Overspill: Shuffling the Deck

In the words of Robert Pacitti, in the introduction to the limited edition SPILL Tarot pack, ‘the tarot stands as viable a means of interpreting the world as any other – including science, philosophy and mathematics – and I defy any sceptic to prove otherwise.’ A Tarot pack is a set of 78 cards most often used, in English speaking countries at least, for the purposes of divination (in France and Italy it’s also used for playing games). The pack is made up of the Major and Minor Arcana, people and things that represent the elements of our world and the characters within it, and Tarot readings are carried out in relation to spiritual enlightenment, psychic communication, and the occult. But, as Robert Pacitti points out, a reading is as much an act of interpretation as one of prediction – the meaning of the cards reflects the reader’s frame of reference as well as her frame of mind. It’s this ability to crystallise thought that gives the cards their power.

In the case of the SPILL pack, the cards’ power is enhanced by the symbolic resonance of the images, and the way they have been produced. The Major Arcana – character types that include The Fool, The Hermit, The Moon, and everything in-between – are pictures of artists and other contemporary ‘mavericks’ from across the fields of art, academia, cultural activism and beyond. I have just cut the pack in three to reveal Robert Pacitti – Artistic Director of the Pacitti Company and creator, producer and curator of the SPILL Festival (‘Death’); Lois Kiedan – co-founder and director of the Live Art Development Agency (‘Justice’); and Empress Stah – trapeze artist, Neo Cabaret performer and producer (‘The Star’). The pictures were taken by the photographer Manuel Vason, who has devised a unique working method in which he collaborates with his subjects to capture performances made for the camera. As a result, the SPILL Tarot pack does not just help crystallise the thoughts of the person using it; it also goes some way to crystallise the processes of collaboration, challenge and knowledge-sharing inherent in the SPILL Festival itself.

Coming at the start of the pack, The Fool is the journeyman of the Tarot, an innocent and a visionary who may be drawn in any direction by the rest of the cards. As such, the Fool embodies the reader and all her potential. The SPILL Tarot Fool is a figure in mid-air, leaping with abandon against the greying landscape of modern agriculture. A stony, pit-holed path winds through fields of dried out crops; an energy pylon and other industrial buildings line the horizon. As s/he jumps, the androgynous figure of the Fool stretches out of her newspaper costume, and pulls her mouth tight between a grin and a grimace. Above, a small clear moon makes an early appearance before sunset. Behind, a dog looks warily at the strange traveller with her eyes covered and her feet bare.

It’s hard to tell if the Fool is jumping for joy or desperation. She exists in both day and night, in the freedom of outdoors and within the cultivation of industrial agriculture. Suspended in the air, suspended in time and suspended between places, this figure embodies the ‘unbridled primal energy’ of the Fool.

But the card is also a picture of Rajni Shah, whose performance piece Dinner with America, was programmed into the SPILL Festival; and it’s easy to see how, like her performance, this image draws on the potency of symbols that slip in and out of recognition. But the energy of this suspended image – with Shah’s head thrown back and her arms stretching away from her body– must also be down to the eye of the photographer, Manuel Vason, and the synergy of the collaboration. There was also another collaborator in this image – Lucille Acevedo-Jones, a costume designer who works regularly with Shah, and who designed the newspaper dress for this Fool.

Like all the cards of the Major Arcana in this Tarot pack, the Fool is dripping with the residue of multiple and combined professional practices – the traces of as many professional practices, perhaps, as there are knowledge systems touched by Tarot itself. By bringing together this collection of people inside the rich symbolic web of Tarot , the project of the SPILL Tarot pack represents the working methodology behind the festival. As a whole, SPILL 09 was a collaboration between artists, producers, venues and audiences across a wide terrain – large theatres as well as site-specific spaces; performers familiar to London audiences as well as artists and work that was wholly unfamiliar; live art, theatre, performance, explicit bodies, music, dance, and much more. It brought artists to London from all over the world, and it did the same for audiences. As such, it reflected the vision of the Pacitti Company and its Director, Robert Pacitti. But SPILL was also woven from the enthusiasm, interest and sometimes controversy sparked in the minds and conversations of the people who participated by performing, producing or watching the work. Just like Tarot, it offered up glimpses of human experience, with the desire to be read and absorbed into others’ lives.

