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The Musician Capturing the Sounds of Schizophrenia

02/06/2016 15:14 | Updated 02 June 2016

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Rob Bayley is a writer, producer and musician who has worked with mental health charity SANE for many years as a fundraiser and spokesman. Here, he discusses his latest project, an audio translation of his experiences with schizophrenia - Lunar Soundscapes.

When Rob was 16, he was taken to a medium-secure ward in the east of England. It was populated, he says, by "murderers, paedophiles and rapists." This was during his first time in a psychiatric hospital. He was in acute distress, suffering from an episode of psychosis. "It was fairly scary", he comments drily. Later, during the 1980s, Rob was prescribed strong antipsychotic medication. "It was horrendous! Padding around like a cat, drooling, shaking, incontinent..."

Fortunately, he was cared for by a dedicated psychiatrist and compassionate team and there have been significant advances in anti-psychotic treatments since.

There is more stability in his life now, but Rob still experiences frequent paranoid and psychotic episodes. He suffers from a nightmare disorder, which torments him every night. He often wakes in a cold sweat, and every morning "like clockwork", is plagued by voices, visions and smells.

During his worst moments, he is unable to use technology or function properly because he hears "persecutory, ridiculing voices." One of these, which Rob describes as an "automaton", gives him orders, such as telling him to pour boiling water into his eyes.

Rob attributes the happiness in his life to his relationship with Gill, his wife of 24 years. They met when Rob was in a psychiatric hospital in Northampton. A whole food cooperative - Daily Bread - employed patients from the hospital, and staff to support them as a way of aiding their recovery. Gill was a member, and Rob was one of the patients she supported.

When the disorder dominates, Gill is Rob's carer, keeping him safe. During these times, Rob is sedated, to ease the torment. When his psychosis is more contained, Rob is prolifically creative, writing and producing his own music, as well as a novel. His desire to record an album began back in the early 1990's. Not having the means of recording any of these tracks, Rob sought out a beneficiary, writing to various artists such as U2 and Peter Gabriel. It was Pink Floyd who generously provided Rob with a grant.

Part of the reason Rob approached Pink Floyd was "the Syd Barrett connection. He developed schizophrenia, and he had to retire from the band. The group dedicated much of their pivotal work to him."

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With the support of Pink Floyd, Rob was able to set up a home studio, and produce his first album, Lunar Movements. Its follow-up, Lunar Soundscapes, condenses his experience of living with schizophrenia. The album itself is "an accumulation of many years of recording different tracks" - some of them dating back more than twenty years.

"It's a juxtaposition of piano, electronic sounds, programmed percussion and fretted and fretless bass guitars augmenting the rhythm," says Rob. "So you've got a combination of elements - from electronica to the more natural sounds."

Does he draw inspiration from his own illness? "When I'm coping and proactive, I just get this profusion of sounds in my head. And it gets to the point where I have to make them tangible. I hear chord formations, rhythmic structures, guitar and bass lines. It can come from experiences I've had that day, or visions I've had, so there's a wide spectrum of inspiration."

There are times, however, when Rob's illness rears its head, and he is completely unable to carry on with the recording process. "When things are bad - I don't like to use any form of technology at all." One of the symptoms of his condition is hearing voices emanating from inanimate objects and paranoiac messages from computers and other technological devices.

It seems that for Rob, making music is more than just a hobby - it's a compulsion. Is his creativity a way of dealing with his condition?

"It's a lifeline. Psychosis can be all encompassing. If I didn't have a creative lifeline, I would have nothing to hold onto. Obviously I've got my dear wife Gill, my wonderful family and people close to me. Also I am cared for by an enlightened team of nurses and doctors. But I would have no reason to persist with things because it would be a huge void of frustration. Despair would overwhelm."

Nevertheless, Rob's outlook is positive and philosophical. "You have to live through the darker bits to get to the more fertile patches," he says. "This collection aims to show that schizophrenia need not constrain creativity."

You can buy a copy of Rob's latest album, Lunar Soundscapes here. All proceeds go directly to SANE.

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