The World is Listening

Inside a Brighter Sound week with Beth Orton

By Kayla Painter

Brighter Sounds are a cultural producer of creative music projects and events in Manchester who recently hosted a week-long residency for emerging female musicians. They put a call out to invite women to apply for positions in what was their fourth ‘Wall of Sounds Artistic Director Series’, this time lead by Beth Orton, after recognizing one in four applicants to their previous music residencies were women.

A good friend of mine saw the workshop advertised and thought I might be interested, once I read the press release I immediately felt compelled to apply. I feel strongly about women’s representation within music, and wondered if, being primarily a producer that works largely in soundscape ambient music, I would be appealing to the judges of the applications, to help achieve a mix of influences and musical backgrounds.

I found out I’d won a place about two weeks before the event, and wasn’t really sure what to expect to be honest! In that sense, nothing (and I suppose everything) could go wrong. My overriding feelings were that it would be difficult, there would be big personalities and I would probably feel quite shy. As it turned out, that wasn’t really the case! It was a bunch of lovely people, with varying personalities; it wasn’t full of ego, which is what I feared. The other residents were very encouraging, and genuine, and I enjoyed working with them.

 

beth press 2

 

The event was spread across two conjoined venues, The Picture House (rehearsal rooms, meeting rooms etc.) and Band on the Wall (venue). We would all meet at The Picture House for 10am, and get into groups, working on ideas for new tracks. Beth was good fun; she was nervous like us on the first day, but rose to the challenge of leading us through the week. She was down to earth and interested to hear peoples ideas, she did warn us in our first chat that she would change her mind a lot, which she did do, but it challenged me to think, if I disagreed, why I disagreed. Thinking critically about music can be difficult, but the workshop forced us all into this sort of zone, which I think is crucial when you have such little time and you want to produce something of a high standard.

Beth would come and visit each group and see how we were getting on, and at some points we’d be pulled out and put in other groups to offer our skills. Photo calls and interviews were dotted throughout the day, going on around the building here and there. The Independent, The Big Issue and some other press came in for chats, whilst Beth and Josephine (one of the residents) went off to chat on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s hour, Beth spoke to Radio 6, and perhaps some others, a lot happened in a short space of time! The residency got a lot of media attention and it was great that was focused on drawing attention to asking, why does there appear to be so few women in music?

We’d usually break for lunch and go and explore some of the northern quarter, which is where we were based, and then come back to work on more tracks in the afternoon. By Thursday we were set up on stage at Band On The Wall, ready to go for the show on Friday.

The process of sitting and writing a track was interesting to watch and be a part of, I noticed how differently people compose compared to myself. Something about working as a producer on your own means you have total control, and watching the group’s process unfold it was clear to me how other songwriters use the element of chance through improvisation.

A lot of the group were singers, or could at least sing very well, a lot of people were multi-instrumentalists, everyone was interesting and talented within her own right. I was particularly interested in an artist named Avital, she was trained in Indian classical singing amongst other talents, but sadly I didn’t get the time to collaborate with her, well not yet anyway. I was really interested in everyone, as they had all come from various individual backgrounds with different stories and experiences of the music industry.

 

kayla mixing

 

Beth was around the building giving her feedback on the tracks most of the time, she came in on one of my tracks and started to harmonize, I think we all felt a bit nervous then! It was cool, I thought, Beth Orton is singing on one of my tracks, I have listened to it back on the crappy recording on my phone a few times since. She didn’t perform with us in the end but she really liked the song, and there may be a further collaboration in the pipeline there!

We spoke about women in music, and not in the way I fear people imagine we talk about it; lots of women sitting around being bitter about why they aren’t being noticed more in the industry. It was far from that. What I witnessed was a lot of people (that happened to be women) getting on with it. Just doing it because they loved music. Some of us shared experiences, stories were told which I found comforting, because sometimes you think ‘am I the only one that gets treated like this?’ A girl I became close with told me of her gigging experience, where she approaches the sound guy to talk about the sound and what she needs on stage, and he physically ignores her and turns to look and interact with her band mates (all male) she said their attitudes change once she gets on stage, but still, by that time the damage is already done!

The sound person for our show, and indeed the whole week, was Ele Bachelor. She was probably the best sound engineer I’ve ever met! Ele was calm and capable, and the sound was excellent. She was easy to approach and when I didn’t understand what I needed she was good at explaining how something worked. Having 12 different performances on one stage must have been a total nightmare for Ele, with instruments ranging from laptops, piano, a string quartet, to bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, she did more than pull it off, she provided fantastic sound throughout the show.

Brighter Sound were amazing, they sorted us out with everything we could have needed! We were put up in a really great hotel just around the corner, travel expenses were paid and we were given some pocket money for lunches and dinners. Anything we needed equipment wise they found it, or offered to hire things in; it really was very well catered. They enabled the experience to be really enjoyable without us having to worry about money, which was great.

I thoroughly enjoyed the open exchange between the residency attendants. I got to be constantly challenged by other people and also share my unique music background with them. Learning to work closely with the same people intensively over a week gave me good experience of listening and giving feedback, as well as a real sense of wanting to sit back and observe more. I feel like I came away with a network of friends and musicians who have shared this unique experience with me, which was like nothing else.

By Kayla Painter