Podcast Episode: KOR Records
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
GH - Geraldine Heaney
MM On this podcast we will hear from the co-director of KOR Records, Geraldine Heaney. KOR Records is an independent record label that creates music projects for young people with additional support needs. So tell us a bit about KOR Records.
GH So KOR Records is a small record label, community interest company, and we run projects in experimental noise and music for young people with additional support needs, and that might be in schools or in community centres or in an arts venue, anywhere that people want us to come and do it really.
MM So why was there a need for the company to be set up?
GH So I think we started as a company through our own interest in music, and the three of us who set it up, so it's me, Geraldine, Kim and Pete, and we set the company up together. It started as we were like, "Oh we all want to be in a band", but none of us are trained musicians, but we all like the idea of being in a band, and so then we started doing some music stuff together. We come from a more theatre, drama, performance background. A lot of our work has been with young people. At the point when we started I was working part-time with Firefly Arts in West Lothian running a project called "Planet", that was a project for trying to create more opportunities for arts projects for young people affected by disability, sensory and communication impairments, and so I'd been working in some ASN schools and meeting lots of different young people and experimenting with different ways of working, finding out what people were interested in doing, and we had this idea of what would it mean to try and start a band, give everyone an instrument and see what it sounds like. So we did a bit of that and I think some of it came out of a lot of the music projects that we were seeing that are great and exciting, and the instruments that were being designed had this focus on making it possible for anyone to play music in tune with everyone else. So there's like an instrument called a skoog. I don't think it really looks like a musical instrument, but it's a very clever design. It's really interesting and it's a sort of big cube and it's foamy and you can choose what key it's in, press it, and then it means that someone with very limited mobility can play and join and orchestra and make it sound beautiful in the same key as everyone else, but we were kind of maybe more interested in a sort of more punk attitude to it, and we were like, "Well what happens if you don't want to play music that sounds nice?"
GH "What if you want to make something that sounds like horrible or really loud or out of tune?" There should be space for that to happen as well. You don't need to know how to play an instrument to be in a band. There's not like a right and a wrong way of making noise and making sound and making music, it's more a way of expressing yourself, and also if you want to then learn it so it sounds like a song that you know, we're up for encouraging that and supporting you to do that as well. So it's not criticism of like music projects that sound beautiful and lovely, those are great as well, but we were interested in is there a space for young people with additional support needs to make things that don't sound nice, if that's what they want to do.
GH So yeah, I guess that's what we felt was the need.
MM So do people come to you with an idea about an instrument and then suddenly half an hour later you've made it?
GH We kind of started by just bringing in a lot of traditional musical instruments, but maybe more like electric instruments or rock sort of instruments, and just bringing them to a space and being like, "We don't need to adapt this necessarily. We just want to work out how we can make it possible for you to play it", and what that means. So whether that means you hit the guitar with a beater or we sit it across your lap instead of putting it over your shoulder, or it might just be you don't know how to play chords or notes but you know what a rock star looks like, so put the guitar on and like strum away, and that sound that comes out of it is exciting and interesting. So it's sort of a mix between how to make it sort of accessible to play an instrument, but also how to experiment with what the idea of the noise and the sound that you're making, what makes that like valid or valuable or interesting, and that it doesn't have to be beautiful to be exciting and positive.
MM We'll go on and speak about the Switch event, 'cause that's the big festival in October when that happens, but I want to find out people's kind of like confidence changes. When they come in like they're quiet, and then 5 weeks later or whatever do you see a big difference in people's confidence?
