TBA Festival 2012: Ant Hampton & Tim Etchells – The Quiet Volume Performance Review

At the start, I am paired with a stranger. We are the only two participants for this iteration of the piece. An assistant equips each of us with headphones and an iPod Nano. We follow her up Multnomah County Central Library’s grand staircase. She motions for us to take our seats at a table in a public reading room. Before us lay twin stacks of three books: Blindness by José Saramago, The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie by Agota Kristof, and When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro.

We sit in silence for two minutes. Then a hushed voice with a British accent comes through the headphones and reveals the library to be “dedicated to the collection of sounds.”

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Individual auditory aspects of our environment rise to the fore as his voice ushers each one in; the breathes and coughs, the electric hum of the room, the turning of pages, the zipping of bags. His rhythm and cadence render the ambient noise an orchestrated whole. He prompts us to observe the people around us, the texts before us, the blood in our fingers, the skin of our hands. We follow instructions to touch particular words. He takes us through miscellaneous paragraphs at varying speeds. We engage in conceptual literary battle; pressing on a page until our hands shake and fighting with voices that read against us in our ears. We hold the book upside down and try to make sense of it, remembering the overwhelming difficulty of learning how to read.

I lose my way, my mind fatigued from focusing. I get disoriented in the blur of sound happening around me mixed with the audio coming through the headphones. Are all of those pages really being turned right now or is that recorded?

I do my best to follow everything because I am accountable to my partner, responsible for his experience. We move together through the intertwining choreography of complementary instructions playing through our respective headphones. I am told to point to a word and hold my finger frozen on the page. He appears to be instructed to switch out the the book that lies below my hand. We build the experience together, each a performer and audience for the other, wavering in and out of presence and awareness, like normal life but more.

In retrospect, it is the moment after we pretended to read upside down that I keep coming back to — the part when we turned the books right-side up again and attempted to see the letters in an abstract way, not as symbols that convey meaning. It’s mysterious just how impossible it would be to divorce ourselves from the ability to understand text. Quiet Volume makes you consider how deeply ingrained the visual marks of letters are in our minds.

Multnomah County Central Library
801 SW 10th Avenue, Portland, OR 97205
$8 Members / $10 General / All Ages

Wednesday, September 12th, 11:20-7:40pm (Starts every 20 minutes.)
Thursday, September 13th, 11:20-3:40pm (Starts every 20 minutes.)
Friday, September 14th, 11:20-3:40pm (Starts every 20 minutes.)
Saturday, September 15th, 11:20-3:40pm (Starts every 20 minutes.)
Sunday, September 16th, 12:20-3:40pm (Starts every 20 minutes.)

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Vivian Hua is the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE magazine, as well as a master of globetrotting for free and evading traditional 9-to-5 work schedules. She enjoys observing human idiosyncrasies perhaps more than anything and is a magnet for homeless people (a joy) and bug bites of all types (absolutely terrible). Marshmallows – while not really food – are one of her favorite foods, especially if they are freezered, stale, or fire-toasted. She doesn’t want to space travel, really, which is an unpopular view these days. Her design work, astrological chart, and other crap can be seen at www.inallthings-patterns.net.