Tag Archives: England

Artist Feature: Sobi

I first met Sobi performing as part of the Café La Palma Open Mic series in Madrid, Spain. Sobi had her EP up for download and quickly established herself as a dope songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist throughout the city. Originally from London and currently living in the musical center of Manchester, Sobi stays active playing shows throughout England. Music provides Sobi a way to reflect on and recast past experiences into positive expressions moving forward. The deeper the Reflection, the more honest her songs become. Sobi put out her first EP Betty La Guapa in 2012 and is ready to drop her second EP Creatures in my Mind with Hourglass Productions on April 5th on Itunes. Peep the dialogue below and be sure to cop the new record coming soon!

Sobi

Reflection is taking time to remember and ponder the past. Response is using the past as inspiration to create something meaningful and positive. Depending on how we respond our past can always have a positive effect on our future.

– Sobi

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

S: Hi I’m Sobi and I’m a Britain-based singer/songwriter. My family are originally from Sri Lanka but I was born in Madrid and have spent most of my life living in England. I grew up in London and at the ripe old age of 18 decided to move to Manchester to study where I very quickly fell in love with the city that I now call home. As a musician and a huge fan of music Manchester has provided me with some of my favorite musical experiences! From watching bands like the Flaming Lips to performing myself with some incredibly talented local artists.

Sobi

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

S: To me reflection is taking time to remember and ponder the past. Response is using the past as inspiration to create something meaningful and positive. Depending on how we respond our past can always have a positive effect on our future.

How does your music fit in with that definition?

S: Writing songs has always been an emotional outlet for me and a way of reflecting and responding to various situations that I have been in. When I’ve had a stressful day or am feeling anxious about something my natural response is to pick up a guitar and turn my bad feelings into something good. The more I reflect on how the past has affected me and made me feel, the more honest and real my songs become.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Zoë Owen

Zoë Owen is a musician and singer-songwriter straight out of Canterbury, England and now resides in Madrid, Spain. While living in Madrid, Zoë has become involved in the city’s vibrant music scene recording solo work while also participating in the 7-piece band “Waiting For Eva,” that includes members from around the world, and a collaboration with a Belgian electronic producer. Our dialogue comments on the power of Reflection against a dangerous current of “distraction,” that can inhibit self-expression, and how Reflection and Response build on each other as symbiotic processes that are continuously happening. Zoë also brings us the interesting stories behind her original works Too Terrified and White Noise. We’re excited to watch as this artist looks to keep building while studying the craft of the ukulele and bringing her music and message to wider audiences.

Zoë Owen

If we do not reflect on our own behavior, and our own experiences or environment, then we are powerless to improve the quality of both our lives and the lives of those around us…If I am honest, I sometimes feel quite scared about how “Distraction” has usurped “Reflection” in modern society.

– Zoë Owen

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

ZO: Pleasure to meet you, I’m Zoë and at this present moment in time I am 28 years of age and residing in Madrid, the capital of Spain. I am a musician, singer and songwriter, living with my folding bicycle and ukulele in an unapologetically cute and colourful apartment in “barrio Malasaña”, the Hipster-heart of Madrid, a city which has been my adoptive home for about 6 years now. Why Madrid? I’m not really sure to be honest… it was a bit of a gamble to leave my somewhat institutionalized English life behind me, but as far as creativity is concerned, I feel like I really hit the jackpot! I came here with the sole intention of learning Spanish, and what I inadvertently found here was a key that unlocked a deeper chamber inside me, one where art and music had been cowering away. That key is the right mixture of people, places and circumstance.

Madrid is quite a far-cry from the places I grew up in. I hail from the leafy suburbs of Canterbury, a picturesque medieval city in England, home to Chaucer’s famous tales and, arguably, the world’s sexiest elf, Orlando Bloom. Aged 18, I swapped Canterbury for Cambridge, where I spent 3 incredibly enchanted years immersed in Latin & Greek literature, dining with Stephen Hawking and living in a spiral tower. Cambridge was the parent that taught me to work hard and aim high, because there is always something better that you can achieve. By contrast, Madrid has been the cheeky devil on my shoulder, testing me, and showing me that sometimes, it’s absolutely ok, if not essential to break the mould and to stop taking everything so damned seriously. And have a mojito. That part is non-negotiable.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

ZO: Nowadays, I would say reflection is the cornerstone of my life, and the principal agent of change. Without reflection we cannot achieve awareness of ourselves and the world around us. If we are not aware then we are not truly in control of our lives and we are resigned to being like the driftwood that Fran Healy sings about. “Floating underwater. Breaking into pieces. Hollow and of no use.” If we do not reflect on our own behavior, and our own experiences or environment, then we are powerless to improve the quality of both our lives and the lives of those around us. I don’t have bread in my house, or a television. I do have a quiet corner and a vase of flowers. If I am honest, I sometimes feel quite scared about how “Distraction” has usurped “Reflection” in modern society.

