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The Roving Reporter:an interview with jessie holmes

Entering Jessie's studio, I sit next to her while she sits at her desk. Thankfully, her chair appears suitably supportive; it has transpired that she has spent an awfully long time in it since February, when she began work on her current project which is a collaborative music video combining Jessie's virtual reality skills with the vocal talents of Ash Murphy. Jessie's previous work in this field includes the Agora project as a part of the Avenues and Alleyways work last year. Ash's professional role is that of Music Leader at More Music, in Morecambe's West End which is also where Jessie also lives. He also has a band called Murphy and the song being used in the video is called Keep On.

I switch on the voice recorder and Jessie and I are immediately seized with nervous laughter. Once this subsides, I begin to ask her questions about her work......

"Jessie, what are you inspired by?"

"I am very much inspired by Morecambe and community. There is a strong sense of place in a lot of the work I've tried to do, especially for Creative West End (CWE). I feel like there's a real responsibility to bolster everybody and help everybody see what a great place the West End can be. So really, I think a lot of the work I've done is about trying to show the fun side of the West End and try to change opinions of it. I would like to get some more focus on the area."

"Does that come through in this piece?"

"Definitely! Probably the strongest in this piece."

"What's the biggest thing in the West End that inspires you?"

"Community really. In terms of place, I would have to say the sea. I love the houses and the architecture. Obviously, some are quite degraded in places but you can see the potential of the place and a lot of people do take good care of their properties. I also love the sea and the beach. We frequently go beach-walking and combing the shoreline for pieces of glass and other interesting pieces. We use it as a playground, really."

We chat briefly about the beach in the West End and agree that it's a beautiful place. Jess then continues to talk about her thoughts and feelings about what inspires her.

"I am very affected by sunsets. I held an exhibition at the Good Things Collective in the Arndale Centre with the sunset as inspiration. It was actually entitled Sunsets and Seascapes.

Again, this comes through in the work I'm doing. Sea and sunsets play a big role all the way through the piece."

Trying to capture the essence of Jessie's words, I suggest that the sea and sunsets are permanent but ever changing. I try to convey that I understand how moving it can be to recognise that the same combination can never exist twice, since neither the shoreline or sky will be exactly the same again. I smile at the clumsy profundity of my remarks. Jessie kindly puts me at my ease by saying,

"It's artistic beauty in itself really....nature's artwork."

I summarise the elements she finds inspiring.

"So really, we are looking at a combination of what people make, the community and architecture all mingling together."

Jessie then adds,

"There is a world of contrast here too, it isn't just the sea but the mountains too. It is quite elemental, the whole landscape here inspires me. There are lots of contributing factors."

The agreement that all of these factors are inspirational combined with sudden lull in the conversation indicates that we have fully explored this part of the interview and a natural silence emerges.

It seems a suitable opportunity to discover more about the collaborative aspect of this project.

"Who have you collaborated with?"

"Ash Murphy from More Music. He and I are using More Music as a kind of helpful base which ensures that we have access to everything we need."

This intrigues me; initially I visualise More Music purely as a repository of musical resources.

"So this means that you can access extra voices, synthesisers and extra technology?"

Jessie nods.

"Yes, absolutely. Their knowledge is also available to us; they have been doing this for around twenty years. It's great to know we can call on them for help. They looked at the funding bid and they helped us with it. We obtained funding through the Creative West End and we were given match funding from Morecambe Town Council. More Music really helped to give us the ability to go for that funding."

Making sure I fully understand, I ask Jessie to clarify whether this means assistance with writing bids or discovering who to approach about it.

She responds,

"I wrote the funding bid for the most part. Ben at More Music looked at it and made some suggestions. He submitted it as a bid for funding for More Music because of their charitable status. This, combined with the environmental policies being followed at More Music, would lend the application greater weight and a more professional edge than an application from a member of the community."

I suggest that familiarity with such processes may well be something else that she has learned about since embarking on this particular project. She agrees that this is the case and that More Music is a Morecambe charity which exists to provide help to various courses within the West End.

I ask Jess whether she had any input into Ash's work. She responded as follows,

"I did, in a way. We started working on the project with a new song Ash had just written. We used that for around a month but because of the way his work was developing he changed his mind. He actually discovered a better song and we worked together on that, each of us offering input and responding to the other, creating a seesaw effect between them.

I came up with some visuals and he responded, which evinced a different reply again. It has created a lovely flow between us."

The discussion moves to me asking Jess about whether or not she can has any musical ability. She laughs and says that she doesn't have potential at all in that direction.

I feel compelled to ask whether Ash is particularly visually artistic or whether they have created an interface at which they can interact?

"So, Ash is very interested in visual arts. I know that he does some 3D work and he has mentioned using After Effects which is a program designed to add effects to digital work.

