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Darren Copeland (avec Alex Bulmer) - Life Unseen

Life Unseen is a radiophonic tape composition. Over its seventy-minute duration, the work explores the subject of blindness from a variety of reference points. First of all, there is a tapestry of personal perspectives pulled together from interviews made in Vancouver, Canada during April of 1996: men and women of various ages with different experiences of blindness. Secondly, there is the leading voice of the writer-actress Alex Bulmer from Toronto, Canada who describes her gradual ten-year progression from being sighted to becoming legally blind. Finally, there is a mélange of styles and techniques blended by Darren Copeland from the recipe books of radio producers and electroacoustic composers: documentary commentary, storytelling, poetic monologue, acousmatic music, and soundscape composition.

Part One - 31:42

mp3Introduction - 12:11
The problem of defining 'legal' blindness is presented right at the outset, as vision loss can take on many more forms than the common lay person would imagine. The scene also moves inside the psychological experience of blindness by examining how blindness upends basic concepts and functions easily taken for granted, such as the perception of time and space or the simple tasks of eating, walking, dreaming, and socializing.

mp3Awareness of Space - 2:47
In this scene, the argument that blind people are at a disadvantage when it comes to orienting themselves around an environment is outlined and challenged.

mp3Recharting the Senses - 6:10
Essentially, this scene does exactly what the title says. It reverses the sensory hierarchy prevalent in western society, and highlights the many intricacies of detail available to the other senses, particularly the sense of hearing.

mp3Elegy - 5:12
Elegy was written in memory of those experiences that are no longer accessible to Alex Bulmer after she had lost her vision. The many plays of light, shape, and nuance that the eyes once consumed are recollected and cherished.

mp3Listening in Place of Seeing - 5:55
This scene builds upon the premise of the third that the acute listening sensitivity of blind people takes the place of vision.

Part two - 38:28

mp3Vulnerability - 6:11
Two threads run side by side in this scene. The first is a conversation about the feelings of vulnerability brought on by the use of low vision aids in the social environment. The second is Alex Bulmer's description of sitting down on a leather chair in a cafe, the process of which is tainted with difficulties as she attempts to conceal her blindness from the people around her.

mp3Insensitivity - 7:52
In this scene we take a trip through a shopping mall and other public environments. Along the way we encounter the gulf that exists between sighted people's attitudes and blind people's needs.

mp3Disrespect - 5:25
Blind people must trust the people around them a great deal more than sighted people. However, instances do occur when this trust is let down by an insensitive or greedy sighted person. Two instances are related and dramatized that are based on riding in a cab.

mp3Social Interactions - 5:48
Most people find loud environments anti-social. For blind people, noisy environments are utterly paralyzing and constitute a kind of absolute darkness. In quiet social environments, however, the blind person's perception of detail is far more sensitive than that of sighted people. In conversations, for instance, the blind person can pick up truths which speakers do not wish to disclose by tuning into voice qualities and general moods.

mp3Conclusion - 13:10
The final scene brings together all of the key soundscapes and sound events before returning to Alex Bulmer. She reflects first on her experiences in Toronto, where she struggles with a fast paced sighted lifestyle. Then she reviews the trip to Vancouver, and marvels at how the activities in a day could be planned entirely to accommodate blind people. Her Vancouver experiences provide hope that the special attributes and needs of blind people could add up to forming the building blocks of an unique culture.

There is a cast of generous contributors to whom I am extremely grateful. First and foremost is Alex Bulmer. She wrote and performed the texts that both connect and counterpoint the segments of interviews. Alex and the composer interviewed the following visually impaired persons from Vancouver: John Lyon, Linda Evans, Michelle Creedy, Allan Morgan, Teresa Andrews, Gary Steeves, Nora Sarsons, Peg Mercer, Monty Lilburn, and Shawn Kirkpatrick. Many thanks to Patricia Worrell at the CNIB (BC-Yukon division) for coordinating the interviews and to Chris Miller for transcribing into printed text. Critical insight and encouragement were offered from Dr. Jonty Harrison, Lyn Wright, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Barry Truax. And finally, the trip to Vancouver would not have run so smoothly without the help of Daniel Jans, Norman Armour, Deborah Dunn, and Rita Bozi.

The movements Recharting the Senses and Listening in Place of Seeing were realized with financial assistance from the Media Arts Section of the Canada Council for the Arts.

DARREN COPELAND creates electroacoustic soundscape compositions for the concert hall, radio, and theatre. He has studied electroacoustic composition under Barry Truax (Simon Fraser University) and Dr. Jonty Harrison (University of Birmingham). His acousmatic works have received mentions in international competitions and have been published in several CD collections. His radio adaptation of August Strindberg's A Dream Play is being produced for broadcast in surround sound by CBC's Sunday Showcase. Also, his first CD Rendu Visible has just been released on the empreintes DIGITALes label. Darren Copeland is Producer for New Adventures in Sound, and is active with the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and the communauté électroacoustique Canadienne/Canadian electroacoustic community (CEC).

ALEX BULMER is a multi-talented blind artist in Toronto who has produced work for theatre, radio, and video. She has also performed in numerous productions with Nightwood Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. After working on Life Unseen, she has focused on the subject of vision loss in a variety of media. Her video Beauty was premiered last year at the Inside Out Festival. She is currently developing a theatrical work called Smudge from which she created a short radio piece for CBC's Out Front.

Darren Copeland

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