Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Found Sound Nation and the Lucerne Festival: School Project Day 1

I'm thrilled to be in Lucerne, Switzerland, where Found Sound Nation was invited by the Lucerne Festival to lead a series of projects, including a song-writing workshop for a group of teenagers in Nebikon. This iteration of the Found Sound Nation crew includes Chris, Jeremy, Elena, myself, and our newest member and videographer/musician/projectionist/all-around-awesome-guy Temujin Doran.

August 23, 2011

Accompanied by Johannes Fuchs (the Education Director at the Lucerne Festival), his girlfriend Katarina, and his assistant Melanie, we trekked over to Nebikon from Lucerne this morning at 7.30am. Saddled with musical instruments, audio production equipment, and big ideas for connecting with 17-year old Swiss boys through music, we arrived in Nebikon to the smell of cow dung and the site of marvelous green hills.

The school – which we're told is new and exclusively for students who have been held back in school due to behavioral and social challenges – stood behind the train station, and we were greeted by one of the lovely teachers, Marie-Louisa. After setting up the room (a Zoom here, two laptops there, a projector here, an XLR there), we met with the four teachers who would participate in the workshop alongside the students.

While we had planned to include teachers and staff as much as possible (we encourage everyone to be a participant in our workshops and not merely observers), we hadn't anticipated the challenge this would cause in creating a safe space for the students. We began the day in one room in a big circle: 10 boys between the ages of 15-17, 4 teachers, 3 staff members from the Lucerne Festival, and 5 Found Sound Nationers. Already, there were more adults than students.

Chris and Jeremy began with a warm-up of a game they call Toma Toma, in which one person spends one minute making and recording any sound they'd like for an audio track, and another person builds on that track by creating one minute of his own music. And so on and so forth, until we've recorded multi-layered tracks that can be considered musical vignettes developed as a group. While some of the students participated right away, others were reticent to approach the mic, and we wondered if this was a combination of fear of “performing” in front of peers (it was their 2nd day of school), inhibition to “perform” in front of their teachers, or simply discomfort with working in a setting that was being led in English with German translation (my once-fluent German going to waste in the midst of Schweizer-Deutsch dialect).

We managed to record a few short tracks during Toma Toma before breaking for lunch. Over lunch, we re-assessed our strategy and decided on another approach to invite the students to feel freer to create some meaningful material that they felt they owned.

The strategy was as follows: we'd split into four musical stations and four groups of students, accompanied by a teacher. Each group would have 30 minutes to work at each musical station to create and record music that they liked. In one room, Tem worked with the groups on a piano. The lyric-writing station was led by Elena, a teacher, and Melanie. Jeremy and I developed melodies with the groups (with two French horns, melodica, ukelele, and voices), and Chris worked with the groups on creating beats. At the end of the day, we all came back together to hear the clips that we'd created. Feedback from the day? The students loved the beat-station the best (unsurprisingly; it is exceedingly cool).

(Tem plays the Uke)

What surprised us was the variety of songs that the boys came up with. One student wrote angry lyrics about smoking drugs, envy of brand-name clothes, and wishing ill upon his enemies by explaining that when he has a house with a garden, he'll stick them in the backyard as a little garden gnome (which, although a hateful phrase, couldn't help but be slightly amusing coming out of Switzerland). Another student wrote a moving text about death. Yet another student wrote a heartbreaking love song that was easy to put a melody to, and which we all pleasantly had in our heads the rest of the day.

We look forward to another workshop tomorrow, in which the students will choose which tracks to put together for a full song. Out of nothing, appears something beautiful and bedeutungsvoll.

(Note: this blog will be re-posted to the FSN website with more photos and videos of the students.)

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