Resonate Sheffield 2024-2025

Resonate Sheffield is back!

Resonate is a community music project using Indonesian gamelan instruments, based at Highfield Trinity Church. Sessions are free to participate – though donations are welcome. No musical experience is needed.

Sessions run Wednesdays from 10:30AM-12:30PM, taking place in the lower ground floor hall of the church – please access via the back door on Holland Place.

You can listen to some of the music we’ve created before on our soundcloud and watch a performance we did last year here.

Please spread the word! Participants can confirm their attendance here:

Please email if you are thinking of taking part or you have any further questions.


In Conversation: Loophole Music

In Conversation: Loophole Music

Fay, an occupational therapist, and Kieran, a Loophole Music facilitator, talk about one of our secure hospital projects and the impact it has had on one particular service user.

Fay: Dean has been in hospital for over ten years. He’s got better, and then relapsed, over and over again. He was at a point where he felt hopeless and frustrated and like he had no reason to try and get better anymore. Music was really dear to him so we decided to give him leave so he could attend a Loophole session.

Kieran: During our first session together, I quickly realised that Dean has no control over anything in his life. So, I let him go through the process that he insisted on to make tracks, even though it made no sense musically. When he listened to what he’d made, he didn’t like it and asked if we could do what I had originally suggested. Although it slowed the process, it is vital that I let him try and do it his way. The respect needs to go both ways.

Fay: That’s what made the sessions work; Kieran completely respects Dean’s artistic integrity. Kieran at no point showed any judgement over the quality of the work, which was crucial to Dean coming back week after week. Dean does this interesting thing where he throws things out that are important to him. Each week he would come in and listen to the previous week’s work and shout at Kieran, insisting that he deletes it. Kieran was so accommodating while still putting boundaries in place, explaining to Dean that he needed to respect that Kieran had also spent time working on that track. It became a very true representation of a healthy relationship in the real world.

Kieran: Throughout our sessions, I’ve definitely noticed changes in this patient, all positive ones. Like Fay says, a friendship has formed between us. Now when he comes into the room for his session he is smiling and happy to be there. He still arrives in an explosion, knowing that he’s only got a 50-minute session and there’s so much he wants to get done, but now he’s jovial, whereas the first sessions were a little more confrontational.

Fay: During his time with us, Dean has never been able to commit to regularly attending activities before. The fact that he has felt able to attend these weekly sessions – and has even looked forward to them – has been instrumental to him in other ways. There is a piece of work that he has been avoiding for years and he has now agreed to talk about it. It’s a significant piece of psychological work that he needs to complete to allow him to progress in his recovery. This is due in part to the recent positive experience with Loophole of trying, succeeding, failing and coming back to it. Dean also has a very difficult relationship with his father. Through his music, he wants to reach out to his dad to show him that he’s doing well – the first positive contact with his dad in years. Loophole has paved the way for other work to happen and for Dean to build more positive relationships going forward.

My experience of leaving prison during the pandemic

My experience of leaving prison during the pandemic


January 2022

Author and artist Ruinbow writes for Good Vibrations about their experience of leaving prison during the pandemic.


People imagine that being released from prison would be a euphoric moment, but it is actually really stressful. Counterintuitively, one thing that actually helped me when I was released was that it was lockdown.

Because I have autism, I can find social situations really difficult. If I got out to see the whole world was doing its thing as normal I would have hit a brick wall. So the fact that everyone was under lockdown restrictions made the transition a bit easier. Getting the train was more comfortable, for example, as I was the only person in the carriage.

There is also a distinct novelty about the whole freedom malarkey, too! Using metal cutlery, the tinkling and clinking against the crockery. Feeling that shiver down your arm as the knife scrapes the plate is quite weird – somehow new and different. Walking down the street is strange too. There are no more gates, no more stopping and waiting for an officer to let you past. You can see far into the distance, and the horizon is so far away. Seeing yourself properly for the first time – that’s new. In prison you only have access to small square mirrors.

While I enjoyed the novelties and freedom, I was stressed about where I was going to live. I was released into a probation hostel. Some people hate being placed in hostels because of the restrictions imposed, but I was relieved to have somewhere to stay, even though it was temporary.


Finding work was much harder than I thought it would be

When I was there I started engaging with the Job Centre and Clean Sheet, a charity that supports people with convictions find employment. They helped me keep motivated in my job search. I had a vision whilst in prison that on release I would get a job in a factory or a warehouse, but it seems that a lot of these jobs are advertised and recruited by agencies. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be to get a job in a place like that.

Even if I had managed to get that sort of job, the strict curfew in the hostel wouldn’t have allowed it. In fact, the curfew meant that I had to turn down two other jobs that I was offered. As I had to turn them down due to external factors, I felt motivated to pursue my art, which I discovered in prison. I basically thought, okay, if I can’t work then I’m gonna do some art and work out what my next steps are.


And finding somewhere to live seemed impossible

I always knew that my stay in the hostel would be temporary and that I had three months to find myself appropriate accommodation. I managed to get in touch with various charities, organisations, and the council. However, as I was living somewhere they couldn’t help me, even though the hostel was temporary. Some of the other lads in the hostel were in the same situation. This was visibly affecting them. One person turned to gambling and when he lost all his benefits he got really drunk and was recalled into prison.

The help offered at the time of my release in February 2021 was really slim and the excuse was coronavirus. I didn’t get the support and guidance I required. I was told on the seventh week of my hostel stay that I was going to be leaving the following week. I was confused as my stay at the hostel was supposed to be 12 weeks long. The manager wasn’t there at the time, so I couldn’t raise the issue for a few days. Over the weekend, I was really stressed and found it hard to cope.

The manager decided to keep me there for the full 12 weeks. However, it’s not simple to find somewhere to move to as probation has to approve the address of all properties before you can move in. Housing benefit would cover between £250 and £300 per month of the rent, but it was impossible to find anything within that price range. There were some properties for around £500 a month, but when I contacted the estate agents they told me that because I’m unemployed and do not have a guarantor, they couldn’t rent to me.

I think this is a real problem. Somebody’s living space should not be viewed as a business opportunity. And if you do choose to make money that way, why would you turn away those people that want help? This is indicative of discrimination between the classes. The poor people have to live in a particular part of town, away from the rich people. And this means that everyone loses out – how can true community form when this is the case?

