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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Drawn to the Beat

By Naomi Kendrick

Drawn to the Beat was a participatory music drawing event involving 95 participants and featured a silent disco and live music. The event took place on 27th January from 7 – 10.30pm at Band on the Wall, a music venue since the 1930s, positioned in Manchester’s creative hub in the Northern Quarter.

Music drawing forms part of my wider art practice of drawing, sculpture, installation, participatory events in which I focus on creating work that by engaging people with the senses, offers a ‘full’ experience of something and consequently a more personal connection to my artwork. My method of music drawing has listening, and emotional and physical response at its core, establishing an immediate connection between mind and body. I often draw using both hands simultaneously, while sitting on a large expanse of paper, with my eyes closed to help me focus on listening to the music

My aim for Drawn to the Beat was to create a playful space in which to explore the possibilities and contradictions of negotiating a solitary, internal perception and shared acts of creativity through music drawing. As my drawings communicate my personal experience of a response to listening to music, sharing this direct experience with an audience is a form of interpretation around my drawings, another way in to them. I also want to create work that has a meaningful effect on the audience and to not only witness but to understand the nature of that response. For me a participatory event where within one situation artist, audience, artwork and response can be allowed to blur, is the natural home for an art practice driven by an interest in a multisensory experience and a desire to know what that experience can do - where the art is found at that intersection of the intimate, personal and the shared.

In preparation for Drawn to the Beat I had covered Band on the Wall’s stage, dance floor and balcony with large sheets of photographer’s background paper. 400 crayons, 50 graphite crayons and 100 Silent Disco headsets also lay in wait.

There is always that moment when I introduce people to music, whether it is one person alone with me in my studio or a group in a workshop setting, where I don’t quite believe it is going to happen. That they just won’t do it.

Despite the fact that people had signed up to do exactly that at Drawn to the Beat, I still retained that feeling of disbelief. I stood at the start of the event, with everyone watching me, their faces a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, and led them into drawing. Miles Davis’ ‘So what’ played through the P.A. and after I had asked everyone to close their eyes, to listen, to move their hands with the music (like a conductor being controlled by the sound rather than creating it), at last I could ask those on the ‘draw floor’ to pick up their materials and keep moving so that they were drawing. Then I could breathe.

The music, selected by musicians Chris briden and Amalie Roberts and myself, was played for the majority of the night through silent disco headphones. This heightened the simultaneous solitary and collective experience of participatory music drawing. Using the headphones, participants were able to select from two different channels of music to draw, and when not drawing could use the headsets to watch and listen into, other’s drawing. Complementing the silent disco and ‘joining’ everyone in the room simultaneously was a 20-minute set of live music (played through a P.A) by musicians Dave Johnson and Paul Balcombe from the band ‘To Sophia’ playing the guitar and the djembe.

My movements on the night were dictated by my role, not so much as the artist, but as a first time ‘event manager’, ensuring everything was going to plan. I kept a set of headphones around my neck at all times to give me a constant insight, albeit a whisper, into what everyone else was experiencing. Though I had incredible support from an army of volunteers, documenters, musicians and technicians, I was ultimately responsible. And regardless of the obvious vigilance this requires, as everyone who drew that night now knows, to draw music, however you chose to approach it, is to close yourself off and become lost in the sound.

 I managed to grab a few opportunities to draw amongst everyone else, and forget my sense of disconnection and the initial fear of people ‘not doing it’. In fact I noticed over the course of the night that people were drawing for far longer than I expected, and was reminded why I created Drawn to the Beat - because drawing music is absorbing, addictive and emotive; it is powerful, if you let it be
The balcony giving a bird’s eye view of the main ‘draw floor’ was a fantastic vantage point. It revealed the amazing spectacle of crouched bodies that expelled, as if from within, vivid colour giving each person their own drawn aura. This colour then grew out from each individual merging and overlapping with others to create an almost vibrating surface, gleaming and heavy with the wax and graphite that had been pounded into it.

Beautiful as this drawing was, the purpose of the event was about the experience of drawing music, literally what happens to you in that moment. The resulting giant drawing made over the course of the night is a documentation of those multiple moments, a record. Further documentation of what happened, of people’s movements, expressions and even the sounds emitted from their drawing processes were meticulously gathered through photography and film.

During the event people chose to draw alone or with others, to watch from the balcony listening in on the headsets, or even to dance. The live musicians were fantastic; I decided to break up the Silent Disco and give people the experience of drawing live music but also for the musicians to be able to respond to us drawing their sounds. Drawing for this part, I felt as if we were all feeding from one another, as if the energy the musicians were forcing into their instruments manifested through our drawing.

The venue was integral to the event; physically it is a beautiful space, which offered us just enough room to maneuver, a space to view, and the technical capabilities I needed to make it work. I believe the association people have with that space, or type of space, influenced the event too, certainly contributing a great deal to the diverse audience attracted. Some people have and probably always will describe Drawn to the Beat and future participatory art events I do as ‘a workshop’, but I think staging my work at the right venue, at the right time and with the right support from that venue has helped people to realize the difference. 

My feelings about Drawn to the Beat change as I digest it. But my overriding memory is of scanning the room, watching people drawing alone, lost in their own worlds, or drawing and even dancing side by side to a favourite song. Then every now and again I would see someone knelt or stood on the paper, surrounded by all this activity, headset on, crayons in hand, just watching what was happening around them. It looked as if they had just woken up.

Link to more Drawn to the Beat Photography by Andrew Brooks and Jacob Russell

Thanks to the following sponsors and partners for making Drawn to the Beat Possible: Najia Bagi, Andy Brydon, Andrew Brooks, Huw Wahl, Insa Langhorst, Jacob Russel, James Welch, David Johnson, Paul Balcombe, Amalie Roberts, Chris Briden, Gemma Connell, Elaine Mateer, the Drawn to the Beat Volunteers.
Arts Council England
DaDa Fest International 10
Curated Place
Band on the Wall
Creativity Backgrounds

Participant's Feedback

'Nice to remember how to be free and let go, enjoy, no restriction, no right, no wrong'

'Love the whole idea and concept really great idea orginal never heard of anything like it. Awesome'
'Energised, happy, I want to do it again – I imagine it could be quite addictive!'

'Made me feel warm, satisfied'

 'Music, beats and feet!'

'The music that I would listen to at home that isn’t readily played in clubs was here and to draw it was amazing'

'My favourite part was opening my eyes and being surprised at where I was!'

'I loved it I hope you can make events like this more often, keep it up'

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