A Music Memory Box for dementia

Posted on Thu 7 Mar 2013
Chloe Meineck's Music Memory Box

Watershed has commissioned makers Heidi Hinder, Chloe Meineck and Patrick Laing to research new projects at the intersection of craft, technology and culture. In the second of three updates (yesterday we spoke to Heidi about her project - coins that trigger invaluable experiences!) we catch up with Chloe to find out more about her project and her progress.

The three makers are all recipients of Watershed's new Craft and Technology Residencies and they are now at the mid-way point of their work. All three have been posting updates on their experiences of the residencies which you can explore and comment on and there's an opportunity to hear from them all in person (and get up close with their projects!) at a free showcase of their work and development on Thu 28 March.

Chloe Meineck - Music Memory Box

Chloe Meineck portrait
Chloe Meineck, image © Brighton University 2012

When visiting her grandmother Winnie in the years she suffered with dementia, Chloe Meineck was amazed to find that despite the jumbled and unreliable nature of her memories, Winnie's musical recall was impeccable. She would sit at the piano and play almost all the hymns in a hymn book, and the music brought up emotions and memories that were previously inaccessible or incoherent. This experience inspired Chloe to begin her work on her Craft and Technology Residency project: the Music Memory Box.

Chloe has been working with Autonomatic in Falmouth developing her Music Memory Box into a communal experience. So far she's run workshops with groups of elderly people, presenting music to get them reminiscing as a group (Cornish folk songs in particular had everyone singing along!), and she's also been busy visiting hack spaces and specialist health and tech communities around the South West for ideas and inspiration.

family tree of familiar objects
A Family tree of memory signifiers

We asked Chloe some questions about her work and progress:

How have people responded to the music boxes and communal workshops so far? Is it very moving helping people access these hidden memories?

So far I have run four sessions in Falmouth Day Centre, where I have been pinning down what songs make certain people dance, sing, cry, smile and shout! It is good to see people having fun and sharing their stories, but upsetting when the stories and recollections are sad ones. I have been working with a large group of around 25 people, sometimes more, so it is difficult to please everyone with the music and objects I bring along: some people will laugh at a song and that makes others cry. Some people respond well to objects from the past, and some people seemed to be confused. The process in which I am going through to get the final outcome, the box of objects, is challenging.

What have you been up to since your last blog? Any exciting developments?

My difficulties with developing a process in which to get peoples' favourite music, stories and objects in such a short time and to strangers can be avoided by making kits for people to customise themselves. My new development, which has been confirmed from feedback at the Work in Progress events, is developing a kit so that I can offer a customisable set that can be sent out to families to complete with their loved one, and then a personal, bespoke, but scalable product/heirloom can be created.

How has the residency helped you develop your idea, and your practice?

The residency gives me the time to concentrate on one idea, developing and progressing it as far as it can go in the allotted residency time rather than worrying where my next month’s rent is coming from and skipping around ideas and projects trying to develop them at different stages all at the same time. It gives me the support to go into memory cafes and be backed up by great organisations supporting my work; giving it far more traction. The mash up of technology, craft and design has worried me for a while, as I am not sure which discipline I fell into, but I think I have been liberated with the freeness of the residency, slipping in between product, craft, installation and deeply technical discussions - the focus is on the ideas and research. It has been great to share ideas and give feedback with the other residents, particularly at the work in progress shows in Falmouth and Plymouth.

Join us to find out more and see the results for yourself at the Craft and Technology Residencies Showcase on Thu 28 March at 14:00. Tomorrow we'll be posting an interview with the third of the resident makers, Patrick Laing, who has developed a flying lampshade that communicates feeling.