04 August 2011

Audio Obscura

A little over a month ago, when I went to a literary event at Piccadilly Station, I did not imagine I would have occasion to attend another, not just within the same year, but within the same quarter of one.

Manchester, however, is a city full of surprises. The Manchester International Festival was full of exciting, cool events. 

Audio Obscura was put together by renowned poet Lavinia Greenlaw, and again used the backdrop of Piccadilly Station to introduce questions of private lives in public spaces.

Mark was coming into town that weekend, so I met him at the train station. We got our headphones, hit play, and started walking around the station, listening to a pre-recorded 1/2 hour soundscape loaded onto an .mp3 player.

Now, I really enjoyed Station Stories. I thought it was awesome. And I was hoping to be duly impressed with this event as well.

But I just wasn't.

The 1/2 hour soundscape, by virtue of being pre-recorded, rather than performed, felt less dynamic. It was decidedly less interactive, as people who were unaware of the event didn't involved at all (compare that to how David Gaffney's story forced unaware people to get involved). Which also meant that listening to Audio Obscura also felt more insular.

Also, the soundscape didn't have clear narrative... it was much more poetic, which shouldn't surprise me, considering it was written by a poet. Several different voices, speaking unconnected thoughts. Occasionally, you'd hear a strand left and picked up again, but just as often, you wouldn't. Maybe it's just me, but I believe in narrative.

I also felt the thoughts being voiced were far too intense. Yes, personal dramas do happen at train stations. But not for most people, not all the time. There was too much anger, too much intensity for it to feel... possible. Only one of the speakers was reciting banal thoughts about not being able to find his platform, which I think is probably far more common. It would have been interesting to intersperse more of that into the soundscape, I think.

But I think the biggest problem for me might have actually been intended. Because no one was performing these thoughts, which were being cast into my brain, I had no one to "stick" them onto. I just ended up putting them on whomever I saw at any point in the station. I was constantly casting about to see who these thoughts might fit with... and I started to feel very irresponsible. Surely, that woman isn't thinking about murdering someone, she's just returning a dress to the Monsoon. It felt voyeuristic, attaching these angry, intense thoughts onto passersby. It felt unfair. Maybe we weren't meant to try to attach those thoughts onto anyone, but I know I couldn't help myself. Neither could Mark. 

We took off our headphones and looked carefully at one another before I finally broke the silence. "That wasn't nearly as good as Station Stories."
He, of course, hadn't been to see that excellent event, but he'd read my blog about it.
"No, it doesn't seem like it was."

We returned the headphones, feeling slightly disappointed, and went to meet some friends down the pub...

More MIF stuff:

Wagner: I had won 4 free tickets to see a preview of the MIF performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle. The performance opened with a specially commissioned new prologue that vaguely told the story of how Wagner wrote the opera, using actors and the symphony. It was brilliant.

Then, after intermission, they performed a part of Die Walküre. The singing and music were absolutely fantastic. My only complaint was that they projected English subtitles on the walls... and when faced with words I can read, I just can't stop myself.

The opera lost a lot in translation, as any song does. But more than that, the words of this opera are banal and boring and they make you wonder why these lyrics are being sung with such passion... 

For example, and these are not quotes, they are just things I remember and thus may not be perfect:

"Brünnhilde, where have you been?"
"I had work to do."


"Father, have I shamed you so that you make me thus full of shame? Have I debased you so that you now make me so base?"

And so on... 

It would be better, for me at least, to just hear the singing, not understand the words, and appreciate the music.

Wu Lyf: I'd heard about this band on my friend Joe Sparrow's blog A New Band A Day. Check it out. It's awesome. He was over them by the time this show happened (he's a hype-maker, so he sees past the hype quicker than the rest of us). But I bought tickets because a) I'd never heard them before, b) they're young and seem exciting and fun, and c) the show was going to be in a tunnel.

I convinced some friends to come along, and in the end, it was a good time. I think I probably like Wu Lyf's music at least enough to listen to it, but:
1) A tunnel is not a good venue for a band. The acoustics were horrendous.
2) A band needs good sound people. Apart from the acoustics, their mix was really bad. You could barely hear the guitar.
3) Depending on where you're standing, the crowd can either be amazing and wonderful or total pricks. 

I began the show standing in a section of the latter. I could not believe all these people had paid and come out to talk to each other. They shouted at each other throughout, not even listening to the music, not dancing, nothing. Once we moved to another section though, closer to the stage, we had a much better time, listening to the band, rather than the pointless shouted conversation of a hipster clique. I really don't get it. 

I went to a bunch of other MIF events, but I don't have anything to say about them except this: I really liked the MIF. I liked how the city felt while it was on. It world-premiered huge amazing shows, and even New York Times wrote articles about Manchester during that month. It made the city hum and buzz and feel alive, and you had a reason to just head into the city and see what was going on. I loved it. I'm looking forward to the MCR Literature Festival and the MCR Science Festival, because I'm hoping they'll just be nerdier versions of the MIF. I can't wait.

Quick note: I don't love doing posts without photos, but I seriously did not take a single photograph of an MIF event. Bad blogger. I will learn my lesson. As of tomorrow morning, I am headed to Scotland, and I will definitely take pictures. I am visiting Mark. At his parents' house. And during the weekend, I will meet his twin brother and his older brother. And his best friends. No pressure, then.

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