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Home Sweet Home: “Nothing’s the same yet it is” on our latest project with CanTeen Ireland

Home Sweet Home, Helium’s fourth collaboration with CanTeen Ireland, the national young people’s cancer support group, began with the following inquiry: What if the feelings and imaginings that arise from playing and listening to music could provide the inspiration for a film? What if the music came first and the visual world followed? The project sought to give participants (most of whom were aged 12-16) an opportunity to express themselves and their experiences in a non-explicit way.

Home Sweet Home took place in the summer of 2018 with 38 young people, led by musician and composer Sean Carpio, visual artist Louise Manifold and filmmaker Alan Brennan. The project aimed to appeal to the young people’s varied creative interests through a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together music, art and filmmaking. The opportunity to engage with different art forms attracted participants who had not previously taken part in the film-based iterations of the project.

‘The young people have stuff in life that bothers them and they don’t want to talk about it – sometimes they do but generally they don’t. This project has given them a chance to get it out there; it’s a very safe environment for that. It allows them to articulate [what they’re feeling] without even having to say it sometimes because they can channel it into the activity they’re doing, the art they’re creating.’ - Liam Quinn, CanTeen Ireland Leader and Chairperson

Smashing cups: Max creates apocalyptic visual effects mentored by visual artist Louise Manifold

Over the course of the project, participants created music and sounds together; devised, performed and recorded an original piece of music; directed, filmed and acted in a series of live action sequences to accompany the soundscape; and produced an array of visual effects as part of the film. Home Sweet Home will culminate in a concert and screening event in February 2019. The young people will perform elements of the soundscape together with Sean and showcase some of their own original songs and music.

Getting in touch with listening: Workshop in Monaghan

The fields and adjacent woods of Tanagh Outdoor Education Centre in Monaghan provided the perfect location for a daylong workshop in July, with participants responding to the natural environment through sound recordings and art making.


The whole group took part in a listening walk with Sean in the gardens of Tanagh, walking silently and listening to their surroundings. Sean invited the young people to get in touch with just listening, to realise that sound itself is music and to think about how they could recreate the sounds they heard.

Listening Walk

Some of the young people divided into smaller groups and went out to gather field recordings in nearby fields and woods, capturing sounds that interested them. Their sound recordings included wildlife (horses, bees and other insects), mechanical sounds (cars passing by, the drone of a lawnmower), and human intervention (chatter, shoes squelching in mud, the whipping sound of a stick).

Max and Bronagh capture field recordings

Sean worked with some of the young people to create a digital soundscape from their field recordings which was played back to everyone in the evening.

James recorded many different natural sounds and worked with Sean to create a soundscape with them


Teen participants who were drawn to the visual side created artistic responses on an art lab workshop led by Louise Manifold. Participants were encouraged to connect and engage with the landscape in a playful and spontaneous way as a visual response to the harvesting of sound; they collected materials from the environment (lavender, twigs, a feather) as a starting point. Louise invited the young people to think about how an emotional connection to music can be conveyed in visual gestures and dream states, sowing the seeds for the imaginative worlds to come on the August arts camp.

The young people engaged in a variety of art processes on Louise's workshop including the creation of wall projections with found objects and transparent materials. Here Sean makes 'movement with light' incorporating materials from the natural environment.
Smashing china in a controlled environment and taking part in feather pillow case fights proved to be a very popular release for the young people! Here Sean and Johnathon join Louise in 'putting the pieces back together’ to show what things look like when they are changed by forces outside of themselves.

Key themes that emerged from the sound and art responses of participants – habitat, shifts of nature (chaos and calm), effects of climate change and the delicate ecology of our world – would find a new lease of life at the August camp.

The New Normal: Music and Film Camp at IMMA

The young people are going to make things, they’re going to come up with ideas; I just need to give them a match basically. So there’s a communal trust that everything’s going to work out fine.’ – Sean Carpio, project musician

Eleven participants – CanTeen members, their siblings and friends – took part in a weekend music and film camp at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in August. Sean invited everyone to close their eyes and listen to music pieces that he improvised using drums, guitars and electronic effects.

Sixteen-year-old Ashleigh describes what happened next: ‘Sean was playing different pieces of music for us. After he played [each piece] we would all say what we saw, what we visualized while he was playing this music. The last one he played, we all got the whole apocalypse [theme]. It started off calm and then it got very hectic, then going back to that calmness but it was like a different calmness. So that’s where we developed the idea for the whole film.’

