INTERVIEW: Winter of ‘82
Posted on 15.01.2016
Winter of ’82, the performing name of acclaimed singer and technologist Kris Halpin, is currently in intense rehearsals ahead of The Gloves Are On tour. He took some time out from his daily video dairy to answer some questions from Attitude is Everything, which is available to either watch or read below:
How would you explain the gloves to somebody who’s never heard of them?
The Mi.Mu gloves are a way of making music with gestures, hand movements that can be translated to sounds. For example, I could make a hand movement that might relate to a real instrument; I could hit a drum and make that kind of motion and play some drums, I could strum a guitar, I could do very abstract things like grab a sound and sort of manipulate it and they just turn all this movement through bend sensors and gyroscopes and all this very science stuff, turning your hand movements, your natural flowing movements, into sounds. Then with a bit of skill and a bit of practice you can turn them into music, you can play songs and do all the things that you would expect to be able to do with a musical instrument.
One of the big differences is that you can do a lot more with these than traditional music making devices. You see DJs all the time manipulating a control to make a kind of filter sound or that familiar bass drum at a club, but you do that with one hand and you do something else with the other and you’re kind of stuck. The gloves work in a 3D space; you can have the X, Y, and Z axis and control three things with one flowing movement, and that’s just with one hand, and add something else with the other hand and grab a lot of stuff seemingly out of thin air.
They are, I believe, a breakthrough in accessible music technology; they can be mapped in a way that they learn your movements as a user. These gloves are trained to me, and to deal with the issues I have with my hands, and they work for me; somebody else would have a very different result from them unless they trained them to themselves, so they can be moulded to the user’s access needs in a way that a traditional instrument can’t be.
How important are the Mi.Mu Gloves to you as a musician?
The gloves are so important to me now. There are two stages to learning to play these instruments, really. There is using them to overcome access needs and learning how to do things, for example there are songs that I removed from my set because I found playing them on a real instrument too complicated; now that kind of note information can be put into more easily accessible movements with the gloves.
Beyond that, once you level the playing field in terms of access, it becomes about how far you can push them as a musical instrument. One of the things that you can do with the gloves that’s never been possible before is to take a whole arrangement of music, whether it’s a string section and some drums and a guitar part or whatever, and you can cram loads of information into one movement. The result is that I can bring the kind of big full band sound that my recordings have onto the stage in a solo show, when before I would perform with one instrument be it a piano or a guitar; now the line between how I sound on a record and how I sound on the stage is completely blurred by the gloves and what they allow me to do.
What barriers have you had to overcome to tour small venues as a disabled artist?
Being a disabled artist is really tricky, everyone’s experience will be different but for me because I’m mobility impaired that has a big impact on where I can go and how I can get around. I think part of the problem was, I bet this is quite common, that I didn’t make enough of the kind of problems I was having; I put up with situations that were really inaccessible to me because I just didn’t want to make a fuss. I remember performing at an open air festival and the only route onto the stage was to climb up a bit of scaffolding, which was no problem for anyone else on the bill but of course for me that was really difficult, and it’s quite embarrassing to have to ask for help and all that kind of stuff.
Access isn’t sort of the key thing really, even if access is improving for audience members I feel that as performers it just doesn’t feel like it’s progressing at the same rate; you might be at a venue that has a ramp outside and is accessible to wheelchair users in the public areas but backstage you’ve got some steps or something to a dressing room or a toilet…it’s really, really difficult actually.
There was a point when I felt a bit defeated by it and considered not performing anymore because it just felt quite difficult. In terms of looking ahead and sort of researching stuff, nowadays I just try to be a bit more ruthless and just think, you know what, I’m not going to worry about if I’m causing some trouble by asking some questions about access. Even very recently I’ve performed at a very big event in London and parking there, the disabled access was really not very good in terms of the fact that from where I was allowed to park my car, which was designated as Blue Badge parking, the walk to the stage was a really long way.
