Amble Skuse

Amble Skuse

Composer and violinist Amble Skuse has created an improvised musical piece that explores how isolation can cause a “looped psychological experience”.

We are delighted to present our final SMHAF artist commission on the theme My Experience of Isolation.

Amble Skuse is a composer and violinist whose chronic fatigue syndrome has meant that she mostly worked from home long before lockdown. She has created an improvised musical piece that explores how isolation can cause a “looped psychological experience”.

To make the piece, Amble created software that enabled her to scan her own brain waves using an EEG sensor and send the voltage of the brain waves to her computer. The performance was then shaped by her own responses as she listened to it, in a creative feedback loop.

Amble explains: “The sensors are connected to processors, including delay, loop time, reverb and distortion. As I improvise, my subconscious reactions to my sound generates the processing. As I hear the processing, I will then have further reactions which produce further processing. The sound that I create in the improvisation is a combination of my conscious intention (violin) and subconscious interpretation (EEG processing). The piece demonstrates that we are a combination of intention and subconscious interpretation in all our interactions.”

“The recording includes fragments of a poem – which you can read in full below – that Amble wrote while living in a camper van in the Western Isles during a long period of stormy weather. “The wind was so violent I hadn’t been able to sleep for days and days,” she recalls. “It felt as though the wind and the birds were inside my head, swirling and swooping, chattering and clattering. The poem reflects how my mind feels when the ME hits and my brain is no longer able to be calm and focussed, but jitters around by itself.”

The result is a powerful illustration of how, as Amble puts it, “our isolation causes our own world view to influence our behaviours without external perspectives”. The recording on this page is just one possible version of the piece, which is generated differently every time Amble plays it, depending on her mental state.

“The piece tried to reflect the circular nature of isolated thought, and a jittered mind, shattered by fatigue,” she says. “In itself that is a hard thing to create as when my mind is at its most jittery I am most unable to connect the electronics and perform the piece. There is something ironic about trying to share the jittered mind space when what that mind needs is rest. I think that is the learning point for me – that communicating the fractured points of ME using technology actually requires me to function well enough to use that technology in the moment, and to create a piece whilst in a difficult mindset.”

Still Again

The wind is getting to me
unsettling me
as it unsettles the livestock
the creatures of my mind rustle
trying to find a still space

i wonder if I’m perhaps carrying a look of ruffled bird?
Battering the gale
Desperately flapping but going nowhere
like the geese
i decide a sudden change of direction
and submission to the elements
is my most sensible option
strangely no

there are no tell tale gulls behind my eyes
no terns swooping through my hair
the manifestation of this unsettlement
is the inability to connect ear and mind and body

and upon initiation of the brain
something is clearly not connecting
the brain is like some underwater kingdom
with tides and current swirling like kelp and mermaids past castles
and the aquamarine of the light
occasionally filtering through the darkening storm clouds

upon the next instruction, a walled garden appears
and part of my mind which connects ears to fingers
is temporarily shrunken to the size of a blossom
thrown by the branches of the storm bent pear tree

perhaps the only thing to do
is to watch the birds heading out to the storm
change my direction and head out
on a journey inland
until the waters are still again

perhaps it is the sound, I have noticed sound
it’s impossible to be without sound
the white noise of the wind is enough
further sound such as music, discussion, radio, television
are just attempts to draw a battleground with the natural opponent

there will be no victory
the relentless gusting, rattling and unpredictability of this natural sound
will take no prisoners
and renders all other sound impotent

is that there’s no solid thing on which I can place my foot
everything shifts and re-established like the sand of the estuary tide
ever changing patterns
nothing is rock
nowhere is land
there is no port in which to harbour safely
but there is little point in trying to build on any of them
i have no way of knowing if they are real

this is part of acceptance
clearing the old wood
dropping the autumn leaves in the faith that a new life
will spring from those bare winter branches
don’t ask me, there are no trees on Uist.

Process Clips

These short videos give an insight into Amble Skuse’s creative process.