WH: Hello and welcome to TL Life: Crosscurrent. I’m your host Will Howarth.
Can you tell what this voice is saying?
Cue: Cochlear implant voice 1
That is how a profoundly deaf person hears speech through a cochlear implant. We’ll be meeting BA2 Contemporary Dancer Libby Welsh to learn about her experience of deafness later in the podcast.
But first, here’s Dr Koel Chatterjee, tutor for Trinity Laban’s new Integrated English courses, to give us some fun facts about the English language.
Dr KC Segment 1
Dr KC: I thought I’d start with the fact that English is the third most spoken language in the world right now with standard Chinese and Spanish as the first and second respectively. But what I find most interesting is that more people in the world have learnt English as a second language than there are native English speakers.
The other thing that I find very interesting is that there’s a new word being created every 2 hours in English. English is one of those few languages that’s very vibrant because it’s taking words from other languages or words are being coined, for instance. Shakespeare added about 1,700 words to the English language just during his lifetime. That’s the legend, at least. So a new word is being coined every 98 minutes, which is about 14.7 words a day.
WH: Are we dropping words as well?
Dr KC: Yes, we are. Words have a lifespan of anywhere between 1,000 – 20,000 years. So obviously the words that get used more often stay. Some words just fall out of fashion. For instance, there’s a word for the day after tomorrow, which is ‘overmorrow’. It’s in the dictionary but not a lot of people are aware that there’s actually a word for the day after tomorrow.
WH: It sounds like it could be very handy, actually. There are lots of occasions when I think I could do with an overmorrow.
Thank you Dr Koel Chatterjee. We’ll be hearing more linguistic tidbits from her in this episode, and a longer discussion next time.
Now, here’s double bass Junior Fellow Valentina Ciardelli to introduce a song she has performed with her duo partner.
Cue: Valentina Ciardelli introduces…
VC: I am Valentina Ciardelli. You will hear a performance by The Girls in the Magnesium Dress of What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? by Frank Zappa.
Cue: The Girls in the Magnesium Dress perform What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
WH: I met Valentina to find out more about her double bass playing and her interest in genre-defying musical icon Frank Zappa.
Interview: Valentina Ciardelli (Part One)
VC: I’m Valentina Ciardelli and I play double bass. I’m the new Richard Carne Trust Junior Fellow of this year. I’m here to develop a project about solo and chamber music, focussed on double bass, of course.
I was born in Italy, Lucca, Tuscany, from a German mother and Italian father. I have a very strong Italian heritage and education, so I’m very into, especially, opera. I was born in the same city as Giacomo Puccini.
I was a piano player. I started to play the piano when I was around 8 and when I was around 20 I switched to bass because I heard this wonderful deep sound round the corridors of my conservatory and I decided to switch.
WH: So was it the first string instrument that you played?
VC: Yeah, straight on the bass. Then I played electric bass. Usually electric bass players then swap to bass. I always do things the other way around. I don’t know why.
I met Leon Bosch on a competition and he invited me here. And I really loved the environment in Trinity and also his ways of teaching because he gives you the technical tools and everything, but he also tries to understand your personality and your purpose with the instrument because everybody’s different, no? And everybody has to discover, step by step, their own purpose in life.
I think nowadays we are in a world that is so focussed on competitions, auditions and everything. But it’s something that in time has killed the purpose of the music. A lot of colleges are focussing to produce people in boxes. As students, as musicians, if you are not strong enough, you end up losing the purpose of why you started to play the instrument; why you wake up in the morning and you’re so excited because every day you just can learn something new. This is the thing I found more in Trinity, that’s it’s more open in this aspect, yeah.
WH: What’s your favourite kind of music to listen to?
VC: I’m very elastic. I go from Monteverdi to the most random contemporary composer. When the music is good, it gives you something. It doesn’t matter which kind of genre it is or which timeline.
One of my favourite musicans ever is, of course, Frank Zappa. All my friends who know me know I’m literally obsessed with him because I think he’s one of the few guys that can explain the 360 degree musical environment. He’s got the classical part, he’s got the crazy part, he’s got the rock star part, he’s got everything. If you listen to Frank Zappa, you cannot really describe which genre he is. It’s just Frank Zappa, you know?
WH: How did you first come across him?
