Monday, June 5

critical review

well.... been a loooong time!

and I was not planning on posting this until after I got my mark for the project.
but seeing as the lecturers are all on strike and i am waiting 'indefinitly' for the results, i just decided to put it up now.

so here is the transcript of my critical review. the work was actually handed in on cd in audio form, and on the cd cover was a photo, and on the back the 'track list' and on the leaflet inside it said:


>My project, exploring the performance of song, began with a huge list of questions. The research process was diverse and disjointed; repetitions and reflections identified themselves, but the topic seemed expansive and infinite. The work in progress show pulled together various threads and brought some coherency to the spiralling thoughts, but it was in the lead up to the final show that the focus was sharpened and the project found its balance. Now, after the final performance zoomed right in the heart of the matter, the critical review must zoom out again and overview the process.

In its very nature, a critical review applies retrospect and perspective, distorting, rewriting and selecting from the many directions the project could have taken in its various junctions, influenced by the final product and the conclusions drawn. This is interesting and important, but must be seen as what it is. For a very different and perhaps purer type of documentation, with its own particular strengths and weaknesses, please go to: http://lailsong.blogspot.com
As with all forms of diary or logbook, the thought process here can be seen developing. It is written largely with no hindsight, in real time, as the revelations and decisions were being made.

This critical review takes the form of an audio interview. This allows for thematically structured discourse to take place in a relatively informal way. Many of the questions come direct or are adapted from the questions on the initial proposal. This avoids falling into the trap of asking easy questions and illustrates most clearly the journey the project has taken from its starting point to its conclusion with the final show. I have chosen to take the part of both the interviewer and the interviewee - they are both, in fact, Lail Arad - emphasising the self-reflective element of a critical review.

The interview format also continues the concept of the project in itself: A format that is supposed to get the listener or audience better acquainted with the 'real' person behind the act, it is of course a known way for an interviewee to shape their public's image. Traditionally improvised but so often scripted, the contrived answers of interviews further the notion that there is little difference between reality and performance. Ironically, I play both roles myself, for no doubt, I know the questions in advance...

The auto-interview is presented in audio form, concluding a project where the starting point was singing, with a format consisting of pure voice. The differences in how i use my voice in each persona of myself can be heard. The packaging of the interview is designed like a CD, with 10 track-listings on the back cover, like the songs on a debut album.

Below can be found a list of influences - books, essays, websites, videos and recordings. Selected from the materials which made their way into the project, these are the items which I found most useful and inspiring throughout the research and devising process.<


And this is what was recorded....


>Lail Arad Interviews Lail Arad


1) Intro

Interviewer: Hello listeners, I'm Lail Arad and I will be interviewing a final year student from the Warwick University Theatre and Performance Studies Department, who has over the last six months undergone a research project culminating in a devised solo performance which took place in the drama studio on the 15th of February. Dealing with the broad yet specialised topic The Performance of Song, the student aimed to reconcile her theatrical and cultural theory knowledge with her passion and experience of singing and songwriting, and answer some fundamental questions on the nature of performance. Having followed the student's work from its initial proposal in summer 2005 up to its final show, I have seen the distinct changes and stages which the project has undergone, with the central punctuation of the Work in Progress sharing last December, which, inherently suited to its title, consisted of a collage-like presentation of ideas, mapping out the as yet inconclusive thought processes and research findings up to that point. The Final show, in contrast, was absolutely a performance, a performance about performance, if you will. It encompassed through its concept and detail a number of relevant dichotomies, between off-stage and on-stage, theatre and concert, singing and acting and most profoundly perhaps, reality and performance.

I am very pleased to welcome Lail Arad who has agreed to talk to us at greater depth about her project.

Thank you Lail for coming,

Me: Thank you, Lail, for such a .. a... kind introduction, I feel I have a lot to live up to, oh dear.. ha..

2) Cover Version

Interviewer: Lail, as a way in, lets talk a little about cover versions, as I know this is something that has been a through-line in your project. Do you believe that interpretation or performance style is enough to make somebody else's song one's own?

Lail: Yes you're right, that was in fact the first assignment suggested to me as a starting point for my thoughts on the performance of song - looking at cover versions in order to isolate the role of performance and voice in songs, as opposed to the songwriting and content. I remember in particular the striking difference between Carol King's original 'Natural Woman' and Aretha Franklin's cover of the song. That for me is one of the rare instances when I prefer the cover version of a song even though I already love the original. The original, even in its recorded format, is an intimate, raw performance with voice and piano, which sounds as though its being sung in a small room to the man it is addressed to. It turns into thus grand, sexy, dramatic declaration out into the public, making sure through its full band and production that the whole world will know that he makes her feel like a natural woman - the transformation is phenomenal. One is not better than the other of course, that's a matter of taste, but its through the voice, its power, its texture, the way its used - and through the performance - the emotion, the energy, the intention - that the song is born again, not through the lyrics, or the music - those remain constant. There are other elements of course - the recording quality, the instrumentation- I'm not dismissing them. But I was interested in how a singer can deliver a song that is not even their own in a completely new way, with new meanings - as a new experience. As for whether interpretation can 'make a song one's own'.. well to answer that would be to discuss ownership and intellectual property and all sorts of complicated issues - for me it is more about what the audience or listener can take from what the singer is giving.
So I chose to finish my final show with a cover version for exactly these reasons - to display my personal performance style in an identifiable way, not compromised by my songwriting or musical tastes. That was important to me: to place, in the context of the show and set against all its tensions, my foot-stamping, piano-bashing, voice-bending style - the way I would play with a song in a normal gig, as opposed to a theatre studies practical option final show performance.

3) In Context

Interviewer: That last comment suggests that you have considered the implications of context or setting on a performance. Could you tell us how this played out in your project?