As I was unable to find an alternative, I was placed into a hotel after my 12 weeks in the hostel. A hotel is not a home. It is a roof over your head and nothing more. Other than a kettle, I had no means of cooking or preparing food, so inevitably I was living off Pot Noodles and takeaways. Once a month I would treat myself to an All You Can Eat Buffet and I would go straight for the fruit and vegetables to get some sort of nutrition.


I felt like my life was in someone else’s hands

While I was in the hotel, the council had to decide if I was “intentionally homeless”. If they decide you are intentionally homeless you have to fend for yourself, which basically means be on the streets. If they decide you are unintentionally homeless they have a duty of care to ensure you have somewhere to live.

They took some time to make the decision, which again placed me under stress. Eventually it was decided that I was unintentionally homeless and I moved from the hotel into supported accommodation. The flat I was placed in was classed as shared. There wasn’t nearly enough space for us there, which made things really difficult for me. The other occupant kept opening my bedroom door as well, sometimes as late as one in the morning. This made me feel really anxious and unsafe. Because I have autism it is important I develop routines that work for me, which I was unable to do with this living arrangement. I spoke to my doctor who recommended I live independently to allow me to find routines and to prevent me getting anxious about having to socially communicate with someone.


Finally things are heading in the right direction

After making a series of complaints, I was moved into a bedsit which I am fairly happy with regarding my own space and being able to develop routines. There have been some minor issues like the hob and fridge/freezer don’t work. It means whenever I buy ice cream, I have to eat it all in one go. I suppose the other option would be not to buy ice cream, but I wouldn’t want to hurt Ben and Jerry’s feelings.

The difficulty I have experienced in finding somewhere to live has really got me thinking about attitudes to housing more generally. Recently, I was talking to a woman who privately rents a flat in a block where some properties are owned by social housing. This means that some residents are only paying half of what she is for a similar property. I do understand her frustration, but it shows that the system is built so that people who require help are resented by those who don’t.


And I’m able to focus on what’s important to me

Now my life is moving forward. I always hoped that I could make art my career when I was released, but I imagined it would be a case of getting a job and slowly transitioning to self-employment. Still going to my appointments at the Job Centre while selling some pieces of art has helped me keep the safety net of benefits whilst testing out the self-employment stuff.

My work is now for sale on Prodigal Arts, along with artwork by other prisoners and ex-prisoners, and if you live in or near Chester, you can buy my art from Woodstock Vinyl Record Shop on Brook Street.




“At least under lockdown I had a roof over my head.”

This image shows a homeless guy who is longing for coronavirus and wants it to come back.

The homeless guy is represented by Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp” character. I think society just needs to pause and acknowledge that while coronavirus was undoubtedly a negative thing and devastated many lives, to some people it was actually a lifeline. The help that vulnerable people received during the pandemic is now being removed from them. The “wind” in this image that is taking it away is the government.

My Good Vibrations experience and why it works

My Good Vibrations experience and why it works

November 2021

Author: Benjamin Yacoub, Talent Manager at Twisted Passion Ent

Entering prison with a lengthy sentence to some is the end of the world. Although many give up and get involved with the drug culture to escape the realities of prison, others use the prison like the streets, with the aim of becoming infamous. Although society is changing, people generally still focus on personal goals like securing the perfect career and a family. But being in prison makes achieving these goals impossible.

This is why a lot of mature prisoners focus solely on settling down post-release. They often use their time productively focusing on faith, reading, studying, or finding a business or a trade through vocational courses. They will also often use the facilities within the creative space to focus on music, arts, clothing or whatever it is that interests them.

For me, I used education to rewire my mind while in prison. Rigourous studying and academia kept my mind grounded. I also focussed on music. I managed to work in the prison studio: making beats, teaching others, mixing tracks, and recording music for other potential artists in the system.

Still, being in prison wasn’t easy. My state of mind had to be strong to withstand the mental levels of one who is struggling with the pain of imprisonment and has yet to accept what they have done. And being released, too, comes with multiple tests of faith, trust and temptations. The anticipation of release can seriously affect one’s mental health. Without a strong support network, ex-prisoners tend to fall back on their old ways and look to criminality for support.

Now, parts of the voluntary sector are very astute to the struggles prisoners endure and make it a priority to support those needs. Through my experience with the Irene Taylor Trust I have got insight into the voluntary and charitable sector. As well as working with the Irene Taylor Trust, I have worked on scores of projects including the Philharmonic Orchestra, Lewisham YOI, The Prince’s Trust and with other organisations including Good Vibrations since my release.

Taking part in a Good Vibrations community project was interesting as I had referenced their projects in my postgraduate dissertation, without ever experiencing one myself. In my dissertation I spoke positively about its outcomes as my research question focussed on whether character building through prison music interventions has an impact on recidivism.

I quote from my dissertation…

“The Good Vibrations Gamelan in Prisons Project aims to inspire and empower people through creative involvement in music making and open communication. Similar to the Irene Taylor Trust, the project enthused effective-practice methods in twenty-four secure institutions in the UK, including young offenders’ institutions and secure hospitals (Wilson, 2009). Although the interventions have had a profound impact towards developing positive attitudes on inmates (Wilson, 2009), researchers needed to define whether there was any long-term financial impact of such projects. Therefore, a study was used to measure the long-term psychological, behavioural, motivational and pro-social effects on participants during the remainder of their sentence and post-release. Focusing on these cognitive functions helped the practitioners to assess whether inmates were engaging with the project, the practitioners and prison staff, and whether the intervention was successful in supporting inmates coping with life in prison and post-release. The findings not only found a positive impact on psychological, emotional and behavioural traits during the prison setting. But also suggest that months after the project, prisoners experienced more positive outcomes in dealing with decision making, rational behaviour and personal problems during the remainder of their sentence and six months post-release from incarceration (Wilson, 2008).”

For my own interest, I wanted to understand whether music interventions are only appealing to people in a less fortunate position or who have little resources, such as those in prison. Therefore, I brought someone to the Good Vibrations community project who had never been in prison before, to examine their interaction and engagement with the project and what impact it had for them. The person I invited is a friend of mine, Pav, who has never been in prison nor had any contact with the criminal justice system.