VC: I was 11 years old and I went to a shop and asked the seller – “do you have anything about Frank Zappa?” and he gave me this CD called The Grand Wazoo and it was the first record I ever heard about Frank Zappa and I got mad about it. He just opened another world for me and I started to listen to him since then and I never stopped. Basically I spent my whole teenage time transcribing his music and getting crazy about it.
WH: How long have you been playing as The Girls in the Magnesium Dress with your duo partner, harpist Anna Quiroga? How did that get started?
VC: We’ve been playing together since late 2015. We were at the Royal College of Music together and we were in the BBC Pathways scheme together and we just ended up – “do you want to try to rehearse something just for fun?” We just started to have rehearsals and I started to sneak Frank Zappa’s pieces in each rehearsal, bit by bit.
And the first time, I had no idea how to write for harp. I just wrote crazy chromatic stuff and my duo partner just looked at me like – “nope, dude. I can’t play this – it’s too fast and just too many pedals to change”. And I learned, thankfully to Anna Quiroga – the other ‘girl in the magnesium dress’ – how to write and how to approach the harp. So we developed together this repertoire for duo.
And this year I play with a trio, Inventionis Mater, featuring Napoleon Murphy Brock, the saxophonist and lead voice of The Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa. I actually played with him and told him – “I’ve transcribed your solos for years. Now I’m playing with you.” I was so excited!
WH: Expect more from Valentina later, including a few well-chosen metaphors.
Now, here’s another chance for you to hear the cochlear implant voice recording we heard earlier. The previous one was in mono while this one uses 4 channels meaning it should be easier to decipher. Can you tell what’s being said?
Cue: Cochlear implant voice 2
In case you didn’t quite catch that, here it is again. . . .
Cue: Cochlear implant voice 2
If you’re still unsure, be at peace. The answer will be revealed shortly! But now, here’s Dr Koel Chatterjee again to tell us about words that have fallen out of use from the English language.
Dr KC Segment 2
Dr KC: I was actually looking at some words that might have gone out of fashion, etc. I didn’t know this, but did you know that the adjective form of ‘abracadabra’ is ‘abracadabrant’? It’s used to describe anything magical. I didn’t know ‘magic’ had a synonym.
‘Whipper-tooties’ – that was a fun one. ‘Whipper-tooties’ are pointless misgivings or groundless excuses for not trying to do something, which I think is very useful, isn’t it?
WH: Thank you Dr Koel Chatterjee for those archaicisms. Here’s our cochlear implant voice one more time before we decipher it.
Cue: Cochlear implant voice 2
Have you got it? Here it is as those of us with an intact sense of hearing might perceive it.
Cue: Cochlear implant deciphered
Well, if you had difficulty understanding those recordings, just imagine perceiving all sound in this way. For some, like Libby Welsh, this is the reality. I met her in the Laban building where she told me about her disability and how it has affected her art.
Interview: Libby Welsh (Part 1)
LW: Well, my name’s Libby. I’m BA2 Contemporary Dance and I grew up in Reading.
WH: Could you explain what you mean by the term ‘ableism’.
LW: Ableism is anything that is hateful or spiteful or hurtful to anyone because of or about their disability.
I do have a disability. I am profoundly deaf in both ears. I have bi-lateral cochlear implants which were implanted in 2014. Prior to that I had hearing aids since the time I was about 3 years old.
Cue: Music through cochlear implant 1
Deafness is kind of a scale. I have a bit of a weird experience. I began as a hearing person and then slowly became deaf. Only a certain amount of people are allowed to have cochlear implants, and those are only the people who are severely to profoundly deaf. People below that loss have hearing aids if they want to.
Hearing aids are external devices where a microphone picks up sound, the sound gets amplified in the little box, it gets sent down a tube into a mold and right into your ear, whereas with a cochlear implant, it kind of goes straight past the whole ear thing and goes directly into the cochlear and then directly into the auditory nerve into the brain.
With hearing aids, basically, you can expect things to just be super-amplified, and sometimes that can be very uncomfortable for people, and also the simple act of wearing a hearing aid can be really, really painful. It can hurt your ears and it can kind of stop your ears from growing correctly. Also, don’t get me started on earwax. It’s just the worst when you’ve got hearing aids.
