On “Domestic Ambient Noise”

DAN done

(This is the text of a posting to the british-poets e-mail discussion list, concerning the final five performances of Domestic Ambient Noise, a 300-booklet collaborative soundtext project, developed by Bob Cobbing and Lawrence Upton between 1994 and April 2000. The principal performers at these five events were Bob Cobbing (voice, percussion etc.), Lawrence Upton (Voice, karaoke machine etc.), Jennifer Pike (Dance, slides, image-manipulation etc.) and Derek Shiel (sound sculpture).

Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 14:12:56 EDT

From: Peter Manson
Subject: DAN done

Thanks to Rob [Holloway], Elizabeth [James] and cris [cheek] for their posts —

I went to all five DAN performances (was I the only person to manage that, other than Bob, Lawrence, Jennifer and Derek?) Attendance on the whole wasn’t good [litotes], but the people who _were_ there so obviously cared about this stuff that I sensed no despondency. It’s your loss, folks.

The experience was at the very least mind-altering (I feel genetically-modified too), so sorry if this is impressionistic and vague as to what happened when in response to what.

DAN 299, _Moise_ was given i.m. Alaric Sumner. Nobody said that before the performance started, and I only remembered, with a jolt, some way into the text — Jennifer bringing a slide of Bob’s theme into and out of focus, Derek and Bob making near-synchronised percussion from the fine strands of grain in the copy, Lawrence rising to a bellow as the blackness coalesced and broke back into focus, Jennifer obscuring more and more of the light with her hands, bringing the volume up till the whole room was plunged into darkness, the drumming and keening reaching a terrified pitch, calling the light back. And the light came back.

DAN 300, _Noise_, was launched almost as a demo of how they “do it” — taking the whole book slowly and systematically, one page at a time. Bob disoriented Lawrence by asking quite a detailed question as to how they should approach the performance of one particular page (“I’ve never heard you ask anything like that in 30 years, Bob!”), but the occasion was so open that the distinction between audience and performers just disappeared — cris cheek (who’d been videoing the doings) vocalised and danced with the masked-and-veiled Jennifer Pike, I coughed a bit, and there was plenty more crossover during the course of the weekend.

Part of the genius of the event lay in the way it defused any too portentous sense of an ending by having another 3 gigs after the launch of the final DAN. I felt a real change in Bob’s and Lawrence’s attitude on Saturday night, as if they were faced for the first time with DAN as a corpus of achieved work, something to be selected from and reanimated at will, rather than a set of discrete books to be tested. This time they worked from wall-mounted enlargements of DAN pages, which caused a change in reading posture (Lawrence often reads with the text on the floor at his feet) and inevitably altered the sound. Jennifer toured the room with a large sheet of distorting perspex, altering sets of images for the others to perform. There was an excitement and an energy here which exceeded anything I’ve heard before from either player. Bob, especially, who had been pacing himself quite carefully over the weekend, drumming rhythmically or quietly nuancing what the others were doing, burst into a volume and range of timbre I’d only ever heard on quite old recordings of his. Inevitably, when there’s so much to attend to, different hearers will foreground different things: not everybody in the room thought this was a high point of the weekend. I heard things that could have been taken off the Konkrete Kanticle recording of _Hymn to the Sacred Mushroom_, and returned to my guesthouse well pleased.

Sunday began with requests. With unintentional sadism I asked for _IS THIS NOT A TEXT? I’N’I’T’! (pour Andre Breton)_, which is quite closely printed and verbal: there was only one copy in the room and the mutually-incompatible eye-defects of the performers meant they could only read it with the text resting on a bar-stool, Lawrence standing and Bob kneeling. The text was hilarious, but I hope Bob’s knees have now recovered.

The two Sunday performances have merged for me, but there was a relaxed and adventurous trawl through some DANs which had escaped performance in the rush to fill all the gaps in the sequence (the relationship between order of composition and order of publication/ISBN number went on a drunkard’s walk somewhere early in the sequence — eventually there should be a User’s Guide which will make everything clear [sic.]). Lawrence performed his fractured and entirely demented homage to E. Nesbitt (ending “.. and we’ll all be lamb’s-wool rich”). This was proclaimed an instant classic by everyone present (what was the title?). There was more work with slides — some of the work was projected twice, once in the afternoon and once in the evening, and the interplay of consistency and innovation in interpretation was just amazing — a reprise with variations, an inversion (Bob doing the text the way Lawrence did the first time around and Lawrence shadowing him with a Bob), or an entirely new sound-poem.

So much for chronology.

Cris giggles when Jennifer (rendered ageless by a smooth white plastic mask and veil) faces away from him, bends over, and holds the pose 3 or 4 seconds too long for him to blank. Lawrence processes his voice through a child’s karaoke machine, then suddenly interposes the booklet between mouth and mic, so the live sound bounces off the back wall. Bob makes an inexplicable sound, somewhere between a cat’s miaw and Donald Duck, cracking up the audience in the middle of 299. Lawrence impersonates the lower case letter _b_. Lawrence and Bob toddler-fight over what page to perform, Lawrence knocking the book out of Bob’s hand. Jennifer uses a prism to split the projected images into rotatable multiples, taking Lawrence by surprise during a page containing the word _curly_. Bob and Lawrence chase the image(s) up the walls and onto the ceiling. Jennifer discovers a near-perfect corner-reflector made from the white ceiling and two mirrored walls in the corner behind the bar (the whole room lights up and everything goes quiet). Someone pounds the piano and Lawrence delivers an astonishingly good 20 seconds of garage punk.

Minute by minute, the work alternated between the viscerally scary and the riotously funny (Health warning: I noticed when going home on the Underground on Sunday night that I’d temporarily lost the assocation between loud shouting and imminent danger of physical assault — be careful out there).

I learned more about soundtext performance this weekend than I did in the preceding five years, and had a brilliant time.

Thanks for it.


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