Friday, April 2, 2010

Further to my March 31 post, what struck me most about my visit to the Western Front video archive was not the content of the literary performances (though I enjoyed what I saw) but their documentation, particularly Kathy Acker's 1977 reading of a story from her The Adult Life of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1978). Acker seemed to take care in the staging of her performance, sitting on the floor under a single spot, the camera gently swimming over her, zooming in and out over long periods. However, when she came to the part where “she” is raped by her Vietnam vet brother, the camera zoomed in so fast I thought it might knock her over.

Another thing was a 1975 sound poetry performance by bp nichol and Steve McCaffery. Remarkable here was not the scopic but the contingencies of tape durability, camera cleanliness(?), and storage(?). This was most evident during the performance of “Aupe Relationship”, where the duo’s vocal extensions were complemented by tape glitches, be that at the source or as a result of poor conservation, I'm not sure.

The third thing was a 1983 benefit reading featuring a young Kevin Davies, who announced that he would be reading from his "notes" (as fast as possible) and for the audience to heckle him. What was interesting, in terms of documentation, was that the audience did indeed heckle him, but we could not hear the hecklers, only the audience’s laughter, a laughter that today's listener might confuse (or would they?) with the style and content of Kevin’s reading. The consequence of documentation, in this instance, concerned the enslavement of the camera's sound source to the voice of the reader, not to the individual hecklers. Only when the audience "spoke" en masse (as choral laughers) did they register at the reader's microphone, and thus the documentarian's camera.

So three things, all of which involve documentation. Not sure what I will make of these observations, though I’m sure they will be on my mind next week, when I return for more.

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