Composer, Musician and Artist Amble Skuse talks about her work on Hera Theatre’s show We Ask These Questions of Everybody
Crafted from transcripts for an assessment for the Department of Work and Pensions, HERA Theatre’s ‘We Ask These Questions of Everybody’, to stream online on Friday 29th January 2021, highlights the mental, social and financial pressures faced by disabled people in the UK, especially during this very difficult time. Presented as a verbatim opera, the online production offers an insight into a community often underrepresented. Composer, musician and artist Amble Skuse – whose work involves working with a variety of texts which she then fuses with musical elements, tells us more about her creative process for the show.
Hi Amble, you’re the composer of HERA’s production We Ask These Questions of Everybody. How are you feeling ahead of the streaming?
Excited and nervous!
We Ask These Questions of Everybody is an online opera drawing on transcripts from an assessment for the Department of Work and Pensions to expose the emotional challenges faced by disabled people dealing with state power. How have you collaborated with HERA to craft the show’s musical element?
Toria and I worked really closely together from the start of the show. It started from some songs I wrote in verbatim style, with words taken from interviews with disabled people. We really liked how it reflected the way people spoke and decided to use the same approach with the interview. So I notated the interview parts from speech to a musical pitch and rhythm. That part makes up the dialogue, and then the chorus elements are samples taken from actual recorded interviews with disabled people. I used the harmonic element from the interview sections to create layered soundscapes under each chorus. Hopefully you’ll hear the music widening out when the recorded voices come in, and then a much more focussed and intense personal sound for the singers.
Have you learned anything new about yourself/the show’s subject matter/both whilst working on the production?
Huge amounts! In terms of writing the opera, the subject matter was difficult for me to work with. Transcribing the audio meant hours and hours of listening to the interview recording. I found that really emotionally challenging. I’m hoping it has had a cathartic effect on me though! The chorus interviews were a joy to work with as the people I spoke to were so interesting and had such fascinating perspectives on life. So in all there was a balance between this dark and difficult material and the eye opening and reassuring voices of other disabled people. We try to show that in the opera, that the perspectives between the state, and the disabled community are poles apart. I think I’ve seen that there are so many layers of darkness and support that it’s a constant negotiation for everybody.
You’re a musician and artist working with oral history archives, interviews, community memories, radio interviews, traditional song, found sounds, live processing, body sensor controllers and acoustic instruments. What has inspired you to explore these further within your work?
I suppose I’m drawn to different voices. It’s like reading, in that it allows you into someone else’s world. I’m at home most of the time as I’m disabled and so listening to other voices gives me access thoughts and experiences I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. It’s a way of connecting with different cultures, and times. I’m also exploring ideas around whose voices we hear, and why, so there’s an aspect of that in my work, bringing interesting perspectives and voices into my music.
Your work has seen you work internationally, including Singapore and Canada. How have these experiences shaped you as a composer/performer?
I’m really interested in different languages and cultures, so travelling has been a huge part of my work. As a disabled person there’s also the question of how disabled people are seen in different cultures, and so, how I appear in the places I visit. Layers of meaning are put on to me which I am perhaps not aware of. So these layers of meaning put our own culture into perspective. What meaning and assumptions do we put onto people as they go about their daily lives? What invisible structures exist and shape the way we do things and communicate? What do we assume about people based on how they appear to us?
You’re currently studying for a PhD looking at ways in which a disabled composer /performer can ustilise technology as a tool for composing, improvising and performing. How are you finding the process?
I’m loving doing the PhD. It was initially terrifying to get my head around it, it felt like I was being stretched like a rubber band! I can honestly say it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I think doing a PhD with the right team gives you the space and support to really work out what you have to say to the world, to examine your motivations deeply and to connect with other people who work in that field. My supervisors have been amazing. It’s also something that as a disabled person I find I can do at home, in my own time. It’s allowed me to break the connection between ‘work’ – being present in a building at a certain time – and creating work, which can happen anywhere and any time.
What can viewers expect from the show?
That’s a difficult question! Hopefully a window into a world which is full of complexity and human questions. The show is called “We Ask These Questions Of Everybody”, and to some extent that’s ironic, because of course the DWP don’t ask their questions of everybody, just disabled people, but in terms of the show, I think the questions which are raised are relative to everybody, because they’re about how we connect as humans, how we judge each other, how we value human existence, and how we function as a society. These questions are put into stark relief when you see them through the lens of disability, but actually we all face them to a greater or lesser extent.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
We Ask These Questions of Everybody will show as part of Sound Festival on Friday 29th January 2021, to subscribe to the festival’s YouTube channel, click on the ‘Booking Information’ hyperlink here…
To find out more about HERA Theatre, visit here…