This piece is an experiment for the final piece of Being Frank. One of the elements to come out of the critique was that I needed to find an artistic way of representing my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s Disease in a way I felt comfortable with. After some thought, I remembered a song that we used to sing as children at family occasions. The song was called My Grandfather’s Clock.
The song relates a story of the clock belonging to the singer’s grandfather, and how it ran perfectly from the day of the old man’s birth to his death ninety years later. This song has a great deal of significance to me, as it was one we used to sing along with at family gatherings. It was a song that my father taught us, which would have been taught to him by my grandfather. The subject matter, about the mortality of an elderly man close to the singer, and specifically the lines “it stopped, short, never to go again when the old man died” resonated with me in relation to this project, and I felt I should try and combine the two.
I chose to work with the story of Buckingham Palace and the dog, as that was the one that received the most votes from the online poll; clearly it was a story audiences connected with, and as such it felt appropriate to use this tale as the basis of the piece. I wanted to play through the piece once in its edited form, so that audiences would understand the story fully and be amused by it. This was essential to me as a key component of the project is the preservation and sharing of these wonderful stories. The opening instrumental of My Grandfather’s Clock became a fanfare or overture, much like a radio programme my granddad would have listened to on his wireless. I then layered the instrumental under the interview to give the piece a light tone that matched the humorous content of the story.
Once the edited version played through, the story would replay unedited, with the stumbles, hesitations and pauses present. This was to give a greater impression of his condition. At first I wanted audiences to think they are listening to the start of another story, before the unease they were hearing a repetition set in. Then, the instrumental plays underneath the interview, but at 20% speed. This gives the piece a sad, melancholic, and difficult to listen to quality; the distortion of the recording at that speed, coupled with the uncomfortable feeling of hearing the tale a second time in its full form, create this feeling. It also suggests the affect the condition has on the sufferer’s perception of time; things that happened years ago can seem very present, whilst things that happened in the short term are forgotten. The ticking sound effects that divide the versions of the tale come from the song’s chorus, which also serves to suggest the fact that as hard as it is for me to accept, time is running out for my grandfather.
For the final play through of the story, I edited the story and separated each clip so the pauses and hesitations were much more pronounced. It makes listening to the tale very difficult, and communicates some of the symptoms of the condition. The instrumental of My Grandfather’s Clock is reduced to 10% speed, giving it a funereal dirge like quality. This, coupled with the repetition of “stopped, short” from the previous play through, and the looping of “never to go again”, creates the sense of my grandfather’s impending mortality. Alzheimer’s is essentially a terminal condition; whilst it can be managed and dealt with, it cannot be cured. By using the vocal clips from the song, but stopping short of the line “when the old man died”, I am demonstrating my fears, anxieties and worries about my granddad’s inevitable decline, but that I am not yet ready to accept a world without him. That is too painful for me to consider.
When I first played this version of the sound piece, it brought tears to my eyes. Specifically, the end of the piece where the distorted strings from the song combine with the “never to go again” refrain, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I feel this piece perfectly conveys my feelings for my grandfather; my love for him, my respect for and fascination with his stories, and my sadness and fear about his diagnosis and what it ultimately means. It allows me to share one of his tales with a wider audience in a way they can engage with, but does not shy away from the reality of his condition. I have also, with this piece, been able to balance my desire to document and preserve the story in an archival sense, but in a way that goes beyond mere documentary as a piece of artistic expression. Whilst there may be some work to do, particularly with the sound mix but potentially other minor tweaks, as well as the fact I would like feedback from trusted sources to ensure the piece works for audiences, I am satisfied that this will be my final sound piece.