Antrianna1
Antrianna Moutoula, ‘Much Love, A’, Radiophrenia performance at CCA

I’ve been tumbling about in the layers of presence, language and intention (and now memory, documentation and lag) since experiencing some of the live-to-air Radiophrenia performances in Glasgow’s CCA. The simultaneity of scattered geographies that live radio broadcast promises is perhaps lost when experiencing it as part of a live performance, in a seat, in a theatre-style room, even when we’re reminded of that fact during the peripheries of the evening. This doubled, or idiosyncratic nature of slightly different forms on offer – tune in to the radio wherever you are, or, come to the theatre to pay and pay attention, watch and listen – in fact speaks to some of the aspects of a couple of works that I found particularly engaging and exciting.

As well as chiming with my interest in how a performing, talking voice can usurp an author, these two pieces also somehow ping-pong when I think about them in relation to each other. Within and between these performances, I entered holding states that were on the edge of the performer’s voice-worlds, making me perceive a conflation of the provisional and the definite made apparent through the specifics of tone and address as much as the flow of language and unfolding scenarios.

Antrianna Moutoula’s ‘Much Love, A’, is a one hour performance of ‘nonstop languaging’ [1], a doubled outpouring of speech and typed language using a laptop that simultaneously projects back onto her (eventually populating the dazzling blank scene with a dense network of words and sentences). I found it to be an arresting, magnetic performance that seemed to alter the atmosphere of CCA’s Creative Lab, cutting through the dozy heat, leaving a static energy singing in the air.

On the table around Moutoula sit many sheets of paper covered in writing, and from the outset the audience know this material is comprised of letters from her family archive including those between two women and their exiled partners: the dates 1958 and 1971 make repeated appearances in the performance. The spoken word slips between Greek and English, as does the typed word, and the piece moves through a voicing of moments from the past, no doubt encountered in the letters, as well as a voicing of the thought processes and threads between various states of present, between states of recollection, discovery, self-reflection, and an improvising with or exercising of the malleable, roving and sonic nature of language.

Both written and spoken word tread similar terrain, crisscrossing each other; neither recording nor dictating to the other, both emerging and proliferating in wobbly parallel, the public brain and the private brain both given space to vocalise themselves. My attention is stretched between the two, zoning in and out, scrabbling for the links and loops that ordinarily would provide a settled feeling of recognition. This movement in attention, not being granted an easily consumable narrative, is part of the energy of the piece, and keeps the edges open to continual simmering.

I found that the rolling flow of words maintains a sense of the present continuous of ‘languaging’ as if there is an embedded acknowledgement that despite a deep researching into the past, there won’t necessarily be a settled, tied up present to move forward from, that there will always be more reflecting to be done, that there won’t be a coherent ‘I’ to comprehend. Similarly, as a performer, Moutoula inhabits the roles of vessel, guide and material, confusing notions of reliability and reproducibility.

In its expression, the stream of language in ‘Much Love, A’ appears and sounds at home in itself to be incomplete, to contain odd digressions often led by sonic riffing which turn into whole new avenues of thought. This manner of speaking, leaving opportunity to listen, modify and drift, as well as the fact the performance was apparently over when the time dictated [2], added to the sense that this was just one possible iteration of a recurring untangling and tangling of language. Experiencing a palpable transformation of energies into words and sounds in this way made me think about the demands of the emotional patterns and sinkholes that this type of labour must engage with, and the way it shapes and is shaped by language.

Jessica Higgins’ ‘a wall, slightly too thin’, is a tightly scripted spoken word performance with a spare video and sonic track that holds the language (variously punctuating, softening, Leonard Cohening us into a scene). A deft and warming exploration into the habits, rituals and frailties of performance itself, it works through character and scene-making, unpacking how imaginative time and space relies on the specifics of a ‘here’ and the potential of a ‘there’. The piece unfolds on the stage to include a silent assistant who assembles the ostensible central buffet scene (sketching out the scenario of the text with just enough elements) with props and comic mishap: ketchup squirt! The narrator builds on setting us up for something, all the while inferring that this expectation will confound us: ‘those particular varieties of stories that say one thing when they actually mean something else.’ [3]

Jess4 copy
Jess Higgins, ‘a wall, slightly too thin’, Radiophrenia performance at CCA

We are guided by outlines for a monologue, as well as for a voice (and the dual nature of this pair became more intriguing throughout, in terms of their characterisation and agency), as they are to consider what constitutes scene-setting, what might allow for a convivial and ideal scenario to perform themselves. In hearing what the ‘I’ of the narrator thinks about the small everyday politics of the art world, cultural signifiers, hosting and presence, we encounter the performance’s circuits at least twofold: the spoken word both points to the over there of direction, preparation, contingency and enacts the right here of the narrative’s home, the casualness—yet precision—of speech and the dry humour found in small discoveries: ‘most of the kitchens I’ve been in don’t sound very good on record.’

