30 Days of New Music for Mental Health: Days 1 – 7

Waiting for a psychiatric appointment and feeling mentally unwell, I’ve decided to create a piece of new music every day from 22 December 2021 – 21 January 2022.

Read below for the first 7 days, and follow me on Instagram and Twitter where I’m posting each piece.

This is mostly for me, the routine of doing something every day helps me feel more at ease. I’m also tracking my mood and medication every day, this is really good for me to be aware of any triggers and changes but also is a useful thing to have to show doctors and therapists. Sometimes I will write in a journal, mostly when my thoughts are racing, but making music is the ultimate self-help routine for me.

This will also give some meaning and value to the waiting time. NHS waiting times for mental health services are notoriously long; it is not the first time I’ve been told I have to wait several weeks for help despite a diagnosis of a severe mental health condition and long-term support needs. This can feel like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff.

This is a reflection of the first 7 days of music.

Day 1: I doubt the world will end if we sit here a while

Part of an ongoing series – Polar Realities – ‘I doubt the world will end if we sit here a while’ uses virtual field recordings from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt video game [CD Projekt Red]. I really loved walking (as Geralt) around the harbours in Skellige because of the sound design. All of the recordings are from a particular side mission that includes boat travel, magic, underwater swimming and dialogue, a mountain, combat, and romance.

Plus…a mandatory photo of me as Yennefer of Vengerberg.

Day 2: Beau Geste

This was a really quick and meditative compositional process. I don’t normally do video art (if you can call this video art) but I was away staying with family for Christmas and all I had to record on was my phone. There are lots of tits (amongst finches and robins and other birds) that swoop around my mum’s garden making a really lovely sound. I don’t hear as many birds at home in London so listening made me happy during a period that has been mostly depression. Thanks, birds.

The sound is the original audio recording, audio from a slow motion video setting my phone has, plus some manipulations of them layered. I could have made this longer but I quite like that it’s fleeting and you can imagine it continuing. The Beau Geste (‘gracious gesture’) hypothesis, which is applied to tits, “was coined by Krebs in 1977 to explain why various avian species have such large song repertories. The hypothesis discusses that avian species utilize such large song repertories for potentially a number of reasons such as for territorial defence and to test the competition within a new habitat.” (Wikipedia)

Day 3: Carol Game

Day 3 was Christmas Eve and I was quite busy all day with family and cooking, so making a score was quicker and I definitely made it more whimsical.

My text scores tend to be more instructive than conceptual, and ‘Carol Game’ is a game score that’s based on the idea that lots of Christmas carols are very similar in harmonic and melodic movement, so it’s an experimental concept to have people sing them (selected through chance procedure using playing cards) simultaneously. I like slowing down sound to make listeners focus intently on sounds that might go unnoticed, so some cards may dictate a very slow tempo, and creating natural cross-rhythms by indicating different rates of vibrato.

I am a big advocate of amateur and fun music-making so the piece is for ‘party revellers’ rather than singers. It’s meant to be silly and probably sound strange as well as being a low-key challenge for those who play it.

Carol Game score, M Steinberg December 2021

Day 4: The Silence of the Sirens

This is a more typical piece of mine, for field recording (of the sea in Dungeness), violin and cello. All recording and performance are by me. The violin and cello parts are exploring breathing rhythms and changing bow pressures/softness in microtonal movement. This was the work done on Christmas Day, which I considered skipping, but depression doesn’t seem to care about the holiday season. If anything, it makes it harder. If it makes anyone feel less concerned about me, I had a full day with family and made this in bed before going to sleep.

The title is from a Franz Kafka short story (or incomplete story, we will never know) of the same name that is a musing on Odysseus’ encounter with sirens.

Day 5: Unknown Singer

This field recording I found on an SD card and I don’t know where or when it was recorded. It sounds like a woman singing in quite a large, public space. It’s likely it’s in a museum or gallery somewhere, maybe in another country.

This is massively inspired by ‘Jesus Blood never failed me yet’ by Gavin Bryars. When I discovered this lost field recording on my SD card I knew I wanted to do something similar to harmonise her voice. I don’t know what the melody or even language is, if the singer was making it up, or if she’d be bothered/disturbed to know someone was recording her. Probably, who wouldn’t.

At first you hear the recording unaccompanied, although I have removed some background noise and normalized it. Then it’s looped and layered with multiple manipulations of itself.

Day 6: a graphic score idea

This score doesn’t have a title and is more a draft for something that could become more. The colours, shape and overall structure are very significant for me and I’d like to develop it. Again, I had a day where I didn’t get to do much listening or recording and I’d been trying to realise this idea for a while. It’s helpful to put ideas to paper (well, an illustration program) even if they aren’t the final product. To be continued!

Day 7: Communal Noise

I was falling asleep when I made myself stay up and make this. It was originally much shorter but I managed to get what I think is a good length. It also reminded me that the simplest ideas are the best, and that I can still write melodies / melodic music.

I like using ‘plundered’ audio from sources that seem very un-artistic and these Japanese instrument samples are from a ‘Composing for Japanese Instruments’ book that came with a CD of very short samples of what instruments sound like doing specific techniques. I’ve strung them together to make some melody and rhythms, I have an earlier piece called ‘Wabi-Sabi, Ma’ that uses these sounds as well.

There is also a field recording of common mynas that is not mine, and radio noise. Both recordings are at full length and increase in volume steadily from the start to the end of the piece. There’s a nice juxtaposition between ‘natural’ and ‘noisy’ or ‘unnatural’ noises, hopefully challenging a perception of what is noise. I think this is my favourite piece from the week.

“Before sleeping in communal roosts, common mynas vocalise in unison, which is known as ‘communal noise’.” (Wikipedia)

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