SPILL: Overspill was an attempt to respond to the energy and achievement of SPILL through writing that respected the form and content of the festival and its processes, and that developed with the festival over time. Together, the seven writers involved (David Berridge, Rachel Lois Clapham, Mary Kate Connolly, Alex Eisenberg, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw, Mary Paterson and Theron Schmidt) created 55 pieces of writing. As well as responding to the work as we saw it during the festival, Overspill writers investigated the processes behind the finished product – interviewing artists, visiting rehearsals, and in most cases developing a collaborative process with the artist. We addressed questions to the audience and, within the confines of free blogging software, we tried to experiment with form. There were three days of writing workshops, two peer critiques, a complicated group editing system and ticket schedule, and one all night live writing performance. Like the SPILL Tarot, each individual blog post represents a complex web of professional practices and collaborations; what you’re reading here is the first card in the deck. We hope you will shuffle your own way through, and use this site to crystallise your thoughts in response to the SPILL Festival. Please make comments below, or email opendialogues@gmail.com

Mary Paterson is Co-Director of Open Dialogues. mary@opendialogues.com

Pieces of America 2 - by Rajni Shah and Mary Kate Connolly

Pieces of America 2

A very sideways look at the experience of performing and attending Rajni Shah’s Dinner with America in real and conceptual space

co-authored by Rajni Shah and Mary Kate Connolly

The following is a template designed for the consumption and digestion of splinters of cultural reference…a lump in the throat, a twist in the gut, a warmth in the heart...

A cavernous dining hall envelopes you. Upon entering, you cast aside fear and difference, strike up friendship, and explore common ground. A vast Honduran mahogany dining table inhabits the centre in isolated splendour. The linen is embellished in sparse Lutheran hand with the words ‘Pride, Hope, Kinship, Drive’. You are here with others. No one feels left out or passed over.

I am waiting, sheathed in plastic. Blind. A sweat in the palm, a loss of balance, a careful slow movement of the lashes. How many of them are there? What do they look like? Are they smiling or frowning or talking? Do they think they are making eye contact with me? Have they sat down? Do they feel welcome?

Whilst milling around the vast table and reaching out to one another, you are presented with the starter of the evening: the Optimistic Amuse Bouche. This is designed to whet the palate, and purge the body of negative expectation and prejudice. It is light, fizzy with promise, and lasts only for a moment on the tongue before dissolving.

  • 250 grams of the ice of the Delaware and the grit of the people crossing it
  • 50 grams of the majesty of untouched landscapes
  • 5 grams of the sheer size and volume of all things American
  • Shake vigorously till all ice crushed and blended with other ingredients – serve in a shot glass…

The game is on. I am in the space with you. Solo voices of U.S. citizens punctuate this quiet part of the evening. I have met them all, can picture their faces and surroundings – each now reinhabits that place and time we shared two years ago. Most have moved on to new cities, lives, and some to a new realm of being. We are dining with the dead, the angry, the ungracious and the hopeful.

Guests are called to table, and invited to share in fellowship and the spoils of a beguiling landmass. Presently, a vast melting pot arrives.

You tentatively devour the space we share. It is most probably not what you expected. I try to alleviate our frustrations by seducing you. Waves of success and exhaustion wash over us. I am blonde and blue-eyed. You are staring at me. I look into your eyes but my sadness and anger and eagerness make you shy.

Main Course: Promising Stew

Base ingredient: The power of the American identity, and the endurance of the souls and hearts and bosoms of the American people.

  • Place in a large pot with 250grams of Patriotism. Heat till scalding.
  • Temper with the Songs of the South, the Validation of the Individual and the Fear of the Other.
  • Leave to simmer, until a myriad of histories and distant cultures dragged to the shores in famine and slave ships, have all been absorbed into the mix, peppering it with the flavours of far off lands.
  • Finish and mature the dish with healthy dollops of the captains of industry, the soaring bricks and mortar of shiny sky-scrapers, the chic New England style of Boston and Cape Cod, the airy art spaces of New York, the balm of Californian breezes.

I am trying to hold this space. Voices crowd in. I am singing. You have travelled into the cradles and fields of your minds. I am still trying to hold the space. Though of course, of course, this is an impossible task. You have left and some come back. This space is one of coming and going.

