Electronic Voice Phenomena
by Beauchamp Art
“Immerse yourself in a night of otherworldly wonder inspired by Konstantin Raudive’s famous 1970’s experiments which divined voices in electronic interference.
Featuring distorted poetry and psychedelic glitch from Liverpool band, Outfit; the wickedly funny spoken word artist Ross Sutherland mining The Crystal Maze for feedback loops and moments of Jungian synchronicity; sharp-witted poet Hannah Silva channelling ghostly utterances from the past and experimental writer SJ Fowler playing Electric Dada through reconfigured recordings of Klezmer and German erotica.”
On the 25th May, I attended “Electronic Voice Phenomena” event at the Norwich Arts Centre, as part of the Norwich and Norfolk Festival, not entirely sure as to what to expect; whether it was to be a gig, poetry night, or something altogether different, and upon reflection it appears to be all of the above.
Introduced by an electronic voice distorted and fluctuating in and out of audibility after the cool music of ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’ [a mostly instrumental American progressive/post-rock band, know for their lengthy songs –a typical example being around 20 minutes – with considerable sections of near-silence, interjected with melodic harmonies, atmospheric audio samples, and sparse melodic percussion] faded out over transiting abstract blue visuals, setting the stage for the performers most effectively.
The first ‘act’ was SJ Fowler, who was described as a poet, but was critical of this description, being more of a general performer or actor self-reflectively commenting on the format of the evening, whilst in the mode of a eerie minded medium, feigning a sickness providing a bizarre juxtaposition of morbid monologue [or rather a singular dialogue, communicating with fictitious others, in the guise of hallucinatory spirits] and comical seriousness, thus beginning the Surreal evening, (with a capital ‘S’ as there was a definite deliberate post-Dada air to the evening). Fowler also acted as host for the events, lapsing in to true Dada fashion by arriving between two of the later performances in a bear costume, reading from a small book (turning a page with claws appears a tremendous struggle). The text was either a form of free verse or a section of a novella, describing dark, deathly scenes of transient fog, dragon-men, and obscure modernist allegorical imagery. His final act at the conclusion of the show formed an effectively nightmarish climax. Wearing the mask of possession, he began reciting German wordscapes (most probably the erotica of Klezmer mentioned in description) as the visuals behind him grew into a hellish torrent of images sinister and most hellish, with a fitting audio accompaniment.
Indeed, the relationship between performer, visuals, and pre-recorded audio/soundtrack was done superbly, as exemplified by every participant, such as the second act, Ross Sutherland, who again delved into his experimental poetry from a most peculiar angle, confusing spontaneous speech, anecdote and verse into an Epic lament. Synchronicity, synchronicity was the focal point of his performance. Beginning with recounting memories of his dead grandfather, embodied in memory and the contents of a shared VHS tape of their favourite TV programs, he combined the footage of a two minute extract from ‘The Crystal Maze’ with perfectly timed lyricism expanding upon the existentialist nature of life, death, and personal struggle, mimicking actions and forming connections between his speech and the looping video clip of a failing game-show contestant. Another of his ‘pieces’ featured a recount of an old psychedelic experiment, playing the Pink Floyd’s album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ over sections of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, forming lucid coincidences of content most brilliant (such as Dorthy entering the big city just as ‘Money’ begins to play, with all the connotations therein, supposed enhanced by a certain amount of recreational drug intake typical of the era) all the while with a recurrent deathly narrative, rendered darkly humorous by exquisite timing and further iconoclastic juxtapositions.
After another transition by SJ Fowler, the third performer came to the stage (unfortunately, his name has slipped my mind and is listed as ‘Special Guests’ on the promotional materials). Opening with a re-enactment of the monologue by Agent Smith to Morpheous in ‘The Matrix’ film (on that characters disgust for humanity), he subsequently impersonated a number of famous film samples, from Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Gladiator, Spiderman, X-Men, Transformers, to many others. First simply impersonating sections of the speech and the bodily actions of the original performers, before becoming more complex by introducing the original audio of the clips, reducing the length of each, revealing the connections between the words, revolving around a theme of humanity (at large, a la anthropology and mortality) whilst performing a growingly intense physical routine to coincide with the audio, culminating in a re-enacting of the opening scene from ‘American Psycho’, whilst the original narration by Christian Bale recounts the serial-killer protagonist Patrick Batemen goes through his morning fitness and self-care routine, climaxing with the poignant lines “I simply am not there” whilst facing away from the audience, fitting the various maquarades the performer progressed through.
Hence followed an intermission, more ‘Godspeed You!’, blue visuals, and electronic narration.
Then followed a performance by ‘Outfit’, an experimental music group featuring two keyboardist/synthesiser controllers/vocalists, a guitarist, bassist, and a drummer (who also appeared to in control of some of the other electronic elements), along with more interesting visuals revolving around the Judas Priest trials, suicide, and abstractions therein. The relationship between the audio and video elements was again strong, through more obvious than with the experimental poets, and the content of the animations/distorted video clips (of crowds, metalheads, and so forth) and the lyrics of the band was not obvious, if there was one at all, though the atmospheric composition correlated forming an effective and harmonious performative experience.
After Fowler provided another transition (either more odd words on suicide or the aforementioned bear-costumed Dada) the final act, Hannah Silva, began. The connection between Fowler and Silva’s themes within their performances was more immediate than with the others, as she too was channelling spirits (for effect), forming an extremely hallucinatory soundscape through a steady development from waxing lyrical on the otherness of oneself within a mirror, the absence of the self in the physical expanded in a extended metaphor involving the undead and their lack of reflection in classic fiction, as well as recounting words of another fictions character (as is possessed); an old isolate man, contrasting to her young female form. Left/right/left/right, flashing light, wet paper covered in automatic drawing, repeated phrases, reversed utterances, the sound of an illuminated bowl of water with pre-recorded sections of speech moving madly forward in time, forming an especially nightmarishly Surreal (capital ‘S’ is paramount again), in a fine, fulfilling evening of deathly, darkly humorous and atmospheric audio/visual Electronic Voice Phenomena.
I shall have to work on developing more intricate performance pieces; this evening has inspired me to want to create more developed works; rather than just a single act, have many to transit through: bodily movements, spoken word, atmospheric soundscapes, digital visuals and further A/V elements incorporated into pieces.
Here, experimental poetry has become a full-fledged performance, which was fittingly hosted in the Norwich Arts Centre, housed in an old church. Fowler left us, the audience, with this question:
“What is a church when it stops being a church?”
A good question, as it is not just one question nor even a rhetorical one, but rather a question that leads to further enquiry, such as ‘When is a person not a person?’ and could lead one to ask oneself ‘What is death?’ This may seem straightforward, death is the end of life, but what is the act of death in itself, that is curious – we are just matter moving in certain ways, what we consider life is just a serious of chemical reactions, in our case, self-aware chemistry.