Extreme Synaesthesia – Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

 

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow – synaesthesia not shown!

I am often asked about how my synaesthesia works, and what I experience during it, and often talk about it in the context of my creative works. I have written a little about it before but am not sure why I have fought shy of writing about its more extreme form in detail until now but I recently went to see one of my favourite bands live and what I experienced means I probably should. I went to see Muse play at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow with a friend who lives in the Scottish Borders. I say one of my favourite bands they probably are my favourite band or at least the one I spend most time listening to. Their particular sound, a sort of baroque-gothic, psychedelic space prog gives me a very vivid synaesthetic reaction. I say one of my favourite bands as my official “Favourite Band” are The Manic Street Preachers, they got there first in my teens and not even the mighty Muse can knock them off that spot.

The way I experience synaesthesia is very vivid, pleasurable and memorable. I can pay attention to it and fully focus on it or ignore it at will. The shapes, colours and movement change with the music and last only as long as the sound lasts. It is easier to see if I close my eyes but still there if they are open. It occupies a sort of infinite cube headspace and is three dimensional often going into or coming out of a vanishing point. Mostly I use recorded music to listen, watch and then do a sketch of what I have experienced in my primary sketchbook. This sketch will then be used as a direct source for my jewellery or paintings. Recently I have been increasingly turning to live music as a source of inspiration too. Both in my live art project with solo-bassist Steve Lawson and recordings of live shows as they offer something different from a studio version. Sometimes it’s the little unscripted surprises that offer up the most interesting visuals and working with a musician who does nothing but improvise there are certainly plenty of those.

I have always been rather circumspect about “tuning in” to my synaesthesia at live events (particularly loud ones) as, when I was in my early 20s I had an unpleasant experience after being at the front at a gig that I can only put down to sensory overload and not realising that the extreme noise of a rock gig mixed with the peculiar state of mind synaesthesia induces is too much if you don’t understand what is happening. Since then I have kept my attention strictly to the show in front of me and have ignored the sensory stimulus of my synaesthesia, and stood to the back. ( I should probably explain sensory overload or at least how I understand it. Not a pleasant thing it is where, the executive function in my brain gets so confused by too much input that it basically shuts down and I find it hard to organise any sort of train of thought or speech, it doesn’t last long, all I need is a cup of tea and a quiet five minutes but it pretty unpleasant loss of control)

Things are different now, I have embarked on a live art project with Steve Lawson and have performed with him in a synaesthetic drawing and improvised playing feedback loop which has proved very successful. I use my synaesthesia daily in my artistic practice, I’ve even caught myself trying to use it while attempting to transcribe basslines. I know what it is and where it comes from and what effect it has on me. So about five songs in watching Muse I decided to see what would happen if I “tuned in” and paid proper attention to my synaesthesia.

So, the drummer was was quite possibly using the roof as a kick drum, you could feel the bass vibrating in your heart and the guitar was loud and distorted. The light show is complex and broad. It is already a very physical experience. I closed my eyes to focus more easily amongst the flashing lights. It was all there moving fast with the music but I didn’t want to spend the whole concert with my eyes shut and miss the show so I opened them and let the synaesthetic shapes and movement merge with the real lighting and movement. Bass is always more like a distortion in the space-time continuum and dark so actually quite tricky to see, as a bassist myself I am always hunting for the bassline, drums get every where, a sharp silver slash in the centre of the stage, a mass of red blood cell like shapes but it was Matt Bellamy’s guitar I fell back in love with. The golden and white hot shapes, curling and flashing, filling the bowl of the auditorium weaving in and out of the lights flashing and changing as quick as they did. I found my self so mesmerised I could hardly dared breathe. Then they played “Stockholm Syndrome” a song I have always found to be especially synaestheically productive. The world turned upside-down in the most fantastical way. It is a heavy song, and fast. I’ve learned it on bass, it is tiring to play and frenetic, distorted, relentless and soaring. The music, shapes, colours and lights filled my entire consciousness and the sound was trying to fragment it, momentarily there was nothing else. This was sailing dangerously close to the edge of sensory overload. Muse finished the song but kept jamming, once I thought they were going to end, but unbearably, fantastically they continued, I almost couldn’t bear it. Then they crashed their ending and moved on to the next song, the change in rhythm broke the spell and I rode with it, I realised I was trembling. After that intense experience I enjoyed my some what odd take on the show but was surprised at that intensity. Once Knights of Cydonia (the most preposterous rock song ever written and one that always makes me smile) had finished and the last white hot sound of guitar feedback had faded I felt drained, a bit shocked at the effect it had had on me. It took me until we got outside to be able to speak coherently about the show.

