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Tune In with The Happiness Ensemble

Tune In is a multidisciplinary collaboration between filmmakers Aoise Tutty Jackson and Maggie Ryan with members of the 49 North Street community in Skibbereen and MusicAlive. The project was a response to Covid-19 restrictions with a focus on sound, music and Tuning In

Working closely with improvised musical group The Happiness Ensemble, MusicAlive and composer Liam McCabe, we produced a film using original audio and recordings, compositions and images.

Participants

49 North Street is a dedicated creativity and wellness space in Skibbereen developed by Cork Mental Health Services to serve communities in West Cork. 

Participants included The Happiness Ensemble, a music and recovery group that pre-Covid met weekly at 49 North Street, and members of the 49 North Street community. 

Aims

  • To provide an opportunity for continued creative collaboration for people who would have limited or no access to services due to Covid restrictions.
  • To provide an opportunity for connection for people who were feeling isolated as a result of lockdown restrictions.
  • To allow a space of creativity to continue for members of the 49 North Street community and in particular The Happiness Ensemble.
  • To explore people’s experiences of how lockdown was impacting them as well as offering a tool for reflecting on this time.
  • An opportunity to connect to a mindfulness practice, with a pre-recorded meditation and set of questions focused on ‘Tuning In’.
  • To employ a collaborative and co-produced approach, combining artists and participants' different ways of expressing themselves in connection to ‘Tuning In’ through music, sound and film.

Methods

Overview 

The Tune In project invited the North Street community to stay connected through music, mindfulness and creative play. Participants were sent a 20 minute ‘Tuning In’ Mindfulness exercise and a list of questions about ‘Tuning In’. They were prompted to record their responses to these questions and to contribute sounds/music using their bodies, found objects or instruments. They used their own phones/audio recording devices and then sent in their responses which were compiled to create an original composition and film. 

Approach 

In consultation with 49 North Street and MusicAlive, the filmmakers connected with members of The Happiness Ensemble over a number of weeks for online video sessions presenting the original concept, mindfulness meditation practice and an initial set of questions.

Here are the five questions we asked:

  • Can you name a sound that helps you to stay centred and give us a few lines as to why?
  • Can you think of a sound that you are missing from your day to day life at this time?
  • Take a look around your home - can you see or think of 3 objects that help you to stay centred and calm? What sounds would these objects make?
  • Take a look outside your window or consider one of your favourite places outside - can you name 3 things from nature that help you to feel a sense of peace? What sounds do/would these things make?
  • If you were an instrument what would you be?

Through a trial and error approach we fine-tuned our set of questions over these online sessions ensuring that the project pack was clear, and sensitive enough to connect with community members.

Weekly online ‘jam’ sessions for The Happiness Ensemble took place and we endeavoured to do some audio recording to encourage connection and creative opportunities for community members to come together during this time.

The Tune In project pack was sent out to members of the 49 North Street community and the wider arts and health community and responses were gathered over a number of months.

Participants sent voice recordings from their phones, as well as recordings of musical improvised Zoom sessions. Some of the sounds included traditional musical instruments (such as the hang drum, saxophone, xylophone), singing, poetry recitations as well as more experimental sounds such as windscreen wipers, car engines and experimental guttural vocalisations in response to the questions. 

At the same time Aoise Tutty Jackson (Director) and Maggie Ryan (Creative Producer) shot a number of filmic responses  to the project in collaboration with other filmmakers (DOPs Keith Pendred , Federico Rea and Adrian O’Connell). Dancers were asked to choreograph/ improvise their movement pieces based on the same project brief as participants. Extra footage such as the shots taken in nature were a direct response to the participants' answers.

Once all responses were gathered, Aoise worked on editing and collaborated with composer Liam McCabe to ‘connect all the dots’, ensuring participants' voices were all given equal weight and measure: 

'For the composition I created all of the music using samples of random audio the participants recorded on their phones after doing the meditation and answering the questions. Given the free and immediate nature of the recordings I tried to write the music in this spirit, choosing one sample at a time and working it into the whole piece by piece, like a slow improvisation.' - Liam McCabe 

Artistic Outputs

Tune In is a five-minute film with original composition by Liam McCabe and The Happiness Ensemble. A bed of audio interviews is interwoven with the music.  

The film was screened with members of The Happiness Ensemble and the 49 North Street Community for the first time in February 2021 via an online Zoom Call. Participants had an opportunity to reflect on the project and share their experiences and initial thoughts on the film. Composer Liam Ryan also shared how he had used everyone's sounds to create the music for the piece. 

The film was originally due to be screened at Bantry Cinema in October 2020 as part of World Mental Health Week but due to restrictions and unforeseen circumstances this was unable to go ahead. The current plan is to release it more publicly during World Mental Health Week in 2021.

The trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/519127709

Evaluation Methodology

The project was informed by an ethos of co-production and recovery. At the online screening in February 2021, there was a before and after group discussion, which was an opportunity for participants to recall their experiences in taking part in the project and their responses to the film. 

The artist gathered responses and evaluation forms from a number of participants. Academics from University College Cork have seen the film and expressed an interest in writing a formal academic paper, exploring how collaborative and participatory arts and health projects such as Tune In contribute to positive mental health within the CHIME model of mental healthcare.

Evaluation Outcomes

Although many people were, in theory, up for the project, in practice taking the space to sit down and participate was perhaps more challenging than we had envisioned. It meant we ended up doing a certain amount of ‘chasing’ throughout the process.

Some participants were not used to or in a position to record themselves and in these cases audio recordings were made with prompts or the support of others.

Participant Experiences

'Given the current health and safety restrictions, wonderful that Tune In was put together to help folk engage with each other musically, creatively, socially and inspirationally.'

'Amazing, truly very much enjoyed every second of it, thrilled too that something as beautiful has been produced.'

'It was a new experience for me that could help me through the lockdown.'

'I had to use my knowledge to work it out on my phone. Wondering if I would be able to send it. It was something to think about, put all my skills to the test. If I was to take part again, maybe we could plan for awareness on how technical things we have could work better.'

'I had never really listened to meditation before. It was a new experience for me that could help me through the lockdown… I really enjoyed it and I went onto to do a meditation class at the start of the [new] lockdown as well.'

'Found the questions interesting and challenging in a creative way. Had never considered the sound that a painting would make.'

'There was a freedom in it as I was alone but also the excitement of having to hand it in and other people listening to it. A "performance aspect", which is good.'

'Tune In has been an inspirational individual experience up to the moment when we watched the film together… Now I also feel part of a collective that comprises dancers and speakers whom I have never met 'in person' but we're now all part of the same ecosystem: the film.'

Documentation & Dissemination

The film will be officially released during Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2021.

Date of Publication

May 2021

Dates

Ongoing with the main first phase running from March 2020 - February 2021

Lead Organisation

49 North Street

Partners

MusicAlive, 92 Circles

Funded By

MusicAlive, Baylis Medical, HSE Cork Mental Health Services

Location

Cork

Web Link

Artist(s)

Aoise Tutty Jackson, Liam McCabe, Maggie Ryan

Artform

Film, Music, Visual Arts

Context

Mental Health, Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of Project

Collaborative/ participatory


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