His feedback was interesting…

“On this project I felt open minded. When it comes to the music part, I am not usually good with instruments. However I felt motivated to give it a go. This also helped me realise that music can help me release a lot of stress.

“I would love to take part in this project again if I get another opportunity as it also helped me control my awkwardness around people. This felt really therapeutic as it made me realise how little things in life can make a lot of difference. In the intervention you are surrounded by strangers at the beginning, but the way everyone had different music sense and different backgrounds, everyone had their unique experiences, and we ended up leaving there like we’d been friends for a while.

“I would recommend this to anyone that deals with a lot of stress or can’t keep a clear head. I felt as if I developed a different perspective in life which will help me moving forwards.”

I can confidently agree with Pav on how the project worked well with people from different backgrounds. You could feel the excitement from others just from the atmosphere in the room. As soon as we chose our instruments everyone got into the vibe instantly.

I felt in synchronisation with others in the group, especially towards the sound and tempo, and demonstrating leadership by having the opportunity to stand up and conduct the group. It felt like creating a mini orchestra with a crew taking commands solely by following my hand signals.

As it’s all happening live, you have the ability to freestyle and change how you want sounds to fall in synchronisation. In addition, the facilitator explained the key points in the easiest way for everyone to replicate. One participant got right into the zone as he was conducting which brought a lot of fun and laughter.

As Pav said, the energy and the whole session was high spirited and positive. It felt life changing in that moment and it took my mind away from any negative thoughts outside of the music. I would certainly recommend it for rehabilitation of the mind. Also, reflecting on it months after taking part, I can feel how much an intervention like this is needed towards replenishing moods and vibrations. The energy outside of projects like these can be overwhelming.

I also would like to thank all the participants and staff involved in the project. It was a tough time and the invitation allowed me to participate with an open-minded, diverse crowd of people who appreciate music and peace. It was also great to finally participate in a Good Vibrations gamelan project after writing about it in my thesis. I look forward to projects in the future.


Benjamin Yacoub
Twisted Passion Enterprise


From prison art to lockdown art to…

From prison art to lockdown art to…

Author and artist Ruinbow writes for Good Vibrations about how he got into art while in prison, his experience of being an art mentor, and his drive to make art accessible for all.


I did not take to art easily, I found it really boring and a bit pretentious. I thought most of it was just crap. I did not like the tutor in prison. She just wanted me to do colour wheels and draw pictures of apples, none of which interested me.

I was sitting in my cell one evening and my cellmate was watching something on TV. I was flicking through a magazine and I thought, “I could draw that,” I picked up a pencil and started drawing on some scrap paper. I was really happy with the results at the time.

On reflection, the artwork is not that good but it is the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that drove me forward.
I kept questioning my ability at every stage with the desire to become better. I focused mainly on portraits and people approached me on the wing to draw for them in return for chocolate and shower gels (prison currency).

I became an art mentor in prison, working under the tutor that I didn’t take to, after being a maths and English mentor for education. I had already established myself as a trusted prisoner (not an oxymoron) within this role. The art tutor liked my work and knew that I could guide other people in the right direction. My favourite type of person was those who said they could not draw or do art. I just had to help them become confident with drawing. I never did any demonstrations for them but I gave them advice. I told them, you are just worried that what you draw does not look good or right, but when you were a kid, you probably didn’t even think about ability. You just drew!

I taught them to draw a circle using just words. I gave them a piece of paper, pencil and rubber. I said, “draw a circle” and they started to draw, some took their time and had a shaky line and some created an egg shaped blob. I asked them, “is that a circle?” and they replied “no”, so I gave them the option to correct it and every time they would rub out what they had drawn and tried again. I told them not to do that, never ever to do that. I explained what they have on the paper is not far off from being a circle and if they keep rubbing it out and starting again, they will keep on making the same mistakes. I told them to use what they have done as a guide and to imagine a clock 12, 3, 6, and 9. So split the circle into quarters. Ask yourself questions. What is wrong with that part of the circle? How can I make it better? I instructed them to draw a correct line over the wrong line (or a better line) and only when the better line is down on the paper, then and only then can you rub out the wrong line. I sort of became like a driving instructor, I just told them what to do and they were really happy with their results

They kept asking to see my work and they wanted me to draw for them as well so this gave me a regular source of income (the chocolate and shower gels). Being the art mentor also gave me a status of being the guy to go to for drawings. At first, I was charging £3 for an A4 piece and £5 for an A3 piece but as I became more popular I started to charge £25 for anything. I read loads of books on technique and I learned about a lot of artists in prison.


One day I noticed Koestler Awards advertised in the prison and I decided to enter. The drawing below won a First Time Entrant Award, Bronze Award, Highly Commended and this year my artwork was selected for exhibition.




The money that I received from Koestler I have invested in art materials.

I have recently been diagnosed with autism and there are several traits that support my passion for art. I have good attention to detail and I became obsessed with art, just wanting to know everything about everything.

Recently, I have been working on an idea that came to me from the pandemic. I noticed rainbows everywhere and this became a symbol of gratitude and hope. I thought because this was plastered everywhere on TV, in people’s houses and in shops, people will just associate these colours and the rainbow with the pandemic in the future, therefore they will be ruined.

I watched a documentary a couple of months ago about Banksy and I have seen how he works and creates his images. I started to do the same but appropriated the images with rainbows. I call these ruinbows. Before watching the documentary, I had the idea but the style was more of a multicoloured line drawing, starting with the lightest colour, and working to a darker colour building it up to a more accurate representation.

As I have recently left prison I am homeless myself, but I do have a roof over my head so I am in a better position than those sleeping rough. That is why I have decided to give away signed prints of my work to homeless people, so they can display and sell the work if they want to. It annoys me when people just walk past the homeless like their lives are so much more important than the insignificant people in shop doorways.

Why don’t people stop and talk to them, say hello, perhaps give them a little bit of money, and so what if they were to buy fags and booze with the money? I’m on benefits and I try to give a pound a week away to the homeless. I don’t think anyone should be homeless.