The problem there is that there’s, I believe, a simplified idea of disability that disabled means you’re a wheelchair user, so for a wheelchair user that example was not inaccessible but for someone who is mobility impaired and on their feet it’s incredibly difficult. I don’t feel that, especially in live music, we’re quite there yet in terms of understanding all the different kinds of access needs out there, which is why I’m obviously incredibly grateful to be working with Attitude is Everything because it’s just so important to get this message across that disability is very complex.
Live music is a difficult beast to reign in and sort of say ‘well what works for enough people?’ You can understand the venues have a hard time with this stuff, perhaps they are in old building where it’s difficult to make changes or whatever but it still needs to progress and thankfully I feel that, especially with doing this tour, we are raising some interesting questions about access and every venue that we’ve spoken to so far has been really, really helpful and I’m quite optimistic about going on the road this time round, as it happens!
Who’s your favourite artist to experience live and why?
There’s so many great artists that I love to see perform…in the context of what I’m doing, and we’re talking about access, I couldn’t help but think of probably my favourite singer/songwriter being Ryan Adams, who is just absolutely spellbinding live. I saw him earlier last year and it was just incredible. But he himself has his own access issues, he has Meniere’s Disease, which affects his balance, and there was some effort to make the gig accessible to him; anyone who was near the front of the stage was given a little letter explaining his condition and you know, don’t flash photography – turn it off – that kind of thing. The volume was noticeably quieter than a lot of gigs I’ve been to, which was interesting.
What really I found incredibly frustrating was that people were still taking flash photos and he was clearly having a hard time with it and that’s quite worrying actually, that people just, even with an artists of his status and even with a kind of nudge of like ‘you know, he has got an issue here which we need to respect,’ people were more interested in instagramming it and causing him some discomfort, which is a bit of a shame to see. He is just incredible to me, a huge influence on my work, which might sound a bit strange considering how electronic my music is at the moment! But certainly, I’ve learnt a lot from him and he’s just incredible to see live.
What can audiences expect to see from your performance?
Well the first thing that’s really exciting for me is to be able to bring the kind of full sound of my records to the live show for the first time ever, all the little intricacies and all the layers and details of my records will be performed with the gloves, so the gloves are controlling all the sounds, it’s not just kind of a conveyer belt of backing track stuff, I’m playing it, and I’m playing a lot of things at once with the gloves.
I also feel that the visual side of how the gloves work really surprises people. I did a performance in a very public space at the Southbank Centre not too long ago and the reaction when you show somebody something; I would put down some drums and kind of grab them and turn them down and effect them or chop them up and all these different things with the gloves. People haven’t seen that stuff done with gestures, we’re only just kind of catching up with the idea of wearable technology, so to take something like this to turn sound into a malleable thing that we can kind of grab hold of and manipulate…it’s always got a really strong reaction whenever I’ve performed with them in public.
I’ve certainly got a few tricks up my sleeve in terms of what I’ve not done in public before for this show, which obviously I’m saving for this, and so I’m hoping I can do something that will get a few double-takes with some of the glove trickery!
What’s one thing you’ve never been asked that you want to answer?
That’s an interesting question! To flip it on its head a little bit, a question that I get asked a lot which kind of grates a little bit is…people assume that perhaps I’ve got these gloves on so if I was to hand them over to them, and they put them on, that as if by magic beautiful music is just going to come out as soon as they wave their hands around. Of course it’s not that, it’s a very skilled, very complicated thing that you’re doing here, this is a real instrument, it’s not just an on/off button; it can be used in ways that are simple and accessible but there’s a degree of virtuosity in terms of how people like myself and Imogen Heap are pushing it and trying to make it into something really new.
So I suppose the problem is, people don’t ask about that so much, so the answer would be, yeah, there is a great degree of musicianship to it and it’s not sort of a magic trick of like put the gloves on and wave your hands around! That would be nice in some ways because it’d be really easy but it would get very boring very quickly for musicians like myself who do like to push the boundaries and see how far you can take this stuff. I’d like more people to ask me about that, please!
Winter of ’82 will play:
For ticket details, please visit www.winterof82.com