The use of live sound was highly important to our performance, and was played through headphones to each audience member. The work of Optik, a theatre company based in London, also focuses on sound in performance. Their work during the 1980s gradually incorporated technologies, such as computers, enabling “layering and juxtaposition” (Edwards and Jarlett, 2011, p. 128), which sets contemporary performance apart from other dramatic practices. Furthermore, Proto-Type Theater collaborated with the Manchester Metropolitan University Laptop Ensemble for their performance of The Good, the God and the Guillotine (2013). The performance purposely exposed the use of technology, with the laptops forming part of the set and the wires being fully visible to the audience.
It can be argued that the use of headphones in our performance of 33 Minutes helped to enhance the performance as an ‘event’/spectacle. For example, the sound becomes amplified and the notion of our performance as being an ‘exhibition’ is highlighted, since headphones are often worn by visitors at art exhibitions, used as an audio tour guide.Furthermore, the headphones provided the audience with a unique experience, as they could feel more involved, being submerged in the sound, but also created an individual experience. Each audience member became isolated, “withdrawn or separated from the public body” (Steyn, 1989, p. 51) even though they were in a communal space. The group believed that the sense of lonesomeness being created through the use of headphones was important to our performance, since we were experimenting with the notions of the public and the private. Our aim was for each audience member to react to the sounds and the aesthetics without any influence from other audience members. As a result, the audience could leave with individual opinions of what they saw and heard, and will have experienced something unique.
In relation to individual responses of an audience, the fact that our performance is set in a piece of installation art is highly significant. An “installation prompts conscious and unconscious associations in the beholder” (Bishop, 2005, p. 16), which suggests that each audience member gains meaning from their own previous thoughts and experiences. Also, throughout the performance we were slightly visible to the audience, which seems absurd, as surely headphones are not needed with sound being created live? However, we were masked by the dog leads and white paper installation, which represented a cocoon, and helped to create a sense of detachment between us and the sounds that we were creating.
The notion of concealment is influenced by the performance of Whisper (2013) by Proto-Type Theater, where a mesh screen was hung between the performers and the audience, with the audience wearing headphones. It provided a boundary for the audience, but still enabled them to watch the silhouettes being created on stage. Similarly, Proto-Type also used a gauze in The Good, the God and the Guillotine. The division was aesthetically beautiful, as it enabled animations and lighting effects to be projected, and allowing the performers to still be visible. We were experimenting with how we can create sounds that are raw and do not require any accompaniment. The process of making the soundscape was challenging at first, as we began to explore our voices. In The Good, the God and the Guillotine, the performers created the sound of a dog barking, purely from using their voices. Parts of our soundscape consisted of vocal sound effects, such as the ‘City Soundscape’ and the ‘Daily Routine Soundscape’. These sounds were largely spontaneous during the performance, meaning that the sounds had not been decided in any strict order. For example, the group had rehearsed a range of sounds that represent a busy city, such as vehicle noises, muffled voices of passers-by and pedestrian crossing sounds. The spontaneity that resonated within our performance is influenced by Proto-Type Theater’s About Silence (2003), which has been performed numerously by many different performers. During a workshop led by Dan Hunt, three class members performed About Silence, and were instructed to read the text, without having previously rehearsed it, and could not discuss who says what and at what time. The effect of the spontaneity evoked a plethora of responses from the rest of the class, who became the audience. We discussed how the pace changed naturally and how certain words or phrases became comical, as they were based on personal issues, “from love to death, from sex to intimacy” (Proto-Type Theater, 2013), or simply by the way that they were spoken.The script that we created for 33 Minutes was largely made up of ‘fragmented text’, inspired by the work of Tim Etchells. We used a range of texts, including well-known transcript, Dada-style poetry or song lyrics, and subverted the emotions that would be associated with them. For example, the final segment of our soundscape is the transcript of the phone call that Amanda Berry, one of the kidnap victims, made to the police when she escaped from the home of Ariel Castro (see transcript above). We were aware that contemporary performance should steer away from naturalism and any vulgar representation of events. Therefore, we transformed the transcript into a ‘game show’. For example, inflections and emphasis on certain words enabled us to change the emotion that the transcript evokes. The questions that the police officer asks Amanda Berry were subverted into questions from a quizmaster to a contestant. The upbeat, recognisable style that we created enabled us to use the phone call, but in a detached, sensitive way.
Metaphorically, 33 Minutes presented us, as performers, being trapped in the cocoon, yet we had a sense of freedom through our voices.
By Sophie Bullivant
Bishop, Claire (2005) Installation Art: A Critical History, London: Tate Publishing.
Edwards, Barry and Jarlett, Ben (2011) Body Waves Sound Waves: Optik Live Sound and Performance. In: Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machoon (eds.) (2011) Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 127-140.
Proto-Type Theater (2013) Proto-Type Theater: About Silence. [online] Proto-Type Theater. Available from http://proto-type.org/archive/about-silence/ [Accessed 27 November 2013].
Steyn, Juliet (1989) Chapter Five: Public and Private. In: Malcolm Miles (ed.) Art for Public Places: Critical Essays, Winchester: Winchester School of Art Press, pp. 51-58.