Testing receptions with Lauren Brown

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Lauren Brown, Give Me Something to Listen to, Alaska Projects (Sydney), 2012.

I took advantage of Lauren Brown’s recent performance work, Give me Something to Listen to, at Alaska Projects (Kings Cross, Sydney) yesterday afternoon (read more about Lauren’s project here). Lauren is an artist that Laura and I have been in conversation with over the last few months. All three of us are interested in these overlapping ideas of experience, mediation and documentation.

In this performance piece, Lauren asks her viewers to bring along a piece of audio (on a device ready to play – which seriously opens the performance to all kinds of elements. I merely dragged along my over-used iphone, a device I rely on too much these days, but it did occur to me that it would be interesting to use a more unusual device to mediate my audio track). Whatever it is, however fun, great, painful or awful – Lauren will listen to it. My role, as a viewer, is simply that. I watch on, cut out of the sonic experience through Lauren’s use of headphones. But it is still a shared experience for I am familiar with the track that Lauren is listening too. So when she laughs, I know exactly what point in the track she’s up to. I find it interesting to think that Lauren is now mediating, and generating another layer upon, my experience (knowledge of?) of this particular piece of audio.

So what did I take for Lauren to listen to? The last recording of We Are Formatted Memories*. Since performing we are formatted memories on Friday with Laura, it had been playing on my mind that perhaps this work would not be accessible to an outside audience. It is after all quite a subjective experience and performance (see this post for a more detailed musing on the nature of the work). Would it make any sense without any contextualisation? Why would I want an audience to listen to this? What would they ‘get out of it’? Would it just be down right boring?

I gave the track to Lauren without any prior explanation, I have to say I was a little relieved when she started laughing. At least it wasn’t painful or down-right boring. I also asked for Lauren’s thoughts before explaining anything of the work.

She had a couple of interesting first comments – that there was a level of intensity and urgency about it due to the speaker reciting the words at rapid pace. She was also unsure what the text was, but seemed to thing it was definitely a text that was either being read or communicated in some way. I then explained a little about the piece.

A few questions that Lauren brought to the discussion:

  1. Is part of Laura’s re-performance of my initial recording taking on my own ‘persona’ so to speak?
  2. Is Lauren’s act of listening itself another performance?

Was the re-performance about trying to be ‘true’ to the original text or ‘true’ to the mediation of the original text. That is, what decisions did the performer make during the process that determined the outcome of the recordings. This was something that Laura and I had talked about briefly on Friday. For example, Laura speaks French fluently – I do not. And so in the initial recording (I am trying to avoid using the term ‘original’ because I feel it is too loaded with notions of authenticity), I stumble over the French names and terms in the text. Laura, made the split second decision not to correct these in the second performance. Rather these trips and stumbles where embedded as part of the performance – a performance that in many ways is about communication and miscommunication. Part of this discussion between Lauren and myself was centred around the confusion over who was actually speaking in the audio I gave to Lauren to listen to – myself or Laura. Lauren raised the question of whether a musician impersonates the original composer/musician when re-performing their music, or if they re-interpret instead. We decided that it was both.

Listening as Performance. Well yes. Through the act of listening, Lauren was brought into this shared experience. It perhaps would have been interesting to get her to speak aloud as the track was played (which is worth considering to bring into this performance piece), but this was after all a test in reception. But I guess the main point is that the last recording was played out in its entirety to another person who, while only performing half of the initial action (listening only rather than listening and speaking simultaneously), framed and thus mediated this performance through their own understandings and experience. In fact I like that this performance, once played through, can exist as memory – particularly apt considering the title.

One thing I would also like to acknowledge is how difficult it is to frame these kind of works through language. I find myself getting confused when trying to distinguish between the layers… and how to communicate which layer it is that I’m talking about. I tend to use numbers at the end of the title. But I also find myself wondering – is each layer its own performance (I like to think yes)? Or is the whole series combined the performance? Perhaps it’s a case of sub-performances within a whole. I noticed that Laura tends to use the terminology of ‘acts’ when talking about her projection works. This makes sense, indicating to the viewer that each element is its own entity, but within a larger whole (there is also room to include sub-texts with the use of ‘scenes’). Perhaps alternative terminology may be ‘instalments’, or if where are talking about sonic artworks, perhaps ‘bars’ or ‘phrases’ (although I am fairly unfamiliar with musical terminology).

*Side note: Actually I thought it was the last recording – which would have been performed by Laura, bringing it to the 8th time the performance had been repeated. I later discovered that due to my technological disorganised mess that is my computer right now – it was actually the second last recording, performed by me. Oops.

originally post published at http://appearingasprocess.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/we-are-formatted-memories-testing-receptions-with-lauren-brown/

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