About the episode:
Today’s special episode introduces musician, artist, and all-round renaissance man, Paul McGoun. Paul is autistic, and is the composer of the theme tune for Unpacking Autism, which was written especially for the podcast. Reena chats with Paul to find out what his thought process was when he created this bespoke piece of music, and how it symbolises how he sees the world.
Hi everyone, this is Reena and we are on Unpacking Autism. Today’s episode is a little bit different, because I wanted to bring you in on some of the music that has been created for the podcast – and not just created but created bespoke – by a very talented musician, Paul McGoun, who’s on with me today. And I just wanted you to hear from him really.
It was really important to me when I created this podcast, that every part of it was a celebration of autistic talent, and I wanted that to be reflected even in the music that was played at the beginning and at the end. And I reached out to anyone and everyone I knew in the autistic community, to ask if there was anyone who played instruments or would be prepared to record some music. A friend of mine kindly referred me to Paul and we had a chat, and I just explained what I was doing and left it to his creative devices. And I was so happy with the end product and Paul’s explanation for how he created this music, that not an iota of it was actually edited. It’s exactly as he’s created it, and I loved it and I wanted you to hear from him and meet him yourself.
And also, for anyone out there who might be embarking on any projects which might require a piece of bespoke music to be created, here’s an opportunity to meet the man himself and hear a little bit about him and what he’s able to do. So Paul, thank you very much, not just for creating my music, but having this chat with me today.
Paul McGoun: [1:57]
Thank you. No thanks. It’s really cool.
Thank you. So, I reached out and I said, ‘I’d like a bit of music, and this is what I’m all about’. What was your thought process when you made this music? What inspired you?
Paul McGoun: [2:13]
I mean the fact that you wanted it done by someone who was autistic, which I am. I was slightly concerned because of some of the ideas or things that I would come up with, that sort of expressed how I thought about autism and stuff – whether it would be appropriate for a podcast. So, there was a slight bit of concern on my behalf, because sometimes what’s in my head isn’t really what other people…what’s in their head. But I just played and thought about what it was that I wanted to do, and how autism and the dyslexia that I have – how it all boils into one creative mess. And then I created a creative mess.
And I remember when I heard it, and then you explained to me what you were thinking and about the calm and the chaos – can you talk a little bit about that?
Paul McGoun: [3:35]
Yeah, so the opening bit is just a piano and playing some really peaceful, calm, melodic music, and then as it progresses through, this rain noise is coming in, and then more and more of the world’s noises – police sirens, trains, whatever – it’s all coming in, and the music breaks down because of this invasion of noise and chaos which everyone experiences every day. Then as it moves through, the noises one by one peel off, and the piano is fighting to try and keep going, and so I deliberately made it so that it stops and starts in various places and feels like it’s being swamped, and then at the end as everything fades away, the piano just sort of settles down. And that peace returns and then it just finishes off on a little flourish – a little chord thing at the end.
Yeah, it absolutely does. It’s lovely. And I remember when we were talking, you were saying how that was very much how the world might feel to an autistic person.
Paul McGoun: [5:06]
Yeah. I mean everyone experiences things differently. But it is trying to hold on to something that feels peaceful; there’s just so much noise and so much chaos and invasions into stuff, and you’re expected to be able to communicate and to be able to work in those sorts of environments, and sometimes the effort that you have to use to be able to plough through that, sometimes it just becomes too much and things just go out of time. So, it was just trying within two minutes to be as symbolic and as authentic as I could make it. I mean you could do the same with art, and you could do the same with dance or any other thing, but because it’s two minutes, you’re trying to cram in as many ideas and things without it trying to sound or become completely hideous. It’s come together and works well, I think.
Yeah, I would agree completely and I’m really proud to have it as my signature tune. So, what kind of other work might you be able to do? If someone’s listening and they want to commission you to do any bespoke pieces of music, what could you do?
Paul McGoun: [7:05]
Oh gosh, well, I tend to write my own sort of stuff over the years, and I share this studio space with my youngest son who does lots of different sorts of, shall we say, electronic music – popular music – whereas I’m more experimental. I’m not very good at self promotion, which is one of the main things – all of my friends who have got record labels and stuff like that, they’re just great at doing it. Whereas I sort of stumble into things, like with you coming to me, so I suppose there’s a lot of things that I can do, and that are slightly more experimental and slightly more unusual ideas and how to get things connected.
But I do illustration and write poetry and other mad things, and do little illustrative commissions and stuff like that as well, which is great. But yeah, I should have loads of things in place and people say, ‘Oh, social media’, and all this stuff which I absolutely detest, and I’m trying to find people that can go, ‘Yeah, I can take that on for you’. What you’re doing and the way that you found me was great for me – yeah it was just really good. But yeah, I’m really happy that you like what I’ve done, but you can contact me on email or leave a voice message on my phone and I’ll get back to whoever wants something, and then we’ll see whether I can do it or not.
You know, Paul is very humble and really hugely talented. Absolutely hugely talented, can produce music, artwork and so much more. What I loved about it, Paul, when I first spoke to you, was I was not even sure what I wanted, but you were totally okay with creating something, and you were completely open to changing and adapting it, scrapping it altogether if needs be and starting again. And I loved that, because for me this is new territory. I’d never done a podcast before, but I knew what I wanted it to represent, I just couldn’t know what that would mean musically. And you breathed life into that.
And anyone who’s doing a project, who needs artwork, who needs music but maybe isn’t quite sure what it is – Paul’s contact details are on my website, and you can ring him or email him. You can also listen to the whole piece of music that he’s produced with the podcast, because obviously some of that is faded out through the speaking on the podcast. So, you have the opportunity to hear the whole piece yourself and to appreciate it. But certainly, I can attest that you can approach Paul, with not knowing exactly what it is you want, and trust him to produce something, but be open as well to changing that as the project evolves, whatever that might be. Does that sound fair, Paul?
Paul McGoun: [11:02]
That very generous. I mean people have ideas of what they want and I’ve done loads of commissions in the past, and it’s about finding what it is. It’s a journey, and where people start off and where they end up is often very different places, and trying to walk with people on that journey. I understand that process, but the thing is that people have to want to walk with me, and I’m an unusual shape –which is absolutely fine, because people need to find what they want and find the person they want to journey with on their creative expression. But that’s why I’m quite happy to change things and to move things around as much as I can, within reason, because it’s about letting someone else have their ideas, and then obviously it’s going through me as a filter to come out with something unusual or new. Yeah, so it’s just a journey, really.
Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you for being part of my important journey. And I wish you every success with all your musical and art talents. And I hope that in the future again, we’ll be able to work together on another project.
Paul McGoun: [12:42]
Well, that would be lovely. Well done. Thank you for getting in touch and for enjoying what I’ve done. And yeah, hope you get really a lot of support and help a lot of people, because it’s an important subject.