Side-dish 1:

Forebear’s Bread

A simple unleavened bread – coarse and sometimes hard to digest, it is formed from the sparse sensibilities of Lutheran and Calvinist settlers, cooked by the steam of growth, and transformed into a hard-working, conservative outlook, impeccably mannered, friendly, and a touch distant.

There is nothing other than being with you in the room. All our trajectories collapse into one pointed moment. You are with me now. One last song. We have come full circle.

Side-dish 2:

Moulded Faith Rice

A sticky sweet rice, made from varying individual grains, moulded together to form a wholesome, loving solid which places the family at the centre of life, which places immense faith in a benign god, which places trust in other people, and which places emphasis on striving ahead as one.

I have made an attempt, that is all. As I shed the layers of this shiny blonde outfit, you watch from the darkness. I have no idea who you are any more. I look at you and there is pity and engagement in the space between us, but I could not say exactly where it sits. I take a practical approach to undressing. Now your thoughts cram the darkness. It is comforting. You witness my body as a shared landmark. I make my escape.

Side-dish 3:

Fun and Frolics Fondue

A frothy, synthetically-chewy dip. This contains the lure of consumerism, the whiff of fast food, the playful yellow beacons of taxis on Broadway, the gushing emotion of sitcoms and movies, the stars in the eyes of waitresses working the graveyard shift in a Hollywood diner, the preacher touting for souls outside the Elvis chapel in Vegas, and the endearing twang of ‘American-English’.

My numb feet cross the space, blundering between you and the crumbs of mulch. We find ourselves in different locations. I have left it behind. The burial of something. Preparation for a harvest. Cleaning.

Side dish 4:

Troubled Gravy

A bitter sauce which should neither be avoided, nor allowed to subsume the other flavours of the meal. Ingredients include the power and status accredited to violence, the despair of the sick unable to afford healthcare, the segregation and division of race, colour and creed, the elevation of image, and the furtherance of one nation above all others.

We watch a movie together. You pretend not to notice that I am by your side. I am afraid that at this point you are looking for the end. Some of you leave the space. I wish you would stay. But of course this is part of the deal between us. You come and go. We stay. It is almost time for the feast.

Dessert 1:

The first is Traditional Apple Pie with lashings of white peaks of cream. Warm and homely, it looks to a safe and prosperous past, a security and assurance that values were intact, that the future was golden and that America would prevail.

Oranges, Mandarins, Bananas, Apples, Dates, Pears, Plums, Dried Apricots, Chocolate, Chrysanthemums, Amaretti. How ridiculous. We consider making the world kinder.

Dessert 2:

The second is Mississippi Mud Pie. This dessert should be served cold. It is an intriguing, yet not overly sweet dish, formed by the power of hope, now muddied with change and the fear of disappointment. It looks unflinchingly forward to an uncertain future.

It is painfully awkward to find our way into this space of conversation. I come from a different trajectory into this feast. But having negotiated our differences, we sometimes fall into an entirely surprising conversation for a moment.

The lethargy of post-feasting cloaks you in warmth. Conversation wafts and thins with the rising steam of bitter black coffee…it is time to leave. Shyness tinges departures with awkwardness as new found fellowships forged amid the clamour, are met with chill night air. Smiles and connections linger, stored for a future time, a future feast…a lump in the throat, a twist in the gut, a warmth in the heart...

Rajni Shah is a performance maker, writer, producer and curator. www.rajnishah.com

Mary Kate Connolly is a freelance writer on performance and live art based in London

Elevated Exhibitionism

I Feel Love!

George Chakravarthi

Soho Square

It was midday on Saturday 25th and I was walking through Soho Square Gardens on the way to an Overspill writers meeting when I first encountered George (a.k.a. exhibitionist and aspiring porn-star Johnny Shekontai). George, or rather Johnny, was wearing lace up boots, a delicate shiny cape draped across his shoulders, tight go-go outfit complete with tiny tight shorts and a skimpy top. It was cold and not a particularly great day to dance to Donna Summers’ infamous 1977 dance tune ‘I Feel Love’ for 8 hours on top of an 8ft high mock-stone plinth. But that’s what Johnny was going to do. And stood by the plinth, with cigarette dangling from his mouth, tight shorts, caped shoulders and various SPILL assistants fussing around him, he looked like a camp middleweight boxer about to enter the ring and undergo a gruelling bout.