What I’m working on now

This piece didn’t take me too long to complete but it is for all of those people out there who make the excuse, “I cannot draw, I can only draw stick men” that they can still create recognisable works of art and it is what they do with those stickmen to create artwork.




This piece is again trying to urge those people who say they can only draw stick men to just give art a try. The fact you can only draw stick men is not a reason not to draw with them. People care too much about what they think an image is supposed to look like and because they can’t replicate that, they give up.






This piece took me two days to complete and it was really therapeutic. I was definitely in the moment with it and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I did not worry about any of life’s problems when creating it. This piece is not yet finished as I need to place the rainbow on it but you can see the process on how these pieces work. It took me a while to draw and create the black and white image, but I have now created stencils to make it easier to reproduce the image over and over again. There are 2 stencils that make up the image, a silhouette of the whole thing, all sprayed white. Then a flimsy little stencil to cover up the white parts and this is overlaid then sprayed black. The stencils are made out of cereal boxes as they are cheap material to work with. I want people to understand that making art does not need to be expensive.




I did this sketch on the way to Liverpool on the bus. Outside the window is just a road but on the sketchpad is the Mersey tunnel. I had a lot more time drawing the inside of the bus and the sketchpad with hands but in the tunnel was time limited. I had to work really quickly and decide which part of the tunnel to draw because there is a lot of turns and ups and downs in the tunnel. I got down most of the information on the first time through but completed it on the way back.


My artwork has definitely developed since I was released from prison in February because I now have immediate access to materials and can look at other artwork in galleries and online. I’m looking forward to seeing where my art takes me in the future.
The wheelchair is invisible

The wheelchair is invisible

On 11 April, Linda Yates, Margaret Smith and Heather Strohschein presented The wheelchair is invisible – a conversation about accessibility and inclusivity in the time of Covid  at MACSEM 2021, a conference organised by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter for the Society for Ethnomusicology.

  • Margaret – a community musician who facilitates Good Vibrations’ Resonate project, which provides inclusive musical workshops
  • Linda – an amateur musician, participant advisor for Good Vibrations and representative of people with additional support needs
  • Heather – an ethnomusicologist whose works centres on gamelan outside of Indonesia, and community music-making

The video paper explored inclusivity, consent, ethnomusicology, academic language and accessibility. It was crafted from hours of conversations between Scotland and the USA. In it, Linda defined an inclusive session as one where, “All of it involves everybody. Nobody says, ‘You’re disabled, you can’t play that’. You learn at your own pace. Each person has got a different level of ability and they learn in their own time.” And, Heather, said the pandemic enabled her to do things she would never have been able to do before, like go to Resonate sessions (online) – “I can’t pop down to Resonate in Glasgow from Bowling Green, Ohio, usually!”

The approach they took and the resulting film was notably different, at an academic ethnomusicology conference. Katherine Metz, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Oberlin College, who was chairing the panel, was visibly moved. Delegates were “In awe of the presentation”. They “Loved this approach in that it’s focused on how it feels to engage with this process”. They remarked, “We so often lose the laughter in the translation to the academic realm”, and felt that “This presentation and format speaks to so many issues”.

Linda, Margaret and Heather want their conversation about accessibility and inclusivity to become a conversation with you. They invite you to watch it, share it and use it to start a conversation. Please feedback your thoughts by emailing Heather on or Mags on

Date: 25 June, 2021

Author: Katy Haigh, Executive Director, Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations’ film premiere

Good Vibrations’ film premiere

On the evening of 21st May, Good Vibrations hosted the film premiere of Beyond Performance, within an intimate, online event attended by the artists who created it, plus an invited audience.

The film combines an eclectic mix of shadow puppetry and music. It was created collaboratively through an online project run by director Sarah Stuchfield, professional artists, and old and new Good Vibrations participants across the UK. It was funded by Arts Council England.

Although there is no set narrative to the film, the group created shadow puppet clips with the suggestion of what they would like to do, or where they would like to be, after the pandemic -the result being a powerful and aspirational film.

During the post-premiere Q&A session, audience members and the artists involved fed-back:

“The filming, puppetry and music were lovely – just wonderful.”

“Really rich. Would want to see it again. Love the colours. There was a warmth – of ‘Balloon Love’, of ‘Unstuck’, of the anchor, of ‘Triangle Man’, and the bat – I love the bat finding light. Really beautiful. Loved it!”

“A super combination of music and puppeteering… Lovely characterisation both in appearance and movement.”

“It had an intense vibe. I got a sense of longing and of aliveness about it.”

““It was an amazing kit we got in the post to make the puppets. Taking part got me off Netflix – crafting and playing. A lovely experience.”

“It got us well away from our current times.”

“We’ve all been locked in, but by doing this we’ve been allowed out. I’m looking forward to what people create next now that they’ve got the equipment and the skills.”

You can watch it on our YouTube channel

Opening Up – Collective Joy in Prison and Beyond

Opening Up – Collective Joy in Prison and Beyond

‘Hozho is not something you can experience on your own,
the eagles tell us as they lock talons in the stratosphere
and fall to the earth as one.

 Hozho is interbeauty.’

 Lyla June Johnston – Hozho


As a trainee Good Vibrations facilitator, my first visit to a prison was not a typical one. As I approached the grey, hunched, fort-like building, went through security, and was led through a maze of corridors, locked doors and barbed wire fence I felt my body tense up with claustrophobia and anxiety. This combined uneasily with the guilty relief that I was a visitor – not a resident – of such a place. Yet not long after this, I was in a nondescript backroom surrounded by tuned, ornate bronze Gamelan instruments resonating together in harmony, improvising and composing a unique and beautiful piece of music (listen below) with a group of smiling strangers. My nervous system was confused, to say the least.

I don’t recall exactly when I heard the expression ‘collective joy’, but I remember that satisfying sense of something being named which needed naming. In a basic sense, it refers to that transcendent feeling of connection and creative communion we can experience only in relationship with others. We need collective joy, and, after a year of lockdown restrictions and enforced ‘social isolation’, we are missing it now, more than ever. As such, we are in a better position than usual to imagine, in some miniscule way, what life might be like for the 80,000 odd people in the UK – and some nine million worldwide – who were isolated in prisons before the pandemic, and have suffered even harsher conditions since, locked up for an average of 22 hours a day.

