As part of Collins' residency she set up two drum kits in the back gallery and invited community members of all ages to play the drums. Ariel Sharrat and Matthias Kom of The Burning Hell talk to Colleen Coco Collins about drum kits, access, agency and more.
Matthias Kom: What makes the drum kit intimidating?
Colleen Coco Collins: Oh! Okay.. well, I guess I should preface that, you know: everything is through my lens. [laughs]
MK: Yeah, of course.
CCC: So, for some people it’s not going to be intimidating. Part of what, for me, makes it intimidating is my vintage, and being a woman. So when I was starting out, not that there wasn’t Karen Carpenter and people that we would have seen, but it wasn’t a thought that really was realistic—to me—that I would play the drums. So that’s the lens, of course. But I do find also that I’m not alone in being intimidated by the drums.
Even in setting up the drums, there’s some kind of expertise or some kind of knowledge that’s usually necessary. So I think that can stop people right off the start. You know, if it’s a complicated thing, if you have to have knowledge seemingly before you even approach it...
MK: Right. Because you don’t have to put a guitar together before you play guitar.
CCC: Yeah, right, or a piano, or a keyboard, or whatever. I mean there’s some specialization and maybe more in DJ equipment and stuff, there’d be-
CCC: -a bit more work to do.
CCC: But the drums... When I started playing I would hesitate to adjust my hi-hat sometimes for fear of not being able to do it. And being a woman in music early on, there’s no shortage of people wanting to do it for you in some ways, or telling you how to do it. So that was something that I was looking to overcome. And I was also maybe thinking about trying in some way to hack a path so this wasn’t the pattern that women coming behind me, or people coming behind me who were not comfortable with drums, would have..
So yeah: the scale of the drums and the fact that you hit them. And the fact that you can hit them hard and they make loud noises. And when you’re someone who’s socialized to not be loud, to not create, you know, these spaces of—I don’t know—interruption, or these sounds of interruption, then it’s something to overcome, or something to think about. And making mistakes aloud and learning aloud, failing loudly. [laughs] You know? That was something I struggled with.
MK: Yeah, it’s so interesting `cause it strikes me that all the things you’re describing that make the drum kit intimidating can also be the same things that make it liberating.
CCC: Yeah. You’re totally right. And I think it’s getting to that place of overcoming personal bullshit. But that’s a very good point: that those are the most liberating and therapeutic aspects: learning how to hit hard, and control. Self-control and four-way independence: these things can be metaphorically extended and applied to life in a lot of ways.
MK: Can you talk a bit about four-way independence?
CCC: So that’s the idea of the limbs—the four limbs—working independently, autonomously, from one another, and then coming together when they need to.
CCC: Which I think can be a pretty beautiful metaphor, and very pragmatically helpful in life […]. To be able to have your head in one place but also... a forest and trees kind of thing. Having a scope of the forest but also being able to zero in on a few trees, simultaneously.
What I’m helping—seeking—seeking to try and do, is to create an ingress, or a sort of an access point, for people to use their own sense of agency. For me what was difficult was the hump of beginning. So that’s what I’m seeking to do. To help people get any kind of familiarity with the drums whereby they’d be comfortable enough to maybe pursue it in some other way.
I’m doing some reading right now, about women and drums and their experiences. It’s a common theme that it took seeing another woman player play […]. I think that’s pervasive in a lot of things, especially when we’re thinking about intersectionality and people on the margins of experience. It takes seeing—being able to envision yourself doing it a lot of times—to be able to really feel any kind of ownership to even approach doing. So that’s something that’s really exciting about being a drummer, and also being a woman. Is that you have those experiences which can feel really cool, and can feel like even if you played your shittiest, if some kid is excited by the fact that there’s someone that they can identify with more up there, it becomes about them and what they might be doing in the future.
Ariel Sharrat: Absolutely.
