Disquiet Volume

My thumb, blurred words

This is just a quick reaction to one of the three pieces I went to see in London last Saturday. Blogging has gotten slack as things are a bit hectic at the moment as over the next 3 weeks or so I will be writing chapter 2 for the PhD (The Soundwalk and the City, since [I might as well pretend] you asked); as well as jaunting all over the place. Jaunts include the Debbie Pearson/Chris Goode Word Festival double bill, 3 pieces at ‘Mezze‘ in Leeds, Mapping the City in Hull, taking part in the As Yet Impossible Symposium (which I’m incredibly stoked to be invited to) in Manchester, an Ontroerend Goed piece at WAC, a two day hardcore/punk festival in Lincoln, a new format/writing session in Lichfield and the exciting possibility of charing a ‘Making Future Narrative‘ event in my home city (that last one tbc). Plus meetings with various folk about exciting things future-orientated. It’s properly awesome, but I’m struggling for time a little bit. And should probably take a break… er. Sometime.

Anyway, I saw 3 things in a Massive Theatre Day with the lovely Megan VaughanLittle Eagles (RSC, new play, Space, Communist Russia), Chekhov in Hell (Dan Rebellato, described very well by @danielbye as a ‘satire on the grotesqueries of our culture’. Funny, but ultimately defeating) and the London Word Festival audio/library piece The Quiet Volume.

I by no means am going to talk fully about the piece, but I did want to note one particular aspect of my reaction to it because it’s interested me, and has me thinking a bit. It was actually the piece that I enjoyed and engaged with least, and this is a kind of attempt to try and learn from what it was that had that effect:

1) I cannot stand ‘sticky’ voices – that horrible sound you get from a cloyingly dry mouth. Intentional or no, the piece had two voices (the second much worse) whispering stickily in my ear for half an hour which made me feel pretty ill-disposed to their story.

2) The lack of bodily autonomy (it was only really my head and hands that moved) made me feel pretty trapped by the piece.

3) I was recovering from a migraine, so it was difficult for me to focus very easily on words, and especially to scan passages of writing quickly, both of which were required by the piece.

4), and this goes together with above point, and is what’s been swimming around my brain the most; how very important how you are goes towards these participant-centric pieces. Because I was pissed off. Really pissed off. I’d lost two or three days worth of useful work time to the migraine, I was hot, hadn’t slept properly for a few nights because of neighbours, was worried about trains, I’d been feeling isolated and a bit lonely… and now I had to listen to some sticky person telling me what to do. In my own head! How dare they?

Or so a small contrary voice piped up every time I was given an instruction.

There’s a massive problem when you use the second person in audio pieces, certainly The Quiet Volume was playing with the idea of putting a voice inside your head, but by not offering any real degree of autonomy or agency (I feel) early on, my (admittedly stubborn) mind refused to play along. I got bored of its instructions. I became distracted by other thoughts. I refuted it telling me how I felt, or that I was unable to imagine things that I was perfectly capable of imagining (apparently I couldn’t imagine a table in a cottage or something). I think this certainly had a lot to do with the mood I went in with, but I’m convinced that there are ways of easing people into that second person – and a large part of that has to do with allowing the participant to own the ‘you’, before being more and more guided by it. There was only one path through this piece, with little room to wander between signposts. I felt that had I been swept along a little more, this journey into and through texts, sounds and spaces might have grabbed me. As it was, my participation was perfunctory.

Which I think is a really useful thing to ponder on. Beware that tricksy second person.

N.B. I’d warn against any of this discouraging you from doing the piece, in fact I’d love you to tell me how you felt about it – and if you think your mood going in affected how you listened to it.

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