Lots of Words about Something / Lots of Words about Nothing – performance of real-time journal writing

Created 15 November 2008

This piece can be done as a private piece that is video-taped in creation or performed on a large scale in a public place.

Large-scale version

Set up: Post giant sheets of butcher paper on a wall and have a good supply of large marking pens ready. Have data projection on an adjacent wall, with a fast typist ready at a computer. A microphone and amplification system will be needed. Ideally, the entire event will be video-taped as well.

The artist wears the microphone and takes up a marking pen. Begin with the date and venue, then write as fast as possible to describe what is happening at that moment stream-of-consciousness style and including any snippets of conversation from people passing by. The artist will read the words out as she writes them on the butcher paper. The artist should write as fast as possible without stopping. The typist will type the words into the computer and project the result on the adjacent wall.

There will be a disjunct and time lag among the processes of creation and reception. The handwriting may be messy and illegible, the speaking may be awkward and halting, the grammar may be fragmentary, the typing may contain typographical errors and misinterpretations. This is what makes it interesting as a process.

Creation Reception
  • think
  • write
  • read
  • speak
  • transcribe
  • hear voice
  • read transcription
  • decode
  • piece together meaning

In planning this piece, I tried the process of writing as fast as possible in the journal while reading the words out loud as I wrote them, with the following result:

Real-time journal writing. Roving mike? I could wear earphones, speak out loud what I’m writing? Is that possible? Interesting as thought is far faster, so a double reflection – thought and thought on thought, messy handwriting and something lost in the translation, lost in the interstices between thoughts, discontinuities, disruptures, disruptions by chance occurrences such as the cat rubbing my legs. How awkward the speech sounds, must record the speech. What happens to such self-reflecting thoughts in a hall of mirrors consisting of multi-translation mediating experience and perception on their way to expression? Microphones broadcast the speech, mediated through layers and layers of water, waves, time-lagging loping through the air to you the receiver so what do you receive? You hear the sound waves, you see the light patterns, then time lag and mediation again as you decode and paste what you get into your own framework of experience. Lacunae, words and sense lost, dropped out in the ragged rent layers upon layers of disintegrating gauze, holes and patches for you to fill in, shadows of before and after cast onto now. what will you make of this slant slice through time and thought? Will you find you own self in the gaps or a glimpse of me in the synapses? Snap crackle and pop, it’s all electric circuits ultimately with sparks flying across them scattershot…

What is interesting in my observation is that the process of reading the words out loud as you write them changes the way you think. Also, writing word by word, rather than composing a sentence all in one’s head and then writing it.  So where is the real thought taking place? You as the writer are also listening to your voice speak the words that you have just written and thought as you formulate the next line – a recursive system with layers of mediation as the writer is both producer and receiver, responding to herself.  Reverberations, reminds me of Don Ellis Turkish Bath jazz recording from the 1960’s using a loop delay to create shimmering walls of sound.

So that piece is ‘my words’. Another piece could be ‘your words’ – wander through the venue with an MP3 recorder picking up bits and fragments of conversation from the crowd.  Then perform something similar to the above, but this time wearing earphones and transcribing any bits of language I can from the recording. This would be very interesting to the audience but also potentially disturbing.  My inner censor also says this could be dangerous in terms of recording people’s speech (even in a public place) without their knowledge. How is that different from listening to conversation fragments as you walk past people and jotting down notes in a notebook?  It is not something that I usually do in the journal but it is something that has often intrigued me, fragmentary bits of other people’s conversations as you walk past them in public places.

Small-scale version

This one can be done in your home or in a small venue. Perform essentially the same acts as above, but using regular-size paper and pens. Have a camcorder positioned so that it looks over your shoulder at what you are writing. Record your voice in sync with the writing. There would no easy way (or need) to do the typing, so one level of translation is dropped out.

If done live in a small venue, what the camcorder sees can be projected onto a screen and the sound amplified through a speaker.  In this case, it would be nice to set the artist up with a small desk arrangement but perhaps with her back to the audience. The real-time journal entry that is written can incorporate responses to the audience and what is happening in the room.

Original conception

The initial impulse for this piece consisted simply of writing as fast as possible the following phrases over and over:

lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing. how do you find the rhythm rhythm rhythm rhythm how do you find the rhythm rhythm rhythm rhythm how do you find the rhythm rhythm rhythm rhythm how do you find the rhythm rhythm rhythm rhythm. lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing lots of words about something lots of words about nothing.

Just write this on butcher paper as fast as possible while people are coming and going.  I’m not sure if this version has as much interest, but there is something appealing in its simplicity and starkness. The handwriting can be messy with lots of ‘errors’ in it, just write as fast as possible without worrying about anything. Liberating!

Can you tell that I have been listening to Philip Glass over the past two months?

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