Evolving education: An interview with Leigh Davis one third of the Feed App team.

Feed - Remix Everything - V2 from incidental on Vimeo.

During the last semester at USW we were fortunate enough to have 3 excellent guest lectures from different fields relating to the creative industries. Leigh Davies a former pupil of the CSM course has gone on to work on some really exciting and innovative projects. Feed is an App that is making an impact in schools across the UK, encouraging fresh faces and ears to listen in ways that for some takes years to get around to. I was supposed to post this up at the beginning of the year but feel that now would be a good time. Spring is coming and new ideas blossoming. For more info follow the links at the bottom of the page.

EMW: Your guest lecture today at USW for CSM was really interesting and it is great to see a start up like Feed flourishing in Wales. What were the biggest challenges when developing Feed?

LD: Thank you. Without a doubt the biggest challenge was committing to a project fresh out of University and not knowing exactly how to do what was asked of me. The opportunity arose as I graduated, and opportunities like these are few and far between, so in order to take it, it was a case of say yes now and figure it out later! After that, over the years the problems weren't as big of a hurdle as this was I suppose… Things like learning to professionally "wear many hats" was quite a big learning curve. There's only three of us as the core team, with things to do to make Feed happen, so it was tough, but this is also one of the best things about working in this field.

EMW:  It’s more than just another app but it seems to have evolved in to a tool to educate people on sound and music, did studying at CSM give you many ideas on how to integrate education in to creative industries?

LD: Yes, since its inception it has definitely become more about "what happens around Feed" as an experience rather than just as a product/app, one of those things being our education program. CSM definitely influenced what concepts were brought into our education courses. My time at CSM exposed me to thoughts and concepts that were totally new to me in music and further, and these were things I wished I'd have been exposed to years ago, so we decided to begin exposing primary school pupils of this generation to some of these perception-bending concepts too.

EMW:  Feed is now at a place where you are able to build upon the original concept and make available to an even more diverse audience. You are currently working on FeedforAll. Could you explain this briefly?

LD: Absolutely! Feed is now becoming a bit of an "umbrella" which branch projects are sitting under. FeedforAll is looking to bring a much more accessible Feed experience to SEN/ALS students. Very recently our experience of running a few of our course sessions at Special Needs schools went fantastically but it became clear immediately that not all individuals were able to fully engage in the experience…  The concepts carried over well but a barrier was presented to us in the form of the touch screen, especially to those with poor fine motor control. FeedforAll will be a new development of Feed kicking off in 2015 and we hope, over the next few years, will ultimately will take us into hardware tool development and spacial/immersive experiences that will remove as many of those disability barriers from the equation.

EMW:  It is also a creative tool. What I love most about Feed is that no matter who gets their hands on it, whether it's a class of year 3 students or a fully versed musician working with all the latest tech it can make exciting content. How did you manage to balance ease of use whilst maintaining this far reaching aesthetic?

LD: On approaching the UI design for Feed we immediately decided to keep things very graphical and representational. So there are no words, icons, or workflow grids to guide users in any specific way, and I think this is what allows us to tap into that wide audience age/ability span; it's open to interpretation. Because of this I've always personally viewed Feed like an "instrument" in that sense, as it's something you can learn to use, get better at with practice, and develop a personal user style. Every user we've come across uses it totally different from the other, and that's been one of the more extremely satisfying result of this project for me.

EMW: What is it like for a start up within the creative industries based in Wales? Is there much support out there and would you recommend more people do it?

LD: So… in terms of the "traditional" avenue of the start up and funds associated with that, that side is still very new to this project. Incidental have only recently become LTD so those models weren't really applicable to us on starting... Feed was born through Arts funding in Wales in 2011, it's thrived through educational income since Sept 2013 in both Wales and England, and only now are we looking to explore supporting our growth through the more traditional Start-up funding model.

So we've come through a slightly strange avenue of realising Feed to get it to a point as a "business". I'd definitely recommend the process of sitting down and finding out all options and avenues available outside of the traditional methods to make a project happen, there's more options out there than you might think.