With cochlear implants, you have to have an operation for a hole to be drilled through your skull and then a small incision into the cochlear where they feed electrodes through. A magnet is implanted over the top of that and stitched up. Two weeks later, after you’ve recovered, they switch you on and they give you the external part. The external part works prettty much the same way. It’s got microphones where the sound goes into, but instead of being amplified, it’s turned into electronic pulses which then travel up into the top bit where the magnet is, and are sent directly to the cochlear where the cochlear then picks it up where it would do from pulses from the ear drum, and then sends it up to the auditory nerve and into the brain.
Cue: Distorted cochlear implant speech
With cochlear implants, you don’t actually get what a generic sense of sound would be. You have to re-learn how to hear everything because what you hear is virtually white noise and then gaps in the white noise when there’s a noise. When you’re turned on, in the cochlear, it’s just so overwhelming because it’s just completely immersive and you don’t expect it to be and then you’re like – “OK, wow, this is my experience for the rest of my life.”
WH: Are you able to hear pitch?
LW: I can. At the beginning, when I first got my cochlear implants, I couldn’t. Your brain slowly learns how to make sense of those gaps in the white noise and then it’s your brain just re-wiring itself. But it’s months and months of really, really hard work.
WH: Where someone who has normal hearing might just put in earphones, can you actually use your implant for the same purpose?
LW: I actually can. My cochlear implants do have Bluetooth. The only issue is, when you’re streaming music from your phone or from something into your cochlear implants, it then switches your entire auditory experience to that song. You really can’t hear anything else. I mean, that sounds wonderful, but it’s really, really weird when you turn it on and suddenly everything else is silent and you can just hear this music. It’s really surreal.
WH: So you wouldn’t want to be walking down the street with it?
LW: Oh no, absolutely not, no.
Cue: Music through cochlear implant 2
WH: We’ll be hearing more from Libby in only a little while.
But right now, Dr Koel Chatterjee says:
Dr KC Segment 3
Dr KC: Did you know that 11% of the entire English language is just the letter ‘E’?
And then you’ve got: most words in the English language begin with the letter ‘S’, so if you’re playing one of those language games on Countdown, etc., you can say ‘S’ because there’s a good chance that it’s there somewhere in the word.
WH: You heard it here first on TL Life: Crosscurrent.
We return to Valentina Ciardelli who has a message for her fellow string players.
Interview: Valentina Ciardelli (Part Two)
WH: I hear that you are frustrated with double bass players and that you feel they’re asleep.
VC: I don’t want to sound nasty or very tough. I love to play in orchestra, it’s a great thing, but at the moment, I’m exploring different fields, more solo and chamber with my own transcription projects. And every time you speak with 90% of bass players about what you’re doing, even from students to professionals, they seem to be a bit out of place. They don’t really understand what you’re doing. They look at you like – “why are you doing that? It’s not our place at all. We don’t deserve it.”
And it’s very sad. Bass can do everything. We can play wonderful basslines but we can also play tunes as every other instrument. We keep comparing ourselves to violin players, piano players, singers. We will never do what they are doing. Of course not. But we don’t have to do what they’re doing. We have to do our thing.
The purpose of the bass is not only playing basslines. We can entertain people like rock stars as much as you want if you know how to do it. And the problem is we don’t already have a space in the big platforms. You can see double bass concertos sometimes from principals of orchestras, but you still have to save your place in the orchestra and stuff like that to be reliable as a soloist and that’s, I think, a big mistake, because other established solo instruments don’t need to do that.
I’m completely conscious that the 99% probably of bass players enjoy playing in orchestras and they want to do that. But this is not a reason enough not to give the space to the 1% of the people that would like to do something else with the bass because it’s losing a lot of possibilities, losing a lot of music, that we could share with the whole world.
And so we should really try to expand further, to open up to the real world, not to stay in our small box. I know it’s difficult, but I hope other bass players will join to share with other players because I can’t do anything by myself, I need the help of everybody.
WH: What advice would you give to young musicians?
VC: What I advise a lot, even if you don’t like his music, is to go and listen to Frank Zappa’s interviews on Youtube. If you see his life, he struggled a lot. He just kept fighting about things. But if you really trust in something, you cannot be passive. You just have to dare. Even if people say you’re too pretentious, “who do you think you are?” I think Frank has good advice for young musicians on how to lose the fears.
I have this attraction to cute, fat animals like bumblebees and pandas. I just get fascinated because they can do things that physically they should not be allowed to do, but they keep doing.
A panda survives with only bamboo, even if they were supposed to eat meat. I think they switched because they were too lazy to hunt.
