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!
INCLUSIVE COLLAB: Able Orchestra + ThePetebox + Dyskinetic.
Huge fun today in Nottingham as a guest of Able Orchestra, one of the UK’s leading Disabled Person led ensembles. I was there to jam, connect, and (hopefully) come up with some cool MiMu Glove riffs and hooks they could use in their latest work. Able Orchestra have got some huge achievements under their belts; here they are at the BBC Proms:
We were also joined by ThePetebox; a ridiculously talented beatboxer and live looper. Like, the best I’ve ever seen. He did a low key cover of If You’re Mother Only Knew over lunch. If you know, you know. He’s *that* good. Here he is in action:
Jamming alongside Pete w/ the gloves was obviously massive fun, but the goal of inspiring and assisting the AO players was the real buzz.
Today was a huge inclusive music making win. I have many opportunities to play with people nowadays. Of course, I’ve made a career of playing music on my own. I used to find playing the gloves in an ensemble setting difficult and underwhelming, but I’m finding the space to use them in groups much easier nowadays. I’m really enjoying these connections and collaborations, and behind the scenes we’ve done a lot of work to tame the gloves into being a really versatile ensemble instrument.
Able Orchestra will be performing in Nottingham this Sunday; I believe the event is sold out, but I’ll tweet links if I hear otherwise..!
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.
Because I wanted to fly in the face of purism a little. Lots of great musicians I know see iPads as something else – a toy, a sandbox, but not an instrument you’d use in the studio.
I’m recording straight from GarageBand iOS using the Erhu – phone audio doesn’t sell it, but it’s a beautifully expressive thing. This is the first time recording with the iPad being the interface; I normally send MIDI into it, Touch is an interesting (and occasionally infuriating) way to play instruments…
Oh, how I wished this post had a punchline. An answer. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. I’m still scratching my head.
My daily problem: having so much business to attend to, finding time to make music feels almost impossible. That’s nothing unusual. My friend and fellow Disabled musician Clare Johnston nailed it in a recent chat: there’s a full time job doing all the stuff *around* the music, before you make any music. Admin, Social Media, Bookkeeping, Funding applications; I’m always busy doing… stuff.
Being disabled adds another variable to juggle; energy. Being when you’re disabled is hard enough. The effort it takes just to exist is exhausting. And there’s all the stuff. Before I’ve made any music. If I’ve got any energy left to make music…
But, it is what it is. I’ll remain proactive as long as I can. I know loads of artists and technologist who work for themselves and have to juggle all this stuff. So is there a better way? Must we all be spread so thin?
I have a few clues which I’ll get into in more detail in future posts. I’m a fan of Getting Things Done, and I use OmniFocus to balance my task lists. I also feel confident that my interest in Mindfulness Practice is buying me more time by keeping my head clearer. I’ll get into how I use these tools soon.
What about you? Do you have a portfolio career? How do you fit it in? Are you winning? Or are treading water? The future of the portfolio career path in part depends on us being open and honest about what it takes, I believe. That Pinterest-Successful, Hashtag-Career-Goals mindset won’t cut it for long. I hope we can turn the gig economy into a fruitful, inspiring space, but I wonder if the bubble is fit to burst…
First up: Patreon! I set up a patron page a couple of months ago to showcase a behind-the-scenes narrative that I thought would interest some of my audience. I know a lot of people arrive at my work from music Tech background, so it seemed appropriate to offer a “in” for those people. So that now patron exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary series, which really gets under the hood of a lot of the Technology processes. And of course, people subscribing to this patron Page are supporting the future of my work.
But that’s not all! I had always intended Dyskinetic to be multiple creative outputs, not just songs and music. One of the things I’m very aware of is a conversation happening around my work that takes in stories from music, disability AND technology. Loads of really interesting people contribute to that conversation, but mostly that conversation happens in private after a gig or other conference -it’s just me and another person chatting. It never becomes public.
So, being a fan of podcasts, I decided that a podcast would be an ideal way to share some of these conversations. Pretty soon after that I realised the podcast would also be a great way to blog, given my struggles with typing.
I was concerned about creating blog content that excluded my deaf friends and followers through an access barrier. But, of course, writing lengthy blog posts is an access barrier for me, due to typing. I also know people who find reading lengthy blog posts and transcripts to be an access barrier.
