Read on…

Read on…

1-1 Sessions

What is spontaneous song/writing and what can it do for you?

Improvisation has deep roots in evolutionary psychology. Song and dance are part of the same joyous celebrations and rituals found in religious texts, pagan rites, indigenous culture and folklore. In the deep South, during the Civil War, slaves working on the plantation fields would punctuate their days with field and holler songs, giving rhythm to labour and labour to rhythm yet, at night, and out of sight, illicit improvisation circles would be held in the forests around about.

Sliding forward in time, the black country players of the 1920s and 30s had no means to record their songs; so the songs they did play existed in the moment of production. The country blues genre, for example, deployed songwriting as a vehicle for performance. These songs – ‘written’ or transmitted orally – were not destined be reproduced, re-performed, or commodified. The Spirituals are such a form which still flourishes today within religious communities as a form of worship in which the Holy Spirit moves through the congregation, shedding prophecy. It is also called spontaneous worship which takes on the form of singing, which can erupt at any time in a song. This social phenomenon – which can be Googled or YouTubed – has its legacies in call and response music and ministry.

We could trace this back much further to the theologian philosopher, St. Augustine, who also wrote on the conversion of the voice in spontaneous song. He called it “jubilus” – a joyous state of rapture, or even ecstasy, going back to the mystics, such as the composer, Hildegard of Bingen. Augustine observed that jubilus occured when the singer moved from language – uox articulus – to the impulses of the voice which reside outside of language – uox confusa. There are parallels here within contemporary rap and hip-hop culture, in which if you watch a singer rapping gibberish, and making it up on the fly, you can often hear them moving in and out of language. Augustine maintained that in order for these non-verbal sounds to be truly jubilus they needed to come about during the song, though, not at the start. For him spontaneous song seemed to be a case of abandoning words when they would not do to serve the spirit.

If we turn to contemporary folk or American roots music, the singer-songwriter and occasional actor, Will Oldham, AKA, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, who is no stranger to labour and dedication to the craft, has spoken on the trials of immersive songwriting. On creating an impromptu album with the Chicago based band Bitchin Bajas, Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties, he went into the studio empty handed, breaking open fortune cookies for lyrics. By his own admission, he is more of a “song maker” than a song ‘writer’, as he doesn’t tend to “go about writing things down”.

When asked: I would imagine it would be very freeing, just to get in there and not have this burden of having to come up with the structured, carefully-crafted song. he answers on time:

You’re finally in a place where it’s about beginning and carrying forward. It’s about the present and the future, whereas most recording of songs is about the past and the present, and the future isn’t an active participant. When you’re recording a song that is really relying on all the work — the months or years that went into building that song — you’re always aware of that. And here, all of a sudden, we were bringing our past into the room, but everything we did was about what was happening from now and moving forward. It’s not about the past at all, which was a very nice feeling.

Will Oldham, AKA Bonnie ‘Prince ‘Billy

He also talks about songs as “living things”. Moreover, the critic Ross Simonini, a writer, musician, artist, and dialogist whom I have a lot of time for, intuits:  “…he [WO] performed songs with the direct gaze that is always at the centre of his art.” What does it mean to have a direct gaze? Surely this gaze can also be found in the live performances of the Irish folk songwriter and storyteller, Lisa O’Neill, or via Michael Stipe’s penetrating stage presence, or that of the punk-priestess Patti Smith, who had a way of summoning this quality effortlessly. This direct gaze was also a characteristic of the blues. Yet, many of the blues singers of the late 19th and early 20th century were either blind, illiterate, or both. As a result, their performances are considered ‘authentic’. These performances were often done without the intention of being re-done. Blues aficionados such as Lead Belly, conveniently picked-up (and reportedly exploited) by American folklorist brothers, Alan and John Lomax, and then the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, for example, were one man bands. In lieu of a drum kit, they kept time by tapping their feet, or, likely stomping them when vexed, or drunk, singing their way out of pain, and back into it again, and keeping a wandering tempo, as if the song was ever about to depart. The blues is a nomadic form. It was always about some place else, or some other person.

Lead Belly (1888-1949)
Gary Clarke Junior, contemporary blues guitarist extraordinaire.
Meridith Monk, her voice was her instrument.

Moving into jazz, and avant-garde circles of the 1970s, the spontaneous, wordless chants and embodied psychedelic displays of Meredith Monk and jazz lumineers, such as underrated Jeanne Lee, a Music scholar herself, and the transcendent cosmic improvisations of Alice Coltrane ushered in new gendered sounds. Lee’s Conspiracy (1974) is a hushed yet feral record which showcases the range of Lee’s extended vocal fervour. One listen is strange, two cocoons the listener in her embryonic sonic world as if she is forever about to break out of the song, and spill vocal yolk.

Jeanne Lee, Conspiracy (1974)

Moving on, the Australian Bad Seed, and songwriter, Nick Cave, in the intimate faux documentary 20, 000 Days on Earth directed by husband and wife team Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth, is pictured in dialogue with a pretend taxi driver, in what appears to be an imaginary circular late-night haunt around his adopted home town of Brighton. As he talks, he reveals his creative processes. Or, he sits in silence. At one point, he imparts that when he “understands” a song he is no longer interested in it.

Footage by Simone Smith

Spontaneous song/writing can be prophetic. Strange things play out. It’s tricky to articulate in academic discourse, which tends to iron out mystery. It can also be an unravelling or a dismantling. It can leave us exposed – on uneven ground. Nick Cave for one, and a cacophony of others, have (pro)claimed that our songs can know more about us than we do. They reckon with us. They know us better tThey are relentless inventors – rewiring the past and imagining the future. Making sense of our random and messy lives as if we had a plan. We can go anywhere in a song, and perhaps the song will take us there. The only thing we need to do is to get out of the way.

They are tireless inventors – rewiring the past – and imagining possible futures. They have a way of consolidating our random and messy lives, as if we ever had a plan. They take our pain and grief, and loss, and transform it. Moreover, we can go anywhere in a song, and perhaps the song will take us there. The only thing we need to do is to get out of the way.

Anger is fire, and fire moves things

Nina Simone
Nina Simone (1933-2003)

When at a crossroads in life – or feeling “stuck” – developmental psychology has suggested that we try doing what we did freely between the ages of 7 and 11. I sang. In gardens, on walks, in the back of my Dad’s car, to rock, blues and Americana, on school buses, as loudly as I could, and in choir, and school plays. I was fortunate enough to be given free violin tuition aged seven, at then again, flute, aged 13, in which I am classically trained, at a time when working-class children who showed aptitude on tests were given an instrument and years of free-tuition. Sadly, such provision is being wiped out by the current establishment.

Footage by Simone Smith

In my late teens, my Dad brought me a Japanese Fender guitar for Christmas. I recall finding it, hidden behind the back of the sofa, noticing its oblong shape, and hazarding a guess at what it was, bit not wanting to be disappointed.

So I began on electric, then a few years’ on, I picked up a cheap Aria acoustic guitar from my local music store in Winchester, whilst at arts school. Although I could only play a few chords, those chords made me feel.

I think that we hold these instruments over time, and that they then come to hold us. When my parents later got divorced, and I lost touch with my Dad, the guitar was the only thing that really made me feel. I realised I had shut down a whole bunch of feelings. As Dolly Parton has said, the guitar can become part of our bodies. Jimi Hendrix was surely the epitomy of this.

Then, at art school, aged 21, someone handed me a CD. I was stunned by the unapologetic woman on the cover, staring back at me, emblazoned upon the monochrome skin of a cracked, plastic case. It was Patti Smith, the inaugural ‘shamanistic punk poet siren’ with her band, and their groundbreaking LP Horses (1975), and it changed my life. What was it that you did?

Album cover, Robert Mapplethorpe

My credentials

I am currently a doctoral candidate in Music at the University of Glasgow researching songwriting and experimental practice and performance. I am also a Lecturer in Music at Perth College, UHI. I was awarded Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Authority (2017) for effecting change in the contemporary arts university. I began teaching in 2006, and have lectured in Creative Writing, and Academic Writing for the Creative Disciplines and in the Arts and Humanities at numerous Russell Group universities in the UK.