Of course he was. But Johnny’s 13 rounds were not with a fellow greased-up sports professional trying to knock the crap out of him. It was with us, the public. He was disco dancing up there for our titillation, our delight. And his performance would be gruelling. Cold at first, later tired, sweaty and hungry. We would go about our busy day. Meanwhile, he would be there, still dancing, vulnerable to passers-by, their stares, their questioning looks. The question was would Johnny ‘feel love’ as Donna insisted she did, and would it last the whole 8 hours? Moreover, would we feel love for Johnny?

I Feeeeel Looo- ooo- ooo- ve. ...I Feeeel Loo- ooo- ooo- oo- ve

It’s 2pm. Donna is singing the same phrase laconically over and over again, her voice full of desire – for the song, for a lover, for any one of us here listening now. The drum beat and slight melody always pushing towards climax but never quite getting there; it’s a looped, tantric disco sex act of a song that leaves us excitedly on the edge – of dancing, of sex, of all those sweaty nights in clubs when you definitely did feel love, or something close to it. The music is infectious. I fight the urge to jump up and share the plinth with Johnny and relive my own go-go nostalgia of the 1990’s Manchester club scene. No, perhaps not sharing. The scene back then was quite competitive; what I really want to do is knock Johnny off the plinth and have the stage to myself. To feel love from strangers, if only for a moment.

Meanwhile, Johnny stares abstractly out into the middle distance whilst he bops around. He slips in and out of his groove. At times, his movements are energised, as if the mood has suddenly taken him or he has just noticed a camera trained on him and is showcasing his best moves. At others he looks bored and fatigued, as if he is trying to drum up enough energy to simply carry on. Passers-by stare, some dance around the plinth, clap and take photographs. Others munch sandwiches – oblivious- sat on the balding grass of the gardens. The temperature drops. It gets wet and grey. And Johnny dances on.

I Feeeeel Looo- ooo- ooo- ve. ...I Feeeel Loo- ooo- ooo- oo- ve

At 4pm the music is still pumping but Johnny is gone from the plinth. Is this supposed to happen? Has some over excited fan had him away? Or is he on a toilet break, gone for food? My mind wonders to thoughts of Johnny queued up at the Starbucks round the corner on Oxford Street, cuddling a latté in his silvery cape. I imagine him to be chagrined at the lack of green room or personalised trailer.

Minus Johnny, the plinth is no longer a fun podium for Johnny’s exhibitionist escapades, or a makeshift 8ft disco; it has a serious, formal air of a public sculpture. It looks lumpen, monolithic and uncannily like the base of the military, valedictory and male historical statues just round the corner in Trafalgar Square. I Feeeeel Looo- ooo- ooo- ve. ...I Feeeel Loo- ooo- ooo- oo- ve bounces rhythmically off its cold surface.

The spectre of dancing Johnny haunts the empty plinth and this latency roots me to the spot. I stand and wait, longing for him to return and reclaim his rightful, slightly sad, gay, hedonistic, black, go-go dancing place in history, in society, in Soho Square. But he doesn’t come back before I have to leave. The pathos of Johnny Shekontai - his dancing marathon, his aspirational porn star show name and elevated exhibitionism - are monumentalised in the now empty, hollow plinth.

Rachel Lois Clapham is Co-Director of Open Dialogues

Fickle Cheese and Performance, by David Berridge

"The Modes of Al-Ikseer"

Harminder Singh Judge,

Shunt Vaults 13th & 14th April

There’s no telling what might turn up in some corner of Shunt Vaults, the huge network of railway arches that comprised the venue for the Triple Bill. After the woman painted in gold, and the man urinating whilst stood in a bucket playing the saxophone, there was a bit of standing around on Triple Bill night, before heading off to another dark corner, where Harminder Singh Judge rounded off the evening stood in a lake of slowly curdling milk.

Judge was in the middle of the lake of milk, slowly rotating on a small round wooden disc. Around his waist was a girdle of neon writing. For maybe forty-five minutes he slowly rotated, churning-tubes dangling from his body into the milk, drone-music blaring, the durational hook for the audience of slowly making out the sentence of neon words as he turned.