GH It's different for different people but I think for some people I guess the permission that you don't have to make something that sounds like something you've heard before is really useful. So someone might come in and be like, "I can't play. I don't know how to play", and that's fine, they can come in and just listen as well, that's also totally fine, but then over time realising that maybe, "I could do that", so then trying it out. One of the things that I guess we're trying to do more of is work with people for a much longer time. A lot of what we've done up to this point has been projects. Everything we do is kind of project to project. So something will last for ten weeks or they'll do three sessions, and something we're kind of interested in is what even more can you learn, or what can people get out of it if we can do it for a year or three years or ten years? What will it mean if we can keep working with the people we're working with now? What will they be interested in or what will they be doing, or will it still be relevant or important to them in five years' time? I hope that for some people it would, and also I'm sure that for some people it wouldn't because they've moved on, gone somewhere else, live in a different place or whatever. Music is just such a great way of connecting with different people and having an opportunity to express yourself that doesn't necessarily fit into the same format that a lot of the way we do things, and I think for some of the young people we've worked with, having an opportunity to express yourself in like a different language, like in a musical language, can be really positive for like exploring different ideas and thinking about the world in different ways and feeling like there's a place for them in that as well. I think music can be really great for opening up, like place to think about different things. I mean I think also we're really aware that we learn new stuff every time we do absolutely any workshop or meet anybody, whether that's someone we've met 100 times through workshops or a new person that we're meeting. I feel like there's always an exchange of things, and we're also like really open to getting it wrong and making mistakes and hoping that people will tell us when we get it wrong or that we've done something that's not working, rather than not trying it. We'll try it, get it wrong and then try and work out how to make it better.
MM Are you the only company in Scotland that does this?
GH No, I think actually since we started we've realised there's so many other people doing this, especially even in Glasgow. I mean that's been really exciting, getting to know people and learning different ways. I think we all work in slightly different ways and have different starting points or ways of doing things, but there's a really nice community actually that feels like it's sort of growing in Scotland to try and like develop some sort of, I don't know, like musical scene or arts scene that feels a bit more open ended and a bit more accessible to more people. Actually, we've been lucky in that we've also collaborated or done training or learned from other organisations, people like Sensatronic-Lab or the band The Sensatronics, and Paragon, who do a lot more stuff sort of connected with dance as well as music, or like bands like Sonic Bothy, who have been going for ages, and actually, I feel like we knew about them before we started, and it's quite an experimental music and the sound that they're working, I guess they're avoiding being labelled in any particular way, which I think is really exciting, and things like then getting to know things like the Stay up Late campaign and Gig Buddies and kind of realising that there's lots of crossover in lots of different ways in the way that we all kind of want it to just be a bit better than it is at the moment.
MM I was going to say to you as well that what you were saying about bands being labelled, would it not be brilliant going out on a Saturday night or a Friday night just to see a disability band playing in kind of the venues, but they're not being kind of labelled? I would like to see that myself, but it's like giving people labels again, and you want to get away from the kind of labels and stuff like that and look at the talents.
GH And it's such a balance, because I think labels can be really useful. Sometimes having a word to identify something is amazing and helpful, but it can also do the opposite of that and it can exclude people. As an organisation, we say we work with people with additional support needs, but that's a really broad term and we mean it in the broadest sense of that. I think in most people's lives at some point you're going to have additional support needs. I've got a friend who makes theatre for audiences with profound multiple disabilities, and one of the things that she said that I found really helpful was actually it can be really important and useful to have a place that you can go where like you are the dominant culture. So in the same way that we have women's only spaces or people of colour only spaces, actually having a night of music that's all performed by disabled musicians, providing that that's a label that the people who are performing are comfortable with. I guess with Switch we've kind of tried to look at not labelling people as disabled musicians or non-disabled musicians. It's more about musicians.
GH I mean I think that it's like a constant tension. I find writing funding applications really difficult. We just want to talk about the musicians that we're working with, but in order to make it possible to get funding you have to be like, "The disabled musicians", and, "Here's all the reasons why." It's complicated.
MM Yeah. Yeah. It's annoying as well I suppose?
MM Yeah. So tell us about so far that we've spoke about like people's confidence when they come to KOR Records, so walk us through like if somebody was coming to join KOR Records, what would happen?
