Performer - Instrument

Caroline Wilkins

[Some of the texts appearing in these pages may reflect on music and performance experiments currently underway in the DAP-Lab, London, and the lab ensemble's new production UKIYO (Moveable World) which premiered at the Antonin Artaud Centre on June 1, 2009, and involves several participants of this year's Interaktionslabor].


Caroline Wilkins in rhearsal, UKIYO (Moveable World). Vidoestill: J Birringer


The Voice of the Instrument Performer

The following is an excerpt from my on-going documentation of participation in music theatre research, and describes my role as a performer and instrumentalist in the UKIYO production created by dans sans joyx/DAP-Lab. The project's recent development comprised intensive rehearsal sessions before the preliminary presentation of ‘Ukiyo’ on June 1st at the Antonin Artaud Centre, Brunel. In this I focussed on developing the voice and with it, the character of my role.

As the voice expanded in expressive content so the character emerged, a ‘deranged’ Aztec queen who return to the futuristic time of the Avatar world and finds herself de-connected from the old, historical world that comprises the first half of the piece. She has become detached from the instrument, only the ‘playing’ gestures remaining, and enters ghost-like onto the arena of the virtual world. Set loose, shaken, fragmented, she journeys fitfully amongst the emotions and words jumbled in her memory, shifting from fear to sadness to anger, in a vocabulary of bird- whistles, grotesque laughter, sighs, frantic calls, song, Sprechstimme, hisses, etc. - a delirious monster.

The original texts by Kruchenykh (11) have become the basis for a score combining voice and live electronics. By means of two small, wired loudspeakers attached to the characters’ back, electronic responses are relay ed in a dialogue with the amplified voice, some sounds, like the birdsong, echoing the original sound very closely. It was necessary to change the parameters of the electronic patch created by Oded in order to be compatible with a larger vocal register. This process of working closely with responses to my own generated sound has become fascinating and is highly complex, demanding a strong sense of timing. There is also an inherent sense of ‘play’ with the live electronics, an interaction between playing an instrument or vocalising, and ‘rebounding’ from the echo. Ultimately it leaves the performer in control of the result, (although there can be some unexpected results), and demands multiple listening and responding tasks. At the same time there is the live aural and visual communication happening between myself and the other performers, who vocalise in turn.

A link between these ‘zaum’ texts and contemporary experimental music theatre, asserted earlier by Zac Lascewicz, (10) has been made. Their onomatopaeic quality allows for just such a connection between the musical experience of an improvising performer and that of a receiving audience. There is a constant shift from signifier to signified within the given framework of the poems, each of whose underlying mood provides a point of departure.

The vocal sounds remain in counterpoint to the ‘playing’ gestures, which alter their dynamic, whether energetic, dreamy, forceful, trembling or rapid, in de-synchronisation with the characters’ mood. Her body is clothed in a pleated gold garment resembling the bellows of the instrument that rustles when moved or brushed with the hands. This beautiful design is the work of Michèle Danjoux who collaborated with us on all stages of development. Her suggestion of working closely with the garment beforehand proved essential to the development of the character in the way that it responded to my body movements, inciting physical and vocal gestures, altering my body posture, so that both are working together as one instrument: ‘folding’ the garment into the body and vice versa, (through the use of a mirror), creating shapes and sounds, helping to crystallize a body language that I can draw on later in performance (see 5.) In rehearsal I turn from side to side, allowing the extended speakers on my back to sound in the ambient space, or remain statuesque in one position as the voice continues its journey. The attached wires running from my back sometimes act as a harness, suddenly ‘braking’ any further forward movement, or as a coiled ‘whip’ in my hands, flung to the floor. This exotic bird-of-paradise ruffles and prunes her feathers desperately, elevates her wings, beak to the floor, or in a backward bend.

Caroline Wilkins in performance, UKIYO (Moveable World). Photo: M. Danjoux

The puppet-like character of the first half, emerging with her machine-bandoneon, is likewise developed. Some extended vocal sound could be used here too, in dialogue with those of the instrument, although at present they would remain acoustic, whereas the latter has a contact microphone. She sits motionless with her bandoneon-skirt like an automaton; then springs energetically into mechanistic movements."

2..Christine A. White: ‘Smart Labs’. The potentials of space. 2006. Intellect books.
3.Scott Palmer:: ‘A place to play’. Ibid.
4. reference made by Michèle Danjoux, head of MA Fashion, De Montfort University & Co-director of DAP Lab.
5.Barthes. R. 1986. The responsibility of forms. Basil Blackwell. pg. 108.
6.’Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein’, based on a book of the same title by Christian Kracht – (Kippenhauer & Witsch, 2008.) Poet Alexei Kruchenykh lived from 1886 to 1969.
7. (tbc)
8. S. Zielinski – Deep time of the media. Pg. 3. MIT Press 2006.
9. The famous ‘Noise Orchestra’ of Nikolai Foregger dates from the same period of Russian Futurism, ca. 1912.
10. Australian composer born in 1971, now living and working in Ghent, Belgium, where he founded the ensemble ‘Nachtschimmen’.
11. taken from ‘Fo-ly-fa’ - Zaum in Tiflis (1918)


Texte und Kommentare zum Labor 2008 werden hier veröffentlicht

Texts and commentaries on the 2008 lab and related research subjects will be published here.