BBC commissions Leicester artist to mark ‘Culture in Quarantine’

Credit: Miguel Angel Aranda de Toro

A Leicester artist, composer and professor has been commissioned to produce a seven-part musical series for BBC platforms this summer examining life in lockdown.

Professor Andrew Hugill of the School of Informatics is one of 12 D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists based in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to have been commissioned as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative, which has brought the arts into people’s homes during lockdown.

The 12 new commissions will champion the work of disabled artists by helping them produce work when some may have been self-isolating, and provide a platform to explore their experiences of living through COVID-19.

Arising out of lockdown, Spectrum Sounds will be a collection of seven short pieces of music in the colours of the autistic spectrum.

As an autistic man, Andrew’s listening has several distinctive features including heightened sensitivity to patterns or details that others do not always notice; the ability to decompose music or soundscape into its constituent parts; and the synaesthetic association of colours with certain musical and non-musical sounds.

Severe hearing loss has further coloured and distorted his listening. Spectrum Sounds will draw out the richness and beauty of sound colours that are associated with the colours of the autistic spectrum through music and a visual accompaniment, intended to make the music accessible to many kinds of aural and neuro-diversity.

An example of the visual accompaniment to Spectrum Sounds. Credit: Andrew Hugill

Professor Hugill directs the Creative Computing programme at the University of Leicester and is an Honorary Creative Fellow at the Attenborough Arts Centre, as well as sitting on its Advisory Board. He also leads the AHRC-funded ‘Aural Diversity’ project.

He said: “These seven pieces are an example of Creative Computing in action. Each piece uses an array of digital technologies that enable me to enter the sounds in ways which would otherwise be impossible. The pieces often combine musical and non-musical sounds.

“I have worked online with seven wonderful musicians under lockdown, who recorded their performances in their own homes. I then edited and further developed the results. The musicians include autistic and non-autistic, D/deaf and normally-hearing people.

“Quarantine has meant that I have had to develop new approaches to composing as well as working with such a diverse range of individuals.”

Lamia Dabboussy, BBC Head of Arts, said: “This batch of commissions from artists across the country showcases the breadth of inspiring work we’ve all missed experiencing over this past lockdown year.

“I’m thrilled that, as part of Culture in Quarantine, these pieces will be brought to life across BBC platforms. It’s imperative that D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists are supported to carry on making brilliant work, as the constraints and continuing effects of this pandemic threaten to silence their vital creative voice.”

Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, added: “Culture and creativity have been lifelines for many of us throughout the pandemic, so we’re excited to support these commissions, which will encourage D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists to explore their experiences of lockdown, and ensure audiences can continue to enjoy even more brilliant cultural work across BBC platforms.”

The Attenborough Arts Centre, through Arts Council England funding, is committed to supporting disabled artists or those with neurodiversity offering access to advice, training, and opportunities to perform or exhibit.

The Culture in Quarantine programme was established in a partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act into law, forming part of wider disability programming across the BBC. 

The film and audio works commissioned include performance dramas, dance, comedy, spoken word poetry and animation, with the majority of artists highlighting aspects of the disabled experience of living through the pandemic. 

Commissions were selected by a panel including representatives from BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, Unlimited and the UK Disability Arts Alliance.

More information on further Culture in Quarantine commissions is available on the BBC Arts website.