I know Higgins’ work quite well, so even before she speaks I can hear her speaking, but the delivery of this script shunts me from that familiar feeling to one that asks me to pay tighter attention; settings that were recognisable (and invited us in) were zoomed in or out of, just slightly, to ask questions about the structures, inter-personals, humour and ethics of the unfolding scenarios. We are presented with both a setting for the action while fizzing on the edge of what it might mean to work through all the decisions (some normally imperceptible) that enable such a setting to take place.

In its explorations of situatedness, Higgins’ piece contains comparisons with Alvin Lucier’s sound work,I am sitting in a room: his voice, which describes his physical position as being different from the audience, is repeated, played out into a reverberating room. The simple situating sentence of the title becomes distorted with echoing feedback through each repetition, the physicality of the room shaping the sound and describing the room and distance between voice and listener in a way that is sonic, rhythmic and beyond language. Higgins’ narrator contrasts the work of her monologue with Lucier’s: ‘The first line of Alvin’s piece goes like this “I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now” and mine might say “You are sitting in a room different from the one I am in now”, see?’ This subject swapping gently dislodges my attachment to a clear perspective.

In these variations of position I sense little corners, small unofficial gaps in the curtains, to experience the narrative while keeping a furtive ear to check that it’s OK to get the inside scoop. These variations or doubling ups become prominent and generative throughout: the strange relationship between the narrator and the monologue, each propping up the other; the unmooring of the recurring here and there; discussing the idea of preparation while simultaneously preparing us for the set up; the supposed small part the buffet had to play all the while returning to it, and materialising it physically on the stage, ‘although it will be advertised, the buffet will not be documented or historicised, it will not really be thought about at all.’

I found a compelling energy in this splitting, distancing of the monologue from its author and its voice. The voice that materialises the scenario into our minds both enacts a type of monologue, while allowing us to enjoy its atmospheric, visceral and juicy characterisation as it navigates the different aspects of what constitutes performing, enabling, setting up, hosting, and in turn, what we might find recognisable, embarrassing, comforting, believable. The quiet comedy within ripples and makes me think about being habituated to certain stand-ins in life. Can we believe in the apparent solidity of anything? It also makes me think about day-to-day performance, about the lines we draw around different activities to keep our little and large monologues in check.

***

Rebecca Wilcox is an artist mainly working with writing and audio, often collaboratively. She is interested in apperception, poetics and a notion of the ‘ideal’ version versus second-hand recordings, loops and traces, in relation to the reproduction of ideas.

Radiophrenia is a temporary art radio station broadcasting intermittently from the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. The station is managed as a collective by Mark Vernon, Barry Burns, Timothea Armour and Stevie Jones. The 7th edition of Radiophrenia broadcast across Glasgow on 87.9FM and worldwide online, 24 hours a day, 21 August-3 September, 2023. radiophrenia.scot

Jess Higgins is an artist & writer based in Glasgow, mostly into: forms & questions of performance ~ the voice & noise ~ listening relations ~ complicities & resistances vis a vis -organisation, capital, labour. jessicasusanhiggins.info

Antrianna Moutoula (GR, 1994) lives and works in Amsterdam. Primarily language-based, her work spans performance, film, radio, and writing. Driven by the desire to articulate the continuous present, her research focuses on an auto-theoretical practice in which she performs streams of consciousness by tracing her thoughts through language simultaneously in spoken and written form. Always seeking ephemeral encounters with necessary others, she explores nonstop languaging as a biweekly radio performance at Radio WORM, Rotterdam.
antriannamoutoula.com

***

[1] How Moutoula has described the practice.

[2] Moutoula later clarified that the end was signalled by a rough volume of words.

[3] Italicised quotations from hereon are from Higgins’ piece.