It was absorbing, if demanding stuff at the end of a long evening. Judge had a serious, focussed look throughout and there was a definite, challenging sense from the off that this was it for the duration. How long does it take to make cheese I wondered? I had no idea. Were we here in Shunt until this sloppy lake became a hard cheddar-like mass? It seemed unlikely. But duration is tricky to relate to necessity - on the second night the show was shortened, I heard, by twenty minutes.

At the end of an evening of intense, focussed performances I was finding it hard to concentrate. But maybe that was the point of such a performance. One’s mind wandered and drifted and when and if it returned there was Judge, another twenty degrees on, the sentence a few letters closer to revelation, if you hadn’t forgotten what the bit before had said and needed to wait for the whole thing to come round again, like me.

I’m being deliberately a bit flippant about this. There was a serious and challenging presence to this work, an engagement with rituals and Hindu traditions I knew nothing about, but which also were well aware of the slightly ludicrous situation in which they found themselves, both SPILL and Shunt Vaults and performance art more broadly. This isn’t my flippancy alone I’m talking about here - it’s how the piece worked the flippancy into both its seriousness and its wannabee cheese.

So somewhere in Shunt there was the Hindu myth of Churning the Milky Ocean, where Mount Mandaranchai was the dasher (churning tool) and Vasuki, King of serpents, was the churning rope (thankyou Wikipedia). If Singh’s body formed one layer of commentary on this source, there was another accretion in store. Two figures in white appeared at the lakeside, barefoot, wearing drums. They stood calm and posed, although around them stewards were busy spreading out blue hand towels, ready for drying their milky feet when they re-emerged.

I was struggling - whilst watching and again, now, whilst writing - to find another vocabulary for this - that acknowledged the specific types of drums and clothing. But I didn’t have the words. Then it happened. Revelation! Transcendence! Well, actually, no, or, rather, yes, if transcendence relates to a sudden soundtrack shift into Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, the two white robed guys playing along on their drums. It was a dramatic shift, hugely energising. The man next to me was mouthing along happily; feet were tapped; time became more familiar again. It was up to Judge to maintain the continuity, keeping the same mental focus, rotating, churning, same as ever, absorbing Dave et al into his concentration.

As well as enormous well-being, it was curious to think what happened in this shift towards Basildon’s finest. Partly, it was, after Jeremy Deller and Nicholas Abrahams feature documentary The Posters Come From The Walls, further assertion of Depeche Mode’s art-world renaissance. It was an assertion of connections across cultures and styles, the continuities and the differences. It also functioned as the eventual punch line to a long and drawn out joke, as, too, a sense of the age of the 1980’s as the great Thatcherite age of cheese production. I imagined the same performance crashing into a Stock, Aitken and Waterman track.

All well and good, but still no cheese. It was curdling more the second night, apparently, and I should have known better than to expect actual full scale dairy production from performance art. The performance ended with Harminder still the same as ever in the middle of the lake.

Feeling a bit of a Peeping Tom, I hung around to see how he made it out, the mundane after the ritual. I won’t tell you. There was no need to do this, really, other than a kind of backstage nosiness. His performance had itself explored this kind of interconnection, whilst avoiding any of the pitfall binaries such as on-stage and off, west and east, process and product, milk and cheese.

Notes on Listen My Secret Fetish

Richard Haynes is an award winning clarinet player working across performance, improvisation and composition. For SPILL Richard presented Listen, My Secret Fetish, an experimental contemporary music performance that explores sexual fetish in four parts: Part 1, Breath Control by David Young; Part 2, Interference by Richard Barrett; Part 3, The Sadness of Detail by Chris Dench; Part 4, Press Release by David Lang.

Rachel Lois’ review of Listen, My Secret Fetish is here. Below are excerpts from a conversation Richard and Rachel Lois had about the work:


RLC: Can you comment about how the four parts in Listen My Secret Fetish were different for you, musically?

RH: Each of the scenes explored different musical territory and therefore my mental and physical relationship to each work was, had to be, carefully controlled. This was perhaps the biggest challenge in the show: 'resetting' my approach for each work during the performance. Each composition presented particular technical challenges, as well as completely different moods that had to be immediately engaged and maintained throughout the work. Extreme rates of change, as well as sustained control of tension over long periods of time are some of the greater challenges that face performers.

RLC: What significance do the different costumes have for you in the work?

