Composer and field-recording enthusiast Bobbie-Jane Gardner recalls the highlights of her residency with Heart n Soul, and exposes her community-orientated spirit in discussing her attraction to the organisation. Additionally, Gardner’s crowdfunding campaign, for-Wards, is a “hyper-local music project aiming to create original musical compositions inspired by Birmingham's electoral wards,” and “aims to serve as a cultural sound map of Brum”. Her attitude to life is revealed in her approach to composition, sharing with us some golden advice for others pursuing a career in the field, and earnestly admitting that, “If you are open to it, you can be continually inspired by and find beauty in all things”…
Describe your music in a few sentences.
I returned to music because of my work in community arts, so my music often has a strong connection with particular communities. I try to understand their needs whether it’s a professional one or a social/geographic community.
My aesthetic is quite soulful and funky. I think this is because I was a collector of funk 45s for so many years.
What has been your biggest inspiration as a composer?
Everything: people, nature, food… If you are open to it, you can be continually inspired by and find beauty in all things. Goodness, I sound like a right hippy – but that's my truth right now.
What attracted you to apply for the Embedded programme with Heart n Soul?
The idea of working intensively with an arts organisation like Heart n Soul, who work so tirelessly to create artistic opportunities for disabled artists, was very attractive. I had previously worked with one of their artists, Lizzie Emeh, as a keyboard dep in her band, and assisted with some string arrangements in 2014.
I've always been deeply impressed by how Heart n Soul create wonderful work in a really warm, human environment. It really embraces all types of people.
What has been your highlight so far?
Going to an LSO rehearsal with Heart n Soul artists, Electric Fire, who were really impressed by the orchestral sound world. The brass section and timpani were Electric Fire favourites.
Another highlight was working with Lizzie Emeh in late June, where we listened to arrangements of her songs (previously written for her soul/jazz band) that we scored for classical players. I wanted to encourage Lizzie to develop her arranging skills and she was clearly moved to see the effect of her compositional choices when performed live. There was some generous feedback from the players, and one musician said the session was "very inspiring in many different ways". Another said that it was "thoroughly refreshing and enjoyable". Job done – if Lizzie Emeh gets tearful in a joyful way, you are winning!
What have you got planned for when the project has ended?
When the project ends I will continue to work as artistic director and composer on my Birmingham city-wide project for-Wards. I also start a PhD in Composition in September, so I have lots to do.
What advice do you have for others looking to pursue a career in composition?
- Be true to yourself.
- Don't be afraid of making mistakes; determine to learn from them.
- Always try to be respectful and learn from people you find challenging – they serve as great friends!
- Check your scores; messy ones cost time and cause lots of disgruntled musicians. Learning the hard way.
- Do it yourself, learn how to put on events, showcase your music.
Tell us about your crowdfunding campaign with for-Wards.
I'm behind with it! There have been obstacles - I'm still sorting out contracts for the 4 other composers, so I can't push the campaign hard until people know who they are supporting. We have some interesting selections via our 4 artistic partners this year, including an ex-member of Napalm Death.
How do you feel for-Wards addresses a larger picture of society?
It aims to serve as a cultural sound map of Brum.
What is your favourite thing about Birmingham?
Understated people with big hearts, no frills, no pretence, and we say 'bab' a lot. Loads of hidden gems here, and great food too!
What is your technical approach to field recording?
To listen better and repeat that process, then press record. My approach to field recording is lo-fi. I don't have oodles of equipment, but use a mixture of audio recorders: for example, the Sony PCM-M10 or Zoom H4n, a couple of mics and a windshield. I listen a lot.
I'm currently being mentored by Ian Rawes from the London Sound Survey. So perhaps it's best to ask me afterwards as I'm digesting differing approaches and still working out which one is best for my music.
What is your favourite and most influential piece where ‘found sounds’ constitute the music?
I like Bernhard Lang's DW8 and Matana Roberts' COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee album.
Interview by Emma Sugarman (Communications Intern – Sound and Music)