Having recently contributed to the Drake music podcast, I decided to take advice from them. I was reminded of the above scenarios; all of your content isn’t necessarily accessible to all audiences. It makes sense; I didn’t worry about my paintings in art college being inaccessible to blind people. Given that I am somewhat in the public eye and and identify as disabled, I hope I can be forgiven for overthinking get a bit. Perhaps most frustrating of all was the amount of time that I spent this persevering with typing blog posts despite the pain in my hands. I was creating content to be accessible despite the fact that the process itself was not accessible to me, the creator. That’s all wrong. But I’m still hopeful that I can continue blogging without all that old-fashioned typing business. It’s 2018 after all; we live in the future!
So I’m proceeding with the podcast and also making I renewed commitment to try and battle with voice to text to keep my blog up-to-date. I’ve had to explain this a lot as occasionally people don’t seem to grasp this problem: it’s not that I struggle with writing or language, only the dexterity necessary to type. By the way, this is the first decent sized podcast that I have “typed” almost entirely with my voice. It’s never 100% and still requires some tweaking, and occasionally speaking weirdly slowly but it’s definitely easier van typing. That’s than typing, not van typing… see!? It doesn’t always work…
So hopefully between the podcast and the dictated blog, most of what I do and talk about will be covered. I don’t have to budget for professional transcriptions of the podcast episode yet, but I will try to make as much of the content available as possible.
Patreons get a few weeks headstart on the podcast too, so that’s another good reason to sign up: HERE!
So as always, thanks for checking in. There’s lots happening, I promise it’s going to get super interesting and exciting very soon..!
I hadn’t originally intended to do it but throughout January I blogged every day. That was really just to set up the scene of what’s going on with this project. There was no big ambition to blog every day, however it seems to be proving to be quite interesting to people and it is certainly a healthy thing to do for me. That is, in theory. In practice, I hit an access barrier that wasn’t there the last time I blogged day (which is a good few years ago at least).
Typing. It fucking kills nowadays.
Cerebral palsy keeps me guessing. The hard medical line is that CP is a non-progressive condition. I think that’s a little bit misleading. I understand that the neurological damage doesn’t get worse, but the wear and tear that that imposes on the human body through the course of a lifetime simply has to. I can’t move my limbs accurately and comfortably. My joints are my muscles get yanked in around in ways that they were never “designed” to do.
One of many results; my hands are shakier and less reliable nowadays. That is of course old news in some contexts; the impact on my guitar playing and glove use is well documented. Struggling with fairly menial tasks such as typing is the new thing for me. That makes daily blogging painful and less accessible. Boo hiss indeed.
But, as is often the way, technology brings hope. Apple’s own Siri voice recognition technology is laughably inept in my opinion, so I didn’t hold out much hope of being able to do speech to text blogging. A recommendation via a colleague at Drake music led me to software called Dragon Dictate. It’s not perfect, but my distrust in voice recognition technology was unfair it seems. Dragon is actually working really well for me, so hopefully that brings me some relief in effect.
My work at Drake music often means lengthy evaluation processes, which involve a lot of typing. When it comes to medical forms but I have to fill in by hand with a pen… Well, forget about it. Having the freedom to not only work hands-free not only spares me discomfort, but it seems to be quicker too.
So, I’m hoping to get back on track with regular blogging this week. And in case you’re wondering, yes; this is indeed the first blog post I have written entirely hands-free with this new technology. Living in the future FTW.
As part of a mission to make Dyskinetic a broader conversation about Music, Technology AND Disability, I’m going to be sharing some health stuff. There’s a whole culture/conversation around health and fitness that I despise esp. re: disability. You may have heard the term “inspiration porn” – the concept of using disabled people as some kind of feelgood hit. Worst of all are those “fitspo” posts that show a disabled person in the gym or wherever, doing exercise with some slogan along the lines of “what’s your excuse?”- Gross.
Nevertheless, fitness and healthy living massively important to me, and also a major struggle. Disability is usually only portrayed online in termsr of pseudo-inspiration for non-disabled people. Otherwise, Disable people seem to have no place in the wider conversation. On the far side of the argument, I’ve been shot down on social media several times for talking about my health and fitness goals. I get that there are a lot of disabled people who will have been told that they should exercise more as part of a catch all solution that trivialises their situation. There seems for some a fear that a disabled person who is pro-exercise is enabling ableism on some level. Sigh.
I am still optimistic that there’s a more mature conversation to be had, that includes disabled people and doesn’t make anyone feel threatened. I’ve thought a lot about this conversation and how it could move forward; time will tell, but I plan to be open and honest about my struggles, and (fair warning) my successes.
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…