REALLY REEL TIME Chris Brook 5/98
I like microphones. I like them because they magnify the voice., transfer importance to any acoustic dribbling, capturing anything grand in the bland.
In my erratic and tediously experimental performance career they have become the one constant and attractive prop. Or crutch. They enable me to stalk around a stage rather than just walk around. They are the handguns of my communication desires. I always bang out a nervous rhythm on the things with my palm before a word is spoken.
When I walk into John Hayward's flat at 6pm on Friday 17th April I immediately see one hanging from its lead, limp and inverted; suspended over the kitchen table - the passive absorber. It reminds me of a flacid and frayed rope noose. Like the one I used to see as a child on Sunday tea time, on the terrifyingly bleak moorland in the opening credits of the 60-'s BBC adaptation of Great Expectations.
At one point later, I realise we have a moment of polarisation. all. the men are in the kitchen while all women present have gravitated to the living room. .I make a sort of joke; suggest that women aren't in here because the microphone looks like a penis. A.-quick reply reveals someone instantly and unselfconsciously interpreted my observation in the opposite way. "Yes", he exclaims, "there's something comforting about the shape". Somebody catches my eye, both of us amused at this innocent and perhaps optimistic mistake.
Maybe the salient, simple strength of this whole excercise is that it gives all of us an invitation to grapple, however fleetingly, with the nature of linear time. A quick contemplation; we all do it at sometime, we have to. We've a vested interest. those wrinkles, that gravity. Births and deaths and what to do in between. What if there was something else we all recognised outside of the ceaseless spin of the Earth on its complacent orbit around our great fire orb? A time... a something ... not framed by the loop swoop continuum of a minor solar system. In your dreams. Exactly...
So if we're stuck with it, why not get £5000 from the Arts Council to record one 24 hour cycle: one living, breathing, fragmenting, polarising, lived-in, dirty great wadge of It? In the absence of any readily available C1440 cassettes digital CD ROM is fine and dandy. Inherently offering two fresh and unique facilities to the incessant and ubiquitous documentation of Western Culture (London, Shoreditch Renaissance '98; 22-40 year old creative types; mode: chatter)
Firstly, it will always exist as a real block - there is no rewind button, and despite the 'stop' button, no skimming, surfing and cheating the sprawl. The horrific idea emerges of people having this thing running in their homes, at their gatherings, besides their beds - like a sort of distopian equivalent of ambient music. "Music For Airports" replaced by "Chatter in Shoreditch"; dislocated and deharmonised fragmentary emotions, burps, titters and ego-sustained philosophies. I imagine people re-entering their living rooms and suddenly encountering a raspish "I think you should start with 'New York Trilogy' first". Perhaps they would plan a whole event to synchronise with a section of 'Realtime' that occours after 22 hours and 23 minutes...
But, secondly, this is the capturing of a self-generating, improvised performance piece, deconstructed by both its digital format and the participants themselves. What is it? We don't know, but once we're through the door of that flat we've become it! Hayward's masterstroke, and what I decide has got him the money, is not that stuff about confronting "the inherent banality of normal life" or "exposing the deeply inspiring nature of everyday human interaction" (these themselves examples of John's person al enthusiasm for I revisionism of Warholian / voyeuristic themes..) no, what's paying for the oysters, champagne, and-hopefully, this commissioned critique, is the questioning of the construct that digital is always seen as technologically better than its analogue grandparent. Here we have the high-tech digi-pulsing of something so shamelessly domestic and, "lo-fi", it provides a lively product of paradox: the CDRom of the ether.
Does merely sending out invitations to an event mean you've defined, or can shape, the essence of that event? John Hayward is a prolific self-publicist and tenacious, often inspiring, bountiful organiser of projects. Projects which at once merge his ego with a grand, mistily altruistic, democratisation of the creative process. As in the [HAYVEND] vending machine he fills with the work of others or the experimental life drawing class he's set up - it is the moves, moods and energies of others that will define this project. And yet upon our entry into this experience it is only with a feel for, and vague sense of engagement with, this nebulous concept rather than a grasp at any notions of propriety or creativity.
So what does happen ? What of the textures, the noises, the bread and butter of such an arch piece of conceptualisation? The content of this time frame? People acting. People reacting. All performance becomes reality within this situation. It's a party. You meet new people, old friends, drink, talk. But everyone has some notion of the fact that this is being recorded. If the microphone doesn't remind you then somebody's clipped, paused proselytising will do.
I sit around the kitchen table. Hello, have a drink. Thanks. There is to be a reunion of sorts soon. Some Bristol artists will arrive; out of touch with former studio sharers who have relocated to London. Re-bonding beckons. It occurs to me that a reunion between six or so people will deliver good, solid, 'real' content. Friendship has its own dynamics. It is the essence of verismilitude.
I state - with some strange sense of pride but no shade of arrogance - that I don't feel in any sense impeded by the microphone / recording process. I am at times forgetting it entirely. I'm sure others are too. Peoples fear of their voice being recorded is just that - the sound of it, alien to unaccustomed ears, played back minus the skull vibrating. Surprisingly any angst is much less connected with the representations of ourselves as inarticulate mumblers and grumblers; expounding alcohol fuelled nonsense through a torrent of lazy and affected 'erms', 'likes', 'fucks'; primordial gurgles, and every linguistic self-mutilation mankind has inflicted on itself. I am comforted by the realisation that audio semianonymity in tandem with the very length of this recording will allow most utterances lost in the ether of those 1440 minutes. More flippantly: who will buy this bollocks anyway?