Response is a little harder for me to define. I think response can come about as a result of reflection or it can prompt reflection. Songwriting for me often begins with response, rather than reflection. I am often inspired to write music as a means of responding to a stimulus (something I have seen or heard). The idea is born in order to respond, but in order to decide what form my response takes, reflection is necessary. I would interpret response as a more subconscious process. We can respond to things quite thoughtlessly sometimes. So I suppose my conclusion is that Reflection & Response is akin to the “Chicken & The Egg” conundrum…

How does your work fit in with that definition?

ZO: I have written a couple of songs, which were essentially responses to feeling powerless. The first, “Too Terrified”, was conceived when I was standing on a balcony in Tuscany. I had just finished university and I honestly had no idea what to do next with my life. The feeling was suffocating and terrifying, and I remember making the connection between the vertigo that I felt being so high on that balcony, and the fact that, metaphorically I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipitous cliff and about to jump into the unknown. I used the balcony metaphor in the lyrics of Too Terrified” to reflect on my new situation and the lack of control I felt over where my future was going.

The same feelings are re-evoked in “White Noise”, although this song responds to the feeling of being on a path towards the wrong future, and knowing where the right path is, but ignoring this knowledge. I felt like there was a voice inside me telling me exactly what I really wanted in life, but that I had been ignoring it so strongly that the voice had become a drone, in essence, just white noise. My solo stuff is a lot more depressing than my collaborative work that’s actually more upbeat.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Laurel MacKenzie

A linguist by training and professor in Manchester, England by trade, Laurel MacKenzie uses the space of her Feature to look at the language people use and how we understand words. She presents thoughts on how instantaneous Reflection and Response occurs and doesn’t occur when we hear each other speak. As an educator Laurel utilizes large lecture classroom settings to provide an opportunity for data collection on language and has created various language maps of the United Kingdom with her students. She drops ill knowledge throughout this piece on how our brains practice Reflection and Response just as sounds reach us-before any creative mediums lead to expression.

Laurel MacKenzie

I investigate the variation that is inherent to language: cases where our language gives us multiple ways of saying something, and we have to make a conscious, or just as often subconscious, choice of which one to use at any given time. We’re most familiar with this kind of linguistic choice where words are concerned…[however,] I study linguistic choices on an even more minute level, in the way we pronounce the words that we use.

– Laurel MacKenzie

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

LM: I grew up in College Station, Texas, a small town with a big university, a lot of cows, a ton of wide open spaces, and not much else. I did undergrad degrees in French and Linguistics at UC Berkeley (woo go Bears!) and a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania before taking up my current job as a linguistics professor at the University of Manchester in Manchester, UK.

I feel very lucky to get to have a foot in two countries at once. I go back to the US frequently to visit family, and with only 5 hours’ time difference between the UK and the East Coast, I never feel like I’m very far away. At the same time, after a year and a half here, I’m starting to pick up on cultural knowledge and feel more integrated. The result is not that I’ve given up my American self, but rather that I’ve been able to augment it with a new body of knowledge that I’ve gained the UK. I see it as a gift to get to be able to coexist in two cultures. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

LM: My first thought was that this sounds a lot like what we do in academic work. As a linguist, I study and analyze the patterns found in language. This can be as straightforward as listening to the way someone pronounces their vowel sounds and using that to identify where they come from, or more complicated, like studying a body of linguistic data, finding the patterns or relationships it displays, and then using those to generate theories about how language is stored in the brain. Everything I do in my research involves reflecting on data, and responding to what I find in that data.

