Unsound Festival, Wednesday October 12, 2011

Thanks to an invitation by Mat Schulz of Unsound, I attended the first of two days of meetings of the ICAS organization, which is essentially a networking organization for independent music and media arts festivals. It was a great opportunity to meet new curators and festival organizers that otherwise I would probably never have a chance to meet all at once.

One topic of conversation that I found particularly interesting was by Zeb Schulz & Lawrence English concerning “Disability Art, Performance and Professional Musicians with Varying Abilities.” Essentially, thanks to fairly recent developments in tactile and gestural controllers and interfaces for digital hardware, people with disabilities that limit their ability to manipulate things like traditional instruments, keyboards, mice, etc, are now able to participate in musical improvisation, composition  and performance in an unprecedented way.

Like most people, I have limited experience working or socializing with people with disabilities, and like most people I tend to follow Mazlow’s heirarchy of needs on some subconscious level, meaning that I just assumed the most critical and necessary forms of assistance required by people with disabilities are the most basic: food, shelter, mobility, communication, protection, etc. I never thought about how technology can provide assistance beyond addressing those basic needs. It simply never occurred to me that someone with Down’s Syndrome might actually be an amazing composer and performer given the right set of tools, and how having access to these tools might be in fact necessary for their self actualization and ability to participate in cultural production. 

Schulz and English showed us the following clip of Australian group Tralala Blip, whose live set reminded me of the deconstructed pop of people like Tujiko Noriko or James Blake. I have to admit I fell in love with them almost immediately, particularly the vocalist. While his vocals are clearly auto-tuned, it’s his approach to phrasing and rhythm that grabbed me.

Unfortunately Tralala Blip aren’t playing at Unsound, and I spoke to Lawrence about his experience working with them and the reality is that the obstacles they need to overcome to do things that most people take for granted would prohibit them from touring. So for now I can enjoy the videos on their Vimeo page and hope they release something soon.

Later that night I managed to catch Robin Fox's live set, as well as a live set by Kangding Ray (pictured above).


This research trip was made possible in part with funds from CEC Artslink.

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