What we are up to

EVP response

03/06/13 Live
by Nathan Jones

Big thanks to everyone who attended our first ever national tour of new work. Electronic Voice Phenomena featured some of the best and most adventurous work we've ever made - and involved some of the most convoluted logistics.

I learned a lot about performance from the tour, not least the value of absolute mastery of your material.  Ross Sutherland and Hannah Silva's works were object lessons in this, and the way in which they delivered these masterful performances time and time again, timed precisely with their respective technological yokes, while each time finding something new in the works really refreshed my viewpoint on poetry in performance as a medium.  

In Hannah's work, the technical virtuosity lay in the bringing together of backing track, and live and affected, looped, vocal in a harmonious play, while leaving herself room for expressiveness and musicality.   In Ross's it was the immaculate timing of his lyrics with a backing video, and the intriging variety of degrees in which the words related to the imagery.  In both works - and also to an extent in Honor Gavin's "0121 Stimmtausch" - the original concept of the tour, the simbiotic relation of writer and interface in the composition and performance process was played out to its full, in ways which appear simultaneously exclusive and forboding, and also opening up an a new horizon of potential for the spoken word performance.

These new horizons were perhaps revealed more explicitly - although not with the degree of finality, or 'finish', called upon by Hannah and Ross - in Mark Leahy's 'Muster Page Habit' which showed to intimate audience in the Cube bar prior to the EVP Bristol show.  Mark acted as a receiver of signal resulting from an internet search algorhythm, itself guided by words of a poem, itself made of found and feedback text from a variety of sources.  Mark's performance inherited the delays, glitches, malpatterns and mundanity of the internet, while reinventing its languages in the lens of the body.

The line is drawn in a sense then, between the theatrical technically virtuosic work which uses technology as a kind of sencil, or nossle, to achieve a coherrant and at times radically precise extension of the voice in performance; and the work in which the language, or voice, of the technology itself is strained through the human body, extending and exposing its own make-up.  As with the drawing of any line, I am tempted to revisit and complicate this opposition, and look at how we can use and abuse the technological as interface and producer of materials.

SJ Fowler and Outfit, perhaps surprisingly for them, took the least 'conceptual' approach to the theme, instead focussing on the dark realities of the 'voice from the dead'.  In this instance, video and digital playback collapse into the milieu of interfaces, with books, vinyl, musical and medical instumentation, and the voice itself, as kind of oracles.  This is the timelessness of the live moment leant the touring work its exhileration, timelessness and intagibility.  With Outfit's film/music work, a sea of swelling, undulating voice, video and instrumentation,  on the same lyric at every night's performance.  The lyric concerned the perspective of time, for me, the distancing isolating effect of regret.  Grief then, but also grief mixed in a complex with masculinity, the violence of the moshpit, the violence of the gunshot, and the blury confusion of our teenage years which dogs us until we die.

With SJ Fowler's work of the 5 appearances, we had lots of discussion about how his character could come over, and this complexity led to a great deal of variety in the way his performance came across.  At show after show, I found myself leaning into the stage, experiencing the audience's falling away from and engulfment in his performances.  In the finale, each explosion of physical energy through the breakage of Steven's voice became a moment of absolution where the success or failure of the performance actually became live.  In this sense for me, although thematically very concise and working in a quite scholarly way with materials, Steven's performance, on repeated experience, became about the death of language in performance, in a quite 'traditional' way - and felt in this sense like a kind of 'retro' intervention. Each rehearsal and each live performance, I asked myself about the shouting, abusive ending, and tried to reflect on this unique form of violence and its relationship to our current condition - which appears to be irrevocably political.  

Prior to the tour, there was a civil war in Syria.  During the tour, there was an image of a man with blood on his hands, his face imperviously shouting to the camera, an insistent message which was there to be read.  After the tour, there were clashes between the far right and the anti-fascists.  Throughout there are many silent voices shouting, many faces distended in grief, pain, anger with no voice emerging.  Perhaps Steven's voice joined these, in capitulation - as a kind of final gesture, an echoing shout as the body falls into oblivion - in empathy, as a conjoined scream at the collapse of time when failure and grief of the spiritual and personal joins that of the political and social.  When we shout, when the voice snaps into screaming, does it in fact become silent?

What is a social scream?

I think about that silent scream my daughter makes as she gathers her breath to scream.

What is a scream in performance and when does it succeed.  Why does it appear to be so integral to every performance I  have worked on? What other extremities of noise with the voice are there?

At the end of the London show, when Steven's performance came across best - partly due to a bouncer walking in and adding some 'reality' to the occassion of Steven's breakdown - I interviewed several audience members. They spoke about the cohesion of the show, and the way it all came together at the end.  What was this coming together in the breakdown of Steven's character? The absolution of the voice being spoken and broken.
The death of language and its noise afterlife.
The distortion of the voice by the interface. Of the stomach by the voice.
The way the past interferes in the present. The past as a parasite.
The body which speaks, the speech which gives body to the bodiless.

Posting a documentary of the  tour here.    I will be be exploring new trajectories from the extremity of the voice with a new project with Hive, called The Syndrome Sessions.