MK: Yeah. It’s so true that representation is always the first step. Needing to see, to have that representation in order to feel empowered enough to try something…
CCC: Yeah, and needing something to dress your fantasy. A skeleton to dress, or to hang yourself [on], or project [onto].
MK: But then, what’s so interesting about your residency here, is that you’re exploring that side, but also the equally important and in some ways more important side of it, which is access.
CCC & AS: Mmhmm.
MK: And there are so many barriers to access when it comes to the drums. Music in general, but especially the drums. It’s expensive...
AS: It’s loud, it’s big.
CCC: Yep. It scratches the floor. [all laugh]
AS: I always felt as a teenager that the lack of—you know, all these guys I knew had access to so many things that I didn’t. Garages, and the assumed support of their parents and those around them, that of course the boys would want a drum kit in the garage or something... And then you’d go to parties and they’d have these drum kits and [you’d] want to play them, but there’s so many people. It’s a hard instrument to get to play for the first time.
CCC: Yeah! To get any kind of initial access, and then to get the gumption to access that access.
AS: Exactly! Yeah. To be loud…
CCC: You know? It’s like a two or three-pronged thing... […] It’s interesting what you say, those quiet presumptions do make the difference, even if they’re not necessarily overtly sexist or overtly—
AS: Classed, also.
CCC: Exactly. They do quietly inform the path that you’re nudged along.
Much was lost; women have always made music, right?—I don’t mean to suggest that they haven’t—but we haven’t heard it all the time. [...] And I know that there are different rhythms in our lives sometimes and we bring those rhythms and we bring those different experiences to bear, and we start moving the kit around in ways that are more comfortable for us. So I think those intrusions, you could say, or those wonderful ornamentations, you could say, or these essential differences, you could say, are very important.
AS: That’s so true. And such an interesting point. And the kit is such a versatile instrument as opposed to...
CCC: --Yeah.. much more than...
AS: Much more than other things. It can be arranged differently, you know?
CCC: […] Although the kit is intimidating it isn’t necessarily… not sacred, but it isn’t nuclear to me in the same way if I come to it not knowing what that nucleus is, or if I don’t necessarily know that the snare goes this way, and the floor tom sits here. And if I start moving things around, or hitting things with different…
I think sometimes about dancing and drumming.
AS: I think about that frequently, actually.
CCC: […] That sense of dance, that sense of play: of fluid movement; it is important.
AS: And it adds a lot of value to people’s approach to drumming.
CCC: It’s an unrecognized symbiotic relationship, dance and drumming, in some ways. They certainly inform each other and are kind of the same animal.
MK: One thing that I think is so powerful about your project is that despite how intimidating a lot of people find the drums, the fundamental act of hitting a drum with a stick is in itself satisfying. And powerful and achievable. […] Anybody can walk in and sit down and make a sound, in a way that you can’t do […] with a violin, say.
AS: And play a beat— they can play a beat immediately.
MK: I think [of] the idea of the drum kit as a tool of emancipation […] I’m just imaging what would the world be like if everyone had a drum kit—if everyone had access to that?
CCC: Loud. [all laugh]
MK: Very loud. Great.
CCC: Maybe quieter, ‘cause we’d all be making our sounds there? [on the drums]
It is both an ancient and a new instrument, the drum kit, per se.
AS: One signifier, many signs. [all laugh]
OPEN STUDIO: ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE
JAN 20 to FEB 23, 2019
ABOUT THE ARTIST / COLLEEN COCO COLLINS
I am a Nova Scotia-based interdisciplinary artist of Irish, French and Odawa descent. My work centers on temporality, presumptions of sentience, subversion, rhythm, geographies, vibrations, the ouroboric and the polyglottic. I’ve studied fine and conceptual art at the Burren College of Art in Ireland, the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, and Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in New Zealand. I’ve studied English at the University of New Brunswick. I’ve studied music through the Royal Conservatory, and by performing it in dark bars across lands for years. I live with animals, regret, appetite, gratitude, and sympathetic resonance.
– Colleen/Coco Collins