apparently didn’t come from a human mouth…

It’s great to read Andrew Haydon’s latest blog entry at the Guardian about the ubiquitous use of lip-syncing in contemporary theatre, although being identified as part of a trend is always half comforting, half awkward. I’m stuck in the middle, and figured the only way out was here. I hope this might be the start of something more occasional than the two entries so far (of 6 months ago)… we’ll see. So, why make theatre which plays with lip-syncing? Is it just a gimmick? A ‘trend’? An easy and cheap route to some kind of instant ‘effect’? Possibly (the last one!), but I’d like to try and explore why this effect, even if it’s instant, has an importance.I think to achieve a ‘polyphony’ of mechanical construct and human spontaneity means a lot to us today. Pre-recorded sound came out, and changed the world. Then pre-recorded image – another huge change. But theatre still needs ‘reality’, it still can’t be put on a cd or downloaded. Because of the general trajectory* of our entertainment and cultural output becoming increasingly ‘available’ in this way, there is a latent urge – for audiences and makers – to somehow harness even liveness within recorded formats. Lip synching is a very effective way to do this: it’s very easy to be tricked into thinking someone’s speaking live, by which time we’re experiencing it through that ‘filter of knowledge’, pitching everything we hear against the stakes which say ‘this is now, this is why i came here, it could go wrong” and so on. Writing this has made me realise just how much work we’ve done along these lines (almost every show in fact), and I worry a little because there’s an inherent ‘slickness’ involved in illusion-making which I thought was mostly kind of anathema to our aims. But of course in order to realise what’s happening, the illusion needs to be broken. It probably appeals to us because of what a ripe and juicy fruit it is to crack open: there are so many ways to deconstruct it, and – because the medium that’s being played with is a mix of the human voice and written text or song – so much meaning that can be coaxed from that act of breaking, interrupting, unfolding. Sometimes it’s worth building up a slickness just in order to take it apart. Going back a bit… to that asterisk. *What is this general trajectory, really? Perhaps it’s got something to do with our endless need to confront the uncanny in the form of some indisputably human attribute harnessed in a box, on a disc or up on a screen…  I’m reading Mladen Dolar’s book ‘A Voice and Nothing More‘ which describes Wolfgang von Kempelen’s wood and bellows ‘Sprech Maschine’ via a witness, in 1780″You cannot believe, my dear friend, how we were all seized by a magic feeling when we first heard the human voice and human speech which apparently didn’t come from a human mouth. We looked at each other in silence and consternation and we all had goose-flesh produced by horror in the first moments” (quoted by Brigitte Felderer)


 1 2 3 – other imagesAnd in Jacob Smith’s fantastic paper ‘The Frenzy of the Audible’ we hear about some of the first gramophone records ever made (by Burt Sheppard), of laughing voices – 


Without wanting to go too far into issues of spasm (a favourite!), we can safely say that the main issue with lip-syncing is that we’re talking about the voice, which contains no less mystery now than ever, seen from a psychoanalytical perspective. This has been, for us, the central reason for playing with lip-sync ideas: as an embodiment of the split self – the prepared vs the spontaneous. 

On the one hand, rehearsal, recordings, pre-written text, a floorplan, instructions etc. On the other, performers who seem (or are) unprepared; risk, failure, accident, mess, spasm. Perhaps any kind of performance is at its best when these two halves are at play in a delicate balance. The most difficult thing is to keep the ‘free’ side seemingly unfettered by the frameworks imposed by the other. To achieve a ‘lucidity’ between them can produce very moving results. Despite all my work along these lines with Silvia in RZ and with the portrait work in The Other People, right now i’m thinking about John Moran and his work with Saori Tsukada which is pretty much defined by this strategy, and really pushed to extremes. (*Andrew, with regard to your other recent post, I thought about including some youtube of John and Saori here, but if there’s one kind of work which is made to suffer on video, it’s the kind which does exactly what we’re talking about here – mixing and confusing live and prepared elements.) John’s compositions are beautiful, Takemura-like, childish, and highly complex. The choreography is ascribed to the score at something like ‘300 sound cues per minute’, so you wouldn’t think Saori had much room left to do anything else. But this is the joy of their work: she manages to radiate (with the kind of presence which results in the whole room falling in love with her) whilst keeping perfect time with the score, in her own natural, elastic way – nothing seems rushed. ‘I can’t believe this is happening in front of me’. *I love how Andrew describes how lip-sync goes ‘straight to the heart of post-futurist anxieties about authenticity, an increasingly media-centric world, fractured societies and dislocation’ but I think at best it goes beyond our anxieties and offers new ways to touch upon some of our oldest and most deeply buried truths.


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