Last year, our Reform the Norm partnership with Unlimited saw us award ten £1000 micro-commissions to local artists from Coventry and Warwickshire.
Open to artists working in any discipline, the initiative was developed to create opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists to reach local, national and international audiences.
Among the successful applicants was Edie Jo Murray, a digital artist interested in exploring our perceptions of space and reality. Building on her interest in sensory definitions of space, her Reform the Norm commission is a series of audio artworks responding to the sonic landscape of Coventry. We asked her to tell us more…
My goal for this project was simply to wander around parts of Coventry collecting sounds, then just see where I could take them and what they might become. I went out a few times with an audio recorder (which elicited a few amused responses from passers-by) and took recordings in various parts of the city centre, local parks and outside my home.
I didn’t go with any expectations of what I’d get – I just wanted to record and work with what came out of it. I enjoy being free with my process in that respect, letting the work create itself in some ways.
Once I’d made my recordings, I went through and cut out all the individual sounds and gave them silly file names that probably would only make sense to me – things like “crunch and zip” and “splat clonk”. I then threw them all into an audio editor and tried to make sense of them. I ended up with a few different outputs and experimented with both using the Coventry sounds alone, as well as combining them with elements from other sources. The finished artworks are quite weird and experimental – which I love.
I’m really obsessed with sound. I regularly attempt to make ‘music’ despite the fact I have no musical ability or training whatsoever - maybe that adds something to it, I’m not sure! One effect of my neurodivergence is intense sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli. I’m a sensory-seeker, particularly with sound, and really enjoy the way different sounds can make me feel.
I particularly love sensory interventions in space - how sound, smell, any kind of sensory stimuli can completely change how one feels about and responds to that place. For me, sound is the most evocative - hearing a familiar sound from somewhere I’ve been, or from my childhood, conjures up really intense emotions. I recently discovered I have aphantasia, i.e. no mind’s eye (or if I do it’s very weak), so I rely a lot on other senses to put ideas into my head. Sounds are the most vivid to me.
I’ve worked on a number of projects that explored sound in Coventry - my work for Coventry Creates in which I found myself fascinated by the difference in sounds of the city during lockdown, and one of my favourite commissions ever, Mood Pinball. Mood Pinball recreates an alien version of Coventry in a full-sized playable digital pinball machine, and focuses on neurodivergence, noise levels and wellbeing. For this project I was certainly influenced by the concept of musique concrète and the incredible legacy of Delia Derbyshire (of Coventry fame!).
I feel the sounds in the works I’ve created skirt an interesting line between familiar and unfamiliar. There are really noticeable moments of a pedestrian crossing beeping or keys jingling, and then other sounds that are harder to identify.
My favourite of the audio pieces I put together is probably the least technically interesting - it’s just lots of loops - but I find it really soothing. I love repetitive sounds and could happily listen to it on repeat. It will be interesting to know what feelings they evoke for others, as I’m sure they will be very different from my own.
I like the idea that the series might make people think about acknowledging the variety of sounds around them. Some people may not pick up on sounds like I do and might start to notice them more after learning about my project - or perhaps it will inspire others to think about the unique ways they interpret the world around them that may be different to mine.
That’s a big driver in my practice - thinking about the interesting differences in how we perceive our realities and breaking down notions that there is any kind of ‘normal’ – something that ties in with the wider aims of the Reform the Norm initiative. I love to hear about other people’s ways of perceiving their world.
I think the concept of reforming the norm is huge, and has so many different facets around equality, access, making change in the world - but it definitely has quite a specific personal meaning for me in relation to my life and arts practice.
For me, it’s about destroying the entire notion of normal. I want to exist in a world where my way of being is not questioned, labelled or seen as something to be treated. I want people to be able to create and demand the conditions they require to be well and thrive - and there’s no universal norm that will provide that for everyone.