Inclusive Music/Noise Making in Japan
In January 2019, Scottish artists Geraldine Heaney and Ellie Griffiths travelled to Japan to explore inclusive music approaches. Geraldine co-runs KOR! Records, that create experimental music projects for young people with additional support needs and releases their output. Ellie makes sensory performances for and with young people with complex needs, in which live music is a key component. The trip was funded by Creative Scotland and supported by Independent Arts Projects.
One of the things that helped us work out our journey around Japan was an invitation to join a workshop with The Otoasobi project. Every second Sunday they meet in a small room in Kobe, stuffed full of instruments with just enough space for all the musicians, parents and facilitators.
We joined in with a session which meant improvising with instruments, language and communication. It was so exciting to be part of the workshop. The Otoasobi project have been running for 13 years.
When I heard about this gig 6 years ago, it was one of the inspirations for two friends and I to start KOR! Records so it was amazing to meet the musicians, families and facilitators.
KOR! Records run workshops with similar intention and focus in Scotland so it was great to see the similarities and differences in our methods of working. Allowing the musicians in the group to have total control of the noise they are making but also offering facilitation, suggestion or conducting to produce different sounds, textures or combinations. I really enjoyed seeing the focused improvisations at the end of the session, where just 3 or 4 members of the group improvised together with everyone else as attentive audience. I got a sense of which musicians have been part of the group for a long time and have developed an obvious practice of listening.
One of the biggest differences between the sessions we run with KOR and The Otoasobi project session was the presence of parents throughout the workshop. It was great to see parents so engaged. They watched on as if attending any other gig. Sometimes the parents actively join in with the noise making in the sessions though not in the workshop we were part of. You can see clips from the Otoasabi workshop we took part in here.
When we were talking with Yui, who leads the group, and Ali, a collaborating musician/facilitator, after the session it was great to hear them reflect on how they have operated over the last decade. There are a whole host of guest musicians and facilitators that work with the group in a multitude of different ways. I think this open minded, experimental, respectful and interested attitude is part of what has kept this project so exciting and inspiring.
Thinking about these attitudes reminded me of the crossover between DIY Arts Culture and A Disability Arts Scene. A willingness to try, experiment, fail and learn are key. There’s also a frustration where these 2 worlds are forced to go in different directions, sometimes the needs of disabled artists means that this DIY sensibility can be another barrier to face. In both Japan and Scotland there are so few physically accessible venues (especially small scale, experimental venues). And I’ve been thinking a lot about how we (society) talk about learning disabled people (specifically artists/musicians) there’s so much labelling and a lot of ‘they’ in quite an othering, potentially patronising way. But then austerity and cuts to funding are affecting people who are so often invisible or under represented. So to try and create visibility organisations are forced into talking about the work they do in ways that have specific narratives. I feel these narratives can sometimes undermine the work or force it into a hierarchy that it doesn’t want to subscribe to.
We’re so much more comfortable using the ‘social model of disability’ with physical barriers because the ‘reasonable adjustment’ that needs to be made is often practical rather than social.
This blog is maybe just starting to try and scratch the surface of some of my thinking around these things. I want to have more conversations with more people to keep learning and keep thinking. There are so many great people and organisations who are talking about these things, let’s try and keep these conversations on the micro and the macro. Let’s talk to our local venues, promoters and organisations and let’s keep following exciting projects making change around the world.
Here’s a few of the people inspiring me at the moment:
www.gigbuddies.org.uk (and Scotland)
If you have any comments, or questions please get in touch with me: