How Simon Gallup’s Brazen Crazy Bass Sound Gave Me The Reason I Need To Start Using Bronze and Copper: The Cure Play Wembley Arena 1/12/16

I was a huge Cure fan back in the late ’80s, big black and white poster of Robert Smith on my bedroom wall, had all their albums but never went to see them live. The closest I got was going round a friends house to watch “The Cure in Orange” on video. Then 1992 and the Manic Street Preachers happened and stole me away from The Cure. Not much other than occasional listening until my live art collaborator and friend Steve Lawson messaged me on the Monday and asked if I wanted his spare ticket to see The Cure that Thursday. The instant answer was yes and once the usual child related logistics had been sorted out we were on!

Wembley is an arse to get to whether you go by train or car, a stadium and an arena plonked in the middle of an industrial estate with a maze of tiny roads with names like Engineers Way and Fifth Way or even more imaginatively Fourth Way. I managed to meet up with Steve and after some faffing about finding where the tickets actually were (it turned out we were there courtesy of Reeves Gabrels the guitarist, thank you indeed Mr Lawson!) it was straight to our seats and The Cure were on. They played for three hours of fantastic music, loads of hits, pop mixed with the darkness and they rocked way more than I remember from their studio recordings. “Friday I’m in Love” is up there with “Knights of Cydonia” for songs that instantly make me smile but for very different reasons. The Cure really are such a happy band, both defining “Goth” and not being it at all, transcending the genre you helped to carve out has to be the mark of creativity in its purest form.

Having survived Matt Bellamy’s guitar at the Hydro in Glasgow I was getting brave. The mix was towards the bass, drums and keyboards as we were sat next to the stage on the opposite side to the guitars of Robert Smith and Reeves Gabrels. What a sound Simon Gallup makes with that bass of his, truly astounding and gorgeous! When I say brazen crazy I mean in both senses of the word, bronze coloured and bold. It was prominent and folding and bronze/coppery with dark blacks and greys swirling amongst the leaves. Very different to the dark purples, reds and white distortion auras of Chris Wolstenholme of Muse’s playing that appears in my Heavy Bassine series. How an instrument is played has a huge effect on what I see and none more clearly than with bass, the low end usually being dark and liquid. With The Cure not so, extraordinary and cutting bronze like structures.

The live experience of Simon Gallup’s bass playing has given me some interesting food for thought, the drawings I’ve made since have not yet blossomed into the obsessive days of trying to work out shapes and colours that happened after Muse live, not yet. I’m still ruminating and digesting what I’ve heard. I have done some initial sketches which will give a flavour of where I’m heading with this. My Guitar Distortion series which explores the distorted and chaotic sound of Matt Bellamy’s guitar playing is in sterling silver, it is the right material for the colour of his playing, white hot, silver, cracked and twisting. Silver would not work for Reeves Gabrel’s guitar playing which is steely greys, dove greys, with shimmering hints of blues, turquoise and purples and is much more centered in the vanishing point of my synaesthesia. Similarly bronze, brass and copper or mixtures of these materials will be perfect for representing Simon Gallup’s playing in three dimensional form. I will be exploring how I will do this over the coming months. Exciting times…

 

United in Variety: Sieraad International Jewellery Art Fair at the Westergasfabreik, Amsterdam 2016 November 10-13

Fitting my entire display into twenty three kilos of checked baggage to fly to Amsterdam was more liberating than frustrating as I shed unnecessary items and went with the bare essentials to run my stand. On the other hand the choice of bag I packed it all in will require revisiting next time. “The Elephant Bag” (as it is known) saw me through two, year long stays in the USA. Now I remember why I don’t use it very often. While it is capacious it is also unwieldy especially at rush hour on the Tube and especially when they close the doors on the Jubilee line due to overcrowding. Never mind, my flight was delayed anyway not that I knew this as I sweated and cursed my load via Kennington to London City Airport.

There were twenty other jewellers coming from the UK and I met up with seven of them when I arrived for a cab ride to the Westergasfabreik, we needed the largest cab they could find at Schiphol Airport. We spent the rest of the day setting up in the industrial setting of the old gas holder.

SIERAAD 2016 was opened by the Dutch “Princess of Craft” Margarita de Bourbon de Parme who is herself a jeweller, furniture maker and textile artist which set the tone for an incredibly smart and well educated audience. It was a real pleasure to talk to so many knowledgeable buyers, whose excellent English was appreciated by me and the other non-Dutch artists there. It really was a truly international art fair, many nations were well represented from all over Europe with exhibitors coming from as far afield as Australia, USA, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Columbia, Uruguay and South Korea. The fair was by no means dominated by Dutch artists. The variety and standard of work being shown was astounding, the show was entirely dedicated to art jewellery from the precious to the deliberately non-precious with over eighty exhibitors using materials from platinum, gold and gemstones to plastic broom bristles, leather and paint.

I was so busy it was tricky to get a moment to look round the show, as a jewellery lover myself I really did not want to miss the opportunity to see so much incredible work in one place. Gallery Ra, one of the original Amsterdam galleries to dedicate its space to art jewellery was celebrating forty years of success, owner Paul Derrez had a selection of works on display from his personal collection that included some classics that I had only seen in books before now.

Of all the fantastical work there two artists stood out for me. Christoph Ziegler a German jewellery and performance artist whose inspiration comes from the humble domestic sphere and uses found objects and shining plastic broom bristles to great effect in his brooches which encapsulate grandeur and humour. He calls his performances “Möbeling” which roughly translates as “Furnituring” but it sounds way better in German!

The second artist was Russian Ksenia Vokhmentseva whose crocheted forms where a pure abstract interpretation of her emotions. She has explored her depth of feeling through shape after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “Sometimes It Doesn’t Hurt” is a compelling body of work both dark and poignant. Unsettling but fascinating her work reminded me of how Alexander McQueen approached his self expression.

In amongst the contemporary jewellers was an exhibition of ethnic jewellery from around the world by a collaboration of Dutch Museums. Stunning antique pieces, that the work of all exhibitors had to hold their own against. They reminded us where we came from and that some functions of jewellery have never changed. SIERAAD Art Fair was a very positive experience for me, my work was well received and it enabled me to see it in an international context in amongst the work of artists from all over the world. Whether you go as a visitor or exhibitor to SIERAAD it is worth taking the time to appreciate it as a rare gathering of jewellery art.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Music and Hearing the Image: Some Expeditionary Art with Solo-bassist Steve Lawson

The bass guitar is a wonderful instrument, if it were not for my learning to play it none of this would ever have happened. I am synaesthetic, I have a visual reaction to sound both musical and non-musical. This inspires my artworks be they jewellery you can hang on yourself or paintings you can hang on a wall. I could have spent my creative time listening to recorded music drawing what I saw and making my art from those initial sketches. These are finished objects that remain in stasis once complete and are admired, bought and enjoyed as objects by my clients. This is a good thing, they get an object they respond to and desire and I get to move on to the next project. Therein lies the essential nature of my creativity. It likes to move, to have the next idea and solve the next problem, to create the next piece of artwork.

My synaesthesia has not always inspired my creativity, it is only over the last five or so years that I have come to realise that this does not happen to everyone and have had the confidence to use my own very subjective inner life to inform my art. I refer to this change in emphasis my Strange Attractors Project. I usually use recorded music and barely considered doing a live art version.

This is where my learning bass guitar comes in. I met the intriguing solo bassist and lateral thinker Steve Lawson via his tutorials at scottsbasslessons.com and then in person at the London Bass Guitar Show. What started as his suggestion of a blog post topic spiralled into a realisation that we needed to get together and see what would happen if I tried to draw what he played live.

We did and this is one of the results (on Soundcloud)

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter Synaesthetic Journey pt1

There’s only one image up with the first Soundcloud track here are a couple more done on the day.

The experience was a totally new one for me. I am a results driven artist and I was suddenly plunged into working in a totally process driven art form. This really was jumping in with both feet, the synaesthesia bit is the easy part, it’s just there. The translation of those fleeting images into something concrete that you can hold up and show to someone and relate to a specific sound on the fly is hard. Luckily it is pretty immersive so I lost my nerves and just got on with it. As we went I was aware of Steve trying to provoke me, surprise me and question me through the music he was playing.

