In my art school days my tutor, Pete Bowcott (who claimed to be the lovechild of performance art pioneer Joseph Beuys) introduced me to new ways of listening and installed in me a newfound appreciation for everyday sounds. This was exercised in one seminar in which our class went outside and took turns crossing the road with our eyes closed. We were forced to listen and be aware of our surroundings in more of an acute way.
Pete also introduced me to the American composer John Cage. He’s widely unknown outside music theory but you may of heard of his most famous piece 4’33, in which a pianist takes to the stage, takes a bow, sits down, opens the lid, cracks his knuckles and sits there for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without hitting a single key. The pianist then closes the lid, takes a bow and leaves.
People describe the performance as 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. They are wrong. As Cage discovered, even if you are to be able to experience total silence, you would still hear your own central nervous system.
Fight With a Stick’s immersive performance, Cinerama, takes this long tradition of indeterminacy in art or ‘art about nothing’ and translates it to cinema. I arrive at Spanish Banks and am given noise cancelling headphones. I walk down to where the sea meets the sand and sit down. The performance begins when I remove the headphones. Recorded natural sounds play from speakers and are weaved into the existing soundscape.
After some minutes, several floating frames (the shape of which are reminiscent to that of a cinema screen) enter the scene, framing the landscape in front of us.
The performance was punctuated with random dogs wandering into the performance area and breaking the fourth wall.
The whole show lasted about 90 minutes, approximately the length of a feature film, and was timed in such a way that by the end the tide had come up to our knees. Depending on which way you look at it, nothing happened, or quite a lot happened. The whole thing felt to me like an aversion to the fast pace of contemporary mainstream cinema by slowing life down.
A friend of mine went to check out Cinerama a few days before on a day which was wet and cloudy. She compared the weather that day to a pathetic fallacy, a device used in cinema in which the weather personifies the mood, consider if you will, why it is always stormy in horror films.
This got me thinking, did all of the showtimes between the 15th and 29th of June offer different experiences? Were they different performances altogether? I’m reminded of that ancient proverb, ‘no man steps in the same river twice.’ It may be a perverted and unrealistic definition of the word ‘same,’ but it creates a philosophical schism. What I think Cinerama manages to do rather successfully is to force the spectator to listen and become more aware of one’s surroundings in more of an acute way. I left that afternoon with a refound appreciation for everyday sounds and sights.
Be sure to check out Fight With a Stick and keep your eyes peeled for future events.