A few weeks ago I found myself sitting on the floor in a darkened music venue, on a Thursday evening in Bergen Norway, stubbornly repeating a few lines in Neapolitan dialect, speaking them broken chant-like into a contact mic, speaking and repeating while looking at my friend Signe Lidén’s calm and intent gaze as she went on smothering my voice, let it buzz, make it unlike itself and very much like an it without a self, an it alien, it alian with no self. It was a performance of interrupted transmission and interference; of listening into speaking into a new understanding. Signe had suggested to use my voice to generate a series of curves, resonances, pendulum motions, echoes and whirls in the space. What voice? Whose voice? Reading and saying what? On the cusp between listening and speaking, understanding and confusion, identity and loss I chose to let my voice drift away, from reading a short text that morphed into a text generated by my lack of words, that in turn coiled up on itself and finally into speaking in Neapolitan dialect, as Signe made the voice sound more and more opaque. The Neapolitan dialect was a bundle of language-sounds at the same time familiar to me, to the point of no distinction between them and myself (I recall hearing my grandparents speak in dialect from my very early childhood; in this sense, the sound of dialect is ingrained in my perceiving body) and yet alien to the point of otherness (I cannot actually speak that dialect nor do I understand most of it, although I respond to its sounds). That dialect, familiar to me in listening (I know very well what I hear as I recall its sound) and alien in speaking (I don’t know what I’m saying as I say it)—is a crucial step into a way of understanding beyond text. I eavesdrop on my memory as I encounter sounds at the periphery of understanding.
Audiences in Norway are quiet. That evening, even more quiet. I could sense a lot of silent people sitting in the room, although the closest I sat to Signe the less I could actually see anyone around us; as if performing in front of a quietened cohort of attentive ghosts whose response cannot come from human channels of language but by a heightened sense of presence. Once you realise you can be in the ghostlike silence, the ghost audience enwraps you. What kind of atmospheres, conversations, non-conversations, silences can be set up, inhabited, imagined in the enclosed space of a ‘sound art gallery’? How to prompt activities and stillness and let them out of my control? The Writing Sound 2 project in Bergen was my attempt at losing control over curating projects. It was the test for a drift. To use the gallery space to represent and hold nothing, and instead to host the possibility of dynamic or still moments of reading, listening, exchanges, frictions. Hence the project’s open structure, arranged in a sequence that doesn’t necessarily have to evolve in a linear manner (Writing Sound 2 has become with time Writing Sound 2squared, and I’m now starting to draw an outline for Writing Sound -1 in 2015, where I’ll be looking at and listening to the inner lining of some of the procedures that have appeared so far in my investigations on sound and writing).
At Lydgalleriet until 14 December you can find a collection of newly commissioned texts and sounds responding to these two words, Writing Sound, and then a collection of pre-existing books, texts and audio recordings, and then every weekend somebody else takes over the collection and invites more people or places or entities to be in and with it, and then performances, odd combinations of numbers and inconsequential sequences: Writing Sound 2 / Lydhort 3 / Weekend 2 / Sculpture 5… Some of these texts and sounds are online. We stream activities and non-activities from the gallery. We had a publication when I did not plan to. We had a performance upstairs from the actual gallery space. We had private readings and hearings, people gathered in the room reading aloud and texts being borrowed, copied, taken in fragments and partially kept. Rather than pre-setting things and consequences, rather than piling up hours of documented material, my drive was to let ‘material’ and immaterial be present—in their fractured and forever unfinished state. And then, after 14 December, gone—or kept, although in other shapes, in whichever memory or fragments the incidental and passing listeners and readers might hold. To make something happen while undermining its function and envisaging lack of direct function or testing other ways of making words and sounds function. Which brings me to this:
I showed this plate at the beginning of a talk during Writing Sound 2, to introduce how I work and to draw parallels between my forthcoming book F.M.R.L. and the Bergen project. The plate is made in the tradition of ‘boudy-ware’ from the North-East of England. It is made of mismatched pieces of broken china held together by a muddy rough material. It’s uneven and a bit creepy (the head). And it probably couldn’t be used as a plate. Likewise my book and Writing Sound 2: uneven. They might not strictly work as closed, finished projects either. Yet their mismatched, fragmented parts are held together, by the muddy rough material of an ever changing thinking-listening-writing-reading-sounding. Some people might want to break them apart. Others might want to add on to their uneven shape. Use them, even?