12 July 2011

Audio boo!

Oh dear. Having been recently ensconced in an Alpine sanitorium* as a direct result of the ongoing mid-life crisis and its side effect of burning the candle at both ends (as your mother would say), I had totally and entirely forgotten about the Lavinia Greenlaw literary installation Audio Obscura which is on at Piccadilly Station throughout Manchester International Festival (11am-7pm, until 17 July). Thankfully, I was reminded by lovely Laura through the power of Twitter and yesterday we hooked up and got hooked up with a giant pair of headphones and an MP3 player for the "listening experience".

It's an interesting concept: you listen to the various stories written by Greenlaw and interwoven over half an hour, each separate twine voiced by a different person and resting against a backdrop of ambient music and station sounds. You're encouraged to wander the concourse while you listen, but I'm a lazy old coot so I sat on a bench and watched people instead. This, I'm happy to say, worked a treat: the voices mix in and out of each other, so I think wandering would have made me lose the thread, but my people-watching also helped me visualise the various characters telling the stories. The stories themselves are all serious, mostly sad, and sometimes depressing, but don't let that put you off: they are pretty good.

Audio Obscura - trailer from Artangel on Vimeo.


Each voice tells a different tale, and they come and go so you're sucked out of one story into another then dropped back in to the first, and so on. It's quite clever; it's a bit like zoning in on the people around you when you're waiting for a train, zoning out, then zoning in again. As Greenlaw says in the accompanying brochure: "In a station, we are forced into proximity. We tend to assume that we are neither overheard nor overlooked even as we notice those around us. Things catch our attention because they raise a question and fail to answer it. We are left in suspense ... The experience is not of being told something but of becoming conscious of what we do with what we overhear."

It's worth the trip, but don't expect Station Stories. Nothing could beat that for stories in a station.

*This might not be true.

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