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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Lucy Cheesman

Lucy Cheesman is a sound artist, musician, producer and organiser whose work can be placed within a number of different fields, often blurring the boundary between the visual, the audible and the digital.

Lucy is a founder member of SONA (a network supporting women in Sheffield through experimental sound and digital practices) and the Yorkshire Sound Women Network. Along with her artistic practice she also makes music under the name Heavy Lifting, using software such as TidalCycles and FoxDot – open-sourced coding programmes aimed at opening up the processes of experimental music production for the benefit of the wider public. She also runs the record label Pickled Discs, which is dedicated to promoting experimental electronic sounds, and is a board member at Access Space, a charity for the promotion of arts and technology.

Lucy’s involved in a wide breadth of activity across the city, and this is symptomatic of her approach to creative practices. She rigorously tests the possibilities of multiple different mediums, never settling on the prescribed way of producing art.

We spoke to Lucy ahead of her show as part of AlgoMech Festival (17-19 May) – see the programme.

How would you describe your work?
I'm a musician, sound artist and organiser working in and around sound and music technology. I perform solo using TidalCycles (software for making music with code developed by Sheffield's own Alex McLean) under the name Heavy Lifting, and I play in a few bands too. I'm a founder member of SONA, a feminist sound collective – we organise workshops and events, as well as creating our own sound art installations.

My music is pretty experimental. I'm particularly interested in re-using sounds, manipulating samples to create something new, or using sounds in unexpected ways. I'm also really excited by complex rhythms and musical structures.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
I have two approaches really. The first is that I do a lot of feminist work, work with and about women, aiming to support women and raise their profile. That's important to me due to the gender imbalance in sound and music technology, which can be a massive barrier to entry for some people. A lot of the work I do with SONA fits into this theme. The second approach is a lot more free – I just work on things I'm interested in. I released an album last year about Greek myths, which is an area I studied a lot when I was younger, and something I was excited to revisit from a different perspective. But I've also made music about things like He-Man, and the Eurovision Song Contest, which is a lot more irreverent. I think it's important to have fun, and maybe not be too cerebral.

What's your workspace like?
I have a lovely studio at Stag Works which I share with two of the guys I'm in a band with. It's a typical Sheffield ex-cutlery works studio – we're lucky to have such spaces as a lot of cities don't, although it's getting harder and harder to find good studio space with all the development taking place at the moment. I've got a pretty good set-up with my synths and other equipment, and we have some homely touches like a load of nice lamps and some rugs. We've only been in there about six months though so there's a still a lot of work to be done with soundproofing and decorating. Everything is DIY – the studio was just a big empty room when we took it over - and of course all these upgrades take time and money, but the good thing is we can set it up exactly as we wish.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
DINA! It's an amazing community art/music/theatre venue and vegetarian/vegan cafe in the city centre. It's run by incredible people who are super supportive of arts of all sorts in Sheffield. SONA probably wouldn't exist without the support of DINA who have housed us since our first meeting, as well as put us in touch with loads of fantastic like-minded people. Deborah who runs the venue is one of our core members and she contributes so much to what we do, both in terms of energy and experience. Lots of amazing things happen in DINA, and it's a great space to know about if you're an organiser too.

Delicious Clam are another amazing venue putting on gigs and providing studio space. They provide loads of support to the local music scene, putting on shows and recording bands, as well as booking in international touring artists. I particularly rate Carl's Variety Night, where you can see anything from experimental noise music to improv comedy (and anybody can sign up to perform) and their annual Clams in Their Eyes NYE event.

Finally I think AlgoMech festival is one of the most exciting things happening anywhere in the country and it's right here in Sheffield.

What would you change about the city?
I think some poor decisions are being made about development of the city centre. Sheffield is such a vibrant place for artists and musicians, and partly that's due to the availability of studio and other DIY space at affordable prices. Unfortunately the rapid development of accommodation and changes to the retail landscape just aren't taking this into account, and it's becoming more and more difficult to find spaces to make things happen. I understand there is a financial element to all of this, but the thriving subcultures in art and music are what put Sheffield on the map and make it a desirable place to live, and I'm really worried we're going to lose that.

What are you working on at the moment?
I've got a few really exciting projects I'm working on – firstly I'm organising a hackathon exploring the themes of bodies and automation as part of Leeds International Festival (sorry.... not Sheffield-based!). I'm also composing a piece of music for an experimental production of Sophocles' Antigone for the excellent AlgoMech festival in May. Beyond that I'm travelling to Orkney for a sound art project with SONA over the summer, we'll be working on sonification of landscapes, while simultaneously figuring out ways of collaborating on sound art projects over long distances. And I've got another album coming out in September with pan y rosas discos. Phew!

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