Former Levellers guitarist uses performance to chart personal experiences of epilepsy

When Alan D Miles was diagnosed with epilepsy in his early 40s, his life changed in an instant. A former guitarist with The Levellers, who helped write the chart-topping band’s first two albums, he had always considered himself to be something of a free spirit and definitely anti-authoritarian.

Out of the blue, his life had a controlling factor over which he had no influence – one which not only impinged on his personal sense of freedom but threatened to take away his positive outlook on life and change him as a person.

Several years later, he is slowly regaining some element of control. But the memories of his journey with epilepsy are vivid, and he will be charting them through Resounding Seizures, part of the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, taking place at the University of Plymouth from March 2-4, 2018.

Alan has recently completed a masters degree in Computer Music with the University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), and his performance is designed to take audiences through the experiences of life with the condition.

“For me, epilepsy came late in life and out of the blue – there was no obvious cause and no history of it in my family,” says Alan. “I woke up in the middle of the night with paramedics in my room and was taken to hospital for tests. Two weeks later, the exact same thing happened with the same paramedics. It was after that I was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and began to try and manage it with medication.
"In the early days though, I felt alone. I had to stop driving, and it was almost a year before I felt able to go out of the house and start to meet friends again.

“Experiencing seizures in public and at work is unsettling and you often have to rely on those around you for safety while epilepsy asserts its authority. It has completely changed the way I live but I am finally in a place where I haven’t had a seizure for more than a year and feel as though I am regaining control.”

Many of those early experiences will be built into Resounding Seizures, with Alan using Granular Synthesis to 'play' actual epilepsy seizures recorded via Electroencephalography (EEG) brain scan into music soundscapes.

But it will also aim to explore some of the condition’s darker and cloudier moments, including the feelings he goes through before, during and after a seizure, and he hopes audiences will be able to share the discomfort he can go through at those times. He says:

“Epilepsy gives you an in-between reality where sometimes you are conscious of doing things and other times you are not. Sometimes you get absolutely no warning but other times you do – sometimes the feeling is like some kind of euphoria. But then after seizures you feel exhausted, sometimes for days. I’m not saying people will get all of that, but living with epilepsy is not a comfortable experience and that definitely comes through in what I am putting together.

“Epilepsy has been explored, mainly lyrically, in pop music by bands like Joy Division and Anthony & the Johnsons but it actually lends itself really well to my kind of experimental work. It also adds historic and cultural perceptions of epilepsy and my personal story to the work, and it has become part of my own process of getting my life back on track.”

Epilepsy Action chief executive Philip Lee said:

“An epilepsy diagnosis at any age is life-changing. Alongside the physical impact of seizures, we know that loneliness is very common and can have a huge effect on someone’s mental health. It can be difficult to describe how epilepsy makes people feel, especially as everyone experiences it in different ways. Alan’s performance sounds both interesting and immersive, a great way to raise awareness of a much misunderstood condition and create a shared experience. We’re really glad to hear that exploring epilepsy creatively has been such a part of his personal progress.”

Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival 2018: Decoding Life

The Decoding Life is the theme of Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival (PACMF) 2018, which celebrates the internationally renowned research combining music, engineering and the life sciences developed at Plymouth University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR).

Decoding Life proposes a weekend of musical allusions to human endeavours to understand, modify, simulate and even create life.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR)

Cutting-edge research in topics including the interface between music, computers, and the brain within a vibrant contemporary music community.

Access our well-equipped studios, open plan lab and annual research seminar series.