Is there even any such thing as joy which isn’t collective? According to Jeremy Gilbert, a cultural theory academic and DJ I interviewed last summer for Good Vibrations, joy is ‘always sort of collective. You can experience collective joy sitting quietly in a library, relating to people through reading their books…’ . Yet there is something particularly important about the ability to experience connection with other humans in the flesh; the multidimensional complexity of another being responding to your own complexity in the moment.

Collective joy is in no way a given in the presence of other humans of course – in a traffic jam, say, or at a gathering at which you feel unwelcome or disconnected from, or even fearful of, the people around you. Some degree of safety (both real and perceived) and trust in the people around you is a necessary condition for collective joy. It is inevitably hard to access in an oppressive institutional setting like a prison. This is one of the main problems with the existing criminal justice system, as Gilbert puts it: ‘there’s a tendency for prison to produce people who come out more alienated than they went in, and less able to effectively relate to other people around them’.

This analysis is borne out by another moving interview with Good Vibrations past participant and former prisoner, Russ Haynes: ‘You’re on guard 24/7… the way I survived was to close up… you’re careful who you speak to, you’re really careful about what you say, where you go, who you interact with… and all of that happening on a day to day basis can be really mentally exhausting’. Yet even small, genuine experiences of collective joy can cultivate the ability to trust in others and see collectivity as a source of potential joy, empowerment and liberation, as he described recalling his first experience of a gamelan workshop:

‘There was something about it that was so… and this sounds really cringey but it’s the only one I can use to describe it… so spiritual. I just felt there was a sense of freedom. It was the first time I felt truly free to express how I was feeling through music. It took me away from my environment. I remember how I felt, it was so calming, it was so spiritual, it was so relaxing. That stone of anger that I had inside me was starting to break away and I was not only connecting with the guys around me, but connecting with the battle I was having inside of myself at the time. And it opened me up to experience emotions that I was suppressing because of my anger, because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak as I felt. The whole thing gave me an experience I needed at the time, which was to be able to relax and feel something. For me, it was my first step to communicating with the outside world, which before I was refusing to let in.’

Gilbert’s understanding of the phenomenon of collective joy is influenced by the 17th Century German philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In this understanding, it refers to ‘that dimension of any experience which is a product of even a microscopic enhancement of a subject’s capacities’. Collective joy is a form of freedom in other words. Not the kind of freedom associated with the rugged individual (usually male) hero, enforcing his will upon the world, but the empowered freedom you feel when you transcend your limited capacity as an individual via acting together, consensually and creatively with others. Prison in this sense restricts not just your literal freedom to move, but your ability and your natural instinct to access liberatory forms of collectivity. 

Collective joy, and the impacts of its absence, is not a topic relevant purely to the experience of prison, or even of lockdown. I think this concept means so much to me because, as someone who has experienced chronic depression since my early twenties, genuine collective joy feels like its opposite. Depression is the ultimate feeling of psychic isolation, alienation and disconnection; a prison of the soul. At its worst it is not a feeling of sadness, or even despair, but of nothingness, and it is very much a ‘disease of civilisation’ (i.e Western civilisation). Recovery and staying well for me has always been associated with an ability to reach out and connect with the people and the world around me.

The sad truth is, experiencing this kind of collectivity was, for many of us, an all too rare experience even before the pandemic.  This is not to say we crave collectivity all of the time, of course. Many of us, myself included, need and appreciate ‘alone’ time, but we are social mammals nonetheless. Forced isolation, and its associated affective state, loneliness, is not just an unpleasant emotional reality impacting our mental health, but is increasingly recognised as a devastating threat to physical health with a mortality risk impact akin to smoking.

Before ‘socially isolating’ became a public health instruction, it was mostly known as a public health problem, with increasing attempts to address it, and identify its deep root causes. Some point to the loss of community and shared spaces of collectivity associated with the decline of religion. I formerly worked as a Community Organiser for secular congregational community Sunday Assembly, founding a new congregation in the East End of London. Sunday Assembly was founded in 2013 by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who wanted to recreate the feelings of community and connection they remembered from attending church in their youth, without the framing of a faith they had since lost.  They kept the basic ingredients of a church service; a reason to get up and be with others on a Sunday morning; a shared celebration of life in all its tragedy; an emphasis on community service and crucially communal singing – pop singalongs with a live band.

The first assemblies were a huge success and the idea quickly gained traction, leading to assemblies springing up around the world. Yet I remember the first time I attended an assembly, and the awkwardness and reluctance I felt – and felt others feel – when asked to stand and sing with a room of strangers. That feeling got easier to manage and bypass but never fully disappeared: though we crave it, collective joy doesn’t always come naturally anymore, because it’s culturally pretty alien to many of us. We can very quickly feel ‘self-conscious’ – worried about embarrassing our all-important individual selves. How many of us are able to dance and sing enthusiastically and freely without the aid of alcohol for instance? What does our culture do to our children – such natural dancers –  to inhibit them from doing so when they grow up?

Sunday Assembly East End

This line of inquiry has inherently political implications. Gilbert places at least some of the blame on the dominant political and economic ideology forced on the world over the last 50 years: neoliberalism:

‘Under advanced capitalist culture, neoliberal culture, we are discouraged from experiencing collectivity as joyful, we’re encouraged to think of any meaningful or satisfying experience as being by its nature private… we are encouraged to feel that the only truly satisfying and meaningful agency in the world is to buy something and to consume it… we’re encouraged to think of every aspect of lives in terms of something that we’re acquiring, something we’re buying, something we’re making an investment in from everything from relationships to education.’

This loss has deeper and older roots, however, and it is perhaps no accident that Good Vibrations employs a non-Western (Indonesian) musical form to facilitate experiences of collective joy. In ‘Dancing in the Streets – A History of Collective Joy’ Barbara Ehrenreich details the fascination and horror of early European colonialists when they witnessed the ‘almost ubiquitous practice of ecstatic ritual’, in which large groups of people in the cultures they encountered would ‘dance, sing or chant to a state of exhaustion and, beyond that, sometimes trance. Such examples of collective joy and ritual ‘ecstasy’ are well known to anthropologists as universal human impulses, which have had to be heavily repressed to facilitate the strange, lonely and disconnected individual selfhood prized and developed in the West, then exported forcibly upon the rest of world over the last five hundred years or so. Even now the forms of music and dance we associate with contemporary Western cultures of collective joy, from jazz to techno, largely have their roots in the African diaspora.