So what was happening here? How had this music/visual feedback loop set itself up so naturally and easily? What is my mind doing during synaesthesia, what is Steve’s mind doing? How is he essentially doing the reverse of what I am doing and translating visuals into sound.

I can’t speak for Steve but this is roughly what I see when I hear sounds, music, birdsong and F1 engines are a favourite noise too. It is like having eyes in another dimension, I often think of what I see as a space-scape and will often paint it against a background of stars. The “place” is three dimensional a sort of infinite but very personal box which often has a central vanishing point that sounds either start from or go to. The visuals are animated and colourful coming and going with each sound. The colours are usually light colours for high notes and dark colours for low notes, the exact colours vary and I can never find exactly the right one amongst my pencils. The pitch often determines the position too, low notes at the bottom, high at the top. The shapes I see are three dimensional, they have edges and if I am really immersed I can “fly” with them and see them from different angles the sense of movement being very strong. Sometimes I am not sure whether I am drawing an object or a movement the images are so fleeting.

I have no control over whether it happens or not, it is always there. I either tune it in or tune it out so it does not affect what I am doing. If my eyes are engaged in another task they override the synaesthesia, so does concentrating on, say, playing my bass. I’m so taken up with where my fingers are going and keeping rhythm that any synaesthesia is ignored. Having said that I have discovered myself using it if I’m trying to work out a drum pattern or where to come in on a drum pattern. Snare drums, toms, bass drum cymbals and hi-hats all look very different. In fact drums get everywhere if I let them, percussive things are very synaesthetically productive.

Distorted sounds are also excellent which is why Steve’s playing works so well for me. His extensive use of looping also helps me see a sound repeatedly which means I am more likely to be able to draw it. The hard part of the process is the catching, remembering and drawing on the fly. There is no rewind button as with recorded music. I can’t go back and look, I have to go with the strongest images.

There are two parts of my brain at work here the synaesthetic brain which is concerned with the image precisely as it sees it and my artistic brain which has the job of translating this on the fly into something that looks about right. Whatever my artistic brain puts down on the page my synaesthetic brain considers it to be very wrong. Wrong shape, wrong colour, wrong position, just wrong. There is a point at which I have to ignore my pedantic synaesthetic brain and make artistic decisions about what makes a good picture.

I’ve often wondered what all this abstraction actually means, to me it holds enormous importance. Synaesthesia comes with a sense of euphoria and certainty that what is happening holds real meaning but is this just a function of my odd neurology? Art has to connect with other human beings in one way or another. When I put all these images down on paper does it mean anything to anyone else? Are they just pretty patterns peculiar to my brain with no particular relevance? Do all synaesthetes see the same thing? Why are people so intrigued by it? Music is of course the ultimate abstract art form, it communicates in a direct way with our emotions. How does it do that? Can my visual representations of music tap into that same emotional pathway?

In reading round the subject of synaesthesia recently I came across an excellent book “Wednesday is Indigo Blue” by Richard E. Cytowic and in that book is a page on generic forms. These are shapes that always occur during synaesthesia and for people in other altered states of mind such as during a migraine or induced by drugs. These generic forms are certainly variations on what I see. Why would they be the same in all people and people who are not synaesthetic if there was not some similar function going on? There was also discussion of how both synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes associate high notes with light colours and low notes with dark colours. So what is that about? Interestingly the book goes on to argue that perhaps synaesthesia is a normal function of the brain that is merely conscious in synaesthetes and unconscious in everyone else.

For me an artwork in any discipline has to connect as without that emotional reaction an artwork has failed. That human connection and desire to move and be moved can work across centuries and formats otherwise how can I stand in front of a portrait and feel like I am sharing a joke with a long dead Belgian painted by a long dead artist or feel the wordless communication from over a century ago through an abstract painting. Why does a video recording of a live performance of Muse’s “Hysteria” make me feel excited or the writing of Hunter S. Thompson in a second hand paperback weird me out? The artwork can be anything you like but the communal, human experience of it, that is the important thing.

Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who makes beautiful music and thinks a lot about life the universe and everything – read his blog post on our collaboration

Go and immerse yourself in his music at www.stevelawson.net