trying too hard / wilful crip killjoy ^^

Yesterday’s seizures: first, like being sucked under the surf and listening to everything from afar. But being totally unprepared for the water and not realising I’m there until I’m in there. Then being dumped in the massive wave and taken for a roll, a washing machine we used to call it when I was a kid. Except there was none of the joy of emerging from the water, triumphant. With the seizures, ‘I’ am sucked out and everything around me is distanced and too close all at once. A scratching string, muscles twitch and spasm. One moment and suddenly, nothing there; the next a crowded room of extreme agitation and emotion. Crawling red ants. In its wake, I want to run away but my body is curling over and limp. I feel like I can’t see or talk straight and then I am minddumped again this time in a black pond of despair that won’t lift for days.

I have forgotten about this blog a little bit this year because I’ve become so immersed in writing and surviving as the deadline for submitting inches closer. In contrast to my earlier writing, which was more exploratory and had a sense of discovery about it, my focus narrows while the explanations deepen and (hopefully) connect with other linguistic and musical capillaries. The creative hunt isn’t completely over though because I’ve been discovering figures in artwork, history and/or popular culture that help stitch the incongruities in a chapter or even the thesis together. This surprises me. That these kind of insights and opportunities happen late in the process and can have a significant structural role when I stumble upon them in a happenstance way. I am learning to trust myself again because even a thesis can have imaginative and poetic escape hatches. But not too many — it’s principally about logic and ordering, two things I struggle with, two of several qualities of measure and assessment at many levels of education.

In a humanities thesis, knowledge is pursued and proven through argument and sequence. This is why it’s particularly challenging for me to find continuity with research and writing — I have to write everything down because I can’t keep a track of my work; I have to lay down the crumbs to find my way back. It also takes me longer to process information if I’m listening to, say, a panel and I’ve had a run of seizures that morning. Sometimes it’s a struggle to talk in full sentences, let alone perform as a budding ‘expert’ in my field. I am more fluent in writing than talking, a combination of the conditions and the multiple medications that slow my cognition. One medico told me that for me, doing a PhD is equivalent to ‘normal’ people taking a bunch of xanax and trying with all their effort to stay alert through an exam they hadn’t prepared for. My neurological system, my body and my mind are straining under stress to keep up. People will often then say to me, well what’s normal anyway, don’t worry about it, and it’s true there is a range of human experience. I know how a ‘normal’ day feels to me, I feel calm like I am sailing or even euphoric, but when you have twenty seizures a month where the symptoms are often varying in disruptive intensity and type, normal is vestigial. I’ve had epilepsy since I was nine and grand mal seizures pretty much wrecked my adolescent years but these seizures, which appeared six years ago, are like learning to function with mental illness.

Crip has been reclaimed by disability activists and scholars as a term in much the same way queer was, although it has so far been used in north America, mainly for physical disability*.  A recent conference titled ‘cripistemologies’ re-examined the knowledge produced and meanings of disability/ability, debility/capacity, in relation to women’s bodies in global labour contexts, to mental health, to social relations and health systems. For all of us, the relationship between debility and capacity connects us to how we become who we are in the bodies we inhabit in places we share with others as we grow older. We live with ease or with day to day struggle, we move or migrate to feel safe, we keep working at the expense of our bodies or minds. Debility speaks of the body-minds that get left behind, the ones who need to access social security but who cannot make themselves understood. Access is about finding ways to read the rabbit holes in the Australian social security system, knowing how to answer questions, as well as the more concrete aspects that make buildings and architecture more hospitable and accessible. Capacity is doing one’s best and feeling the power to act with others and the world**.

Reflecting on a global scale momentarily, in this paragraph I make a gesture to the many unnamed bodies who tire and become sick due to inadequate public health care because their lives, their bodies do not matter. In this paragraph, and it is a superficial gesture to be sure, I highlight how we continue to make demands on an invisible labour force who are making the electronics, the silicon chips, the cameras, the computers, the recording gear, our clothes. Bodies bent, fingers working over the parts, hours, days, years — as a result of this intense labour these bodies become disabled, suffering from a changed posture, long-term pain, accidents, and here disability becomes the new norm in entire populations, as Jasbir Puar insists. In this paragraph, I acknowledge that being linguistically diverse in a culture dominated by assumptions about sense-making in English is disadvantageous and represents struggles around race and culture, where discrimination occurs without thought and where difficulties arise in applying for work, while on the job, on the sports field and in education. In this paragraph being a refugee is a crime (& that is certainly not my struggle).

