October 25th, 2013
I go to a lot of gigs. A few years ago I made a new years resolution to go to at least one gig a month and it’s the first resolution that I can honestly say has been a pleasure to keep. This has meant that I’ve wracked up a good number of gig experiences. I know all the top tips: (1) Don’t bother arriving at doors open, (2) dance your way to the front (it’s easier than walking), (3) always avoid taking a bag/coat. Whilst each gig is an absolute delight and I can honestly say not much makes me happier than live music, not many of them have made me leave with my jaw dropped after experiencing something massively out of the ordinary and unexpected.
So when Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival came round this year I made a point of not just going to the gigs but also to the things in the programme that made me go “What the….?!”.
So when I saw the description for ‘Ring” I knew I had to go! Here’s what it said:
“Presented by Fuel, Ring is a sound journey in complete darkness and an antidote choice. Wearing headphones that amplify every intimate detail, you are transported to another room very similar to the one you entered…
But in this room you have been recognised.
At times seductive, at times unnerving, Ring places the audience at the heart of a thrilling attack on their own identity.”
What you’re thinking now is exactly what I thought. What on earth am I letting myself into? I went on my own, which is always a bit of a leap out of my comfort zone, and joined strangers in being “recognised” in pitch-blackness on a VERY wet September evening.
We were led to a room with 6 rows of chairs facing each other. A man leaning heavily on a walking stick, Michael, welcomed us as we entered, took our names, gave us headphones and directed us to our seats.
We all had our headphones on as the lights went down. The headphones were only amplifying Michaels voice as he was talking, presumably through a microphone either on his person or hidden in the room somewhere. As it got darker there were mutterings from the audience, all heard through these headphones, and by the time it was pitch black there was a few nervous laughs and the sounds of people shuffling in their seats. Michael, with his walking stick, paced around the room explaining why it was so dark (to aid our collective imagination within this ‘group therapy’ session) and we all settled a little bit. Until he said,
“Right, now we’re going to move our chairs into a circle.”
WHAT?! It’s pitch black! How are we going to do that?! My bag’s on the floor, how am I going to find it… I’m going to trip over it and land on some ones lap! With the sounds of chairs scrapping the floors filling my ears I sat there, gripping the sides of my chair waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to awkwardly shuffle in the darkness.
But no one did.
On removing my headphones I heard nothing; no scrapping of chairs, no awkward laughing and shuffling and no Michael walking around asking people to move. Only then it was obvious that all the noise was coming from the surround sound headphones! I’m glad it was dark, I was pulling some ridiculous faces before I realised this!
For the following 50 minutes of AA/NA style ‘therapy’ I was introduced to a number of characters, their voices each seeming to come from different points around the circle we were all ‘sat’ in. They all seemed to have an issue (whether love or hate) with a character called Francis and after a short while (mostly after promptings from Michael) I realised that this Francis character was supposed to be me! So that’s what being “recognised” meant. During my time sat in the dark, not saying a word, Francis/me seemed to be the reason for loud arguments, storming outs, serenading (Why do birds suddenly appear!), and vivid story telling where we were encouraged to visualise the scene in the darkness.
All together it was an incredible exhibition of the power of sound engineering. By manipulating the sound heard it is possible to play tricks on your brain. There were so many occasions during the 50 minutes of blackness that I thought I saw a shadow pass in front of me, or feel someone hovering behind me, or lose myself to the point where I honestly believed I was sat in a circle of people in a therapy-esque setting. When the lights went back on I was surprised to see us sat in the same rows as when we started!
As you can probably tell, I haven’t stopped talking about this experience since I left that very dark room a month ago. So on that, I can’t recommend going to “What the…?!” performances enough. Of course, you are going to encounter some events/exhibitions/performances that are going to be a bit of a flop, but those are vastly outweighed by those experiences that you are going to carry with you for a lifetime.
So that’s my dare to you. Go to something that’s a mystery, and laugh with strangers because ultimately, at these kinds of things, no one knows what’s going on.
Thank you to the wonderful Daisy Carr for the first guest blog here at Sticks and Stones. Hopefully many more to come!