But I also thought about how reflection and response are involved on a much more subconscious level every time we receive some sort of sensory input. I study language, but I’ve also been a musician since I was a child, playing piano, viola, and carillon (tower bells — another Go Bears! shoutout to the UC Berkeley Campanile), so I’ve always been interested in how we perceive and interpret sound. Whenever we receive an auditory stimulus, whether it be music, speech, or any other sound, split-second reflection and response processes occur, allowing us to make sense of what we’ve just heard. Our brains are amazingly good at this. When you think about it, speech is really messy and complicated: we talk fast, we omit sounds and syllables, different people pronounce words differently depending on where they come from, and even you yourself will pronounce a single word differently depending on where in a sentence it occurs, whether you’ve said it before, how long you’ve been talking, and how comfortable you feel with the person you’re talking to. Yet in the vast majority of cases, we understand exactly what’s been said to us, even if it wasn’t pronounced in the same way we would have pronounced it ourselves. Those reflection and response processes are always going on under the hood, picking apart the sounds that we hear and turning them into something meaningful.

Our brains are also really good at knowing when reflection and response are not necessary. Take the role of pitch in language. In some cases it’s essential to be attuned to the pitch of someone’s speech: imagine the difference in intonation between “That’s a GREAT idea!” said enthusiastically, and “That’s a GREAT idea” said sarcastically. The words are the same in each case, but the pitch patterns are different. Our brains need to be constantly reflecting and responding to these up-and-down pitch patterns that we hear in speech, in order to make sure that we get the right meaning in cases like this. But in other cases pitch differences are completely irrelevant. For instance, some people have high-pitched voices and some people have low-pitched voices, but when we hear a speaker with a low voice, we don’t immediately think “Wait, why is their voice so low? What do they mean by this? Is there something they’re trying to convey?” Our brains can filter that kind of variation out, without wasting time trying to look for any meaning in it. This kind of thing fascinates me, and makes me feel so lucky to get to have a job where I can engage with smart people who are thinking and talking about it.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

LM: I have to say that much of my academic work actually focuses on the aspects of language where reflection often isn’t involved at all — it’s all response, and it’s an impressively subconscious and automatic response, at that. I investigate the variation that is inherent to language: cases where our language gives us multiple ways of saying something, and we have to make a conscious, or just as often subconscious, choice of which one to use at any given time. We’re most familiar with this kind of linguistic choice where words are concerned: for instance, if your professor or your boss gave you some good news, you might say you were “delighted,” but if the good news came from your best friend, you might be “stoked.” I study linguistic choices on an even more minute level, in the way we pronounce the words that we use.

Recently I’ve been interested in the way we can contract verbs in English. If I wanted to prove to you that Manchester isn’t always the grim, gray, rainy place it’s made out to be, I might tell you “The weather’s beautiful right now, the sun’s shining, the forecast for Saturday’s showing 60°, and the tree outside my window’s finally in bloom.” (All true, by the way!) Or I might tell you “The weather is beautiful right now, the sun is shining, the forecast for Saturday is showing 60°, and the tree outside my window is finally in bloom.” The words are the same, but I’ve changed how I’ve pronounced the verb is. Every time we use the verb is in a sentence like this, we have a choice to make: do we lop off the initial vowel and turn it into the ‘s contraction, or do we pronounce the whole word? It sounds like a mundane question, but the cool thing is that, when you actually study people’s choices, you start finding eerily similar patterns.

One thing I’ve discovered is that people are less likely to use the ‘s contraction the longer the subject of their verb is. So if you lined up hundreds of people and got them all to describe the weather exactly as I just did, you’d discover that most of them would choose to say “The weather’s beautiful” and “the sun’s shining” — with contractions — but that most of them would also choose to say “the forecast for Saturday is showing 60°” and “the tree outside my window is finally in bloom” — without contractions. No one ever sits us down and teaches us that that’s the way English works, but somehow we all find ourselves converging on that particular pattern without any reflection at all. The fun and tricky part of my work now is to reflect on why we’re doing that, and where it came from.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

LM: One of the most fun parts of my job is that I have a captive audience of students who are ripe for collaborating with. I’ve been trying to use the large (100+ students) lecture classes that are the norm here at Manchester to my advantage, as a way of crowdsourcing data collection. Because our students come from all over the UK, I got them to help me carry out a study last year of regional dialect variation in the British isles: the UK equivalents of the famous “pop/soda/Coke” and “y’all/you guys” divides. My students passed out surveys of a “Do you say X or Y?” nature to their friends and families, and then one of my brilliant undergraduates compiled our findings into this awesome series of dialect maps, which got a great writeup in VICE Magazine’s Motherboard blog back in December (along with a lot of other attention in the UK media). We’ll be updating and improving these maps in the near future, and I just got some funding to start up an outreach program whereby undergraduate volunteers go into local high schools and use the maps to teach students about linguistic variation and dialect diversity.