In this paragraph, I am thinking about what I need to do to sustain an existence so I can engage with others in the global contexts, working toward change. I need an encounter with epilepsy, which I have been avoiding, in semi-public. I like this take: Merri Lisa Johnson seeks to redefine ‘able’ — it is not that she is unable — it is that she is unwilling. She made a decision she didn’t want to travel to see family and friends, or for guest lecturing positions because it results in painful spasms and mobility issues. She says, “It is a refusal to insist—a refusal to act in accordance with the system of compulsory able-bodiedness — that requires individuals to mask, suppress, and disregard discomfort in the process of determining what is possible, of what we are capable”. I regularly mask and suppress the physical discomfit and psychic pain in the experience of seizures. I censor myself a lot, or I don’t and where I don’t it doesn’t end well. I am tired of masking my demon-epilepsy. It isn’t just a physical thing, it’s a dark, dark being dropped into a trapdoor of ‘shit where did my existence just go?’ thing. It’s agitation, confusion. It’s irritability, it’s having my detailed mind suddenly surrounded by an ocean of snapping dragons or an ocean of nothing. There is a continual negotiation between debility, in the sense of being worn out from chronic illness and its attendant medical and administrative needs, and capacity, where I feel able and excited to act in the world; and aligning this with social expectations is difficult.

Taking her inspiration from Sara Ahmed, Johnson draws on the ‘feminist killjoy’ to think about wilfulness, “if a cruelly optimistic culture insists that we fake it till we make it, the crip killjoy refuses to play along”. ‘Killjoy’ here is a mismatch with the dominant cultural scripts that say either implicitly or explicitly (in some cases) ‘just get on with it’ ‘be happy’ ‘look what he can do with a bad heart..’ ‘don’t let epilepsy get you down, be positive!’ ‘you need to manage your epilepsy’ ‘stop whinging’ ‘everyone gets a bit vague’ ‘you’re too negative, get over it’. In spheres like the arts and academia, spheres of achievement (and don’t anyone tell me about how prolific disability is ‘in’ the arts, I know, I know.. but there is an unevenness to this and there are power relations at work and it is about who pulls which strings), being able to verbally articulate and make sense is a taken for granted norm. Putting on a confident front is also necessary if one is to succeed in their arts networking. Positivity is seen as a desirable attribute in both sectors that are plagued by their own difficulties and mini-politics, so I believe there is an urging to ‘look on the bright side’; in a kind of survival of the fittest in an individualist, self-entrepreneurial way.

Being confident and looking on the bright side allow you to get on with work and attract others who are confident and happy. However, “(y)ou cannot always close the gap between how you do feel and how you should feel”, says Ahmed. Especially if the circumstances we are growing in are adverse or irregular. And that’s when we may be labelled ‘killjoys’ — a feminist killjoy or a crip killjoy — for not sucking it up getting on with things. To be a killjoy is to be wilful; yet an opportunity presents itself if we choose to become wilful pebbles in shoes: “(b)ehind the sharpness of this ‘cannot’ is a world of possibility” and this world is a potent, living mess, crying for ready and reluctant participants. Instead of trying too hard to cover this gap, smooth the way for verbal discourse, instead of straining to access pockets in the arts and music world and not being able to get there or feeling confused when I do or covering up the seizures I have upon arrival (because of light flickering through trees on train), instead of feeling like I’ve done something wrong by being locked out of doing volunteer work because I have too many seizures and banned from an opportunity to visit a youth unit in a prison because of the likelihood I would’ve place the whole joint in lock down, that I was the security risk, I might stand my ground and talk about how unfun the realities of living with epilepsy are. And listen for whether there is anyone or any other contrasting tones ringing in the vicinity>>

*Britain’s history with disability activism is quite different and grounded in socialist struggles and their disability conversations continue to be informed by this (still a good thing, despite the history of sexism, which feminist disability activists and scholars fiercely challenged).

**The dark side to capacity is in the term’s maximum inflection. How far can you go, how much can you make/produce, how hard can you work? Who pushes and who profits? What is behind this capacity for maximum ability?

Melodrama and soap opera

I have enjoyed watching soap operas over the years but I first read about them after my sound installation Days of Our Lives became part of my PhD. I was recently reminded about the valuing and devaluing of soap opera as well as melodrama while watching the Book Club on ABC and heard a few of the regulars giving a popular book — popular with a mainly female audience I would say — a good trashing because it was ‘soapy’ and ‘melodramatic’. A note that what follows looks at melodrama and soap opera (not too extensively..) with a focus on music in both genres rather than books. (Brook‘s early interest actually centred on how elements of nineteenth-century melodrama entered modern literature and I believe there is nothing so high minded that cannot contain a microbe of melodramatic excess somewhere along the creating production line!).

Many assume soap opera is melodramatic, and while the soap and melodrama share characteristics they are distinct and have quite different histories. In the beginning, soap operas were short dramas that became serials on radio. They were written by a husband and wife team, and later a woman, for a female audience designed to highlight soap powder advertising on American radio in the 1930s. By contrast, melodrama originated in Europe in the late eighteenth century as a popular theatrical form. Melodrama flourished in the early nineteenth century, a century associated with a particular codification — and often exaggeration — of realism. Gledhill (1992) recognises this staged or stilted reality in melodrama as a value that survived continuing to our current era, entwining itself with current plots that diverge from ‘reality’ in mainstream film and TV. Melodrama pushes reality toward fantasy or social relations towards imagination, even as it obeys certain formal popular codes. In this way nineteenth-century melodrama was more than a theatrical form with its attendant conventions but was also an imaginative and epistemological mode, informing social and intellectual thought (Gledhill 1992). It initially addressed a broad audience — the disadvantaged, working and upper-middle class men and women — until a division in the mid-nineteenth century became apparent. Melodrama continued to attract the working class, women and children as a form of entertainment while tragedy was the genre accorded to an intellectual elite and, for the most part, middle class men. The denigration of the genre took place when the upper-middle class male audience turned their backs; and so value lied elsewhere in the cultural landscape. A similar elitist impulse erupted on the TV discussion on Book Club around show themed ‘Summer Reads’ where a top 10 had been picked by the show’s audience. The top book — the Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullouch — was quickly dismissed by one member for being melodramatic, for not being literary enough, for its drama and personal conflicts.

In a theatrical context, melodrama’s imaginative elements involved music, tableaux and visual signs. For people participating in melodramatic culture, these musical signs were a significant part of the program, with verbal discourse relegated to lesser importance. As Gledhill puts it: “[m]usic carries climactic moments, giving an emblematic quality to the resounding cliches that arise from confrontation, recognition, declarations of identity” (1992, 108). Melodrama, a combination of drama and melos (music), or a “play with music”, was designed to exaggerate the emotional through “the liberal use of music” (Melodrama Films). According to Brooks (1976), music was used by dramatists to “strike a particular emotional pitch or colouring” as well as to “lead the audience into a change or a heightening of mood” (49). This strikes me as a kind of preparation or priming. It is music that lends melodrama its heightened emotive effects; music emphasises and confirms the meaning of a particular relationship, a dastardly deed, a judgment, an argument, a declaration of love. Music underscores tension while audience wait for relief. It is reasonable to assume that if soap opera carries melodrama within it, then these interrelations between drama, emotion and music continue to occur during exaggerated emotional interactions. This then is a feature that overlaps.

An important element of distinction between soap opera and melodrama is that melodrama “demands an ending” to its protagonists’ struggles whereas soap opera does not reach a conclusion, and in the process, affirms the primacy of a family in constant turmoil (Modleski 1979). Tableaux in melodrama were often used at the ends of scenes and acts — frozen physical signs — as a resolution of meaning (Brooks 1976). Characters would stand, sit or balance, arranging gestures and bodies, so as to illustrate the “emotional situation”, punctuating the pace of the drama. Additionally, music in melodrama would be used to mark a character’s entrance suggesting changes in character’s strong emotions, to underlie “dark plottings” or to guide the audience as “breathtaking peripety” — the quick and almost unlikely reversal of circumstances (Brooks 1976). In contrast, although music is scored underneath conversations and at times emotional outbursts in soap opera, the soundtrack stops short of heralding every character’s entrance with a distinct orchestral hue; perhaps this is an element that is too theatrical for television. The soap opera may be exaggerated in its emotional cues and family conflict but it does not retain these features of melodrama. In American daytime serials such as Days of Our Lives, music does not offer relief in terms of large climaxes, rather, it is scored in accordance with a soap’s many small climaxes. For example, repeated semiquaver motives play under a conversation between two ex-lovers or a long sustained minor triad may crescendo at the end of a scene where conflict has occurred between two women who are adversaries.

Despite their differences, melodrama and soap opera are interrelated via two elements. The first is that an everyday understanding holds that melodrama and soap operas are histrionic and melodramatic. The term melodrama has various contemporary or informal uses such as ‘don’t be so melodramatic’ implying an emotional overreaction or an inability to think rationally, or a not-very-worthwhile piece of art as demonstrated by the book club response to the Thorn Birds. Overreactions and inabilities to think with reason have also, of course, historically been associated with women, mental illness and non-White Anglo-Saxon cultures. Irrationally and overreaction continue to be embedded in stereotypes about women’s character and women’s voices and we should continue to question this. Much feminist research into soap opera has shown how in many cases it is resistant to dominant gender and narrative norms. Those who call themselves feminist and yet judge the idea of melodrama, day-time soap opera and/or its predominantly female audience from the outside should not underestimate practices of value, particularly as this pertains to popular genres and people with lower social and cultural capital than themselves.

The second interrelated aspect concerns parts of Brooks’ (1976) analysis on the melodramatic imagination as a phenomenon that functions in soap opera. Despite melodrama demanding certain narrative endings, endings that soap opera is resistant to, language is employed in melodrama that finds parallel in soaps. The way language is used in melodrama is worth examining as, in Brooks’ (1976) account, it is a theory of disturbance. Although soap characters may be wrapped up in everyday actions, ordinary language is not always primarily used, rather, it is disturbed in two ways. Firstly, melodrama may overload language by presenting an element of the excessive or of the bombastic, thus breaking through a ‘reality principle’ and its own “linear logic” (Nochimson 1992, 146). This revisits the idea of melodrama pushing through reality as introduced above. Secondly, melodrama may engage in what Brooks (1976) calls the “text of muteness”. This is the language disturbance that best resonates with Days of Our Lives as both a soap opera and my own music-based project. In this case, there is a vocabulary that speaks “in spite of the word, around the word, or instead of the word — the tableau, the gesture, the mute character (including children and animals), and, certainly, music” (Nochimson 1992, 146). Music is key here as an element that can move and interact with our sense and understanding of what is happening, in place of direct expression.

For Nochimson (1992), soap opera takes up the ‘text of muteness’ in staging, visual organisation and direction. Furthermore, Nochimson develops the idea to include the technology of ‘partial vision’, entailing close-ups, enclosed spaces, horizontal organisation and broad depth-of-field in TV production (Nochimson,1992). This technical framework is significant and I expand this towards sound, music, space and gender in tandem with epilepsy and aspects of the tableau — the melodramatic pose. The ‘text of muteness’ functioned, at times, in my sound installation through the inclusion of close mic-ed breathing, samples of character dialogue, reverb-less percussive plastic sounds. ‘Partial sound’ was achieved through the sampling of Days of Our Lives soundtrack mixed randomly with other melody files. In the four-channel spatial layout of the speakers, the space was relatively small and intimate as the sound and music panned around listeners. This means that the installation had elements of an ‘enclosed space’, however it was without the aural equivalent of a ‘broad depth of field’ (distance between near and far that appear in focus of a shot). In addition to these text-of-muteness characteristics, my installation shares a potentially unending narratives with soap opera.



Squally Winds from the West was fun to make. I used an older file of recorded flute/electro improv and I made the wind recording a few weeks ago when that squally storm was approaching. It made me think about how possible wind harnessing in real time could practically help me with flute playing, since I can’t really play with as much vim as I used to because of the breakthrough seizures. I am hoping my little fitness bursts (walking, yoga, dancing — when well) are building stamina for flute playing. There would also be creative/timbral/spatial possibilities to playing with the wind. And Melbourne sure has enough of it..

And at this point, it’s a good opportunity to say Yes to Renewable Energy!!


As a maker of electronic music, I believe the play and effort involved with generating gesture, timbre and texture as well as resultant activities like arranging and mixing can enact a sense of metaphoric and physiological touch. I played an instrument for many years before this and spent some time practising so that the feeling I had for music in my body became somewhat effortless in performance. The body can make sense of music based on physiological understanding that musicians may have gleaned from prior playing experience (Mead 1999). This can be thought of as a gestural, tactile aural memory. I also add to this breath and respiration even though breath itself is not sonic object I focus on and is one I often try to resist. My familiarity with the embodied habits of playing the flute that built up over time mean there is a physiological metaphor (Mead 1999) of respiration (Deleuze 1994) in my electronic expression in terms of time. Metaphors of space and the breath call forward intimacy with the body in ways that are not at first obvious in my work. Perhaps it is in imagining our immediate and local spaces in temporal ways that hold some promise.

First, it is necessary to think about music’s time and music’s gathering up of ‘now’: “(m)usic’s movement mimes the striding, the leaping, the hesitations, the rocking motions, the twisting and turning of the human organism in its landscape and in its mindscape” (Burrows 2007, 68). A shift occurs whereby we are able to view in ‘music’ its mimetic qualities in the human and, I would add, its technoscientific presence in the social environment. (These are elements I write about elsewhere* including rhythm role.)  Movement in the music can be analogous to the twisting existence of the human, the body in the landscape and mindscape. The landscape-mindscape, which I convert here to spatial-mindscape, is where place , location and spatial patterning can be referred to. The link to the mindscape under question is mine, but as this is not only about me it is crucial to recognise there are multiple spaces and that there are different paces and rhythms that exist simultaneously within them at any one time.

The spatial-mindscape is an apt description for electronic and wholly synthesised compositions that evoke bodily movement for someone in place. I am not so much concerned with brain-focused music-processing approaches that look at where music lights up the brain, where the auditory sensory memory is (Collins 2014) or how the results of whether or not you are reading music show on an fMRI (Ross et all 2014). Nor am I seeking to give those looking for literal epilepsy-music connections in the brain a map. By mindscape I am referring to how a subject perceives, experiences and orders the lived world and how she orients her body here and there as clouds of epileptic and epileptic-related events and seizures arise. These are some of the experiences that I write about in the current chapter. I’m trying to draw space, the body and touch, emotion, my electronic practice and the experience of epilepsy together and make some sense of it.

In the amalgam of practice, making and listening to electronic music there are two kinds of materialities that touch can accompany (Peters 2012). The first is that of the making where the person engages with the technology in some way. There are numerous debates and practices around what constitutes a good or relevant interface for ‘musical expression’. I am not concerned here with the interface or practice and at a later stage I address both the limits of my own interface as well as what I see as problematic in the drive for innovation, even in alternative sectors. For now, I am thinking about the realm of the digital that a person enters in to create. Here, she may be thinking and feeling some of what I mention above during the playful modes of (Brown 2001) compositional engagement. Secondly, there is a listening experience that Peters (2012) calls an invisible materiality, and alongside it, a second tactility. When listened to this tactility may not only engage active bodily listening — “a tactility experienced through the sound and from the body” (Peters 2012, 20) — but also the possibility of empathic reciprocity. And while sounding positive in many ways, we (I) cannot assume that all people experience similar felt tactility, sensation and “shared existential givens” (Peters 2012, 20) in similar ways.

 * Technology and software is in conversation with cultural reproduction and is never neutral, particularly in terms of unequal gender representation as this relates to social organisation and patterning (Lury 1995). In addition, geographically the world is unevenly distributed, often using women’s bodies as expendible, cheap labor in factories in developing countries, to meet the demand for microchips and computers in the ‘developed’ world. I have to own the uncomfortable fact that my tools were made like this.