How would you describe your current work and what do you like best about it?
I am an artist, composer and vocalist-performer, with a practice that crosses over different visual and sound-based forms. I work primarily with the voice to create site-specific compositions and performances, building immersive ethereal worlds out of sound. Whether the context is an island ecology, or a city high street, I am interested in unearthing an essential relationship with the lore of place, which ultimately begins with the practice of listening. Sometimes, I define this as mnemonic topography: the land encoded in the song, the lore embedded in the land.
Currently, I’m working on finishing off a digital iteration of Away with the Birds – a body of work investigating the mimesis of birds in Scottish Gaelic Song, for the SPACE ARTS to go live later this month. I’ve just finished installing a film installation for Edinburgh Art Festival called SING SIGN a close duet – a vocal and gestural suite devised for the historic ‘closes’ of the Royal Mile – which will have a number of performances throughout the month of August. And recently, I just started work on devising a new live work for ATLAS arts on the Isle of Skye, which will take place in October this year.
I often joke that I am a dabbler and a juggler. I enjoy not being an expert on anything, occupying the space in-between and looking for the connecting points across thresholds. I like being led by context and relational processes. Most of my projects are collaborative in nature, and I am very lucky to have worked with so many interesting and inspiring people. I am also fortunate to have journeyed to some remarkable places with my work.
What was your first ever job?
As a teenager I had a Saturday job at a bakery and tearoom in a wee village in Sussex, near to where I grew up, then graduated at eighteen to the local pub. While I was at art school and then later as a new graduate, I worked as an illustrator to get by, though like many people starting out, I was also subsidised by working tax credits and housing benefit, and would not be where I am today without that support.
Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
In 2010, arts producer Suzy Glass invited me over for a cup of tea and asked whether there was a project I might be interested in making with her. I shared the kernel of an idea – to do with connections between bird sounds and Gaelic song – and over the next four years we developed and realised Air falbh leis na h-eòin | Away with the birds. I am so appreciative of the space that Suzy offered for me to dream big, and together we shaped a slow process that allowed the project to evolve and grow quite organically. It was a life-changing adventure.
What has been your favourite theatre production or concert?
This is a very difficult question to answer, but perhaps the most significant concert for me, was seeing the Copper Family perform informally in a little pub, near Lewes in Sussex, as a teenager. The Copper Family are a ‘folk dynasty’, who have been singing traditional English songs for over seven generations. At the time, I had never really heard ‘proper’ traditional music and was blown away by the songs, the harmonies, the vocal style and by the family’s unassuming nature. At one point Bob Copper, who was still alive then, put his hand on his son’s knee during a song. I was so moved, I burst into tears! What had touched me more than the music was the feeling of love in the room, which was of course carried in the songs. The whole experience was really the beginning of my interest in traditional music and folk culture. I also think I have a habit of creating temporary families within the work I do.
What do you like the best about working within the arts?
I enjoy the freedom of the arts as a space to walk a path that feels right, and to articulate a practice that maintains, pushes and nurtures me as a person in relation to the world. Hopefully that sings through the work.
What advice would you give emerging female directors in theatre today from your experience?
Say yes to everything that comes your way, as you never know where the journey will take you. But, then learn to say no!
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
This is a difficult one, as there are so many inspirational women in my life, but I think I would choose Nic Green, a performance maker and artist, based in Glasgow, whose relational processes and holistic thinking I greatly admire.
SING SIGN installation at Gladstone’s Land runs until 30 August:
SING SIGN live performances throughout August: http://www.edinburghartfestival.com/events/category/performances
Away with the Birds at the SPACE: http://www.thespace.org/artwork/view/away-with-the-birds
Image: Alex Woodward