2 performers enter a field of 16 identical turntables arranged on the floor with 16 LPs recorded with individual speech- and sound compositions. Slowly and in succession, they start playing the LPs and operating the turntables. They move, communicating quietly, listening to each other through the turntable field, watching the other’s actions, pausing, moving again and reacting musically. From the beginning, the audience becomes the observer of a laboratory that does not become aware of this observation at any moment. Text fragments are spoken, addressed to the space, sometimes turned to the partner while operating a device. One communicates references and puts on one’s own voice from LP. A dialogue can arise. Using the figure of Shakespeare’s Ophelia and excerpts from J. McNeill Whistler’s Ten O’Clock Lecture, pasdedeuX raises the question of what hides behind all the projection surfaces and templates of a society of designers of meaning in art, literature, theater and critique, when original features shift through projection and re-encoding to another significance and which intentions lie behind these actions. 

– – –

[A linguistic reserach installation, using discarded media, for 16 turntables and 2 performers] 

I am
Ophelia, who the river does not want to keep.
Yesterday I stopped killing myself.
[Heiner Müller]

Therefore, the only actual thing that can be done with a record is 
to use it in a way which creates something new.
[John Cage]

That nature is always right, is an assertion, artistically, as untrue, 
as it is one whose truth is universally taken for granted.
[James McNeill Whistler]

Gerrit K. Sharma

[Behind the projections]

Using the figure of Shakespeare’s Ophelia and excerpts from James McNeill Whistler’s Ten O’clock Lecture, pasdedeuX raises a question: What hides behind all the projection surfaces and templates of a society of designers of meaning in art, literature, theatre and critique? When original features shift through projection and re-encoding, to another significance – what intentions lie behind these actions:

Occupation, distortion, manipulation? What should be fixed or even determined by the re-interpretation and re-coding? Perhaps “nature” and thereby a supposed “truth” claim? What was ever true about nature?

[A laboratory in the stage area]

In pasdedeuX, 16 identical turntables with a built-in amplifier and two loudspeakers are arranged as a square 4×4 cluster on the floor. To the right of each turntable leans a transparent LP in a white or black envelope. Each LP was recorded with an eight-minute independent sound or speech composition.

[Reading the writing]

Two performers enter the field of work. Slowly and in succession, they start playing the LPs and operating the turntables. They move, communicating quietly, listening to each other through the turntable field, watching the other’s actions, pausing, moving again and reacting “musically”. 

From the beginning, the audience becomes the observer of a laboratory that does not become aware of this observation at any moment during the performance: Text fragments are spoken, addressed to a space, sometimes turned to the partner while operating a device. One communicates, references, playing back his/her own voice from LP. A dialogue could arise.

The 16 appliances become instruments through the two performers, forming into groups of musicians, sounding as an orchestra that is, choreographed by the play, simultaneously animating the movements of the actors in the field. Gestural space-sound constellations arise following an undefined plan which is redrawn by rule-based actions at each performance.

Due to the differentiated use of LP recorded voices in contrast to the spoken voice, concrete everyday sounds, synthetic sounds, and click-rhythms that interweave as spaces, the listening mode of performers and the audience can be modulated between radio, performance, theatre and concert situations. Turntables and performers are actors that let conventional Ophelia images coagulate in the text. Every switch, every movement, every piece of content, as well as the context of its use are co-interpreters of polyphonic text-sound-structures. The instrument becomes the representative of a story that at the same time describes the history of a medially reshaped perception of the world. Through observation, the audience’s experience shifts and so the story is written continuously, differently. And when the needle reaches the end of the LP, the space transforms at this particular point, becoming permeable to changing perspectives. In doing so the turntable describes an unstable figure between re-interpretation and pure repetition, between origin and projection. The moment of experience no longer refers to pre-produced, pre-interpreted, pre-recorded, and fixed, but to the event of playing and listening with performative linking.

