So we did our sharing at Live Art Bistro last Saturday! The performance came out at just under an hour (managed with some brutal cutting) and apart from some moments of horrendous feedback, it actually worked out. It was really rough around the edges, obviously, but it was fun and, after a long and stressful day setting it up without a run beforehand, it was such a relief that it went well.
More people than we expected turned up, and we had an interesting chat after, where people gave their feedback. The things that came up were:
- People didn’t understand the nuances of the story, and when we explained it to them they really liked it – but would have liked to have it clearer in performance;
- Although we did a bit of playing with speaker placement, some more advanced spatialisation would be good;
- The relationship between ourselves and the technology was unclear – what relation do we have to them as objects?;
- The sound blended between “noisy” and “beautiful” well;
- Some engineering tech notes – the on-stage monitors were pushed far too hard and were apparently smoking (they’re okay by the way thank Whale);
- People loved how the whale’s voice was actually the captain’s voice being manipulated;
- Sightlines in some parts were an issue;
- There was a lot of ‘what was this piece about?’.
- Some structural issues with the ending (which I won’t spoil here!) which led to a bit of confusion as to what actually happens.
All in all, good feedback. I have a list of about a million things to work on aside from that. But the two big things that came up for me during the work in progress performance were music and narrative. I’ll talk a bit about them now, because that’s what blogs are meant to do.
One of the things I really liked out of this was our variety-show-style singing of the theme song, written by our composition advisor Anna Clock.
Our singing isn’t perfect – I have a musical ear but a shit voice, Mook has a great voice but finds pitching some of the whole-tone intervals tricky – and I think we need some proper vocal effects on the microphones so it doesn’t sound so dry, but aside from that, people really responded to it. I’ve also been humming it to myself pretty much constantly since then. When we do it well, I’ll put a recording up for your listening pleasure.
Sometimes, when something is just good or fun it doesn’t need a huge amount of justification. I know it’s unclear why we’re doing this (see below for why I don’t care), but I like the idea that us as narrators get carried away with the story so much that we choose to do a song and dance about it. We break from either our voices as weird arbiters of the ocean or the submarine captain herself to do something that is, to be honest, way more like how Mook and I play around generally – silly, a bit creepy, and desperately grabbing the spotlight. One of the things we noticed was that we’re both pretty playful people making work that’s really cynical and depressing and it’s nice that we get to show a bit of fun. I’m currently working on a lounge jazz piano version.
Right. My personal attitude to narrative are a bit confused. I do like how this iteration of Me & My Whale is telling a story a lot more, and I do like the story. I know it’s something that Mook and Anna want to push. It’s way more accessible, it’s something an audience can grab onto even with complicated/unfamiliar images and sounds, and it doesn’t have to be at the compromise of complexity or content as long as it’s done cleverly. Maybe it’s because I’m not so confident of my writing that I can see how it can be done in conjunction with hidden, complex generative processes. It needs to be calculated very carefully because at the end of the day, if you watched a hundred number of monkeys trying to write macbeth you’d just end up with a faceful of poo. I think my problem is that I find it more interesting to enact the attempt to tell a story, especially when it’s a good one, because that way we’re constantly fighting and trying, literally battling the medium itself. One way we could do this is to apply a score to the performance, generated maybe by the audience, by cetacean migration patterns, by the resonance in the room, through a written score or by the pattern of cables in the space. However we do it, it would be partly within our control and partly as a result of leakage from the performance event itself. I think it gives some really exciting possibilities to look at agency and choice itself – something that can be mapped onto the consequences of stealing voice from people, ideologies and nature.
As an absolute nerd, I actually don’t really care much for the idea of understanding everything in one sitting – I’d rather it be a case of the moments, images and sounds staying around in the audience’s brain so people can have a more gradual understanding of what we’re trying to say. One of my more complex pieces with choreographer Deliah Seefluth, The Poem Of The Body, had a small set of materials (broken spoken word) triggered using gesture with motion capture controllers, whose parameters were adaptive, randomised, and difficult to predict. Part of the performance was in actually finding the poem itself, and it wasn’t something that you could just memorise and replicate. I think the obsession with making pieces for snapchat-length narratives with instagram-level depth has directly to do with a neoliberal idea of monetising our attention. Maybe it’s just me, but the experiences that have really moved me in an intellectual capacity have had to do with me coming back to it over a long period of time in my own head, or re-watching/listening. Like reading Foucault or Maria Mies, or listening to SOPHIE, Death Grips or Debussy’s Preludes for the first time, it was only over a long time of active and inactive engaging that they actually became meaningful. I don’t think theatre people are like that very much, not really. It’s worth mentioning that of the feedback I’ve received since the very first Whale (done at Goldsmiths in Sep 2016), the only people who cared about understanding narrative right away were people of traditional theatre background. Even if you go all john cage later, you still want that quick fulfilment, I guess. I’m a bastard.
At the moment, it’s a play with good sound design. I have a feeling that that’s where it’s going to go, and that’s not bad at all, it’s just different from how I started out. Anyway, it made total and complete sense to make a good story up for this sharing – & having Mook on board has meant the submarine captain is someone you actually like, as opposed to my writing which is just horrendous. We’re still in the pretty early stages of our devising together and I’m really excited to find out where it might go next.