Amplify is a one-night showcase accompanied by a weeklong art exhibition, highlighting the experience of being Deaf and Disabled in the Victorian music industry. On Saturday 8th of May, mentees from Arts Access Victoria’s new mentorship program, Music Makers, will present a series of short performances and panel discussions, surrounded by artworks inspired by them and their experience. Two mentees participating in the program, Irene Zhong and Cam Murphy, took some time to share a bit about their experience with Music Victoria.

IreneZhong Profile PictureIrene Zhong

Tell us about your musical background, and how you came to be a musician.

My first love was the violin – I’ve been playing since I was three, and I picked up piano very casually during primary school (funnily enough, I played piano more after I stopped taking lessons). I also did classical singing for seven years. Voice ended up being my favourite instrument and is at the centre of most of my treasured musical experiences.

I didn’t really listen to popular music until I was about thirteen! At that age, I liked artists like Avril Lavigne and Jay Chou, so I started singing their songs with self-taught guitar. I started having a lot of trouble with my mental health, which was sparked by some difficulties I encountered with violin, so having another form of musical expression gave me a lot of solace.

The music program at my high school was incredibly comprehensive and provided us with the training and opportunity to try classical composing. With every completed composing assignment, I became increasingly drawn to the potential composition offered, an infinite amount of expression and storytelling – I continued exploring what it could offer in Melbourne Conservatorium, where I completed my Bachelor of Music in Composition.

So now, my music lives and grows in the intersection of all those experiences – more importantly, holds the elements that I didn’t receive as a part of my academic education in equal esteem. My grandmother’s favourite Hakka mountain songs, for example, live in my DNA, and while I’m grateful for my training in art music which allows me to transcribe and orchestrate them, my intuition, instinct, that twinge in my chest when I write a good line of lyrics, take the lead.

What are some things that people might not know about the barriers for Deaf and disabled musicians in Melbourne?

My disabilities are invisible – at first glance, people won’t know that I struggle with chronically low energy, brain fog, organisation, daily. As a young queer person, I think Melbourne has a reputation of having a vibrant and accepting art scene – which is true on the most part! But interestingly, I have an easier time disclosing my queerness than my disabilities. It’s not common practice yet, and in most social situations – unless I’m interacting with other disabled people – a space for disclosing what help you require isn’t provided. Without being able to provide context, my disability can so easily be assumed to be “laziness”, “lack of commitment”, or “does sloppy work”. Being accessible doesn’t stop at adding in a ramp for wheelchair users – expanding your sensitivity and empathy is a great way of growing your allyship.

A barrier for every artist, but especially disabled artists, is taking ourselves seriously. Our artistic identities are so often in flux – as an example, a disabled artist might not be able to work on their music for weeks, months, years, due to complications caused by our disability, and that completely throws off how we perceive ourselves and our work. We’ll stop applying for as many things, going for gigs, because we demoted ourselves from “artist” to “hobbyist”. Subconsciously, we close off doors to ourselves that we’re more than qualified to open.

For you personally, what change would improve your experience within the Melbourne music scene?

In the past, my assertion of my boundaries (especially regarding my work hours) have been misconstrued as coldness, a lack of enthusiasm, or sometimes taken personally. I really want to encourage everyone in the Melbourne music scene to make a habit of asking for someone’s access requirements when you meet them! And if you want to take it even further, continue to ask that question, continue to check up on each other throughout your relationship, be it professional or personal. The Music Makers Mentorship gave me so many opportunities to disclose the specific kind of care I wanted so I could perform at my fullest. If this was applied everywhere in the Melbourne music scene, I think everyone – regardless of ability or disability – would feel more connected and understanding of each other.

I’ve also noticed a bit of a trend in fixating on “what kind” of disabilities someone has. Having someone try to subtly probe what illnesses I have is very invasive – that’s when it becomes about one person longing for the simplicity of labels and sating their curiosity about someone’s personal, medical history, not about giving disabled people the support and compassion we need to be at our best. I’d encourage redirecting that curiosity to exploring the possibilities of what you can do to help someone gain access to things, starting with the small things that you might even take for granted. Something as simple as sending a reminder email for someone when a deadline is coming up can be an act of support and allyship.

Can you tell us about your mentor for Music Makers, and the experience you had working with them?

My mentor is Parvyn – I felt like she was a great match for me right from day one. We cover a lot of ground in our sessions, and Parvyn is great at taking opportunities as they come up! For example, when several deadlines for grant applications showed up, we spent a session discussing what kind of writing and tone is required in the application, then met up at a library on the day it was due to wrap up some final details. In another session, Parvyn invited me to a gig and we debriefed afterwards to discuss our observations, as performers, of elements that impressed and inspired us.

What are you most looking forward to about the Amplify showcase?

Definitely seeing Raina Peterson’s response to my experiences, and the Playing Field Series who will be responding live to my performance! I’m a multidisciplinary artist – visual inspiration is so important to my music. Dancers are magicians to me – they basically warp your perception of space and time with their bodies! Having these artists weave their spell to my music, my thoughts, is really special, and something I’ve never experienced before.

Cam Murphy Profile PicCam Murphy

Tell us about your musical background, and how you came to be a musician.

I started playing drums when I was a real little fella. Probably about 5 or 6 years old. I used to get sticky tape and wrap the stick around my stump! It wasn’t till I was about 14 I started making computer music. That’s when the rabbit hole began. I just got so obsessed as I was doing something different every day designing sounds, learning chords and composition. It was a great escape from the absolute boredom of school. When I was 17 I signed a deal with Vicious Records under the moniker ‘Camikaze’. It was my first real taste of the Australian industry from that point. I had a great mentor and manager for years. He was like my big brother and everything I know today is because of him. I started the Cam Camino project after signing a distribution deal with AWAL. I wanted to do something not for attention and money, but for myself and my soul. It’s really filled me up making the Cam Camino stuff.

What are some things that people might not know about the barriers for Deaf and disabled musicians in Melbourne?

It’s such a broad and diverse experience under the disability umbrella but if I could sum it up it would be a lack of awareness and understanding what it really is. My personal barriers would mostly be the tools and instruments designed for making music are not really one hand friendly. I always try to find ways around it and I am able to play a handful of instruments in a unique way I suppose. Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating for your mental health because I find a few people can be patronising instead of welcoming.

For you personally, what change would improve your experience within the Melbourne music scene?

I think for me it would be a shift in dynamic to how we’re viewed. I feel like the scene tends to throw disabled artists as a whole into a sharp straight edged box where it should be a playdough-y type wonky looking thing with heaps and heaps of colours.

Can you tell us about your mentor for Music Makers, and the experience you had working with them?

I’ve had the best experience with my mentor Geryon! They’ve shined light on parts of the industry I never delve into but have longed for for way too long. I’ve wanted to do more video game and film composition stuff. We get along really well and even chat about our mental health and well-being. I think we’ve made a friendship that will last well beyond the program.

What are you most looking forward to about the Amplify showcase?

All the lovely and special art and music of course! There will be lots of wonderful people there and I think it’s going to be a nice experience for EVERYBODY. I know I can’t wait to see all the other artists and musicians hard work.

 

Tickets for Amplify can be obtained here. For updates, RSVP to the Facebook event.