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"Exploding Scarlatti" - A workshop report by Paul Carter

Workshop "Exploding Scarlatti"

Workshop "Exploding Scarlatti"
Image Credit: Paul Carter

6–8 June 2014

Workshop at Performing Arts Campus 
Theater der Welt, Mannheim


Paul Carter[1]

Exploding Scarlatti: a post-radio workshop in Mannheim[2]

The topic of my IRC/IPC Fellowship, ‘The Dramaturgy of Turbulence,’ explores the relationship between public space and performativity. Public space, poetically and politically, is a discursive formation, an idealization, and sometimes, deformation of the ideal community. Besides exploring these themes through the dramaturgical role urban design can play, my research has a strong auditory focus. The choreography of crowds expresses the dynamics of communication – which, as was famously illustrated in the Tahrir Square revolution, changes according to the communications technology available.

Against this very broad background ‘Exploding Scarlatti,’ a nine hour workshop spread across three days, conducted recently in Mannheim,[3] focused on one key device (or cultural technology), the radio, and its role in producing or inducing turbulent behaviours. Historically, radio has been a primary medium of political power and political resistance. Aesthetically, it transformed the role the auditory imagination played in society. Culturally, it has been a medium of social control and poetic release. In short, inducing new public behaviours, it has been a vector of new forms of self- and social-imagining; a catalyst of turbulence.

However, the focus of ‘Exploding Scarlatti’ was neither techno-historical nor sociological. The fifteen participants in the workshop were drawn from a range of performance and design backgrounds; some were beginners, other experienced practitioners. The object was to use radio as a catalyst to think about the relationship between audio-production and the production of public space – a topic that offered participants from such diverse backgrounds as sound art, street performance art, architecture, scenography and dramaturgy a common ground.

The context of this invitation was the work I had done as a Fellow at the IPC to rehabilitate work made for radio in a post-radio environment. ‘Scarlatti’ is the name of a radiophonic work, which I made in the 1980s in Australia. ‘Scarlatti’ was not only made for radio: it is about radio, its theme being the role radio plays in the dying days of Franco’s regime, in the erotic resistance of two gay lovers, in the chain of police command and in the political imaginary where (it was said) after Franco died, the official radio station fell silent because without ‘his’ voice it had no voice of its own.

Over three days we explored the translation of a radiophonic script and production into a post-radio performance mode. To facilitate this investigation a creative brief was prepared and designed: ‘End, Turbulent Dramaturgy,’ a 15 page A3 landscape document, presented the discourse of the workshop as a suite of working notes, accompanied by the visual documentation of radios in a ‘post-radio’ environment. Through three iterations, which incorporated successive phases of creative research postdating the original ‘Scarlatti’, the script of ‘Scarlatti’ was presented in an ‘exploded’ form. The result was a field of words in various languages: a crowd script, if you like, a transcript of noise, an interference pattern.

The radio voice, and indeed broadcast electroacoustic sound are technological artifacts. Our hosts had, at my request, provided a selection of old radios, four microphones connected to loudspeakers and a studio whose equipment Marwen (sound artist, Tunis) managed to animate and compose in an amazing variety of ways. In addition, we had mobile phones that could be used to record selected sounds. The ‘through line’ for the workshop was an examination of ‘feedback,’ the ways in which radio ‘produces’ the audiences it serves. In a post-radio epoch this phenomenon becomes visible: no longer secreted in domestic spaces, radio sets have to be collected, assembled and consciously turned on. When this happens, the materiality of the radio medium intersects with the dramaturgy of everyday life. Accordingly, on the first day, the workshop culminated in the improvisation of ‘Six Poses for radio.’

The ‘poses’ produced three groups and three styles of interpretation. On the second day these were consolidated through two exercises involving the ‘exploded’ Scarlatti script. The first group eventually convened a speaking group around centrally placed radios, and using microphones took turns to talk over through and across one another. The second group produced an offstage Hörspiel kind of existential monologue into dialogue, ending in the physical appearance of the three performers. The third group built their improvisation around Marwen’s sound effects and managed a bartop suite of verbal fragments.

These exercises allowed us to focus questions about the construction of meaning, the identification of audience and the politics of noise. It located radio-making firmly in the domain of dramaturgy, as acoustic arts repeatedly attached themselves to the interpretation of a physical site. These implications were picked up on the final day where, for the first time, the participants heard a recording of the sonata by Domenico Scarlatti which lay behind the original work ‘Scarlatti.’ This recording, subjected to three generations of re-recording and broadcast, was used to conduct an on-street recording/performing feedback loop; and, finally, the results of all our work, a chaotic montage of ‘prepared’ radio interference, I phone street recordings, microphone/loudspeaker/recorder amplification and feedback were translated back into a kind of four dimensional performance lasting approximately 12 minutes.

Our workshop was one of three. Invited to present the outcomes of our studio, we decided to improvise what is technically known as a hocket. Following my radio cues, one after another off the participants began speaking in their own first languages about the experience of the workshop. The result was a progressively louder, richer and unintelligible babble. It seemed like a good way to illustrate our discovery that radio is everywhere when you consider the dramaturgy of noise.

The workshop received positive feedback (sic) from the participants. It was sound recorded and extensively documented visually. Recordings will be uploaded to a dropbox after they have been edited and indexed and will represent the shared intellectual property of the group. Some of the workshop findings will inform a book length manuscript in progress. A post-radio sequel to ‘Scarlatti,’ called ‘Siren Sonata,’ is also in progress. The acoustic atmospheres created in the workshop are likely to inform the production of that work.

[1] Paul Carter is a 2013-2014 Fellow of the International Research Center ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures,’ Freie Universität Berlin.

[2] An invitation from the organisers of the 2014 ‘Theater der Welt‘ conference. I am grateful to Dr. Christel Weiler, Program Director, International Research Center ‘Interweaving Cultures in Performance’ for the invitation. My thanks also to Anne Schulz, Publikumsarbeit, ‘Theater der Welt 2014,‘ and to Lina Berling, Assistenz/Publikumsarbeit Nationaltheater Mannheim, ‘Theater der Welt 2014‘ for organizing and equipping the workshop.

[3] The workshop was located in the Nationaltheater Mannheim Werkhaus, Mozartstr. 9 and occurred on 6 (5-7p.m.), 7 (2-5 p.m.) and 8 (4-7 p.m.) June, 2014. Participants came from French, Spanish, German and Indigenous language backgrounds. 



Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung