Enduring Sounds – Audio Performance and the Pandemic

Enduring Sounds is an experiment in creating an ‘asynchronous roundtable’ about audio performance during the coronavirus pandemic.

With theatre and live performance venues closing at the end of March 2020, uprooting communities of makers and audiences, many were severed from the distinct capacities of performance to provide a space for embodied assembly and convivial experience. At the same time, this huge rupture in the ecology of theatre and performance practice in the UK encouraged performance makers and live artists to explore a range of other mediums for their work – from short films and Zoom performances to durational radio broadcasts and virtual reality. Among the work that emerged over this period, a number of performance makers turned to recorded audio work as a medium through which to create intimate, often ‘one-to-one’ encounters with their audiences.

In Enduring Sounds we explore how audio performance became a means of survival – of intimacy, assembly and embodied, shared experience. On this website you will find four specially commissioned spoken audio pieces by leading UK live artists, reflecting on their use of sound and voice performance during the pandemic.

The artists who have contributed to Enduring Sounds are: Ashanti Harris, who reflects on History Haunts the Body (2020) and OHCE (2021), an exploration of the historical relationship between Guyana and Scotland. Claire Cunningham speaks to her collaboration with philosopher Julia Watts Belser on disability, queerness and ecology in Quanimacy (2020) and We Run Like Rivers (2021). Amy Sharrocks’s reflections extend her examination of our relationships with water from Water Swallows (2019) created with and about water sources and human communities in Buxton, Derbyshire while Sarah Hopfinger considers Pain and I (2021), a performance about the complexities of living with chronic pain.

We invited the artists to respond to these questions:
– What can sound and audio do that other mediums cannot?   
– How has this work allowed you/your audiences to endure a period where we cannot gather, where physical assembly is restricted and performance as we know it cannot take place?
– What for you does the voice do? Have you found it to be a way of cultivating intimacy with listeners/collaborators/yourself despite physical absence (or not)?
– What kinds of assembly/assemblage has voice/audio work allowed you to create, in this time of severed connections?

The resulting audio responses by artists are interspersed with short written entries on key concepts that recur and circulate across the different artist’s performances and reflections. 

Each of our entries spans two key words, connected by a ‘/’. The ‘/’, typically used to signal an overlap of voices in theatre scripts, acts as sign for the interstice between concepts but also more widely between body and thought, sound and sense, scholarly and artistic expression, and the multiple voices, recorded or transported through written language, that make up this website. Moreover, the ‘/’ hopes to make visible the ways in which we have found that key ideas continually form connections, overlapping and producing new trains of thought. For this reason, we encourage listeners/readers to follow their intuition when navigating the website, making use of the hyperlinks between entries to follow your own lines of investigation into the manifold ways in which sound becomes a means for performance to endure.

We hope you enjoy Enduring Sounds!

Cara Berger and Harry Wilson

ACCESS NOTE:

Transcriptions of the audio content are available on each artist page.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Enduring Sounds is supported by the Collaborations & Cultural Activities Committee of The University of Glasgow.

RESEARCHER BIOS:

Dr Cara Berger (she/her) is a Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on feminism and ecology in contemporary theatre and performance, performance curation, and practical research in theatre-making and dramaturgy. Her monograph Feminism, Performance, Ecology: 1962-2020 is forthcoming with Manchester University Press. Her previous research, engaging with feminist dramaturgies and performance practices are published in Performance ResearchJournal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and Contemporary Theatre Review. She has contributed to edited collections on Transdisciplinary Feminist Research Methods and intersemiotic translation practices.

Dr. Harry Robert Wilson (he/him) is an artist-academic based in Dundee. Harry’s research focusses on interdisciplinary explorations of live art and performance, photography, documentation, digital art and new media through critical theory and artistic research. He has published in Performance PhilosophyPerformance ResearchIJPADMand Contemporary Theatre Review. Recently Harry has been exploring intersections between immersive technologies and intimate performance and examining the increasing use of digital and internet technologies in performance work during COVID-19. He is a Lecturer in Performing Arts at Dundee and Angus College, Research Associate on the Walking Publics / Walking Arts project and co-editing a book on Roland Barthes and Performance with Will Daddario.