I don't know to be honest, I don't know him well enough to know his creative side. He is very intent on music. He does have a good eye and has certainly pointed things out that I knew were really positive both for the work itself and things that he would have preferred to see in it. He's very constructive and it works really well. Ash has also been involved in other digital arts projects and has had a video made before of one of his songs."

I have to ask Jessie whether she's done this before.

"No! Absolutely the first time."

I congratulate her on doing it amd finding someone to share that synergy with. She answers happily that it has,

"Been a really lovely, laid back, collaborative project."

I am really pleased for Jess and I ask her how long she's been working on the collaboration for. She answers,

"Since February. It's the next stage on from the AR (alternative reality) project, Avenues and Alleyways; it is the evolution of it."

"I thought we'd start with what it (the project) actually's a music video in virtual reality."

She pauses and then does a brief safety check, monitoring whether the music is too relaxing, in case it induces an epileptic fit. She gives me some guidance about how to respond to the headset giving me instructions about how to 'reset boundary'.

Wearing a virtual reality headset is really something of an adventure. I am absolutely entranced by the experience and in truth I feel slightly embarrassed by my naivety when I listen to the recording afterwards. I am shocked by the effects and potentialities. The music video I watch is on YouTube and I did not make a note of it, but I suspect there are many of these. The effects were incredible. I could turn my head and look from left to right while being transported down tunnels and into nightclubs which seemed to be of low repute but that held a magnetic attraction for the more daring side of my nature!

Jess explains that she wanted to show me the video to give me a taste of what her work will be when it's finished. Quite honestly, I wonder how she ever leaves the room with the capacity for that kind of exploration from the safety and comfort of her own room. Although the video I watched was set to a dance track, which was brilliantly imaginative, the possibilities are currently far reaching, allowing virtual visits to art galleries, historical monuments, in fact any physical destination.

The future parameters could even include space travel, if sufficient real world exploration takes place. Foreign holidays could be reduced, improving climate emissions and preventing various other dangers such as plane crashes or accidents at sea. Furthermore, it could increase the range of possibilities for those too unwell to travel and although the initial outlay cost for a VR headset is high, judicious use of it will decrease overall costs.

I ask Jess about how the actual process of her work. She explains that she listened to words of the song and the actual structure of it. There are four choruses and she adjusted the whole video around the song. It opens in the first world she has created, which is the Eden space. It is all entirely animated and Jess applies her knowledge to build it in 360 degrees. She adds distinct textures, colours and effects. I am struck by its similarity to a computer game and Jess agrees. She then begins to show me how the video relates to the song which has meaningful lyrics in a catchy beat for the chorus, the rest of it is rap music.

"It's a good thing I like this song!"

I suspect that she is hearing the lyrics when she is trying to sleep as she says this, but I have to agree that it's a great song! Even the 2D version of him is moving to the rhythm of the beat. The camera view is 180° and when it renders it gives a full 360° view which she is currently building. It takes around 20 minutes to build each frame and she will need 6000 for the video. So far she is averaging around 500 frames per week. It then builds all if these pictures, which the video consists of, similar to a rotoscope, which us a type of animation describing the process of creating animated sequences by tracing over live-action footage frame by frame. It is also time consuming but is now done by computers; originally it was done by various techniques, including drawing on glass although more sufficient methods were used in such films as the Star Wars trilogy.

Jessie explains that she is taking a picture for every 24 frames per second which is movie quality. If she had sufficient time she would be using 60 frames per second to reach virtual reality standard and preventing buffering. However, as the project needs to be completed by August, some compromise is essential.

"This is why computer games cost so much," I observe.

Jessie smiles wryly and answers that they are a lot of work to build.

She explains that she is not going to go right through the world that she has created at this point, she is waiting for the frame amount to reach 200 and she will stop it, close it down and then she will show me the other worlds. If not, because the computer is working really hard at the moment to build the image it probably won't let her close it down.

The colours used on the first world are actually very predominant at the Cornwall Eden Project, there are pinks, greens and terracotta. Jessie explains that the colours used and the video itself are intended to express youthful energy, particularly in terms of a starting point. The sun can be seen rising behind, then comes up, over and sets, which is a common thread through each world represented in the video.

I observe that the video has a slightly otherworldly quality, which is of course the case with all virtual reality. A rotating Mr Whippy ice cream pours out all over the ground. There are windmills and turbines against the skyline. Dancers wearing VR headsets begin to move as the music begins. There are long, sweet musical notes as the song begins. Jessie explains that a kitesurfer is coming across and there are girls dancing. I ask Jessie about them and she answers that,

"They are supposed to look kind of fey and chirpy."

I answer that they definitely do and she further explains,

"They have cameras on their heads to represent tourism. You can look around, I have put it in a slightly less rendered mode, showing the finished look. I am now going into a workspace mode so I can see the information a bit more clearly."

Jess then returns to describing the video where Ash is depicted.

"Ash follows the path and walks into a tunnel. This is the camera we're looking through, which marks the end of the first world."