Bumblebees, they fly, but physically they should not be able to because they are too heavy. The thing is, they are flying because they don’t know they are too heavy. This is basically the same thing as with the instrument. Double bass should not have the same agility as a violin and stuff like that. But actually, people like Botessini or other virtuosi, they wrote because they didn’t think they were not agile enough to do it.
The boxes are only in your mind. If you really trust in something and if you really can create a vivid image in your mind of what you want to achieve, you might not achieve it 100% but you point in that direction and you will be able to do something you never expected.
This is the thing, we should be a bit more like the bumblebees in this aspect.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I’ve been asking people if they can share with me their hidden gem tracks, that you love that you think no-one else has ever really come across.
VC: Another passion I have is opera and I really love Gioachino Rossini’s music. Not only in the way he composed but in the way he approached life. He’s just so cynic. He loves black humour. Such a modern comic figure.
I really like to sneak into not well-known repertoire by these big composers. Probably some pianists know this, but he wrote studies for piano solo with very humouristic titles. I bumped into one of those studies called Étude Asthmatique. Everybody can find a recording on Youtube and it’s absolutely amazing. When I heard it, I loved it. Of course, I did an arrangement for piano and double bass.
WH: We’re now going to hear another of Valentina‘s Frank Zappa arrangements. She gave this performance in the Summer of 2018 in Lerici, Italy, with pianist Alessandro Viale. This is Echidna’s Arf of You.
Cue: Valentina Ciardelli & Alessandro Viale perform Echidna’s Arf of You by Frank Zappa
WH: Thank you to Valentina Ciardelli for sharing her music with us. If you have an original composition or arrangement you’d like to share on the podcast, or if you’d like to record an interview about your work, be it music, movement or any other artform, do get in touch with me at email@example.com .
Here’s a quick thought from Dr Koel Chatterjee on the words we take for granted.
Dr KC Segment 4
Dr KC: Samuel Johnson was the first person to officially write a dictionary and he defined ‘sock’ as something put between the foot and the shoe. I mean it’s such a basic description but it’s interesting how editors or even just usage changes the definition, or people don’t quite know how to define a word, like how would you define the sock?
WH: Expect more linguistic tips, tricks and brain ticklers from Dr KC in January.
Finally for this episode, Libby Welsh shares with us how her disability has affected her learning experience and how you can make someone’s day.
Interview: Libby Welsh (Part Two)
LW: My deafness has definitely changed my experience of dance at every single step of the way. When I first started out, it was just something I was doing for fun, so no-one was really worried or concerned about that. Then when I started focussing a bit more into doing dance as a career and at GCSE and A-Level, all my teachers were like – “wait, what? Are you sure? Are you sure you can do this?”
In terms of dance, it’s never been my actual disability that’s held me back or changed my experience. It’s more about people’s perceptions of what deafness is and the way that people have treated me and other deaf people and other disabled people.
For example, with the way that the classes are taught, I sometimes get a little bit behind because, you know, the teacher’s facing away or the teacher’s dancing while explaining something or, you know, they’re on the other side of the room. I can’t hear what they’re saying, or what they’re saying is muffled or I have to work extra hard to strain my ears to be able to hear. Everyone else in the class doesn’t have that problem.
It’s the way that the material is delivered and the way the information is delivered that makes the biggest difference. Also the way that people encourage of because I have literally had so many teachers say things in the loveliest of ways that meant the most awful things. I’ve had teachers really, really berate me for wanting to do what I’m doing. I had one teacher in college who was explaining something. Someone else said – “oh, I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” and then that teacher turned around and said – “oh my god, you sound just like Libby.”
There was a point in my life when I kind of conditioned myself to just say – “vibrations” when people say – “how do you hear the music?” But it’s not vibrations, I mean I just hear it through my cochlear implants.
EM (Emi Matsushita): So what would you say are your most valuable tools as to how to approach a class and to learn in the most efficient way with your disability?
LW: If it’s a teacher that I don’t know and haven’t met before, I kind of go up to them at the beginning and say – “hey, just to let you know, I’m deaf. Don’t worry about that. Just project your voice a little bit. Make sure you’re not covering your mouth and make sure you’re not turned away when you’re speaking.” That’s it.