RH: I'm quite attached to the total image of each of the scenes in 'Listen my Secret Fetish', as the costumes carry the weight of my extra-musical imaginings resulting from playing the pieces. As a classical musician, one appears in concert gear most of the time (for men, a combination of black, white or tastefully coloured clothes, often, not to out-weigh the presence of the music). My hope would be that a costume, for a musician, can deeply affect the performance of a work; and for an audience member, that it can deeply affect the interpretation of the composition. The costumes in Listen….represent, in a way, some of what I value in the works: innocence, vulnerability, violence, strength, fragility as well as suggestions of the religious, the animal, the masculine, the pre-pubescent, and the organic.

RLC: What is the breathing technique you use in Breath Control and where does it come from?

RH: Circular breathing is employed perhaps most famously by the indigenous peoples of Australia, however this practice is just as prominent in music from Asia and the Middle East. It is a technique that has appeared prescriptively in classical music composition within the last fifty years; before this time it was almost certainly used out of necessity by classical musicians to realise uneconomically written scores (writing a note whose duration is longer than a single breath would allow is certainly not the mistake of the composer: the work of the musician is to realise how to adequately execute the passage, with or without breathing circularly).

RLC: What is fetishistic about the performance Breath Control for you?

RH: This work suggests to me a scene in which a sexualised act could be played out. It places the visual object of the school boy and the urine of the boy in a position to be wanted; just as it displays one's physical prowess (it has to be said, circular breathing and urinating at the same time is not easy).

RLC: Can you tell me about the role the four scores play in your performance?

RH: Breath Control uses a graphic score; for this performance it was a linear watercolour painting by the composer to suggest the colour of the sound, hung from the lighting rig. Each 'sentence' of the music is one minute long and I observe a timer to help me proceed through the work. Interference is a maniacally notated work, often with two or three systems at a time for the voice (much more than a clarinettist has to normally deal with); contrabass clarinet and pedal bass drum. At the time of writing, I'm not interested in memorising this piece, however I think the image of the naked shadow turning pages definitely has something quasi-fanatical about it; like a ruler preaching to his people or a strange sermon from some kind of extremist priest. The Sadness of Detail is also deftly notated. However I enjoyed greatly the task of committing this work to memory. It is sincerely a pleasure to play 'off by heart' and I hope to do it like that many more times. Press Release is also a long 10 page score, I reduced it using graph paper and my own kind of symbol-system to prompt the various rhythms and pitch sets.

RLC: Are you equally interested in the body of the instrument as fetish object, or is the pleasure all in the playing?

RH: My thoughts on that are more connected with the fact being musician; there is a certain amount of object worship that takes place, an advanced respect and understanding of your equipment. Some musicians are certainly obsessed with their instruments bordering on fetishism; that is something that I'm growing towards, rather than away from.

RLC: Can you say a bit about the powerful, visceral effect playing has on you?

RH: I really don't know where to begin. A musician develops such a close relationship to every (particularly solo) piece that she or he plays. It must be like this, as the musician has to bring to the stage the thousands of details that exist in the music, which really can only be achieved through decades of training. I suppose I would have to add to that, that witnessing this coming-together of performative elements (breath, musculature, movement, wood, metal, gut, glass etc.) is something just as captivating as the resulting sound itself; indeed it is pieces like Interference that do to some level attempt to emphasise the transitions between various techniques and overtly separated physical layers.

The music performed in 'Listen...' is incredibly emotional, it's no surprise that the music should be at times incomprehensible as the myriad manifestations of fetish-influenced sexual practice are often just as baffling.

RLC: I was really struck by the sound the different instruments made, almost a sounding of the body of the instrument itself instead of the music that it might typically produce. Like the sound of your breath running through open keys, instead of playing its particular note. It felt like the non-notes being played with equal emphasis. Can you comment on this?

RH: I love this grey area: where does music stop and noise start? Indeed the term 'music' today is extremely broad and there is plenty of it out there that is made out of what we would commonly call 'noise'. This grey area argument is also a result of the proliferation of highly produced music AND conservative classical music training, whereby many if not all natural non-notated sounds of the instrument are practiced out of the technique of a musician or forcibly removed from the recording by way of brilliant technology. Contemporary music composition often attempts to access this transitional space, but often it's just a reality of live performance. In terms of the works performed in 'Listen...' it comes down to what the composer has instructed me to do with my instruments, and what decisions I made during the process of learning the music.