[One for all]

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the figure of Ophelia represents the incarnation of a pure, still immediate nature, which in the end breaks out of this role and destroys the prison of its oppression through a bodily revolt. This Ophelia embodies the idea of uniting two sides in one person, which are competing: Virgin and whore. Beauty and mortality.

Since the 19th century, literature and the fine arts have been using this ambivalent “idea of a character”, which, instrumentalised as material, has become the projection surface of poetry drafts and self-reflections. Water, madness, and death are her most significant characteristics. The preoccupation with this ambivalent “idea of a character” often results in a specification, which, although intellectually processed, always seems to have a deeply emotional impulse. Her illustrations are an attempt to “restore” a lost identity of nature, whereby the body becomes the bearer of hope and meaning between reality and projection. It receives a new code, becomes the vanishing point of a reconstruction of an unsullied, true nature and thus the surface of inscription for yearnings and utopias.

A literary figurehead of the 17th century became an icon and a cult figure of everyday life until far into the 20th century, shaping fashion trends for hairstyles and clothing, evoking the so-called “water-whale cult” in painting, influencing a subject in 20th-century poetry (e.g. Brecht, Heym, Trakl) and, last but not least, making an appearance on MTV (Kylie Minogue!).

[Lecture without teaching]

On the 20th of February 1885 at 10.00 pm James McNeill Whistler gave his Ten O’clock Lecture in London. A purposely exaggerated, utopian manifesto of aestheticism that refuses any kind of occupation of art. It is a manifesto that seeks to show how art can repeatedly be contemporary. For Whistler, art was not identical with life or nature, not its likeness. For him, nature is anything but perfect, it is vulgar and rarely true. According to Whistler only the artist could select and group elements and create something coherent. Likewise, he denies any form of assignment, teaching or influence from the outside. Art on or in the work is not fixable for him, it is eclectic. Art happens.

[Before nature and after art]

The turntable as a classic media apparatus and the long-playing record as a carrier medium are not yet 100 years old and have also experienced a great change of meaning in their uses and interpretations in these years. Originally celebrated as a technical marvel and engineering achievement, later identified as the absolute “must have” of the cultivated, soon-to-be-common household of Western civilization, with the enthusiasm came the realization that nature is now reproducible at any time and loses its supposed originality. According to this broad conception, nature could be captured and transmitted.

The career of the voice of the century – Caruso – was probably the first iconization of a “natural wonder”, not only medially supported but generated by means of media technology and represents an original from today’s perspective. From that moment, singing had changed because its perceptual possibilities and thus also its perception had changed. In this transfer, a transformation, a technical interpretation of the original music (vocal, sound) event took place very quickly and unnoticed by the general public. In a very short time, the record became a work of art sui generis. Production technology and artistic practice found a completely different form of expression through radical reinterpretation of the medium from the quasi-documentary to the productive.

A “studio album” was perhaps still suitable for the stage, but as a work already finalized at the moment of completion in the studio. Nevertheless, in the view of the general public, a distinction was still made between “live” music and medially imparted recorded music. “Real” music was one that could be played “live”. The fact that the turntable produced something “live” in the moment of the sound reproduction was for a long time difficult to imagine and even less perceptible. Only with the emergence of the CD, the replacement of the so-called analogue by the digital, a reinterpretation took place and thus a paradigm shift in dealing with the turntable and the LP.

[Transpose into the now]

What was originally marketed and postulated as progress led instantaneously to a creeping sense of loss, which helped to shift the supposedly outdated into another state of perception, allowing it to be questioned in a new way. The swiftly accumulated media scrap turned into new instrument. Record playing and the changed, partly aggressive handling of obsolete media technology led to a performative recoding of the meanwhile classical string of signs.

Every switch, every move, every piece of content, even the context of use became tangible and could be re-combined and transposed into the now.

