Ten readers, each with their own book, sitting in a wide circle or
semi-circle. Every now and then, on a cue from their .mp3-player, a
reader will read one word out loud.
A very basic social situation: a collective of private reading
universes, punctured according to a very simple rhythmic plan.
The material for the piece consists of one page of instructions and ten
.mp3-files, which you can download here:
10 Readers is part of a series of pieces in which I use spoken text. In
many of those pieces I do not actually prescribe the text, but I
specify how performers put together texts that each of them bring to
the occasion. What you get is something like a chance encounter of
texts, and out of it might emerge a super-text or a diagonal text,
which is no longer part of a single text stream
but evokes a community of texts.
In this piece in particular I thought of the typical coffee house
environment, where people might sit together sipping coffee and reading
their book or newspaper or magazine. Everybody is in a private world
but at the same time, these very private worlds form something like a
social scene. In such situations we seem to be on the very border of
being private and being public, and that is precisely one of the most
fundamental borders to our modern culture. We're private individuals or
public citizens, and the drive in how we organize our culture is
towards making those two spheres as separate as possible. And that
divide can actually be quite problematic.
Practically, what I was interested in were two things. First, the idea
that you could "puncture" those private worlds, and so play with this
fundamental divide. Second, there was the idea that we could produce a
text that has no conscious author whatsoever. This is an ideal that
can't ever be quite reached, I think. Of course, in the history of
experimental poetry there have been all sorts of techniques by which an
author would try to divest him/herself of his/her authority, like
chance procedures etc. Usually however those techniques will always
select from a consciously chosen source text and the choice procedure
itself will reflect some kind of literary bias. Here, I thought it
would be interesting not only to relinquish my own control over what
the source texts could be - the only thing I specify is, it should be
books and none of the readers may influence one another in their choice
- but also to put the readers in a situation where they can't actively
control what fragments will emerge in the process to be part of the
final text. For that reason I used the click track rhythm, with its
unpredictable clicks guiding the choice of word. Which has the
additional theatrical advantage of evoking people listening each to
music as they read - something that people do, always to my slight amazement.
The most interesting thing I learned from the piece however is that it
can actually cause new social situations. Not merely in performance.
But it's a real work of performance art that does not take high-level
performance skills or too much preparation - you only need to run it a
couple of times and make sure everybody is comfortable and able to
pronounce the words well and that's more or less it. So it's very easy
to organize and you can organize the ensemble by just calling friends,
friends of friends, etc. Often, the piece brings together an unexpected
group of people, who get to share a very odd responsibility. So it
creates these social bodies that can of course be evanescent, still
they exist. I feel that music in fact can be a great way of thinking
and experimenting with social structure, and my experiences with this
piece have strengthened that conviction.