I graduated with a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting from Winchester School of Art (1997-2000), The University of Southampton, and hold a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow (2010-11), CELTA from the University of Cambridge (2006), and Post-graduate Certificate in Teaching English for Academic Purposes from the University of Nottingham (2009-10). I have taught as a GTA on Genders and Aesthetics and Philosophy of Music at the University of Glasgow, and in academic writing for the creative disciplines at The Glasgow School of Art. In all, since 2006, I have taught, coached and mentored countless others on their path in the Creative Arts, through Further and Higher Education, vocational, or eprofessional practice.

Voice Over

Looking for a distinct voice over for your project, portfolio or brand? I have a side-hustle reading for audio books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and narrate commercials, or television programmes, video games, animations, installations, or live events.

In 2017, I discreetly ran a project called ‘Reader for Hire’ in which I took requests for poetry readings on social media. I got the idea from browsing the brief offerings on display in WH Smith’s at Stansted Airport just after New Year in 2018, on my way to stay with a friend in the Vesterbrö region of Copenhagen. A slim novella in translation by the French author, Raymond Jean, published by Peirene Press, caught my eye. It had smudged red lips on the front, complemented by light blue patterning.

The protagonist, short of work, offers her services to the inhabitants in her village as a ‘reader for hire’. She goes to their house, sits with them, and reads what they ask her to. Conversations arise, she learns certain truths about herself, and those she reads for.

It was January, 2018, another year. I checked in to The Absalon Hotel having taken a few twists and turns without my GPS on. When I’d unpacked, (as far as I tend to unpack), and arranged the dull orange curtains, so that I had a full vista of the street, and as much light as possible, I recorded myself doing extended single-takes on my old Android of “The Seducer’s Diary” (1843), by the Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, a chapter from Either/Or; an intense narrative on “indirect communication” that he wrote in the aim of absolving himself from a relationship that hadn’t worked out. I didn’t know why i was doing this, or doing it this way.

My recording tendencies were already in place. Rather than editing sections of the spoken text and merging them together, whenever errors were made, I deleted the recording when my intonation didn’t feel right, or when I made a mistake in the text, and re-recorded it. This meant going right back to the beginning of the text and doing it all over again. It was a case of immersion, sat not far from where the text would have originated. By following this method of recording – which I also do when recording songs – I both get lost in, and emerge through, the material. And by doing these repeat readings, my ego gets diminished in the act. It can be revelatory.

When one takes a text (back) through the body, in order to get to know it, things can happen. Sometimes, for example, on reading another author’s work, I have experienced a mild form of transcendence, an absolving of the ego. In the Kierkegaard text, this phenomenon was seemingly doubled, as I was also playing a character in a story, and my voice shifted as appropriate. I published the reading on Soundcloud, and set about advertising my services.

The next day, I happened upon Kierkegaard’s grave. How small it was!

Authors soon got in touch – asking if I’d read for them, in person, at book signings, or on their websites. In asking why they wanted me to read for them, they tended to say: “I don’t like the sound of my own voice”. I was later contacted by an audio app developer to work on an interpretive audio guide for Tate Britain.

The Absalon Hotel, 2018

I provide high-quality MP3 (at least 256 kbps), WAV or AIFF files complete with up to two revisions, charging standard freelance day rates for fuller projects, and individual rates per shorter pieces.

Have a browse of the testimonials below, listen to the samples, and let me know if you’d like me to read for you. Being an experimental performer, I am open to arty or more unusual projects, as well as to literary or traditional formats. If you are in Scotland, and would like me to read in person, please ask.

My reading of Hugo Ball’s “Karawana” (1917) first performed in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire, opening in the dark, was a melodic commission gleefully improvised under a quilt on an iPhone to replicate the original, one rainy afternoon whilst of no fixed abode washed up in St. Leonard’s-on-Sea. To date, it remains my most lucrative gig, and it was a mistake, the owner of the piece not appreciating he would have to pay. 🙌

Here are some testimonials on my readings:

Fantastic readings.

Gonzalo C. Garcia, author of ‘We are at the End’.

Her interpretation of Hugo Ball’s sound poem “Karawana” (1917) sets a new standard for how that poem should be performed. Instead of relying on pure rhythm, she reveals the melodic possibilities of its nonsense syllables.

