Beyond Messiaen's Birds: The post-verbal world of dementia
Dr Stuart WoodZoom
Beyond Messiaen’s Birds is a project that hears everyday dementia care interactions as if they are already music. It asks what happens if we approach dementia care as a found performance, in which our responses as researchers are musical hearings of the sounds in a dementia care environment. Ethnographers, sound artists, and composers amongst others have made use of this method in diverse ways; writing down exactly what has been said or sounded, using musical notation, and seeing how an aesthetic ear makes sense of it. Medical educators and professionals also find that a musical ear can help both receive and deliver information. Published in BMJ Medical Humanities, this paper explores this notion as a research methodology in dementia care. It reports on a Wellcome funded art-based study called Aeriel which took recordings of interactions from mealtimes in care homes, creating detailed musical scores by transcribing only the sounds heard in the recording. The discussion here will offer insights into the ‘post-verbal’ in dementia care, how care communication involves a hidden form of creative labour, and how further understanding might be enabled by a musical research methodology.