The young people decided to create a sound and film piece based on the impact and aftermath of catastrophic manmade climate events: At the beginning, everyone is ‘happy’, going about their normal life. Then the ‘world is in turmoil’. And finally, survivors have to start over and adjust to a ‘new idea of happiness’. One of the young people asked, ‘Do you go back to normality?’ Someone else suggested that it is a ‘new normal’.

And then the snow came: Visual effect created by participants with Louise to convey a natural catastrophe

‘The whole story - everything’s fine, the apocalypse and after it - it is like us going through cancer: that normal, that beginning, nothing’s wrong and then the apocalypse comes in. That’s like being told you have cancer, you have to go through treatment. And then when you get off your treatment at the end, it’s like that new beginning, that new normal, where you can do all those things you could do before treatment again. But you have a different mindset basically to everything you do in life; nothing’s the same yet it is. Because [the work] tells our story in a completely different way, we have a connection to it.’ – Ashleigh

The young people divided into groups, depending on their particular interests (and sometimes doing a bit of everything): working with Sean on the sound and music, with Alan on the live action sequences, and with Louise on visual effects.

Ashleigh describes how the music group went about creating the soundtrack:  ‘We started off with grabbing the tape recorders and we went out and just got random noises – so you know we’d rustle bushes, whack poles, stomping on the ground, getting people talking. That ended up being the base of our chaos bit. That’s when we went back and decided to write a song [Home Sweet Home] for all the calmness. We did a different version of that song for the rebirth of the world after this apocalypse and we built it from there. If we felt like we were missing a noise, we’d get a new one and we’d improv if we didn’t necessarily have the exact noise.’

Participants regularly checked in and brainstormed with each other to ensure that the sound, film and visual elements were all in sync with each other.

Lisa lines up a shot with film mentor Alan Brennan during production

Supported by filmmaker Alan Brennan, the film group storyboarded, directed and shot the film sequences. Lisa has been a participant on our community arts project since 2014 and has worked with Alan since this time. She outlines why she likes collaborating with him: ‘Alan lets you take the reins. He helps you but he lets you make the mistakes and if you need a hand he’ll guide you. He won’t tell you what to do, he’ll guide you and he’ll say, well maybe you can tweak that a little bit. Working with Alan is very good.’  

Mitchell on camera duty, mentored by Alan.

Visual artist Louise Manifold emphasized ‘thinking through making’ and ‘working with very little to make big statements’ when the young people were creating the effects that would showcase natural disasters in a visually dynamic way. Participants created snow effects by sieving flour on a tree stump. A waterlogged world was realised by rustling mirrored paper – this caused shimmering light to bounce onto the far wall and the shadow of a participant became a symbol of loss.

‘I felt in control and included’ - Participant

Courtney, Ria and Julia create a waterlogged world using mirror and shadow effects
Thinking through making: Dylan created and filmed various special effects mentored by Louise.

To symbolize the idea of the apocalypse and its aftermath (that ‘new beginning’ of repairing and unifying where ‘nothing’s the same yet it is’), the young people had great fun smashing cups and plates and attempting to reassemble them.

At the very end of the music and film camp, participants came together to perform and record a song devised by the music group. The young people’s intention was that the refrain of ‘Home Sweet Home’ would take on a bittersweet quality at the end of the score when people are trying to adjust to the new world they find themselves in. Making music together was a fitting way to end the camp and the young people had the opportunity to reflect on all they had accomplished over the two days.

Playback: On the final day of camp the young people listened to the soundtrack they created

Participants: In their own words

What new skills did you learn?
‘Making songs’
‘How to create sounds, rhythms on the drums’ 
‘How to play drums’
‘Behind the camera’ 
‘Editing, photography, SFX’  

What was the best thing about the project?
‘Creating music and new sounds with my friends’ 
‘Making the film with friends’
‘Being with friends’ 
‘The experience’ 
‘Doing all the audio’ 
‘Filming the film’
‘I got to smash cups’

‘There’s so many things I like about going away with CanTeen but this [project] is one that I feel I’m myself.’

New Year Showcase
In January 2019, the young people will reunite with Sean Carpio for some music-making and to rehearse ‘Home Sweet Home’ for a live performance on 2 February at a concert venue in Dublin. The showcase will include a screening of their work and will also feature CanTeen singer-songwriters and musicians performing their own music supported by Sean. This event will be open to the public and ticketed through Eventbrite.

Home Sweet Home is produced by Helium Arts in partnership with CanTeen Ireland and in association with the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The project is funded by the Arts Council, the Hospital Saturday Fund and Dublin City Council Arts Office. Many thanks to Evelyn Griffith and the volunteer leaders at CanTeen Ireland who supported the young people throughout the project.

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