To celebrate 10 years of our flagship alternative provision education partnership with The CE Academy, Alternative Mondays are fortnightly posts made by contributors to this programme, looking back at some of our favourite and most profound moments from artist led workshops with students excluded from mainstream education, taking place at the remote Sudborough Green Lodge and in the outdoors of Fermyn Woods.
I imagine everybody remembers their first encounter with composer, musician, sound artist, creative producer, facilitator and performer Jason Singh.
Having first made quite an impression on Fermynwoods with his incredible Blisworth Tunnel performance in 2011, I was excited to share his talents with students who had been excluded from mainstream education.
My excitement was obviously infectious as the atmosphere when we arrived to find Jason at Sudborough Green Lodge was electric. The ever enquiring students were anticipating a workshop with a beatboxer. Jason began the workshop by demonstrating why he is so much more.
Always a sign of a good workshop, Jason talked and the students sat and listened. No fidgeting. No struggles with attention or uncontrollable energy levels. Completely captivated and hanging on Jason’s every word.
Jason identified with these students, but crucially, they identified with him. He was cool, aspirational and wearing a cat t-shirt. True, it was captivating hearing about the diversity of Jason’s collaborations from Manchester to Rajasthan, from the British Film Institute to Nitin Sawhney, from V&A Museum to Tate Britain. But the main reason he was holding attention was the promise that he would soon perform.
“Do you drink that stuff?”, asked Jason about the energy drinks that the students produced. “No”, came the hesitant reply, with the drinks being instantly forgotten and used as toilet cleaner and pin hole cameras in later workshops.
Suddenly switching on his microphone, loop stations and Kaoss Pads, Jason filled the cottages to the brim with the sounds of wind, crashing waves, and body-shaking bass lines, punctuated with weird bleeps, astral noises and samples from Star Wars films and Street Fighter computer games. The sound of students’ jaws dropping were drowned out as Jason turned the volume up to 11.
Inspired, the students were gently encouraged to try for themselves, mimicking different environmental sounds, Jason layering their vocally sculpted noises into impressive sonic textures. But something was missing. Suggesting they might like to sample their own sounds to add to their growing compositions, the students followed Jason into the woods like he was the Pied Piper.
I remember that walk for several reasons. One, because of the samples the students recorded and mixed into their soundscapes. Two, because the students had never been so keen to walk in the woods before. Three, and quite movingly, because a student asked Jason to adopt him. But mainly because it was the first time I’d observed Jason working with the natural environment.
Part of Fermynwoods’ mission is to fuse urban culture with the rural landscape and to bring rural perspectives into the urban environment. It has been a pleasure to see Jason’s career flourish with later collaborations with the natural world and to think that walk, and these students, may have been a formative part of that journey. Jason has since collaborated with the National Trust, Springwatch and CountryFile, as well as with Fermynwoods on many other occasions.
Before the end of the workshop, one of the students commented “This is all great and everything, but when I go home I haven’t got any of this equipment so I can’t beat box”. At which point Jason switched off his microphone, loop stations and Kaoss Pads, and again filled the cottages with the sounds of wind, crashing waves, body-shaking bass lines, punctuated with weird bleeps, astral noises and samples from Star Wars films and Street Fighter computer games – this time using just his body.
The sound of jaws dropping could now be heard clearly.