Transforming The Narrative - Sorcha Pringle

Over the last two months we’ve been sharing the work and reflections of creatives supported by our Young Artist Development Programme. This week it’s over to musician and writer Sorcha Pringle.

Hello, my name is Sorcha and I’m a disabled creative activist, community musician, composer, and access consultant based in Dundee. This post will be an exploration of where I come from as an artist, what drew me to the Young Artists Development Programme, and how I developed and hope to further develop my piece.

I trained as a community musician, graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 2017. I have always wanted to make the arts more accessible to people who face societal barriers to participation: I strongly believe that people should have an equal opportunity to engage with whatever art(s) they wish. This motivated me to work in the inclusive arts sector in Scotland, focusing on providing musical experiences for disabled people. I spent several years focusing on supporting others’ artistic development. This changed when the pandemic hit and lots of my work went online or stopped, meaning I had more time to develop myself as an artist. I wrote poetry as part of an exhibition called ‘Fun a day Dundee’, an annual project encouraging people to do something creative for the whole month of January.

This helped me to realise that I love writing and, as a musician, I decided to develop my songwriting during lockdown. Throughout 2020, I started writing much more creatively, and taking more risks. One practice I developed was writing songs which incorporate music with spoken word. This features in the piece I have written for the YADP.

‘Transforming the Narrative’ came from a desire to tell the stories of disabled people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including how aspects of society shutdown had affected them in both positive and negative ways. I conducted interviews with people who face a wide variety of societal barriers due to being disabled and/or neurodivergent. I then took these interviews and, with all permissions in place, used the transcripts to create a spoken word piece.

Although this project began in summer 2020, I was reluctant to continue without funding. With a disabled creative team, who face barriers to paid work as a group, it was important to me that people were paid for their time and skills. Consequently, I shelved the project until spring 2021. On receiving the YADP commission, I was delighted to be able to continue the work I had started.

I originally intended ‘Transforming the Narrative’ to be a theatre project but due to time restrictions and in order to best use my skills and the wealth of knowledge from other collaborators I decided to make it an audio piece.

Here is the piece and a sonic story that describes what to expect. The transcript can be downloaded here.

The image is a Sonic Story for the audio piece Changing The Narrative, this includes a soundwave that shows how the audio artwork begins, builds and ends. The soundwave which has spikes showing where the audio is louder, or indentations where it is quieter. Above the audio are written descriptions that describe what audio to expect including the type of sound and pitch. Beneath the soundwave are timings that show the duration of quiet or loud parts of the piece.

One of the important decisions I made was how to gather the spoken word performances. I sought a variety of voices to be as representative as possible of the people I had spoken to. I asked performers to record their parts and send them to me. I then used GarageBand to put them into the piece in the order I had written the it, with a few alterations. I wanted to represent the isolated nature of creating art in a pandemic, and the varying levels of capacity to record we have had to work around. Therefore, you may hear parts of the audio which are not entirely edited. I also used a telephone effect on some of the spoken parts to reflect the remote nature of the conversations.

I had hoped that the project would include a visual element, using animation and visual art pieces by disabled artists to complement the audio. This would have also allowed me to integrate captions into the piece, which is an element of my practice I am keen to continue developing. I believe that access can and should be used not just as standard but as part of the artistry of the piece. Due to time constraints, I decided, in consultation, to provide a transcript instead. However, the visual element of this work is important, and is part of my practice that I want to work on going forward. As a blind artist, I would like to develop my personal links and working relationships with D/deaf artists to support this.

As a classically trained musician, I faced barriers to music notation software due to incompatibility with VoiceOver, as well as a lack of specialist training to suit my needs. This has meant that this piece is the first I have written electronically, using GarageBand. I found that the iPhone version of GarageBand, being very tactile, was a fairly intuitive way of putting my piece together, especially when adding small audio clips of different people saying the poem.

It is interesting to me that by struggling to do something which is a fairly basic skill in my industry, it has uncovered my own ingrained disablism towards myself, as I don’t often think about breaking down barriers which specifically affect me. I hope that by talking about these issues, more music software companies will be made aware of issues which still face blind users, and that other young musicians facing similar barriers will be encouraged to push the boundaries of their practice in order to find the methods which let them work to the best of their ability, as well as having the opportunity to develop new skills.

Thank you Sorcha for sharing this incredible work and your process so openly. It can be hard to draw attention to disabling barriers, but it’s essential to do if we want to create meaningful change.

There will be one more guest post from a young artist next week, and then a pause for the holidays. We’ll be back with more in the New Year.

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