EMW:  From your work with schools and Feed you have built up a large sample pack of material that I believe has fallen in to the hands of a couple of electronic acts from Cardiff, Jauge and Bodhi. Is there a project developing based around this?

LD: Yeah, so all of this has come out of our finalisation of the format of our "Feed Beginners" course. This is a course where pupils get 6 sessions learning about Feed, about the concept of found sound, and alternative music composition. Recently we wanted to bulk up the outcomes from the course to increase its impact and value to schools. All of the Beginners courses we have delivered to date have always churned out several gb of audio files that sound totally interesting, fantastic, and weird! So as well as the pupils getting a chance to create their own Feedcentric tracks during their time on the course, a collection of the pupil produced stems get handed over to a professional musician to produce a "class track". It's a way for the kids to get involved in the professional music scene but also an opportunity for artists to wind up with a large sample pack produced by primary school pupils, which is really quite a bizarre thing to have when you think about it!

Jauge has been in residency this month piloting this new idea for the Beginners course and it has been absolutely fantastic, he's delivered incredible tracks and the pupils/schools and general community have loved what’s been created. And yes, we've spoken to Bodhi plus a few other artists in order to get a few more names involved over the coming Spring and Summer school terms.

It's proving to be a really great model so far, and we're currently closing in on secure a radio play for each track that comes out of every beginners course to take the impact of the delivery to its limits and further inspire the pupils.

EMW:  Can others get hold of this sample pack?

LD: I think the exclusivity of the complete sample pack that each class produces is one of the rewards that the artist gets when they jump on board and create a class track; a "unique content for unique content" trade if you like. So if any electronic musicians were interested in grabbing a few gig of audio content exclusively, produced by these crazy primary school classes then this opportunity is now finally open to the network of electronic musicians.

In terms of public audio content, we have talked about some form of in-app sound content for Feed. Maybe… a browser in the app that features monthly selected sound sample collections, or audio background feeds that can be loaded up and used by anyone inside their personal copy of Feed… but this is all currently on the drawing board.

You also present Feed in a live performance setting. Could you talk a little about this?

LD: Yeah, Feed:vox is the name of this branch of the project. This was developed as an opportunity for us at Incidental to explore a new live performance method using Feed. We debuted it at Wellcome Collection in London as part of "The Voice" event. Basically we turned up with a multi iPad setup, audio routing gear, and a solitary microphone at the front of the stage. We had no content, or no idea what we were to perform so the performance was sculpted in real time around the audio that a member of the audience gave to us through the microphone at the front of the stage. High levels of risk, weirdness, and flying by the seat of your pants character building for sure.

EMW: Who else is of interest to you working in emerging tech within the creative industries?

LD: We're always keeping an eye on emerging tech in order to perch us back on the edge in terms of pushing our projects development. We're starting to think about hardware utilisation and/or development, especially with some of the more blue-sky ideas around FeedforAll, so things like the Leap Motion have caught our eye in the past year or so, and it sorta goes without saying that the heavily cited Oculus Rift is on our radar in terms of a way of starting to look at spacial interaction with sound and jumping out from the touch screen.

EMW:  What’s next?

LD: 2015 is looking to be the first big year for us in many ways, the development for FeedforAll will be kicking off early in the year. We'll also be expanding the Feed course facilitators team with new willing, driven individuals across the UK, potentially further. We’ll also finally be getting around to porting the standard app to mobile and then also outside of the iOS platform, something that been delayed with the added responsibilities we’ve had outside of our “app developer” roles.

But most importantly there will be a big push for us as the core team to put ourselves once again at the edge of the emerging and experimental art tech arena, but this time under an already established umbrella, being Feed, to put it onto and into new platforms and incarnations via new systems and technologies, a professional mantra for us that brought Feed into the world in the first place.

Useful Links for Incidental/Feed:


Facebook: www.facebook.com/thefeedapp


Twitter: @FFeeeedd