[Non re-source material]

The tracks on the records have very different origins. The whole sonic-musical material (e.g. singing voice, trumpet, underwater noises, clicks, electronic drones and textures etc.) are collected from Sharma’s personal archive of productions that “never made it”. Film music, acousmatic compositions, sound art installation projects, beats, data that had been produced for very different artistic constellations over the past 10 years but, in the respective process, where considered as surplus, non-fitting or even waste, though never deleted from his hard drive. In the context of pasdedeuX this material has been re-evaluated, re-listened to, re-interpreted and spatially re-arranged for the turntable cluster. The speaking voices on the records where developed from the original rehearsal readings of the two texts in use, recorded at the rehearsal spaces and later put on LP. Thus, they became a part of the active performance process. The re-production of the speakers’ voices from records, amplified and with small loudspeakers built in the turntables, is spatially mediatizing the performance space with an apparent density of impulses and stimuli by the gestures of the speaking performers and their work with the turntables, trying to find and “sync” with the right groove, with their own voices in the unmarked, endlessly turning, translucent record.

[Facing failure – tracing knowledge]

This artistic investigation wants to find the frictions in the mediatized everyday by using conventional theatre and concert situations, and their characteristic usage of images and sounds, expectations and codes. Against a background of the ubiquitous media apparatus and its recording and playback devices – which ostensibly allow the reconstruction and manipulation of every “live” moment – pasdedeuX wants to challenge this status quo. 

The media and, as part of it, the cultural industry of today, leads us to believe that we can experience a moment with a collective consciousness; however, what does this actually mean if that moment can instantly be recorded, transmitted and as such – simulated? (Which is not to say that it is going to be the same moment).

How does the personal spatio-temporal perception of environments shift in everyday life, considering the fact that we now live in mediatized spatial compositions, mainly as hybrid references to (and simulations of) what we consider “in-situ situations”? To put it in other words: What happens if we do not hit the perfect groove? Or what can we learn from “bad” DJ-ing?

Being a part of a cultural community today means one has to believe in its projections to perceive its (temporal) cultural goods as common ground. From the upper corner of the elevator, in supermarkets and boutiques, restaurants and restrooms, sounds the blast of loudspeakers. Digital storage media “play” recordings of authentic bands and classical orchestras or even noises such as rushing water or the twittering of birds in the environments of the grocery department. And almost every loudspeaker announcement of today is a pre-recorded “human” voice if not a real-time synthesized text module. It does not matter that we know that we are NOT in the forest or that no-one is actually speaking except the loudspeaker. These spatio-temporal phenomena appear through our bodies’ unconscious and associative behaviour. We perceive the music and sound as real, we actually do feel something like spontaneous joy and relaxation. During conversations in these spaces we behave accordingly, adjusting the volume and tone of our voices to fit in with the more-or-less consciously experienced constellations of body, sonic space and time. These stimuli trigger our production of the Now.

However, it would be mistaken to describe these situations and constellations as “un-real”, given that our everyday life is thoroughly permeated by these ubiquitous media. We cannot get more real except if we observe the frictions and make the utilization of apparent failures an artistic practice.

pasdedeuX is tracing knowledge by not following a path, instead we are hovering over a field and observing our traces.

Concept and direction: Verena Lercher
Sound and instrument: Gerriet K. Sharma
Performance: Verena Lercher, Denzel Tristan Russell
Length: 55 minutes

Funded by A9 Kulturförderung Land Steiermark (AT) and Academy of Media Arts Cologne (DE).


Verena Lercher

Verena Lercher: Performer, programmer, artistic researcher, born 1979. 10 years background in professional stage play and off-production performance. Since 2018 postgraduate of exMedia at Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). Engaged in exploration of performative and installative techniques and methods at the sensual interface of body, synthetic language and new media. Ongoing research in auto-poetic systems in performance and writing using neuronal networks (AI) at KHM Cologne. www.verenalercher.com.

Gerriet K. Sharma

Gerriet Krishna Sharma (DE) is a sound artist and artistic researcher at the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics Graz (IEM, AT). Russell Denzel (USA) is a postgraduate researcher at Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM, DE).