Frank Garrett, translator and critic.

“Sam has a wonderful voice, she reads poetry in a magical way. Achmatova! And her pictures are pieces of art.”

Wolfgang Hermann, author of ‘Herr Fastini Takes a Trip’.

“Exquisite, sensual and piercing. Sam makes it sound as if these words were meant only to be heard by the listener, as a private letter read about before sending.”

Richmond Powers, publisher.

“A voice that you would want to hear narrating your favourite piece. Seductive and soothing!”

Raghad Jalal, music journalist

“A very talented singer songwriter and poet. Having listened to her read her own poetry – as well as the poetry of others – on numerous occasions, she brilliantly captures the mood of each individual piece. Highly recommended.”

Julian Gallo, author of ‘Existential Labyrinths’

“Sam has one of the most amazing voices I have ever heard. The enunciation is penetrating as it reveals the words. They emerge as if first formed by her: wise, honest and true to its own spirit. Evidence of some purity. I think she could make reading a phone book interesting. Her voice is that appealing.”

Richmond Powers, publisher

“Sam expressed the connotations of the spoken word with a mastery of intonation and inflection.Her delivery has authenticity with a control and clarity of nuance. One is carried through passage or verse with an aesthetic that is deep and immersive, and can be beautifully haunting.”

Richard Nash, academic & graphic designer

“Wow, Sam sounds fantastic. Clear, concise reading with a warm compelling tone that doesn’t interfere with the text, but brings the reader into the work, as it should.”

Dr Shane Strange, poet

“Sam’s voice is a balance of clarity and colour, weight and whimsy. She brings for the and plays with the sonorousness of the text, while at the same time maintaining its sense and cohesion.”

Dr Craig Jordan Baker, author of ‘The Nacculians’
Poetry/Readings – audio samples

Teaching testimonials

Student testimonial, UCA

— Jessica Patrick-Hooper

Speaking to Samantha today has helped me to realise that I’ve no need to be scared of writing essays, or let it put me off going back to college at my age.

Mark Gee
Student testimonial, UCA

— Amber

Thank you for all you have done for me. I will never forget you. You are so kind. Your eyes, your smile.


Samantha helped me with the logic of my essay. This was the big problem for me with my writing. Thanks to her I can now better structure my thoughts better.

Johnny Xu

Very happy to learn in your class. Your word teaching efficiency is very high, the teaching method is very natural, although I can not quickly skillfully use all the new words, but really learned a lot of new knowledge. As for Art, you also gave us some knowledge, showed us some works of art, recommended artists, really feel very fruitful, thank you Sam, you are really a very good teacher.

Ruijia Zou

I learned a lot in your class, whether English skills or professional knowledge. Now, I have acquired the knowledge of speculative design and the process of an essay. I really, really like you, you are a good person, a good teacher, you are very friendly, patient, and humorous, you always care so much about us and really help us a lot. I’m so happy to spend this time with you. I will continue to work hard and brave to speak up. Hope to see you again. By then, I will be more outgoing and communicate with you more than before. Once again, this is a very rewarding course, thank you so much. I wish you good health and successful career life!

Zizuan Zhou

You are a very nice teacher and patient with every student in the class. During the course you wrote down the vocabulary of each lesson for us, they are all very useful. At the same time, you always keep communicate with us and I like the breakout room very much, this kind of discussion makes us think constantly.

Shanshang Jiang

Hi, I took Samantha’s pre-sessional English Course class and it was a great experience. Samantha not only encouraged us in the course, but also accurately helped us find shortcomings and gave advice. She is very professional as a teacher. What’s more, Samantha, as an artist, also encourages us to add our own strengths and interests to our creations. In this process, I not only learned more about myself, but also built up my confidence.

Mingxin Yang

Dear Samantha, We are writing to express our sincere gratitude for your help in our class. This knowledge has benefited us a lot. We sincerely wish you can be happy forever. And welcome to China for a trip! Above all, we would like to thank you and accept our sincere appreciation. Best wishes for you.

Pre-sessional Law Pre-Masters, 2019, University of Glasgow
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