For me synaesthesia has its extremes it can be gentle and ephemeral but also has a totally immersive side to the experience if I let it. I can feel my interest in using live music over recorded growing. I like the unpredictability and it reflects my love of the distorted edge of the sound. The boundary between the sound and the breakdown of that sound is where the fascinating detail both in shape and colour lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Space Bass – Step by Step Custom Painting My Bass Guitar

When I learnt how to custom paint it was essentially to use in my jewellery, however, being a bassist I couldn’t resist painting a bass just because I could.  It was a complex design for my first go but it worked out in the end. The bass itself works fine and sounds great so I’m happy.

The first thing was to find a bass to paint, EBay obliged with £30 worth of slightly abused Fender Squire P-Bass.  It was in a bit of a state but I cleaned it up took it apart and sanded it back. I took it almost back to the wood taking off the heavy commercial lacquer as I knew the gloss coat I was going to use on the top was thick so to just paint over the lacquer would have meant none of the fittings would have gone back on properly.  I used an electric sander and ended up looking like a Smurf with all the blue paint!

 

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

 

Bass Dismantled

Bass Dismantled

 

Bass sanded back

Bass sanded back

 Once cleaned it was now ready to start the painting.  First I needed to decide on and plan the design, I used one of my sound sketches as a starting point.  It is based on a song – Muse’s Cave (Remix).  Its on YouTube here  I took the initial sketch and fitted the design on to the bass on a 1:1 scale drawing.  I knew I wanted it to be an abstract spacescape so the background was a starry sky and the Milky Way would appear on the back.

 

Original "Cave" Sound Sketch

Original “Cave” Sound Sketch

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

I undercoated the body of the bass white with my mini-gun, I masked up the headstock and painted that white too.  (I love my mini-gun, it’s a beautiful piece of pink anodised aluminium).

Undercoated white

Undercoated white

My lovely mini-gun :)

My lovely mini-gun :)

Now comes the complicated bit, a bass turns out to be an odd three dimensional shape so covering the whole thing in masking tape evenly was a bit of a challenge but once that was done I could sketch out the design directly on to the tape.  I worked out which order I wanted to do the painting in, what I had to keep masked, when.  Look on the image of the 1:1 design drawing above and you’ll see my notes.  I also made a titanium pick guard at this point. I wanted it as minimal as possible, just to cover the electrics.  The masking tape was cut to do the deep space blue first.

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Once the deep blue was sprayed both sides, much masking and re-masking ensued to paint the purple hoops and green spheres.  I wanted the spheres to look vaguely earth like so they are painted in swirling green and blues built up with the airbrush and taken back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer then built up again.  I used my hand as an organic stencil which worked well.

 

 

Blue done, building up the spheres

Blue done, building up the spheres

How does a sphere catch the light?

How does a sphere catch the light?

Building up the spheres

Building up the spheres

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

 

From here I keep stripping the masking tape off each piece of the design and painting as I go, next up was the lightning flash (this is the harsher sound of the electric guitar to the mellower purple bass hoops and electronic sounds of the spheres).  The lightning flash is shaded with a bevelled edge to give it a three dimensional feel like the spheres and hoops. Then jagged line around the edge which was originally to be yellow but I decided it would look better with an icy look so toned it down with some blue.

Lightning Flash

Lightning Flash with bevelled edge

 

 

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Now for the Milky Way.  I had already spattered stars on the front when I painted the dark blue/black background but this has to look like a specific feature of the night sky rather than just generic starry sky.  I used several images of the Milky Way as source material and amalgamated them to fit the back of the bass.  I loved painting this part best I think, the airbrush works so well for this kind of painting. Again I built up with the airbrush and worked back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer.  I also painted the headstock with a starry night sky.

 

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way Complete

Milky Way Complete

Now followed a bit of touching up and wrapping the green pipes? Tethers? Snakes? (I’ve no idea what they are!)  around the top cutaway horn.  This was actually the most complicated three dimensional part of the design and too a bit of juggling to get it all to connect.  Happy with the painting now so time to gloss coat.  I lack the equipment (air fed mask and a spray booth) to use the usual gloss coat so I decided to experiment with the epoxy resin I use in my jewellery.  It is actually used as a flood coat in surfboard making so there is no reason I shouldn’t work on a bass.  It creates a thick gloss coat that is very satisfactory although if there is the slightest bit of grease it will pull away and leave a little crater!  I had to redo this coat twice to get it right!  Some further finishing and polishing with Auto-Glym resin polish and it looked great.  It then went off to an exhibition in the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham.

Once it returned form a spell of hanging on the wall so all that remained to do was get it working. Luckily my husband is good with electronics so a bit of soldering and it was working.  I got it properly set up at my local guitar shop and we were good to go.  There’s a link to a couple of YouTube videos of my practicing La Sera’s “Love Is Gone”  & Muse’s “Nishe” on it below – I haven’t  learnt “Cave” yet so not the perfect debut for it but these’ll have to do!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDqClzh6bDE&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5WHLpIr-vI&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA