Sandwell Arts Festival, 1987

“In the early 1980’s, I was part of Mediumwave and one of our projects was Contagious Tapes. This consisted of a Tascam Portastudio and a rack of tape decks, and from this emerged 36 tape albums, all part of the C86 generation. At the same time, as part of this, I was making music with an imaginary band called Negrava, using an Atari ST, and program called (I think) Conductor, midi cables and a Yamaha DX9.

This led me to Jubilee in West Bromwich to run some workshops on this new-fangled MIDI thing. Although this is now a rock-solid standard, at that point it was only just beginning to be used. The original specification was dangerously vague in parts and different manufacturers dealt with it in crucially different ways. This meant that patching a useful set-up together was a matter of experiment and patience, and there was no better way to do this than with a small group of like-minded people. The sessions at Jubilee did not produce much in the way of music, but that was never the point. They did result in everyone, including me, knowing more when the workshops ended than I had at the beginning.”

– Owen Kelly

The workshop took place in October 1987, as part of Sandwell Arts Festival. It was promoted as ‘Community Music – Midi’s and Computers: If you’re like me and don’t know what a synthesizer is, let alone the difference between a DX7 or a SPX or RX5, then this workshop will certainly be gobbledygook. Algorithms and sinewaves galore as Owen Kelly leads this session, based on some of his work at Mediumwave with computer generated music. Not a workshop for beginners – on the other hand, not for the Jean-Michel Jarres of this world either.” As we can see, our Mr Gary Stewart, standing next to Owen, was particularly animated by this workshop. Going on to work at Artec in London, then as head of Multimedia at INIVA, Institute of International Visual Arts, he now operates as an experimental sonic musician and artist.

At that time Owen Kelly worked as a community artist in South London and chaired the Greater London Arts Association’s Community Arts Panel. He was also the author of ‘Community, Art and the State: Storming the Citadels’ published by Comedia and ‘Digital Creativity’ published by Gulbenkian. He lives and works in Helsinki where he is a board member of Pixelache. You can see him on youtube defending his 2015 doctoral dissertation ‘Ambient Learning and Self Authorship’ (it starts from 14 minutes in and is over 2 hours…), Fascinating stuff.