School of Noise: Enderby's Room artist Dan Mayfield on workshops for young people

Workshops have been toured around festivals in the UK and resulted in a performance at Union Chapel last year

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 05 May 2017 16:21 BST

A workshop series is giving school children a chance to try their hand at creating new sounds and electronic music.

Creator Dan Mayfield, who plays fiddle in the band Enderby's Room, wrote a piece for us explaining why it's so important to encourage creativity.

We also got a message of endorsement for the workshops by the one and only Jarvis Cocker:

"The School of Noise is one of those ideas that you just KNOW is right: bringing back a sense of wonder & accessibility to music-making. Music is organised noise & organising noise is fun! Dan Mayfield manages to communicate this fact to all those he works with. I doff my cap to him" - Jarvis Cocker.

School of Noise

Two years ago, with a collection of music making and sound sculpting machines in hand, a few friends and myself hired a small room in Bethnal Green and opened the School of Noise to the public for the first time.

We had recently watched a short documentary from 1969 on Brian Dennis and the Shoreditch Experimental Music School. In the film Dennis demonstrated his techniques and ideas of using experimental music in mainstream education classrooms.

His ideas struck a chord with our own enjoyment of playing with sound, and so we set out to create our own workshop would allow new audiences, young and old, to explore experimental and electronic music in a creative, welcoming and fun environment.

I have always valued music’s capability to be enjoyed by anyone. I was brought up in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, surrounded by folk music and musicians of all abilities who encouraged one another to play and have fun whilst doing so.

I continue to write and perform indie-folk music with my band Enderby’s Room, even as my tastes for more experimental sounds have developed in adulthood. I have no doubt that my experiences of learning and performing music in my youth significantly contributed both to my personal musical projects, and to my motivation for forming the School of Noise.

So what do we do in the workshops? Activities we have offered so far include using fruit and vegetables as drum kits and keyboards, creating patterns in sand by making a metal plate vibrate at different frequencies, and we’ve built record players just using a piece of card a pin, a penny and a 7” vinyl record. We have worked with groups of children to explore Foley sound design, creating sound effects to accompany cartoons, and have taught basic principles of how to craft sounds on analogue synthesisers. One of our favourite activities involves creating a piece of music by sampling sounds made just using a balloon.

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Above all, every activity is designed not only to leave participants with a better understanding of the techniques and science of sound and music production, but to do so in a way that unlocks the world of sound and experimental music, which might seem complex and inaccessible, to anyone with an interest. Tap away on an old telegraph key, run the signal though a chain of effects and easily create wonderful sonic textures without having any prior knowledge or expertise.

Since we started, the School of Noise has delivered workshops in an amazing array of locations including music festivals, museums, hospitals, football stadiums, art centres and of course schools.

After coming to one of our workshops one parent very kindly summed up what we try to achieve: "Thank you for the inspirational experience my son had at Latitude festival with you guys. Albie loves electronic music and science but has no interest in playing an instrument. He wants to 'listen and not play music'. The 45 minutes he spent on the analogue synths has changed all that. I cannot thank you enough for inspiring him."

Towards the end of 2016 we took a group of 7-12 years old’s to perform their own experimental music in front of over 400 people at Daylight Music in London’s Union Chapel.

Working alongside a variety of sound artists has helped us to deliver an ever-widening range of workshops, and we were recently invited by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey to perform the vibrating sand pattern demonstrations to audiences at their recent concert.

The School of Noise has become a space where we can share our enthusiasm for the fascinating world of sound with more people than we could ever have imagined. We hope to provide an environment where people can be confident and creative without any preconceived expectation of what anything should sound like.

It isn’t uncommon to meet an adult who regrets giving up a musical instrument when they were younger. One overwhelming reason seems to be that the expectation and pressure of learning can sap all enjoyment from the process. With the School of Noise, our intention certainly isn’t to criticise traditional techniques of music learning.

Rather, we hope it fits into a space that for some will complement other musical methods, and for others will introduce them to new worlds they would never have otherwise encountered.

- Dan Mayfield

For more information on School of Noise visit here.

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