Photo © Josh McIlvain
The Quiet Volume
Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells (England)
"A drama of turning pages, pointing fingers, and eerily drifting thoughts."
Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times
"I knew the piece would be an attempt to listen to what's going on in our heads when we read—what exactly is happening during silent reading."
Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Branch
1901 Vine Street (map)
$15 / Members save 30%
Student and 25-and-under tickets $15
Photos: Courtesy of the artist
Enter the strange magic at the heart of the reading experience.
The latest of Ant Hampton's autoteatro works, a self-generated and "automatic" performance places the audience as performer and spectator. During regular hours at the Free Library of Philadelphia, two audience members sit side-by-side with headphones on. Cues some from words written and whispered, guiding an unlikely path through a pile of books. The slightest sounds from the headphones become intensely clear—or perhaps that sound came from an actual library patron shifting chair or closing a book.
The Quiet Volume exploits the particular tension common to libraries worldwide; a combination of silence and concentration within which different peoples' experiences of reading unfold. Audience members delve into a deeply internal world, transporting from one reader's sphere into another's.
Interview with Ant Hampton
FringeArts: How did you come up with the title?
Ant Hampton: I chose The Quiet Volume mainly because I knew the piece would be an attempt to listen to what's going on in our heads when we read—what exactly is happening during "silent reading." It's something very hard to grasp, something you have to tune into. I liked the idea of volume in that sense—as a dial perhaps, that you have to carefully adjust. It was also very clear from the start that any recorded voices would be whispered, for two reasons: firstly, it's just weird to listen to any other kind of voice in the reading room of a library, but secondly, because of how our whispering voices are more similar than our speaking voices. In The Quiet Volume the whispering allows the guiding voice to indicate, point, suggest without the listener being too bound up—to begin with, at least—with questions about who is speaking.
FringeArts: Can you tell us your working process with Tim Etchells?
Ant Hampton: By the time the work with Tim began, things were quite clear on what form it would take—two people, each with headphones, the books, and some kind of guiding agency. After various experiments with index cards and marginalia, what we eventually decided worked best was a kind of manual/notebook—we didn't want it to compete with the actual literature, either in terms of appearance or content. Tim and I worked sporadically and remotely over a long period, followed by a month or two of more intense and focused sessions. The first of these were in the British Library; subsequently we found it okay to work pretty much anywhere and imagine those surroundings. We worked in all kinds of unusual places on the project—hotel foyers, trains (very often), and other people's kitchens. The general process was about trying out as much as possible: quick recordings using a portable Zoom microphone, a lot of hasty printouts, cutting out and gluing lines of text into exercise books with the development of the guide.
FringeArts: How did you and Tim decide on which books, and the story which drives the experience?
Ant Hampton: This was probably the most important and difficult challenge, and the reason why we ended up creating so much material that was never used; every book we thought we were going to use, failed candidates included Tolstoy as well as James Bond novels, we tried out a lot of different ideas. We felt that the first novel you pick up should be read from the beginning, but that in itself was a challenge. Usually, it takes a while to get into reading, but in the context of an hour-long show we don't have that time. We were looking for the reading equivalent of a Ferrari, something with great acceleration. The Saramago was exactly that.
(See this blog post with some fascinating contributions to the experiments from readers.)
FringeArts: What are the origins of autoteatro? How has this medium continued to be a creative form for you?
Ant Hampton: In 2007, Silvia and I created Etiquette, which was both the first autoteatro work and the last of our collaboration as Rotozaza. It came about following eight years of creating many different performance works involving instructions to unrehearsed guest performers, different every night. You might think that the more pieces you make the less there is to do subsequently, but there's a paradox in how each new piece throws up new questions and possibilities, so that there's now exponentially more I want, even need to do with the autoteatro "device."
About Ant Hampton
Ant Hampton is a performance maker, writer, and director. He founded Rotozaza (1998-2008), a project that explored the use of instructions given to unrehearsed "guest" performers, both on stage and within more intimate structures sustained and played-out by the audience themselves (autoteatro). Since 2008, he has initiated a number of collaborations: True Riches with Tim Etchells, GuruGuru with Joji Koyama and Sam Britton, and The Bench with Glen Neath. He continues an ongoing exploration of "live portraiture" with Greg McLaren as The Other People (La Otra Gente): structured encounters with people from non-theatrical milieu. He was chief dramaturge for Projected Scenarios at Manifesta 7 European Biennial for Contemporary Art, Italy. He has contributed to projects by Jérôme Bel and Forced Entertainment.
About Tim Etchells
Tim Etchells is a UK-based artist and writer. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts and is the artistic director of the world-renowned performance group, Forced Entertainment. His work spans performance, video, photography, text projects, installation, and fiction. He is the author of Certain Fragments (Routledge, 1999) and published his first novel, The Broken World with Heinemann in 2008. He has exhibited widely in venues including MACBA, Barcelona, Göteborg Biennial , Art Sheffield, and Manifesta 7. He is currently Legacy: Thinker in Residence at Tate Research and LADA in London.