How are people approaching this? And what are the guiding structures and stimuli? Are the oysters and champagne creating anything? Or clipping the wings off "the fly on the wall" and stretching and warping the "day in the life"? Sexy food and booze - are we all going to start stroking each other? Record some sexual frisky frisson? Some people enter from the other room and begin to make squeaking noises from rubber toys, this their offering to the microphone. I am repelled into the lounge to watch Top Of The Tops on television.
The room is empty. There is some ambiguity about the state of this other room. Initially I'd been led to believe it was to be a sort of 'chill out' area of unrecordable seclusion. However someone has propagated a ridiculous conversation around the 'copyright problery' of TOTP appearing on the CD-ROM. Mirophones in more than one room, however, are going to lead to 'mixing' processes and a selection of material that will pollute the purity of this rendition of 'Real Time'. Towards the end of TOTP my publisher enters the room with his girlfriend - she is a friend of Johns. Suddenly I am aware once more just how overlapping all our social / creative circles are. All paved by the freshly weeded flagstones of hotly happening Shoreditch. Like Notting Hill in the sixties: the psychogeographical blip of an epoch. Nevertheless I am slightly uncomfortable that two of my worlds have momentarily collided and go back into the kitchen, having phoned my friend Tod and made an arrangement to meet him in a bar in Hoxton Square.
This was always to be the plan, facilitated by Tod's reluctance to give up wholesale his Friday night socialising. Tod, like so many of us b pdr@on whose creative success has yet to eclipse the dazzle and original visions of his ideas, has this week been working long work-ethic shifts in the culture bunker and intends to arrive at John's in the early hours of Saturday morning. This suits me - a few hours in the day and a return several hours later to a different mood and scenario seems like sensible research. I have after all been asked to write about this event. Nobody else is aware of this apart from Hayward and myself - and rightly so: there doesn't need to be a wandering microphone as well.
Back in the kitchen a tall, brash and flamboyant member of the Bristol contingent, someone I know and whose humour I enjoy, is keen to engage me in a conversation that begins to make me see unpleasant shafts of light begin-to bathe and refrect the whole process. He loudly informs me he's recently seen someone I've worked closely with for the last three years. This person has achieved a level of iconic 'fame' and Tall Brash and Flamboyant is clearly excited by the opportunity he has had to advertise his new art project to them. He has also a confused understanding of the relationship between that person and me, and seems still too retrogressively unaware that notions and perceptions of "famous" people sink to the bottom of the sea when you get past a certain point - a certain point in life or a certain point when you are simply their mate. He's asking me questions I think invest someone with too much authority; chewing and sucking on my opinions of them as a person. Likewise his new local art critic. I won't be drawn like this. I become aware of the recordin process for the first time; people are waiting for my answers. There's too much misunderstanding in the questions. I actually mime an answer to my neighbour. I get ready to go to Hoxton. Time to swat that fly.
It is five hours later when I return with Tod and a woman we've befriended called Liz. Oddly more champagne has been drunk with reunion party interlopers inside a bar we stopped at. They all used to work at the Hacienda in Manchester. A crumbling quarter of of some hideous pink pill is circulating in my system to no apparent or identifiable effect; a gift from our new friend. The atmosphere at the flat is very different. The fridge drunk dry; oyster shells piled high. Not many people about. A peep into the living room reveals bodies in slumber. Tall Brash and Flamboyant is snoring behind the settee, cocooned like a baby.
There's a mere 2 hours left of this 24 hour happening. John Hayward has been awake now for 22 hours. Why? Is this now some 'They Shoot Horses Don't They?' endurance test'? He tells me three things within five minutes with escalating severity: he's very tired; he wants Tod and his friend to leave (a stranger at this point clearly represents the infiltration to some chosen design); he wants everyone to leave. We joke with him that there's an hour to go. I say defiantly that I'm not leaving until 6am. It suddenly seems vital to make a stance against perceived whims at work. Hayward repeats almost mantra-like, the declaration that he wants to spend this last hour "just talking to my friend Sebastian". This is tricky. John has proprietal rights. it's his flat and it's a project he's instigated. But herein lies the problem. the twain should not have met. This 24 hour beast has surely developed a life of its own by now. Arguably it always had one. Can it not now exist unfettered in its dyinq moments?
I am staring at the concerned gaze of one of John's friends. He is repeating the question, 'John, what are you doing? What is it that you're doing?"
I look at the dangling microphone. I loathe it. I loathe the confusion. I loathe the Arts Council for giving £5000 to create moments like this.
'Yes, what are you doing?" I rejoin, "What are we all fucking doing?" lurcing at the microphone hurling it across the kitchen floor. Ilook around for another one, but John's proprietal rights have converged. He and Sebastian have taken an arm of mine each and proceed to frogmarch me out of the flat and down the stairs into a Brick lane dawn.
I'm laughing, visions of bills for broken microphones dropping through my letter box. Later, when I awake I hate the idea that I've in some way performed. But not as much as the thought that it may have looked as though I'd done it on purpose.
Real? I've had a time of my life.