The video follows Ash through into the tunnel and on to the next stage. The same tunnel is shown and then the chorus begins;

Keep on, keeping on..

It's been years since I've been gone

And now I've made my way back home

I've been down but now I feel so strong

I keep on, gotta keep on keeping on.

Jess describes the video,

"Ash goes through a Helter Skelter Tunnel and he goes to the fairground; he began at the fancy, glamorous end of Morecambe, this one is different. There is a small fairground with a large clown. The images used in it were taken in the West End of Morecambe and includes a very dilapidated and boarded up shop on Alexandra Road. I have tried to import visual elements of the West End."

This part currently needs background imagery and features. It shows the Polo Tower as it was a feature of Morecambe's skyline for so long. The concept of the fairground in this world is that nothing in it quite works as it should. There is a darkness and a glitchiness to it's functioning which unsettles the viewer. The carousel horses rotate but slightly out of time, after which I observe that,

"All the elements are present but are slightly disjointed."

Jessie says,

"You know what's there but you've never seen it like that before. This is my clown, his face is painted."

He looks truly terrifying and is juggling 5 balls. Another man is waiting to breathe fire, which at the time of this interview is in progress. I tell Jessie that I am very impressed with the quality of the models. She then explains that one girl will be dancing with poy and another with fire fans.

Jessie concludes,

"So that's the darker, grittier side of Morecambe."

As another chorus begins, Ash enters and progresses through another tunnel. On emerging into this world Ash begins to become more real and stops being a 3D version, and becomes human. He travels through the historical version of Morecambe. The West End Pier is visible, despite burning down in 1978. The dolphins that previously lived in the aquarium on the Promenade are also present. I ask,

"Is the Ash that we see in the video being created by his art?"

Jessie responds,

"I think that the whole thing is a metaphor for youthful exuberance, then depression, then history. He finds peace within his community, that kind of journey; a life journey."

I reply that I understand and that I like what she's saying. She further says,

"That's kind of what I was aiming for. A life journey through Morecambe and Morecambe's life journey."

I respond,

"If we're lucky enough it becomes our journey too."

"That's what the song means, keep going; when it's a struggle just keep going. The idea is that it's sort of dreamlike, rather like history. Nothing is quite right. One of the old ships is now appears in the sky and the dome, rather like a ghost. You can see the Clocktower and here is the tunnel. Ash walks through the rotating seagulls which are currently in black and white, although I am not sure whether they will stay that way."

I tell Jessie that this is a powerful image, not easily forgotten.

The video then moves to the West End party zone which will be largely filmed in real life. At the West End market, people will be given the stage for 10 seconds and filmed doing something, allowing everyone who wants to take part to do so. Jess explains that the idea has now gone from a fake character at the outset to one which is much more real and lively, showing the fun side of the West End. It is currently undecided how the West End will be built, either with models on a 360° video or whether whole buildings will be created.

There have been some discussions about council funding being made available to allow young children from schools to do some drawing, essentially resulting in them building it. This would extend the collaborative nature of the project, promote inclusion and potentially increase the sense of ownership of the West End while also possibly augmenting feelings of belonging to it.

Ash then walks through the West End in some sort of celebration and finally reaches the beach, where the sun sets. Obviously, Jessie has spent a great deal of time by herself in her office and she is looking forward to showing others. We begin to discuss the video and her work. I begin by saying,

"This seems to have come from a place of stereotypes to authenticity."


"I love it."

"Initially, the song was going the other way and the future would have been the Eden Project. This song didn't work that way and so we swapped it around. This is so much nicer. It now ends with reality rather than inaccuracy."

Jessie suggests that we listen to the song. Before it begins, I ask her how much work she estimates she has done over the course of each week. She says that it has been almost every night, but that the last few weeks have slowed down as the video is rendering and it is not possible to work then. She has, however, been doing this solidly since February.

After listening to the song, Jessie says that she thinks it's a good anthem for the West End. I agree with her and explain that in another interview I have discussed the complexities of marrying narrative and art. The extra layer of complication with a musical dimension increases possibility but also challenges inherent to the task. I congratulate her and refer to Sylvester Stallone who said that despite not being the richest, smartest or most talented person in the world, he succeeds because he keeps going onward, which is what the song instructs us to do and is also clearly what Jessie has done with her work.

I feel very fortunate to have previewed the video and song. It has been an absolute privilege to speak to Jessie about her work; the level of talent, expertise and sheer dedication required to build a music video, is awe inspiring. From the inspiration required, to finding a collaborative partner and then refusing to be excluded by dispiriting artistic failures which affect each of us, Jessie deserves huge congratulations.

I would like to end this article by thanking Jessie for taking time out from her other commitments to allow me to interview her and congratulating her on her own hard work, and that of her collaborative partner More Music, particularly in terms of providing sufficient knowledge, ability and skill to facilitate this opportunity. I think the video will be successful and I look forward to seeing Jessie's and Ash's hard work in one artistic endeavour.

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