Discover more from Unpsychology Voices
The Unpsychology MthR Trilogy performance
With thanks to Unpsychology’s Patrick Carpenter for his improvisation and recording
17th May 2023
This performance was recorded in the beautiful gardens of Velindre House in Drefach Felindre, Wales, on a hot and breezy day in early summer. Sophie’s improvised performance was accompanied musically by Patrick Carpenter.
This multimedia piece was produced for Unpsychology Magazine, issue 9.1, Imaginings – published in July 2023. You can download the first volume (9.1) of Imaginings from HERE, FREE of charge, and buy a paper copy for £10 plus postage (link to be posted soon). You can find more video, sound and multimedia pieces in the Unpsychology 9 Imaginings Section of this Substack.
Sound recording by Patrick Carpenter. Video and photography by Steve Thorp.
“I WRITE: I want the very act of creation to haul me so far outside my comfort zone I’m left gasping at the sheer audacity of it all. I want the writing of books and creation of performances to be alchemical, metamorphic processes wherein I could not possibly remain the same person who began such wild & reckless tasks”
(Sophie McKeand, 2023)
Full sound recording
Video extract 1
Video extract 2
Reflection and commentary
Writing The MthR Trilogy changed me. Channelling every atom of creativity I could generate into one epic piece of work with no funding or publishing contract, and only the self-determined deadlines of publishing one novel each year on International Day of Anarchy (1st May) for three years (2021/22/23) developed within my heart a confidence I’ve never previously experienced. To paraphrase Brené Brown, I can now walk into any room and know I belong there wholly as myself.
After a five-year break from performing, I felt this new-found understanding evolve my entire creative output and began devising The MthR Trilogy performances in order to allow the work to sprawl out across multiple dimensions.
In 2017, I sold/gifted 95% of my belongings and now live full-time in a self-converted Sprinter van with my partner & two rescue hounds. This sloughing off of ‘stuff’, this minimising of distractions, this move from a settled life to a more transient, migratory one; this deep need to (re)connect with the wild land & Self, is also an artistic endeavour. Life is art. Art is life. All these moments flow into & from me and I am learning to step with bright abandon into my Self while creating from this ecstatic state of being.
What matters is getting the entire life right first, then the art cannot be wrong. Before stepping into the flow of these unscripted, emotionally demanding, and physically exhausting improvised performances I’ve spent years healing ancestral wounds, doing the shadow work; learned to nourish body, let go of addictions & distractions; I write & redraft, create & tear down, reconfigure & grow. I will remain a work in progress until I die.
For a number of years, and throughout our time travelling across Europe, I’ve been collecting field recordings. This practice originally grew from a calling to listen intently to the land, and it was then I discovered the deep listening techniques of Pauline Oliveros. Originally intended to encourage musicians in orchestras to fully hear each other, I found much of her work made sense in relation to my work as an experimental eco-poet. As I tuned more acutely into each new landscape, I wanted to capture what I was hearing, and it was then a natural progression to thread these recordings throughout live performances as I searched for (and learned how to use) the technology to edit and/or manipulate these sounds.
These new performances demanded I nurture select excerpts from the trilogy as seedlings in the memory: hours spent each day over two months learning words by heart & rote so that they now exist as trees in the mind, ready to tumble leaves out of the mouth at an intuitive sound-prompt. Then there’s the years spent researching & writing the novels themselves: the books are the roots, sap & gloriously green canopy of each live show.
Improvisation is mind-bogglingly difficult for me. I have a number of strong autistic tendencies which include preferring scripted interactions & performances. I struggle with ad-hoc conversations, even more so if on stage, and so I force myself into the white-hot fire of change in an attempt to raze my old self to the ground: allow the flames of non-religious speaking in tongues to lick from my mouth, spark wildfires with unknown musicians; an impromptu blaze of sound & ideas.
As the novels range across time, landscapes, & languages, so do the performances. I weave the stunning Bengali vocals of Moushumi Bhowmikwith slate smashed at Llanberis quarry, or glitch St Mark’s Venetian bells around the words of Wales’ most famous bard, Taliesin.
With no prior rehearsals, on the day of the event, I & the musician(s) undertake deep listening/connection exercises inspired by Pauline Oliveros’ work,as a way to release our singular expressions, instead echoing ourselves towards a whole-body symphony of the sounds of each other. Oliveros’ quite beautiful idea is that, as we walk barefoot together, we should listen so intently even the soles of our feet become ears.
I immerse in the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi – life is transient & imperfect and consequently so is the art that springs from it, and in a culture obsessed with perfection I hold tight to the kintsugi philosophy of embracing flaws.
I read Brian Eno’s words:
“Records made ‘at one sitting’ sound so fresh now – because the rate of discovery and emotional tempo match those of the listener. What’s infuriating, though, is how fragile those fabrics are. I’ve noticed that, trying to work on improvisations that have ‘something’, they very quickly dissolve into nothing the more attention they get.”
And think of Herbie Hancock speaking of playing with Miles Davies: I played the wrong chord... Miles didn’t hear it is as a mistake, he heard it as something that happened... the only way we can grow is to experience situations as they are...
Writing and reflecting upon this, I’ve reached the conclusion that experiencing such an event live creates a more profound shift in the viewer/listener, which, in hindsight, makes this recording a somewhat unique anomaly. The final performances will remain imperfectly perfect. They’ll grow & evolve overtime as I do. No two will be the same as The MthR Trilogy shows seek to embody these states of acceptance, flux, & flow.
Gazing out across my life from this vantage-point of understanding, I know when I attain moments of exquisite balance because the writing & performances reflect this. Ultimately what matters is that each confluence reconfigures me, heart & soul.
Sophie McKeand is an award-winning poet, writer, sound artist, & former Young People’s Laureate Wales, creating at the intersection of humanity, technology, & nature. Her latest work is cli-fi series The MthR Trilogy. www.SophieMcKeand.com
Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/160117.A_Year_With_Swollen_Appendices
To receive new Unpsychology Voices posts and be part of the Unpsychology community, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Unpsychology Magazine is free to download from HERE. Unpsychology is always free in digital form and online, but donations and subscriptions are welcome to support our ongoing labour (of love!).