Pathways - Interview with Georgie Buchanan

Georgie Buchanan
Georgie Buchanan

One of the current participants on our Pathways programme is Georgie Buchanan, a vocalist, sound explorer and social artist based in Leeds. Here we speak with her about her recent work and her perspective on new music.

Our Pathways programme supports composers who either have disabilities or are from backgrounds other than White British, offering a bespoke residency programme of coaching and mentoring. The programme aims to explore how we can address the inequalities of opportunity for composers to develop in the new music sector. 


What is it like being an artist in 2017?

I have always believed that art is not something reserved for professional painters, musicians, choreographers

Art is the steam of pulsing breath that rises from a dancing crowd

Art is roaring chants that rip from a raucous football stadiums

Art is a smile exchanged between strangers on a heaving street

Art is the collective stamping of angry feet

Art is the spark of connection that transforms every moment of being.

Art is our imagination, our emotion, our expression, our language and communication. It is confusing, illuminating, messy, beautiful, essential - it is inextricably intertwined with our being.

In 2017 we continue to live in a world where material products and efficiency are predominantly favoured over art and over beings.  Being an artist means fighting for our right to imagine, to feel, to express and communicate collectively - singing, shouting, dancing and stamping until we are heard.


You are interested in sensory experience as well as auditory.  Can you tell us more about this?

When I was 16 I suffered a severe mental health crises which changed a lot of things about my life.  I had always loved singing and painting but I began to find it difficult to engage in these art forms in conventional ways.  I couldn’t sit still and be quiet in large crowds of people at a concert nor could I walk quietly and at a distance from art works in a museum.  I needed to feel the vibrations of music in my body, touch the colours of the paint and rub them between my fingers - and engaging with art in this way was integral to my recovery.

As I recovered I discovered how many other people’s relationship with art is also limited by these conventions.  I began to explore other possibilities and discover new ways of working: creating immersive sensorial experiences for people with learning disabilities with The Great Space Plot, Purple Patch Arts and Artlink West Yorkshire, working on large scale parades with communities and Handmade Parade and forming the Sensabation collective with Leeds based dancers to bombard audiences with sound, taste, touch, movement and discuss questions of consent and empowerment.

As a singer and vocal teacher I have found that approaching voice as a sensation within the body unleashes enormous possibilities for expression and exploration and this is something that I want to explore further over the course of the New Voices project.


Who are you listening to right now?

I am fascinated by oral traditions in music: the songs and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.  What’s amazing is how much songs shift and change as they are transferred from person to person.  Words are added, forgotten, adapted to the present day until you have a unique piece of cultural fabric that has been collectively woven, repaired and decorated by a timeless community.

There are a number of amazing artists that continue to work within these traditions that I am very inspired by at the moment like A Filletta, Sheila Kay Adams, Anna and Elizabeth and Sam Lee.


What excites you most about collaboration?

Collaboration is at the heart of what I love about traditional art forms: the songs, stories, dances and objects that have taken form through collective participation.  The emphasis is on the expressive needs of everyone in this moment rather than the authorship of an individual.  I am really excited about finding ways to connect with this way of working in the present day - in particular finding ways to empower audience members to contribute their thoughts and ideas to my work.


Do you think the word composer adequately reflects you as an artist, if not what words does?

I think the word composer is quite laden with a perception of someone who writes down music in a methodical way, which once written can never be changed.  I like to create music in a much more playful way - working with improvisation, spontaneity, the sensations and emotions of the body, dance and imagery.  I find that this allows so many more possibilities for experiencing music to unfurl.  


What is the one thing you hope to achieve from the New Voices experience?

At the moment my practice is very diverse ranging from traditional folk singing to absurdist story spinning, choral composition, percussive and improvised dance, puppetry, street theatre, and immersive and sensory performance.  However I’ve mainly worked with one or two disciplines at a time.  Being part of the new voices experiences gives me an amazing opportunity to explore different ways that all these different elements can collide and combine - and ultimately helping me to discover where I want to focus my energy within this as an artist.


Georgie Buchanan is a vocalist, sound explorer and social artist based in Leeds. She explores voice as a collective act, a sensation and a transformative process in the belief that the voice is powerful enough to change our understandings of body, gender, disability, border politics and community. She works across the mediums of traditional folk singing, absurdist story spinning, choral composition, percussive and improvised dance, puppetry, street theatre, and immersive and sensory performance. In recent works she has embodied the scented songs of a jar of pesto, conversed with giant hippos and covered blindfolded audiences in jelly. She dreams of one day gaining an inter-species understanding of the songs and dialects of humpback whales.

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