Weekly ‘Tam Tam’ jam session in Montreal, Quebec

Experiences of collective joy, particularly through music, can facilitate deep healing, in the most inhospitable of conditions, supporting people who are locked up, whether in literal and psychological cell, to experience, even for a moment, the possibility of a world beyond. Yet this has lessons for our wider culture too, about what we’ve lost and what we need to heal collectively. Going further, it may even have implications for our relationship to not just ourselves and each other but the natural world. Can opening up to the world beyond our individual selfhood begin to undo the dangerous disconnection from the ecological foundations of life, which has in no small part facilitated the devastation we continue to wreck upon it?

Collective Joy in this sense seems to me to relate to the untranslatable word ‘Hozho’, said to be the most important word in Diné Bizaad, a Native American language, and described by Navajo poet Lyla June Johnston (quoted at the beginning) as a sense of ‘interbeauty’, in which we feel intimately connected to all of life. As ecological activist and philosopher, Joanna Macy argues, to truly transform our relationship to the natural world, instead of ‘caring’ for nature as an abstract other, we must ‘extend our notions of self-interest; ‘it would not occur to me to plead with you, “Don’t saw off your leg. That would be an act of violence.” It wouldn’t occur to me because your leg is part of your body. Well, so are the trees in the Amazon rain basin. They are our external lungs. We are beginning to realize that the world is our body.’

Ende Gelände anti-coal protest, 2016

This may sound like a standard hippie appeal to oneness. But the more we learn about ecology, biology and physics, the more it turns out the hippies were right, right?  Everything is connected, and, like love, this reality is only a superficial cliche to the extent it is abstract and disembodied. When you truly experience it, you know it. You feel great, you smile at the people and the world around you, and feel part of it again… yet you also open up yourself to deep grief at the violence we regularly do to each other and the biosphere. To ourselves. In this sense perhaps collective joy can only truly be accessed if we are prepared to open ourselves up to collective grief. Perhaps this is the deepest reason so many of us are resistant to it.

Perhaps it is time to open the gates and let it all in.


You can support the excellent work of Good Vibrations by donating to my fundraising page. I’ve taken on the huge challenge of running the London Marathon for the first time on Sunday 3 October in aid of the charity. I’m aiming to raise at least £1,500, so any help towards that target would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!

Music as a form of communication and healing

Music as a form of communication and healing

Guest Author: Anu Koechli

As human beings one of the most fascinating elements of our species is our creative capabilities with the creation and development of music over tens of thousands of years. Recent technological developments over the last few decades have allowed for scientific discoveries showing how sound frequencies are proven to promote healing both physically and mentally through using instruments or bio-resonance devices. Below we will explore a small collection of ancient instruments from various cultures with a focus on Gamelan, my experience of attending Gamelan sessions with Good Vibrations and some information on the connection between sound frequencies and the Universe itself.

Instruments, the universe & history

Our planet exists in a sound and communication orientated universe. Our ancient civilisations knew about this and respected it so which is why one of the main constants we have throughout history is the evolution of music along with the evolution of humans since our very ancient ancestors first figured out how to use animal hide stretched over carved tree trunks to create drums.

Drumming circles are believed to be one of the first musical instruments used in early tribal culture in early Gondwanaland – the first large continent of the earth before tectonic plate movements that split land into different pieces, but we can trace the early developments of drums to what is now Africa. Drumming combined with singing and chanting brought humans together in celebration or ceremony. Over tens of thousands of years humans have developed a vast spectrum of instruments to create sound, to play with different sounds and create music that enabled us to explore not only the exterior physical dimension we live in and how it works but also allowed us to explore deep within ourselves what we are capable of creating and how we communicate with each other.

(Source: Djembe Art, CC BY-SA 3.0,

When you start to explore the rich variety of musical instruments around the world in different cultures and tribes it becomes intriguing how our ancestors must have gone through a lot of trial and error to figure out how to carve and build some of the most beautiful instruments out there.

Australian Aborigines created didgeridoos from finding dead tree branches that were hollowed out by rot and termites, though modern ones are made by splitting a tree branch in half and carving out the middle. They’re used by Aborigines in Dreamtime stories that show the didgeridoo as an essential tool in the creation of the world as well as a device invented directly by the gods and they class it as a sacred instrument which is used in both public and private religious ceremonies.

(Source: By Hmarin – Self-made image, from photos of my didgeridoo collection, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ancient South American Incas created panpipes made from hollowed out bamboo or reed canes strapped together in varying lengths that create beautiful melodies that bring to mind a relaxing sense of calm and serenity which many of these people lived by up in the Andes, growing their own food, having spiritual ceremony together and paying respect to the eagle as it flies overhead.

(Source: Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Website:, CC BY-SA 1.0,

The Kora of West Africa and Sitar of India are both created from either dried and hollowed out Gourds or Pumpkins with a long wooden neck that allow for several string to be attached, that once played in harmonious melody can transport our minds away from the problems we face in the physical world almost to a higher and happier state of consciousness.

(Source: By KannanShanmugamstudio, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


It becomes clear to see how over long periods of time different tribes around the world have created instruments based on the materials they have around them which are then very unique to their own culture that have helped develop their own societies as music brings people together for celebration, religious or spiritual ceremony, for meditation and even funerary gathering but what seems more evidently important for us as humans that we can use music as a way of communicating emotions and stories to each other with or without the use of language.

As written down in the Vedas of ancient India, Om is believed to be the primordial sound frequency of the universe we live in and is a sacred sound used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

(Source: The Unicode Consortium – Derivative work of Om symbol.svg, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0

Om refers to Atman which is the soul or self within as well as Brahman that is consciously imagined as the entirety of the universe, an expression of truth and divine supreme spirit or consciousness with cosmic principles of knowledge.