GH So at the moment, again we still work on a sort of project to project basis. So usually we're setting something up in a particular place. So for a more like clear real word example, this year, 2020, we're going to work at the Glenburn Centre in Easterhouse, where we've been working on and off for the last three years, and we've managed to secure funding that means we can do forty weeks this year. So we can pretty much cover the whole year, as in like the summer break, doing a Friday morning workshop. So the workshops we do there, we set up a bunch of different instruments, couple of guitars, a bass, a keyboard, some launchpad electronic stuff, loads of percussion, an old rusty snare drum and a couple of microphones, and we're there for two hours, and the way it works at Glenburn is it's a drop-in. So people can come and stay for the whole two hours and try out all the different instruments or come in and sing a song and leave, or sit and listen or try out something for half the session, and I think because we've been there on and off for a long time some people come in every week and know what we're doing and are I guess the core members of the band that we've formed there, but then there's also people who maybe will just pop in and pop out, and I think it's really nice that we can do a bit of both, where we're maybe working towards a performance but that there's still room for people to come in and just try it out, and that might mean that they over time come in for longer or come and join the band, but you don't have to. You can just come in for half a day, half a session, and try out a bass guitar and then leave. Other things that we've done are maybe more like smaller groups and we'll try and sort of form a band together. So there'll maybe be three or four musicians, maybe a few more. I guess it's trying to be responsive to whoever we're working with each time we do something. So if someone in the band has got an idea, we'll try and follow that rather than us having like too much say over what's happening.
MM Alright. So you're kind of open to ideas as well?
GH Yeah, definitely. I did bring you a CD, because this is the boys who are the band that meet at the Glenburn Centre. We've made this CD with them. So we worked with another musician called Ollie, and he came in and did some recording, like your microphone, do like recordings during sort of five or six different sessions, and then he like made it into an album that is pretty true to like what's happening in the room. He's not taken it and turned it into a pop song. He's definitely kept the recordings as free as possible.
GH And then we also did a session where we designed the artwork for it as well.
MM And that kind of leads us on nicely to the next question about Switch. I think that's your big, is it your showcase event you would call it?
GH Yeah. I think it's the thing that we've kind of aimed to try and keep doing every year.
GH So this year will be the fifth year that we've done Switch, and it's in October, and I think we're always experimenting with what it is. I think we know that there's going to be an event and we know that it will be a live music event, but other than that it sort of changes. So the first year we did a much longer full day where we had workshops during the day and then a gig in the evening, and then the year after we had a sort of bigger like headline artist who was over from America alongside musicians that we'd been working with, and then we kind of were like, "Maybe we're not sure about this idea of a headliner and support acts. Maybe it needs to feel less hierarchical so that there's a kind of like just everyone's on the same page, the same level." So then we tried doing some collaborations with some more established like Glasgow bands and some of the bands that we were working with, and kind of bringing a couple of different sets of musicians together, and we did a similar thing last year, and so I guess at this point one of the things that will be different about this year is we're going to do it on a Saturday instead of a Friday.
MM Ah! Okay, and do you find that when people kind of stop working with KOR Records they then stay in that kind of music field?
GH Some people. I guess a lot of people that we have worked with we're still in contact with, either because we still want to do more music with them at some point, or knowing what they're up to. I mean sometimes we work with a primary school class and it's just a week and it's finished, and maybe some of them are interested in music and maybe some of them aren't. There's young musicians in West Lothian that we still, we're kind of looking for funding to try and work with them more, and I guess Andrew, who we worked with quite a lot last year, who was in a band called Loose Morals, they played at Switch this year with Ruaraidh, one of the Paragon artists. I mean he's got so many ideas and so many different strengths. He's like a poet and a writer and all of these different things as well as a musician and songwriter, and so I think his band are playing at the Gig Buddies launch actually.
MM Oh right, okay.
GH His other band, not a band that we work with, but another band that he's in. So like the boys, the group that we work with on a Friday morning, even if the only time they do any sort of music or sound stuff is a Friday morning, that's fine. The music industry doesn't feel like it's necessarily that. It's hard to have a job in music.
GH People don't buy music anymore.
MM It's usually a part-time job, isn't it?
GH Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't need to be about having a career in that, but having access to it does feel really important if that's something that means something to you.
MM Okay, thanks. If you would like more information about KOR Records, just go to the website, http://www.kor-records.co.uk
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