room for them. We see society accommodating wheelchair users often, how often does society acknowledge a mobility impaired person who isn’t elderly? What are we doing to accommodate people who’s needs are less complex, but no less important? Only last week, I read news of a young woman with CP, ejected from a nightclub because she was assumed to be drunk. It’s a savage impairment at times, but society’s handling of it can be even more savage. The world may be very mean to you if you’re like me. Once more; it’s not your fault.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy, of course. I don’t need or want sympathy, nor does any other person dealing with CP and trying to fit into some version of a normal life. We just want to be accepted, heard and respected. I’m okay with all that CP has brought to my life. And if any of what I’ve said reflects your life with CP, I hope that, if you’re not already, you’ll soon be okay with you too.

The Sound.

I hope you’re enjoying this labrynth of unboxing posts. I’ve been posting every day to clear the way and set up a few things. So, next up; what exactly is this new thing supposed to sound like?

I’m wary of calling it Metal, but it’s biggest influence is Metal. It’s heavier, darker, more intense than anything I’ve done recently. It’s especially a return to my early 20s Alt Metal days. I was 19 when Hybrid Theory came out; I couldn’t escape the gravity of that time. Deftones, Korn and Linkin Park all made music that not only reflected how I felt at the time, but dared to push things forward. At this time UK guitar bands sounded tired and derivative; the NWOAHM captured my imagination just at the right moment.

Of course, there’s more to my musicianship than metal, but that’s the backbone of Dyskinetic. I still love and intend to explore the rich palette of sounds that I’ve got to know. The electronic and classical influences are still there, but I’m building something more daring, more robust for them to hang off.

The Story So Far.

Oh hi, you’re new here? Okay, the headlines so far:

  • Born with CP after being injured during birth, I got off to a wobbly start.
  • Growing up in a tiny little village, I was the target of much prejudice. I was token disabled kid, but in my head I was gonna grow up to be a rockstar. I’d show ’em all when I grew up.
  • I discovered heavy metal and electric guitars around the age of 10 and had my plans for world domination all mapped out to the soundtrack of Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Pantera.
  • Britpop happened in my teens, and took me and my guitar with it.
  • I played in bands well into my 20s, and eventually grew into an acoustic guitar wielding solo singer songwriter.
  • My career was going okay despite the obvious access barriers of getting around and getting onto stages and stuff like that. Around 2013 I began to notice (but tried to ignore) that my CP was impacting on my guitar playing. I was really beginning to struggle to perform live, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I thought my career was coming to an end.
  • I reached out to a charity called Drake music, who work primarily with technology to make music making more accessible to disabled people.
  • Drake musics resident technologist Gavin Hewitt took a keen interest in my songs and we talked a lot about how I could continue making music moving forward. At the time, I struggled to connect with the concept of accessible music technology.
  • Drake music begin talking to Imogen Heap’s team about a revolutionary new MIDI controller that seemed like Science Fiction. The mimu gloves were a wearable technology developed to help Imogen perform electronic music in a more gestural and expressive way. Quite by accident, gallon and I could see that she and her team had invented an extraordinary piece of accessible music technology.
  • Drake music purchased a pair of Mimi gloves for me to use and be one of the first people ever to use this new technology, with only 15 pairs made public at this time.
  • I began reimagining my guitar and piano led back catalogue for this new and incredible instrument, and eventually put together a live show entitled the gloves are on.
  • After a successful UK tour in collaboration with disability charity attitude is everything and independent venue week, the phone kept ringing.
  • With TV newspaper and radio appearances, the buzz around my work continue to grow, as did the show.
  • Originally scheduled for one week, I toured the gloves on for 18 months internationally which shows all over the UK and Europe and the final performance at the Kennedy Centerin Washington DC in summer 2017.
  • I ended the tour, somewhat on a high but also with a need to reimagine and reinvent the music I was making with this new technology.

And that, is how we got here…

The Visual Narrative.

When I reflect on what this project means, I come to realise that it’s really a conversation. It’s not just a body of songs, or a band, or some other music industry specific boundary. It’s about amplifying the conversation that I have been having about music, technology and disability.