Patterns in nature

The Helical vortex model of our planetary movements around the sun shows a pattern on a linear 2D diagram that resonates with that of sound sine waves and the shapes of the conch shell, which in itself is one of the ways the universe expresses the Fibonacci sequence of: 0, 1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13 and so forth ad infinitum that gives us the Golden Ratio. Mathematics expressed in the universe which over thousands of years humans have discovered that reflect a divine creation blueprint of our universe which shows itself in the cosmic creation of conch shells, sunflower heads, snail shells, ammonites, pines cones & cacti. There are ties with the Fibonacci sequence in musical scales and harmonies.

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

Could it be that over time our interest in music as a form of communication is not also to understand our own expression of emotion and to bring us together during times of celebration, religious ceremony and even during times of hardship from warring, plague, drought & famine but also to unite us continually throughout time to resonate and communicate with each other and the universe itself?

Even the atoms and molecules that make us are almost entirely made of sound, which in turn, is frequency and vibrations. In order to attune ourselves to a higher level of awareness then, we often rely on the vehicle of sound. Whether it be chanting, playing an instrument, or even our own breathing, sound inspires us and invites us to explore and express what is within.

Origins of Indonesian gamelan

Whereas Balinese Hinduism existed for many centuries in Indonesia where 83% of the population identify as Hindu and the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Gamelan music predates the Hindu-Buddhistic culture & spiritual belief systems that spread from India throughout South-east Asia between 850 and 600 BCE. The traditional ensemble arrangement of Gamelan music originates from Indonesia which consist of 17,000 islands that include Java, Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi, Papa New Guinea and Bali.

(Source: Addicted04 –

Gamelan ensemble music is created of an orchestra of instruments that comprise of hand-played drums, large bronze gongs, brass bells in varying sizes placed on meticulously carved wooden frames, brass plates also in scaled sizes on wooden frames that once created and tuned correctly to each other harmonise melodies that are very unique to Indonesia.

Sang Hyang Guru was a god king who ruled over Java from a palace on the Maendra mountain in Medang Kamulan, which in Javanese mythology is said that the instruments of gongs were created to summon the gods along with singing and shadow puppetry. To create complex messages of communication with the gods he created several differently tuned gongs which became the structure of Gamelan. The word itself, Gamelan, actually comes from the Javenese word ‘Gamel’ which is related the method of striking percussive instruments with a mallet and in Sudanese it is referred to as ‘Degung’. Degung is literally an ancient Sudanese word for gong and gong ensembles.

(Source: By

My experience with Good Vibrations gamelan drop-in sessions

The first piece of Gamelan music I heard and loved was from the BARAKA soundtrack composed by Michael Stearns in a track entitled ‘Finale’ with the scene ‘Kecak’, whereby one of the most beautiful films made in human history shows a lady walking amongst rice paddies and then cuts to scenes of Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat, finalising in a spectacular recording of Balinese shamanic ritual chanting.

It was till years later after watching and loving the film BARAKA that I was introduced to Good Vibrations and Gamelan music sessions through a dear friend, Mike, which were hosted at Middle Street Resource Centre in Nottingham with lunchtime interactive classes led by Nikki.

Through going to Good Vibrations Gamelan sessions I became in much admiration and awe of the fantastic work of the Good Vibrations team, learning how you have implemented what could be classed as an ancient and tribal originating form of music creation and communication to help people around the UK in prisons and those working through mental health challenges.

As a musician I grew up first learning to play the violin at school which I quickly put down after a few years once I learnt more about classical music in the history of Europe and its links to a mentality of pomposity, class divide and wealth that has plagued and divided humans for too long. I moved onto the electric guitar as I grew up in my teens and was listening to albums by the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Camel, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Rammstein & a plethora of many more 60’s / 70’s psychedelic rock’n’roll and later 80’s and onwards metal.

Many years later I’ve now found a much more appreciative love for the violin by putting to one-side classical music but learning how the instrument itself is crafted by hand using the divine proportions of the Golden Ratio.

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

At that stage in my life it felt like I was resonating with that form of music as the artists would convey lots of emotions in their melodies and lyrics. Over many years as my music tastes changed I developed a love and appreciation of World music, especially calmer more relaxing meditative ambient and ethnic music from different parts of the globe that I became attracted to at the same time as I focussed more attention to follow Buddhism and Hinduism on a bodhisattva path, which have helped tremendously to overcome the mental health stresses and problems I faced 15 years ago.

During the interactive Gamelan sessions with Nikki we would learn about the culture of Indonesian music and how they also treat their instruments as sacred pieces of temple like art, and learn about the different interlocking melodies played.

Anyone who wishes to join the session can choose which piece of Gamelan instrument or combination of instruments they wish to sit with that day and learn about Gamelan melodies which are first taught with series of numbers but with a continual feedback reminder from Nikki that once we learn the pattern we should use our ears to learn the melody and not the numbers.

Once I got over that mental hurdle everything started to make more sense as we individually would be remembering our own melodies which can seem tricky to play to start off with but get easier quickly over time with muscle memory and really using our ears. Nikki creates a very calm, open & responsive presence in the space as a musician and teacher facilitator that allows for people to both learn interlocking patterns & melodies during part of the session & intermixed with time to spend on free expression & experimentation of communication with each other through melodies we have learnt previously and adding bits of melodies we can create on our own.

Different people come to each session sometimes and there can be regular faces that come and it’s always been a pleasure to see them again and then build on what we learnt from the last sessions, learning more and creating something different each time. Nikki has been very dedicated and kind to record the practices on a Zoom Dictaphone which saved as wave audio files she then can send out to us by email to listen back to later on in the week for positive reflection and remembrance of the peaceful atmosphere created that day that seems to linger with me afterwards for sometimes up to a week in my head.

I believe now I can attribute my re-ignited passion for music production on Ableton, which I had put to the wayside many years ago during a period of depression, gratefully to the Good Vibrations team and to Nikki for hosting these sessions. I’ve learnt how to be open and responsive to other people more again through playing melodies with each other and keeping in tempo with people in the room. One meditation pondering brought me to the awareness that part of my depression in the past may have been due to my disconnect with instruments.

Keeping in tempo with other performers in the Gamelan space is critical for the musical journey to be created smoothly without off-beat or disharmonious sounds.

We were asked in one of the weekly emails to check out a link Nikki shared on some gamelan performances that came with recordings of that weeks recordings and create something in response to send back be it a piece of music, poem, a painting or anything creative that has inspired us.