But I also then make sure I’m closest to the teacher and I’m able to see their face. It’s kind of got the point where I don’t expect teachers to make those adjustments for me because this industry is so fast-paced and people have to already remember so much stuff. That’s not to say that I’m letting teachers off the hook. They’ve still got to make an effort.
WH: I have a slightly contraversial question.
LW: Hit me.
WH: There is a sense in which your disability could almost give you an edge as a dancer in that you might be able to market yourself as a ‘deaf dancer’ and to use it to your advantage in that way. Is that something you would consider, or would you actually prefer that your being deaf is not part of your identity as an artist?
LW: I would definitely say that being deaf is a huge part of my identity because it’s given me so many experiences and so many unique things to take away from it, that I couldn’t possibly not use in my artistry.
I would market myself as ‘the deaf dancer’, not to get myself jobs or to make my name big, but rather to let other people know disabled people can do this. If anything, I want to get to the point where I have a platform where I am able to tell people – “being deaf and dancing isn’t a massive thing. If you want to dance, just do it!”
I kind of made myself a mission. I want, by the time I die, to have made the world a better place for disabled people to be able to go into an artistic industry without having fear that it will stop them from getting jobs or it will hold them back or have people have misconceptions about them that are damaging or hurtful.
EM: What would you want to say to the public or Trinity Laban?
LW: If you see someone who is disabled, don’t treat them any differently just because they’re disabled. If they’re in your class, then they’ve got this far, they’re adults, they can make their own decisions. You know, they’ve led their lives so much, they doin’t need you to come up and grab their arm and help them across the street. They don’t need you to patronise them.
There’s a lot of stigma. What do you do around a disabled person? You don’t want to offend them, you don’t want to hurt them. You know, they’re kind of different and you’re scared of that difference. What I would say is just introduce yourself. Tell them your name, you can make a friendship. But just keep an open mind. If you feel like the person needs help, ask them if they want you to help them. If they say ‘yes’, amazing, you’ve made someone’s day. If not, no biggie, you’ve also made someone’s day.
WH: Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Maybe there’s something you’re working on that you’d like to say a bit about or a project that you’d like to plug?
LW: I just finished this. It was a play called Blow, written and directed by Offie-nominated Jack Silver. It premiered at Theatre N16. We’re currently re-writing it. Once it comes back out again, I really highly recommend everyone to go and see it because it challenges people’s perceptions about disability. If you like plays, this is a play of plays. It’s immersive and then it breaks the fourth wall and then it goes back into musical theatre. Anything you could want in a play is there.
It’s written by Jack Silver. Look him up guys, he’s really cool. He’s writing it by himself but he’s collaborating with people of colour, people who have a disability, and getting ideas from those people and then making sure that the script is solid. It should be back on stage around Summer or next September.
In the meantime, Jack and I are working on a couple of other things. We’re working on a short film that we’re still writing the script for at the moment and we’re getting funding for that but it’s got the same concept. And also a TV series which is actually about dancers and getting injuries and coincidentally be disabled at the same time. It’s having that kind of thing as a double-whammy.
Cue: Music through cochlear implant 3
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I’ve been asking people for hidden gem listening recommendations.
LW: The Musical Director of Blow is Henry Carpenter. He is part of a band called Performing Animals and they do, basically, really comedic songs and they’re kind of genius. They have a song about the Queen being a lizard. They have a song talking about bees and wanting to marry bees. They have a song about climate change and the environment, just really zany things.
He also wrote and did the music for a musical called The Quentin Dentin Show. It’s kind of like Rocky Horror and 70s pop music made a baby. It’s just a really crazy musical and people should check it out.
WH: Many thanks to Libby Welsh for sharing her insights with us. You can find her hidden gem listening recommendations, along with a transcript of this podcast and other related media at tl-life.com .
So concludes TL Life: Crosscurrent for 2018. We’ll be back in January with more from Dr Koel Chatterjee and a collaboration between dancer Yanaëlle Thiran and pianist Michaella Livadiotis.
Cue: Yanaëlle Thiran Colab soundbite
YT: I agree. I feel like Colab is one of the most exciting experiences. But again, it’s only a week-long project and when we met and started improvising together, what we wanted to develop was more of a year-long or an on-going relationship.
Special thanks to Emi Matsushita who asked questions and helped edit our interview with Libby Welsh.
If you have a project, a piece or an idea you would like to share on the podcast, please do get in touch with me via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the Trinity Laban student body and do not necessarily represent those of the institution as a whole.