Lexical Variation: Evening Meal | This map shows which words UK speakers use when referring to the evening meal.

Lexical Variation: Evening Meal | This map shows which words UK speakers use when referring to the evening meal.

Phonological Variation: Foot - Strut | This map shows which UK speakers rhyme the words 'foot' and 'strut.'

Phonological Variation: Foot – Strut | This map shows which UK speakers rhyme the words ‘foot’ and ‘strut.’

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Nick Nova

We welcome our friend Nick Nova (born Kwaku Boateng-Farrar) to the LIFESTYLE dialogue. Nova’s creative output operates on many different levels, including music/audio, design, and information distribution. The concept of power is one of the central themes in this artist’s piece as he touches on the re-appropriation of past experiences and memories. Nova provides a dope look at this empowering nature of Reflection and Response in addition to other aspects of his creative process. Check the interview below!

Nick Nova

The ability to reflect on personal experience, past innovations, and current affairs empowers one to respond to obstacles, criticisms and general stressors in a fashion that consciously assists their own progression, as well as that of culture and society at large.

– Nick Nova

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

NN: I’m definitely a West Coast kid. I was born and raised in Northern California, the Bay Area specifically. After high school I stuck around for a bit before moving to London, England for college. I’m now back in the U.S.and have settled in Brooklyn, NY.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

NN: Reflection and Response to me represents the two important, synergistic aspects of creating and succeeding. People often lose sight of self-importance when attempting to achieve greatness in a public space, but the willingness to consider one’s own objectives and mapping out personal checkpoints is vital to the success of projects bigger than its creator. Building on that, the ability to reflect on personal experience, past innovations, and current affairs empowers one to respond to obstacles, criticisms and general stressors in a fashion that consciously assists their own progression, as well as that of culture and society at large.

BC

How does your project BC fit in with that definition?

NN: My latest music project ‘BC’ represents this entirely because it is me reflecting on my past, both in the content, as well as the more technical aspect of the project. Recognizing my previous musical inhibitions and seeing how much it hindered my potential, ‘BC’ finds me embracing those flaws and making the appropriate changes to better position myself for achieving my musical goals.

From my observations, it’s common for creators to bury certain aspects of their lives as a defense mechanism, but one doesn’t have a true concept of power until you embrace the most difficult of memories and utilize past pain and/or frustration into something positive and empowering for others. A personal example would be on a record I have called “Tunnel” in which I mention my experience of being bullied. Up until this project I never wanted to share that vulnerability, but upon reflecting on the experience and seeing how much the experience aided my development, I recognized that it was imperative for me to share this so that younger listeners, or even people my age who may be bullied on the job or elsewhere and feel helpless, can recognize their own power through my story and they can stand up to their detractors and even if the results aren’t instantaneous, they’ll know it’s ok to fall down as long as you keep fighting to stand on your feet again, physically and or metaphorically depending on your situation.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Feature: Richard Harris

Richard Harris takes the Reflection and Response interview to heart. In this piece, Rich informs about his perspective becoming an integral part of the Madrid music scene coming from England,  highlights the role that Reflection and Response has played in some recent events in his life, and stresses the importance of creativity and expression. The interview touches on the talent found throughout the Spanish capital city and how this Collective inspires artistic creation. Three of Richard’s tracks accompany the interview to provide an audio reference to the interesting and enlightening words below. Without further adieu, we’re proud to present Richard Harris.

