The Slips

Sunday 11 April 2010

More details about The Slips can be found here. Audio excerpts and other documents will be available soon, once I’ve cleaned them up a bit.

Performance of The Slips at Clubs, 2003. Click for larger view.

Slips 1 and Slips 2 were written in March 1999 and revised in November 2002. They are two of several works I have written using musical compositional techniques to produce texts; in particular they are inspired by the formalist poetry of John Cage and Konrad Bayer. Unlike my previous texts (A Walk Around the Lake (1994-95) and An Austrian Automaton (1996- )) Slips 1 and 2 were written particularly with spoken performance in mind.

The matter for both pieces is taken from the slips of paper – Zettel – the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept in a box, in no particular order, which was discovered after his death. From this collection of short texts I have taken only the words and phrases written in quotation marks: examples of language, hypothetical speech, “things”, rather than the thoughts that connect or discuss them. A list of some 650 phrases or words was thus obtained.

Both works are one hour long, for two voices. For Slips 1, each minute was allocated a certain number of phrases, between zero and twelve, for each speaker to say. Apart from some specified timings, the speakers are permitted to say their phrases at any time within the designated durations. As well as speaking, the performers are instructed to write out specified passages while they say them. The number of phrases spoken, the selection of phrases from the list, the timings and designated written passages, were all determined by chance using Andrew Culver’s computer program ic, an I Ching simulator. With the exception of a small number of chance-selected phrases, the parts for the two voices in Slips 1 are almost identical, differing only in their timing and passages designated to be written out.
Excerpt from a page of Slips 1. Click for larger version.

Slips 2 uses the same compositional method as Slips 1, but instead of complete phrases only a restricted number of words are selected from the given phrases. At first these words are extracted from the text for Slips 1, and after this material is exhausted newly-selected phrases from the list were subjected to this process. The parts for the two voices in Slips 2 do not differ at all, apart from their timings and designated written passages.
Excerpt from a page of Slips 2. Click for larger version.

The two works may be performed separately, or with Slips 2 following Slips 1. Each work may be performed by two live speakers, or one live speaker with a recorded voice. As the text gives the original German and parallel English translation, each piece may be read out in either language, or a mixture of the two.

Two important aspects of The Slips in performance are the prevalence of silence (absence of consciously-produced sound) and the sense of time passing. One final point is the requirement for additional music to play very quietly sometime during the middle third of each piece. Other events may occur simultaneously with the performance.
Performance of The Slips at Clubs, 2003. Click for larger view.

The first complete performance of The Slips was given by myself at Clubs Project Inc. in April 2003. I performed both works twice, once reading each part, with a recording of myself reading the other part. The performance was entirely in English. To emphasise those two important aspects mentioned above, all the windows in the venue were left open throughout the afternoon of the performance, and the last of the four readings was times to conclude at sunset. During the second performance of Slips 2 the shadows lengthened across the room, and the candle on my table that I had lit at the start of the afternoon finally asserted its prominence as the only light source within the room.

At certain moments during the day, excerpts from my NSTNT HPSCHD PCKT MX (2002) for fourteen virtual, out-of-tune baroque harpsichords would play softly in another part of the venue, its presence more noticeable in its disappearances.

Other, smaller-scale pieces have been made from the same source material as The Slips. The most notable of these is Wandering Split (2002), an audio-only piece that was essentially a condensed version of Slips 1, spoken simultaneously in English and German, with a specially composed musical soundtrack acting as a third voice mediating between the two. Wandering Split was first presented as part of a sound installation in the group multimedia exhibition Gating, curated by Michael Graeve at West Space Art in 2002, and subsequently issued on the exhibition CD. Since then, the piece has enjoyed a few outings at sound art gigs in Austria.