From one of the audio recordings sent out by Nikki I sampled short and long loops of different stages of a practice session, which I played around with adding reverb & creating some percussion beats that subtly started to create the idea of a story in my mind. I’d recently been learning to sing the Shurangama mantra in Sanskrit which is a devotional mantra in honour of Amitabha Buddha which once translated in the full text honours the various Buddha deities that also removes negative energy from the mind consciousness and physical reality when chanted & wardens off evil and is well known as a protection mantra. I added vocal recordings of the intro of the mantra along with my Omming recording that brought me to a place of serenity and helped to compose the track together into a piece that I wished to share back with Good Vibrations to share with everyone freely for anyone who enjoys it.

With the current situation being the way it is Nikki has been hosting gamelan sessions over zoom which have been fun to join in with and I can imagine that anyone who has been participating in the sessions in Beeston is also as keen as I am to be able to get back to being in the same room once again and play explore our musical communications with each other.

Sound vibration and music as a form of healing

Cat’s purr when they are content and in a state of happiness and bliss, but also when they are frightened and stressed. Their purr resonates between 25 and 140Hz which was shown in a study conducted by Fauna Communications showing that the Hz range covers the same frequencies that are therapeutic for bone growth, tissue healing, pain relief, reduction of swelling, the growth of muscle and repair, wound & joint healing and tendon repair. Their inhalation and exhalation while purring is literally a bio resonance healing mechanism using sound waves.

Pre-dating the bronze age Gong sound baths have been used for over 6,00 years around the world as a form of holistic therapy that is both mentally and physically healing, which vibrate at the 9 Solfeggio frequencies between 174 – 963Hz. It is an ancient, multi-dimensional form of sound healing whereby participants lay on matt’s in a large room or hall and varying sizes of small to huge gongs are used by a trained Sound Healer to create a field of vibrations that you literally feel as though you are bathed in sound frequencies.

People who come for these sacred sound healing meditations say that they receive and manifest experiences which oscillate between the intensely introspective and the extremely cosmic, working together in combination of the two while helping you shed that which does not serve you.

Much like Gongs, Tibetan singing bowls are an ancient sound healing tool said to have originated some 3,00 years ago possibly from Mesopotamia before reaching the high plateaus of the Himalayas where Tibet became renowned for their production. Trained Sound Healers maintain that sound therapy places listeners in a meditative state allowing them to de-stress, relax and heal which can be used an alternative treatment for anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders and PTSD.

What is evidently clear is that the Universe is full of wonder and amazement and that our powers of imagination are not limited in creating musical devices which are tools for personal or shared healing and to communicate thoughts and emotions to each other.

Thank you for reading, I wish that your journey of self healing is fruitful and enlightening.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Anu Koechli

Design and build a new digital gamelan

Design and build a new digital gamelan

Author: Good Vibrations

National charity, Good Vibrations is calling for developers to submit proposals to design and build a new digital gamelan. Organisations and individuals who are interested should view and download the full brief here. Deadline for expressions of interest is the 9th December 2020. We plan to invite shortlisted people to present their initial proposals to us and discuss the project further on the week of the 14th December. This will be done virtually on Zoom.

Some of our aims, in commissioning this new digital gamelan, are to:

  • Enable novices, professionals and those in between to create and practise music on their own and with others using an accurate and authentic sounding digital gamelan orchestra
  • Help Good Vibrations continue generating positive personal, social and musical impacts for its target beneficiaries when our usual group gamelan projects can’t run
  • Help Good Vibrations continue generating positive impacts with participants post-project through a non-formal learning progression option that reinforces skills they developed and memories they experienced during their project with us
  • Enhance the experience for those already using digital gamelan, by improving the functionality offered, and maintaining the product robustly so its benefits are long-term
  • Generate another potentially impactful product and approach to add to Good Vibrations’ offer, to benefit a wider range of people in more ways in the future
  • Further widen access to the gamelan – enabling people to experience gamelan who can’t access a real gamelan orchestra or who are disinclined to give it a go

Good Vibrations remains committed to human, in person, group gamelan work remaining at the heart of what we do as a charity. We want to develop a virtual, technology-enabled strand using a digital gamelan to enhance our current offer, rather than replace it.

Date: 30 November 2020

Questions and answers about the commission: last updated 30 November 2020

Here is a list of questions people have put to us about this commission since advertising it, and our answers:

Q: “It has to *at least as good as* the one Wells Music School did a few years ago (Virtual Gamelan, sadly now – I think – unavailable) …”

A: “Yes, the, @UniOfYork R&D report and our feasibility study reached a similar conclusion! The brief we’ve put together name checks several highly rated past/existing digital gamelan and we are very keen for their developers to consider submitting a proposal for this new commission. We are in conversation with the developers of previous/existing digital gamelan to explore this option further.”

Q: “I was assuming this digital gamelan was just meant for gamelan musicians, and given the partnership with The University of York, they would develop the app. Is that not correct?”

A. “No, we want this digital gamelan to be both 1) Accessible for complete beginners and 2) Able to provide quite advanced functionality and features to experienced gamelan musicians. We know this is a huge ask! We recognise that our desired functionality, as set out in the brief, will only be able to be achieved in phased developments over time. We want prospective developers to have the confidence to present their proposals for that phasing to us. This is a project we value and want to support and develop long-term. We see the multitude of benefits it could bring – see the brief for full details of these. And, yes, this is a partnership project with The University of York, but we are opening out this commission to everyone to be fair and to increase the chances of us gaining more diverse proposals from a wide variety of developers. We are also keen for people who have already developed a digital gamelan to consider joining forces with us on this commission, to develop something even more accessible, with more functionality as per what the research says users want, and what Good Vibrations anticipates its target audiences will benefit from.”

Q: “Is this opportunity only open to UK developers?”

A: “No, it is open to everyone.”

Q. “Is Good Vibrations expecting all the desired features and functionality in the brief to be delivered in one phase, before April 2021?”

A. “No, we appreciate this this is an extremely ambitious brief, and at this point in time, we want developers to tell us how they would deliver phase 1 – but future-proofing it ready for the later phases.”

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