Of course, musicmaking is at the heart of it; that’s who I am. But there are other aspects to how I want to tell the story.

One aspect of that is being influenced by accessibility. Not everyone can access music in a conventional hearing it cents. I knew I wanted to explore visual representations of the conversation as well.

It is also borne out of the fact that I spent three years in art college.

I went to art college for fairly silly reasons; I figured that if David Bowie, John Lennon and Thom Yorke got something out of it then it would be good for me to, despite no obvious “art” talent. Exploring my ideas visually actually did an incredible amount of my creativity. It really taught me to think about what I was trying to say with my work. I am really not a traditional visual artist; I cannot draw for shit. Being forced to work in mediums that really saw me out of my depth, that made me think about the story I was telling. Reapplying that here feels quite exciting.

For that reason I want instant gram to form a big part of the story. There is a narrative only instagram – @dyskinetic – this is not me-and-my-kids type stuff, its the visible narrative of this project. I will attempt to explain certain ideas around this project photographically but rest assured, there will still be plenty of pictures of guitars and mimu gloves…

The Word.

I’ve never been a fan of seeing my name on things, so I was always going to give this project a name of it’s own.

In thinking about what it is I do, I thought I’d come up with an interesting portmanteau to describe it. I (thought I had) invented a word – dis as in disability, and kinetic as in the kinetic energy and process of moving the gloves on stage to create sound. Playing with spelling and meaning, specifically the difference between dis- and dys- I googled my “invented” word. Imagine my surprise:

It appears to be an Americanism to some degree, which may explain why I’ve never heard my own condition described as dyskinetic. The coincidence is so extraordinary – if I believed in fate…

The Series.

One of the reasons I’m working under a new b(r)and name has to do with that pulling all this together for the listener.

I could put this out as Kris Halpin, but that doesn’t tell you anything about what is and why it’s different.

My art college brain likens the difference between Kris Halpin, Winter Of ’82 and now Dyskinetic as being that of a series of works, the way a painter may create a series.

If you make art for yourself and no one else, then make whatever you want. If you make art for the rest of us and you’re interested in having us appreciate and understand what you’re up to, you better make it in ways that give us a fighting chance to figure it out.

This neat article at ArtBusiness.com explains the Advantages to Bodies of Work Over Single Pieces better than I can…

On Needing A New B(r)and.

It’s been with me for a while now, this need to make something new of my work. Something bigger and heavier, and a body of work that better reflects the conversation I’ve been having with people all over the world. I wanted to reframe my work in a way that acknowledged the music/technology/disability intersection, not just some music happening near to that.

There was a time when I was viewing this as a possible side project – my rock/metal side project. ‘Side project’ implies a little less commitment though. It sounds thin, impermanent. I know I want to give everything to this. In reflecting on it, I had to of course consider the available options:

Kris Halpin.
I’ve *never* liked releasing music under my own name. I’ve always felt like it lands in a kind of dull vanity; it’s a body of work, and yet it shares it’s name with a bloke that created it? Not saying that kind work for anyone; I can’t image Ryan Adams as anything else. This is a valuable lesson when creating anything: just something works for someone else, is no proof that it works for you, and vice versa. It doesn’t fit me, it fits many other artists perfectly well.

Winter Of ‘82
This was the ‘band’ that I’ve worked as for several years. I love the idea of WO82, it’s a very particular sound in my head, playing homage to a specific set of classic influences. But that’s the point; it is a retrospective kind of work. All those WO82 singles sound deliberately like a bunch of 60s 70s and 80s influences. I knew I didn’t want to mess with that. I was playing progressive folk pop kinda songs; I didn’t want to just reboot that as an “and for my next trick…” Cyborg Rock makeover. Another issue I had moving forward with the name Winter Of ‘82 – it looks back. It’s already happened. It’s literally the past. Having said that, it’s not dead. I know what WO82 is supposed to be, and I’m proud of everything that came out under that name. I’ll get back to it, but right now, I’m all about the new. The Now. The Future.