Special school students create soundscapes from House of Mirrors experience

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Thanks to Fast Forward Festival, Colston Hall and Drake Music for the photos

Drake Music has been working with four Gloucestershire special schools (Paternoster, Heart of the Forest, Battledown Centre for Families and Children and The Milestone School) – supported by Make Music Gloucestershire – to enable students to respond creatively to an artwork called The House of Mirrors Sensory Experience. The artwork has been created in partnership with artist Rob Olins and will be taken to a further six settings in Devon, Somerset, Bristol and Wiltshire over the coming months.

In this guest blog, Alex Lupo, Associate Musician with Drake Music, gives his personal reflections on the project. The first boxout gives a description of the project and the artwork.

About the Project:

House of Mirrors Sensory Experience – which is created by Forest of Dean –based artist Rob Olins, in partnership with Drake Music – is a series of brightly coloured acoustic mirrors, coloured dished surfaces that focus sound emanating from speakers, to “sweetspots”. These are arranged so that participants moving through the space, encounter pools of intense volume juxtaposed with quiet areas.

Participants could explore their environment by encountering sounds in a new and unexpected way, adding other layers to our experience of the world. Once the installation was in place in a school, Drake Music led four days of workshops with small groups of students. They created their own environment by making and recording music and sound collages. These included musical instruments, their own, or friends’ speech, familiar sounds from any particular place or piece of music they like. They then edited these to produce a soundtrack which was then put into the installation in their school, replacing the pre-recorded tracks.

The tracks have also been put on CD for the students to keep, and uploaded to the Drake Music website. At the end of the project, teachers took part in an INSET day to help them to continue similar work.

The Tour will continues until 2017 visiting another six schools culminating in a show at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, which will include students’ soundtracks from the ten schools involved in the South West. For further information please contact Rob Olins rob@chapmanolins.f2s.com or Louise Betts louisebetts@drakemusic.org or visit the Drake Music website www.drakemusic.org


The project is starting to feel like a piece action research that is constantly changing and becoming something new, not just from setting to setting, but from young person to young person in each setting. The challenge, it seems, is in trying to find the consistent elements in the work, a thread that weaves throughout the work in the different contexts that we are working in.

The work has multiple aspects to it and on one level it is about a meeting of cultures that don’t meet often enough. Those being modern art intended for the gallery, and the world of SEND education. Another aspect is the focus on active listening, which it self is a vital component when we learn about music. This isn’t specifically a music-focused project; in my mind it has a broader reach. However we are finding that music has been playing an important role in the work.

For some participants this is a piece of work that focuses on identity, for others it’s an opportunity to explore how they engage with their own voice. For some it’s about finding out what is important and developing a personal narrative that illuminates aspects of the individual that are rarely seen in the day-to-day context of school life. For some it’s an opportunity to explore new ways of engaging with others. For others it’s about independent exploration and play, an opportunity to explore an activity that is outside of the normal routine, and an opportunity to be imaginative in their play and exploration. I suspect as the work develops and rolls out in other settings that this list will grow.

For me, so far, it seems that in a overarching sense we have been creating an environment that focuses on active listening, exploring how young people with additional needs engage with their aural environment. We are noticing that some staff report that their students are able to attend to the work for longer periods than they can do in almost any other context. Some staff are observing that their students temporarily become more vocally expressive after spending time with the work. For those who engage well with the work it appears that it offers a unique opportunity to become immersed in an environment where the focus is on sound. It is as if the sound mirrors don’t just reflect sound, they also seem to concentrate it for those who are receptive to this. I have also observed that the young people who engage well with it are accompanied by staff who are open minded and who crucially model how to engage with the work.

Alex Lupo.


About anitanee

I'm a freelance copywriter and communications practitioner based in Monmouth, Wales, UK. I specialise in working with music and arts organisations with a social or educational purpose, as well as small charities. Find out more: www.writing-services.co.uk Visit our music education research site: https://musiceducationworks.wordpress.com Get free advice and resources by signing up to my enews: https://mailchi.mp/b5bcbbbe98b7/writingservicescommsbundle Read the blog: https://inspiredbymusic.wordpress.com

Posted on February 12, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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