As a researcher and practioner in the field of audio works, I recently received an email from a friend of a friend that said: “Now you know I don't recommend just anything. But I experienced this last night and absolutley loved it for its simplicity and beauty. Stunning sound design and beautifully put together.” I promptly booked my ticket.
The SEDDON ARCHIVES, presented by Tamara Saulwick and Big West Festival, (November 16-27) bring a unique combination of audio walk, installation and performance to a quickly evolving field, currently making its stamp on festival calendars nationally and internationally.Support from local councils and arts bodies attest to the strength of the creative merging of disciplines and the wide appeal and applications audio works of this nature offer. The Seddon Archives were no exception, close to sold out and for good reason.
Seddon Archives is a contemplation of the connection between time, place, event and memory. It plays with the ways in which memories are slippery, histories are unstable, and events act like bookmarks in personal stories. Equipped with headphones and an mp3 player as your guide, you will wander Seddon’s streets immersed in a sound world that knits the present with the recent and distant past. Drawing from interviews with local residents, prerecorded sound and voices intermingle with the here-and- now. Fact blurs with fiction, memory and imagination merge, and time and place are uncannily reconfigured. Just press play and begin.
The journey that the Seddon Archives initiates cleverly interwines history and imagination, documentary and theatre, as the prerecorded soundscape interacts with the live experience of the participant, wandering the streets, sights, smells and stories of this special place. I had never been to Seddon before and commented in the visitors book after: If only we could receive such an introduction to every new place we visit! The intimacy of the audio instructions, sound design and assembled voices of actual residents creates a simultaneous sense of the personal and of community, of detached observer and fellow human.
The absolute normalcy of urban walkers bearing headphones and mp3 players in today’s world create an interesting context for the audio-led performance work. I counted atleast three in my 40 minute journey through Seddon, hence melding me into the community and streetscape, whilst internally experiencing an entirely new world as guided by the artfully arranged audio. Suzanne Kersten of Melbourne company one step at a time like this describes their audience works that utilise audio as “curated” journeys, creating “containers” for participants to experience within. In this way, the combination of the archive and the walk allow individuals to engage with the merging of fact and fiction, past and present, planned and chance encounters, led but free to imagine and make their own connections.
What makes the Seddon Archives so special is the tenderness with which place and memory unfold, feeling privledged as the listening participant to be standing in the very spot of distant happenings, as fluid and slippery as memory and history may be. Midway through the walk, you are instructed to sit on a bench and place your head back on the brick wall as hearing past stories of inhabitants inside: dances that used to be held there, the sound of a piano rolled down the street. The subtle lyricism of the narrative floats to us. A house is described as “a weatherboard time capsule.”
The presence of the theatremaker/interviewer/curator also haunts the journey as steps are counted as we walk, highlighting our following in theirs as well as multiple footsteps, chalk arrows on the ground woven with the chance placement of a plastic chair or child’s cricket bat, leading us past the shops of the main street and to the beautiful surprise of a live actor. Performer Rachael Dyson-McGregor sits in the corner café, playing out one of the gathered stories of a dating agency, a foreign woman writing letters, drawing us in through the glass window. “This story won’t leave me” the narrator says and it stays with us too.
We are also treated to a visual artwork by Susan Purdy linking into site-specific stories of Sedonia, formerly the milk bar, using an xray-like technique of recording the image of objects. This work is woven into the piece’s overall meditation on memory and the traces of events and experiences. The rich, multi-cultural and multi-vocal history and present character of Seddon is bought to life for us in a “simple and beautiful” way, providing a unique experience both of the place and of an experiential performance work, leading to the sense of connection and new understanding. Congratulations to the team for a thoughtful and well-executed work that fruitfully crosses the boundaries of performance and historical archive, communal and individual experience and memory.
An accompanying thought on the current freshness and vitality of audio works being produced, draws on Virginia Madsen and John Potts discussion of podcasts as dormant seeds awaiting reactivation on re-listening (see Voice: Vocal Aesthetics 2010: 50). This idea might also be applied to audio works such as these conceptually, and also practically considering they have a continued life after the ‘season.’ The logisitics of this for the theatremaker are perhaps yet to be resolved, ie. if live performers feature, hosting sites for audio, payment, safety responsibility, site-specificity and upkeep of changes and so on but the possibility is there. The recorded nature of audio works - despite their obvious appeal of engaging participants with live envionments, sites as sets– mean they exist as lasting documents. And not only documents, but as dormant seeds that await the engagement of new listeners, and new ‘performances’ in each unique engagement.
These works are also vital archives, and currently researching archives for another project, issues of access seem at times to prohibit the wider enjoyment the material would surely offer. So, however we as researchers and practioners decide to work it out, lets do our best to keep these kinds of works open and available for people to access and experience!
*This review draws on ideas and interviews of current Masters thesis in process, Sensing Spaces: Assembling and Experiencing Site-Related Performance 2008-2011