Tracks and Sleepers

A quick sketch, or a beautiful painting; a few scribbled words or a full essay; a quick tinkling on the piano or a stunning concerto; haphazard ingredients or a hearty meal. If you’ve ever created anything, you’ll recognise how the creative process takes you on a mental journey, ranging from self-doubt to total determination.

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A quick sketch, or a beautiful painting; a few scribbled words or a full essay; a quick tinkling on the piano or a stunning concerto; haphazard ingredients or a hearty meal. If you’ve ever created anything, you’ll recognise how the creative process takes you on a mental journey, ranging from self-doubt to total determination. Amble Skuse, an Edinburgh-based composer, producer and artist, is no stranger to that journey. Working as a BBC Performing Arts Fund Music Fellow, International Creative Entrepreneurs Fellow, and running her own producing house, Remembered/Imagined, Amble’s latest project is taking her creativity on a trip that will cover both a mental and physical adventure.

Embarking on an epic train journey starting on 8th April 2015, Amble began her latest project, Tracks and Sleepers, an artist’s residency on-the-move, travelling 5000 miles from Benbecula, to Bejing. Amble is reflecting as an artist on the world around her, creating various original content along the way.

“I’m really interested in how cultures bleed into each other and thought it would be fascinating to see how our Western world changes and shifts bit by bit until it becomes Chinese.” Amble said. “I thought going overland would be the best way to see this happen. I chose to go Benbecula, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Ulaan Bataar, Beijing as it sort of follows a theme through leftism. Paris is the ‘bourgeois’ capital, then Berlin was the meeting point of East and West for so long, and still bears the marks of that era. Stepping further east into Moscow you feel the full force of the Soviet era, then pushing through Siberia you slip from a culture we can identify with to a more Asian culture.”

Adding to her cultural inspiration, Amble has asked the public and other artists for a series of anonymous ‘prompts’ to be sent to her in blank envelopes containing ideas about what she should create whilst travelling.

“I was asked an amazing question by Sound and Music, the national charity for new music, and my brain just exploded with excitement and interest. I thought it would be great to get a series of these questions to inspire me to think differently as I travelled.”

Having so far created soundscapes, short fictional stories, essay responses and photographs, Amble’s project is clearly demanding. But exploring the extreme variations of these cultures has deeper meaning than just art. She lives with ME; a chronic fatigue condition which exhausts those that experience it.

“Having ME is like trying to live your life like a puzzle with pieces missing. A lot of my time is spent just trying to function, to manage to do all the things I need to do without getting sick, or whilst being unwell, trying to work through it so that things don’t fall apart. I wanted to really think about the way I structure my time and how I perceive my illness. How does the culture impact upon my personal experience of the illness? Should I work harder or smarter, or should I stop working completely? How do I balance what I want to do with my life with the reality that most of those things make me feel horrendous?”

ME has affected Amble’s decisions on what, other than creating art, can be achieved during the project.

“I need about 12 hours sleep to feel moderately human and about 15 hours to recover from a big day. Carrying anything heavy will put me in bed for a good 24 hours, so I’ve tried to bring as little as possible, but I have had to bring clothes for various climates as it will be 0 degrees in Siberia and 30 degrees in Berlin. I’ve booked several days in hotels at each stop. I didn’t know how my ME would cope with sleeping on trains so wanted to make sure that I had recovery time in each place. The journey from Paris – Berlin exhausted me and I spent most of the first 2 days recovering and dealing with pain. It’s bloody hard mentally, emotionally and physically. I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining, because I chose to do this, and I’m really happy to be doing it, but I do want people to know that it’s not a picnic, nothing’s a picnic, everything is bloody hard. What I really hope doesn’t happen is that people see me doing this trip and think that anyone with ME could do it. I don’t want to devalue the real exhaustion and pain of the illness. That’s done enough through the media”.

Despite the huge effort Amble is clear that this is taking out of her, she is highly anticipating each part of her adventure.

“I’m most looking forward to Mongolia. I’ve always wanted to go there. I built my own Yurt a few years ago so can’t wait to meet some Mongolian people and show them my pictures. I also want to hear some throat singing, and I love the fact that women ride bare back and hunt with eagles. They’re some kick ass ladies”.

It seems impossible that Amble is describing anybody else as a kick ass lady when her own kick-ass abilities should be heralded.

“I’d like to give people hope. When the ME is really bad it’s really easy to think that you’ll never have any form of life again.  I’ve been working a lot as a producer recently and I’ve found that the ‘organiser’ brain drowns out the reflective and creative brain. This trip is an excuse for me to switch off that ‘professional’ brain and just find beauty in my surroundings, live in the moment, try some new techniques and go see some wonderful art and music, so here I am. Pacing myself, sleeping all day, and trying to do something amazing with this flimsy energy. Maybe I’m doing it to prove to myself that life with ME is still worth living.”

You can read, listen to and see Amble’s creations on her project blog, www.tracksandsleepers.tumblr.com .

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