RLC: There were bits in The Sadness of Detail where I felt the instrument was being deliberately pushed, to somehow play beyond its (and your) normal limits or capacity, whether to do with breath, or the instrument whining or squeaking at the end of sequences. Can you comment on this?

RH: The Sadness of Detail is a beautiful piece of music, it is however very strenuous to perform live, and from memory. It is certainly the piece on the programme least designed to test the limits of the instrument, although it does employ the full range of the clarinet; glissandi (sliding from one pitch to another), quarter tones and eighth-tones (quarter or eighth the length of a normal tone), and a dynamic range from ppppp (quieter sub-tones) to fffff (really, really loud). During the final sections of the piece, the composer asks for the sound to become increasingly tired, even distorted. If the sound did break at any point before this, it was more due to exhaustion and the costume (tightly wrapped cling-wrap).

RLC: I am interested in how your body in the performance can be conceived as porous to the music and take on certain aspects of your instruments. Do you have any thoughts on this?

RH: Playing each of the various clarinets gives one an incredibly different physical feeling, this affects my performance greatly in that I have to 'behave' differently in order to get the instruments to do what I want them to do. Any kind of physical gesture will affect the sound and sometimes, hopefully often, this can be used to advantage the performance, give it a certain edge. In that way 'Listen...' is a good show of this aspect of instrumental playing, in that each piece has a starkly different physical character, and I use my body in correspondingly different ways.

The sound of the instrument (conceptually, not actually) begins in the body, we think of breathing to the stomach, as this expands the lowest regions of the lungs. When this happens, the reflex diaphragm muscle pushes the air out, so in a way we're constantly playing against, but with this muscle. The air blown into the clarinet creates a vacuum on one side of the cane reed, one that it attempts to fill by moving towards it, resulting in the reed continuously vibrating as long as there is air moving past it. Therefore, (technical aspects aside) the body is a vehicle of breath, indirectly of the sound of the clarinet. The body itself becomes 'audible' through the megaphone of the clarinet.

RLC: Listening to you play in Listen..., I was asking myself what constitutes music? What are your personal thoughts on what constitutes music?

RH: In my opinion, music is both organised and non-organised sound. Therefore one could say music is as much a method or psychology of listening, as a type of sound or a type of sonic result. I find the attitude of audience members purporting to know what music 'is' or 'should be', as much as I don't walk around saying what I think architecture 'should be' or what performance art 'is'. The music performed during 'Listen...' was therefore a lot more 'musical' (behaving in a way most people would expect music to behave: exhibiting melody, harmony, rhythm, structure etc.) say, than perhaps what one might hear at a noise event, or some of the more ground-breaking works of the twentieth century (Poeme Symphonique by György Ligeti comes to mind). There are many kinds of music I enjoy listening to on a regular basis: a forest, a construction site, a beach, people. All of which became part of the soundscape in 'Listen...'). This is sound, some might say, but the method of listening can make it music: recognising relationships between sounds, identifying pauses in the sound as structural boundaries, knitting together partial sentences uttered by passers-by as a kind of libretto for an urban opera... the list goes on. There's a reason why people should be quiet while listening to music: to afford other listeners the chance to undergo this process undisturbed.

RLC: Who are the composers you admire or who influence you?

RH: There are great number of composers I admire in the United Kingdom: Roger Redgate, Christopher Fox, Liza Lim, Michael Finnissy, Harrison Birtwistle. Greater Europe: Enno Poppe, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Boulez, Georg Friedrich Haas, Bernhard Gander, Mauricio Kagel. Oceania: John Rodgers, James Gardner, Michael Norris, Robert Dahm North America: Michael Gordon, Elliot Carter, Aaron Cassidy, John Adams. To name a few...!

Richard is currently studying for a PhD at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia while living with his partner in Switzerland. He holds a Soloist Diploma (High Distinction) from the University of Arts Berne and a Bachelor of Music (Advanced Performance) from Griffith University, Australia. http://web.me.com/richardehaynes

Small Talk 05 - Void Story by Alex Eisenberg

Void Story by Forced Entertainment

Soho Theatre

24th April 2009

7.32pm – 7.37pm

Unreserved Seating:

Fourth Row – Seat 7/8/9 - (A)

Fourth Row – Seat 8/9/10 - (P)

On Stage – Usher (U)

You can read an introduction to Small Talk here.