The Red Telephones

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

RH:  I’m from Basildon, Essex. Close to London & famous for being home to Depeche Mode & very little else! Where am I at? Good question. Here in Madrid & immersing myself further & further into what is, at the moment, a vibrant music scene. I’m currently running the open mic at Triskel Tavern, recording an album with my band The Red Telephones & playing live whenever I can. There are so many people making good music in the city at the moment & I take the opportunity to see just about all of them when they play live.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

RH: Reflection & Response. Still a difficult one this is. I lost one of my oldest friends to cancer just over a year ago & my response was to write a song about him because I miss him. Recently, my mum had cancer & it was a difficult time for my family. Fortunately she is ok now. The response was at once to write a song about it. I also split with my girlfriend around the same time, so no prizes for guessing what the response was! Let’s just say it’s not going to be the happiest of albums when it’s done. On reflection, I have to move on for my sake but I’m still finding it hard regarding Lee. I miss him, simple as that.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

RH: Read the above. Lee’s Tune, The Ties That Bind & Love Is Blind. It’s difficult to remove yourself from your own writing but I reckon The Ties That Bind is possibly the best thing I’ve ever written.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

RH: I’m incredibly insecure about my voice, probably because I know so many great vocalists here in Madrid so I went into the studio during Semana Santa & recorded a cover version for the first time. The song is an old traditional called I Know My Rider & I know the song because The Byrds did a version of it. I wanted to see if I could sing in a different style than the Joe Strummer/Punk Rock thing that I normally do. I think it worked & I’m happy with the results. It has given me some ideas regarding what to do with some of the remaining vocals on the album.

Who or what inspires you?

 RH: Inspirations? Musical ones first. My biggest one is The Clash; inspiring, life changing & as a 14 year old in Essex with some of my peers drifting towards right-wing politics, The Clash coming out in favour of The Anti-Nazi League & Rock Against Racism had a powerful & lasting effect. I despise racism & racists to this day. My favourite album is Forever Changes by Love, it’s a masterpiece, simple as that & if you haven’t heard it make sure you do a.s.a.p. I’m a massive fan of The Stone Roses, La’s, Byrds, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Stones, MC5, Bo Diddley, Dylan, 13th Floor Elevators, New York Dolls, Pistols, Smiths & countless others. I’m into most types of music, very big on reggae & currently really digging country for the first time in my life, in fact I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. As I type this I’m listening to the Black Angels, proof that there are still good bands out there.

Life Inspirations? Anyone who has stood up against oppression—Gandhi, Mandela, Rosa Parks, Victor Jara, Jan Palach etc; all of these are bigger heroes than any musician.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

RH: What else? Well, not that it really matters but I’m not exactly young. When I came here 4.5 years ago I’d pretty much given up music & I’m still in a state of shock that this is actually happening! I didn’t expect to finally be recording, gigging & organizing open mic nights in my 40s. I’m happy that I am though-it feels great. I really get a buzz out of watching other musicians, particularly the ones who are nervous to begin with, just like I was. Watching their confidence grow & their stage presence improve is really satisfying.

Shout out to…?

RH: Too many people to mention because there are so many wonderful musicians & friends so I’m going to keep it in house. Woody, former open mic host, Red Telephones drummer & Pop Robinson Guitarist/Singer gets the biggest shout of all. If he hadn’t encouraged me to come back after a rabbit in the headlights first night at Triskel I wouldn’t be doing this interview now. Not only is he a fantastic musician he’s a top bloke, even if he prefers Guns & Roses to the Stone Roses!

 Padraig O’Connor. A fantastic composer & singer songwriter in his own right, Padraig plays piano & sings backing vocals for the Red Telephones. His own stuff is great & ‘Cream Seems Fine’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard by anybody in recent years & I wish I had written it myself!

 Amber Stiles. Best voice in Madrid as far as I’m concerned. She has contributed backing vocals to some tracks on the current album. Her sweet vocals are a wonderful antidote to my less than dulcet Essex tones.

 Joe Wellwood. Not an open mic regular but the new Red Telephones bassist. Great musician & top bloke as well.

 Rob Green. Former resident of Madrid & owner of Spaceland studios. Rob has produced all of the Red Telephones recordings & played bass on the second album. He has also played live with us, on one occasion learning an entire set in a matter of days when another bass player had to cancel a gig.

 Mark Doran, now in Korea but bass player on the first album. Also a shout to Rhys Berry, former Triskel regular & now Barcelona resident who played harmonica on Chime & Melanie Lawrence who played viola & violin on The Ties That Bind & a number of other tracks.

 Last but not least, Jim Montague. My best friend & a fantastic percussionist. He’s on the current album playing a variety of instruments & singing poignant backing vocals on Lee’s Tune. He misses him too.

The Red Telephones mobile upload

-Reflection and Response

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