The Humber Mouth
Hull Literature
Festival 2003

{ Hull Literature Festival 2003 6th - 16th November 2003
 the humber mouth }

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Festival Critic

{ Festival Critic: Steven Hall }

Renegade Soundwave

Writers Day

Ibsen vs. Strindberg

Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army

An Audience with Joan Bakewell

Woza Albert!


Pooh Bear Reading Workshop

Readers Day

Theatre Test Tube


I struggle with sound art.

That�s not a criticism, more an admission of a little personal blind spot. You see, what I need, I think, when I�m taking in a piece of work, is narrative � some kind of key of ideas which lets me unlock the work, lets me understand where it�s going, what concerns and what issues it intends to deal with. By this I don�t necessarily mean spoken words, or one of those little cards galleries stick next to their paintings - a narrative can be purely visual/physical for example, with a work giving clues to its nature through the implications and associations its physical form and placement suggests.

I have a hard time finding my way in with sound art because I just don�t speak the language. I cast around looking for what I�m being told, what the associations are and what I�m meant to feel and I end up just feeling confused. Maybe I try too hard. I�ve seen other people close their eyes and drift away into soundworks, following some flow of meaning or feeling that I just can�t get a grip on. Well, you can�t have everything.

Anyway, the imetexture (pronounced �I me texture�) event proposed to explore ideas of words, language and communication predominantly through sound art and live performance. Text manipulation, twisting, changing, coding and scrambling language is a big area of interest to me, so I went to imetexture expecting to be excited by some works and confused by others. And that�s pretty much what happened.

The evening opened with Pete McPartlan�s �Fear of an iMac Planet� which - with rhythms, beats and turntable mixing � seemed to veer between art and music in massed samples of stretched, speeded and slowed voices.

Next came Espen Jensen�s �Kapittel en-dels�. For this work, Jensen invented a system whereby each letter of the alphabet could be transposed into a musical note. He read and then played/performed a piece of text using this system. While listening to Jensen�s work I studied the rules of the system he had devised as displayed on the gallery wall � his translation of words into sounds was so complete it included not only letters but the various punctuation marks, spaces and even italics. This was an exciting art game, although I doubt I would have been able to access it without the supporting texts provided.

After Jensen�s work, Philip Wincomlee Barnes, sitting at a desk with notepad and tape player, told the audience he had been taking a distance learning course and that this was his final exam. He then started the tape player and began to take notes. The cassette was an educational module about costal erosion, but every appearance of the word �cliff� on the tape was quickly followed by an obviously inserted voice adding the word �Richards�. The first two or three times this happened, the audience was unsure of whether it was acceptable for them to laugh. Obviously, this made the whole thing even funnier and soon everyone was laughing openly. Barnes stopped the tape, shuffled his papers and began: �Well, at first I thought my tape was faulty�� before going on to discuss how the various coastal erosion phenomena discussed in the tape were probably oblique references to the peter pan of pop�s lengthy career. We knew then: It was okay to laugh, and anyway, it as impossible not to. By the time Barnes began to discuss various interpretations of �Cliff�s face taking a constant battering from the sea�, I was in tears. As well as being extremely funny, the work also made nice points about language and intention, and how meaning can be bent to the will of the listener.

After Barnes came a number of very short films by Aurelie Klein, each was strong and each managed to capture a little moments of movement and beauty.

Then came the sound art. I tried at this point, like I always do. But yet again I couldn�t find my way in. I closed my eyes and gave it my best shot, but no. There were lots of people present who did understand, but I just wasn�t one of them.

So the evening panned out much as I�d expected: the work I found my way into, I loved. The rest left me confused and out in the cold. I�m sorry imetexture. It�s not you, it�s me.

Philip Wincomlee Barnes:

Wednesday 12th November
Red Gallery

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