A: Hello…How are you?

P: Are you supposed to sit here?…no…

A: Sorry?

P: Are you sitting with him?

A: No…

P: Oh okay…Sorry I thought you were with him.

A: Oh…I thought you were together!

P: Oh no…[ALL LAUGH]

A: No…I’m on my own actually.

P: Oh okay…


A: I’m a bit puffed out!

P: Yeah I just ran here as well.

A: Okay…

So what do you reckon it's going to be like?

P: Probably quite slow…

A: Why do you say that?

P: Cos they often…they can do that sometimes…be very slow…Have you seen stuff before?

A: Yeah I have.

P: But you know…I like it so…

A: You like slow?

P: I don’t mind…well…I kind of like a bit of both…the text is often good so…they can get away with it.

A: So you’ve seen quite a lot of their work before have you?

P: I’ve been seeing them for a long time…yeah…yeah…

A: Got any favourites?

P: ‘Dirty Work’…that’s quite a long time ago. ‘Speak Bitterness’…that’s a while back umm…I like their earlier stuff better actually.

A: Okay…so you’ve been a long time follower and it's 25 years in the making.

P: But I mean…I saw some of that on video…yeah…’Dirty Work’ I saw live…yeah…I did a workshop thing…like a residency with them in ninety-nine…ten years ago now…which was good but…


U: Hi guys, welcome to Soho Theatre!

If I could just ask you all just to scooch along just a tiny tiny bit…In front of all of you is a number on the back of the chairs in front of you…if you all look at a number and all sit behind one that would be perfect. Because then we can get 14 people to every row…cos we’re completely sold out. Thanks a lot!

A: That was funny! …It is quite squashed in here isn’t it?

P: I think they always have to do this…and they do this speech…

A: They’re used to it…she seemed quite practiced.

Oh right…we’re getting into seat 9 and 10 here.

P: That’s right [LAUGH]

A: It's amazing how much room there is when we all…

P: Yeah…you see everyone wants to give themselves a bit more personal space.

A: Well also these seats, you know they’re quite…

P: Rigid?

A: Rigid…yeah [ALL LAUGH]


A: So have you been to anything else in Spill?

P: No I haven’t…I haven’t had a chance…I’m just going to see this and the other one tonight and that’s it…that’s all I’ve been able to…I would have liked to have seen some of the stuff last week but…

A: Oh you are seeing the show after?

P: Yeah.

A: That’s good.


A: So…are you involved in the arts at all?

P: Not really any more no…I look after my son now.

A: Oh wow!

P: Yeah!

A: How old is he?

P: He’s two.

A: Lovely…that’s your full time work is it?!

P: I used to do a bit…just marketing stuff…but I have to look after him now.

A: But you didn’t want to bring him along tonight though?!

P: I don’t think I could handle it!

A: Really! Is he a bit of a…

P: Well he’s in bed now.

A: Yeah.

P: He’s normally in bed about seven, seven-thirty. It's how it is with that age.

A: It would be good to go to bed at seven-thirty…

P: I go to bed about nine-thirty…[LAUGH]

A: Oh really! You’re an early sleeper?

P: Well I have to because he gets up at half six…otherwise I…I like my sleep so…you know…

A: That’s being a mum, isn’t it?

P: It's like…going to bed at eleven feels like a late night. Like, I watch a movie and I’m like…wooo ‘late night’. [LAUGH]

Gone are the days of drunken craziness!…Well I still do that occasionally but…you know…

A: Well I suppose you sort of succumb to the schedule of your child…
P: Yeah…they take over…

A: Yeah…It's interesting that…I’m not in that sort of schedule I’ll be honest with you!

P: It's funny…it does take over…I wasn’t before and now… you’re like…wow it's a very different thing!


A: I’ve been wondering what it's like to sit up there on those stools.

P: Probably not good.

A: It seems to be going quiet now…




To find out about Alex's Small Talk click here: Small Talk by Alex Eisenberg

Below are links to the other conversations that I have had:

Small Talk 01 - Inferno

Small Talk 02 - That Night Follows Day

Small Talk 03 - Purgatorio

Small Talk 04 - Saving the World

Alex Eisenberg is an artist making performance. He is helping to coordinate SPILL: Overspill over the course of the festival.