Lail: Context and setting are central to any performance. Concentrating on the performance of song, for example, the different requirements for a small intimate venue such as a bar or and for a huge stadium concert with thousands of people, are not just technical - those different settings demand completely different things from the singer as a performer, if they are to successfully engage with the audience. I have chosen two extreme ends of the spectrum to make the case clear but this goes for every single venue with its particular features, and the same goes for theatre stages, dance studios, classical concert halls - any type of performer should be aware of this.
Hand in hand with the physical space, comes the context of the performance, and most importantly, the audience it brings.
In my project, I had the context of it being one of my degree modules. From my very first blog entry (where I kept a record of my progress), my ambivalent attitude towards the set-up can be noticed. It reads: "I find it strange that this is part of a university project. I feel like I am about to embark on the most intimate diary...And on this I will be assessed? It seems too fun, too easy, and far too difficult. It will combine my degree, my studies, my education with my passion, my work, my music. These have up 'til now existed in separate worlds for me and I'm eager (though admittedly very tentative) to introduce them to one another...I'm confused - not only about what I want to do but also what I am allowed to do in this bizarre new framework for my song-writing, suddenly monitored by official eyes."
And indeed, for my final show, the audience consisted firstly of friends who knew me well, secondly of peers from my course who knew the requirements well, and lastly the tutors, who were assessing my work. They had not come out of specific interest in the material and this was very strange for me. In order to deal with it, I decided not to shy away from the context, but to address it within the performances, drawing attention to its very peculiarities. My script included lines such as: "Its an audience full of people who know me. And in a strange framework where i'm being judging from a supposedly official view, not just one of taste. I'm just so scared they won't get it..." and later: "The reception was quite good.. weird because the selection of people weren't there for the music exactly, so i don't know if they 'liked' it, but they were very well behaved.. the focus was much higher than in a normal gig so that was fun to play with..." This public self-reflexivity and calling of attention to the specificities of the situation made the audience super-conscious of me as a performer before them, and them as an audience watching me. There was something Brechtian about this, which detached the audience from the action by making them aware that it was a show, and more than that, aware that I know its a show. Yet it was still, undeniably a show in many ways - so a complex discourse developed. By addressing the specific performance context, questions were raised on performance in general, which I could apply to my exploration of the performance of song.

4) Site-specific Song

Interviewer: Am I right in saying that this mode of performance, site-specific almost, to the Warwick theatre studies studio and all its connotations, started developing in your work in progress show?

Lail: Well the work in progress show was more of a presentation. But yes, the song which concluded it, and which I later developed for the final show, was overtly self-referential and addressed not so much the context or setting, but the subject of the exploration: the difficulties of being honest in performance, of exposing yourself through song-writing and singing, or disguising your identity through performative elements which help create a character or persona. The first part of the song was sung a cappella, as bare and pared down of typical performance elements as possible, standing in the centre of the studio, looking directly at the audience. It began: "Trying to be honest with you, to take away the show, its not easy, excuse me, if I take it slow"...you can see how directly it discussed the situation at hand. Concluding the section by explaining that I feel too 'naked' and vulnerable, I explained "I present to you instead, my beautiful twin". Walking over to the piano, red theatre lights came on, I began to sing through a microphone, I put effects on my voice, I could hide physically and musically behind the piano accompaniment, I put on a layer of attitude, and sang an inverted chorus, where instead of singing about revealing myself I ended with a line about concealing myself: "there's foundation on my face, nothing real for you to steal". I hoped that this would make the audience not only consider the dilemmas singer-songwriters have regarding honestly, but also to question whether in fact performers that they assume to be exposing their true selves on stage are in fact putting on some sort of a show. Some audience members found my performance understandably uncomfortable. My feedback report from my supervisor stated: "In the first half of the song it seemed as if you were forcing together the undeniable facts of our shared presence in the room (referring to this with your lyrics) with an equally undeniable heightened form of communication (singing). The performance became considerably less awkward to watch once you embraced an overtly performative style that I could equate with 'the singer' rather than the individual." I found notion of 'the singer' and the degree of performance an audience expect and desire from a concert fascinating.

5) The Mirror

Interviewer: Lail this leads us nicely on to talk about honesty and the identity of the singer as a performer which was largely your preoccupation in this project. Lets start by asking, do you think that people always present an image of themselves to the outside world?

Lail: I didn't use to think in those terms, but through my research, especially the writings of Erving Goffman, it became something I felt very strongly about. The framework of the final show aimed to highlight the extent to which, consciously or not, people create an image of themselves - in fact many different images of themselves - through which they aim to control how they will be perceived by the outside world. The studio was bisected by a curtain so the show took place in two 'spaces'. The first one the audience encountered was the dressing room, the off-stage, where I was getting ready for 'the final show', as though it hadn't yet started. A dressing room, the anti-thesis to the stage, where one is typically alone, away from the public, is not usually associated with performance - this was the perfect framework to examine how the singer prepares their image before a concert, and how a person functions through their image in daily life. Through scripted phonecalls, different relationships and places were brought temporarily into the dressing room, displaying the pretences which exists in our interactions with other people. I conversed in a different way according to the image I wished to convey, giving a very different version of 'the truth' such as "I'm not nervous" or "I'm so nervous", depending on whether I was communication with an ex-boyfriend, a friend, my mother. That was through text. The theme was developed in other ways too.
The centrepiece of the space was a dressing table with a mirror, the type you get in dressing rooms with light bulbs around the frame. This was placed with its back to the audience as though up against the 'fourth wall' of the room. The mirror-glass was replaced by perspex so that, through specially-designed lighting, I could see my reflection perfectly as though it was a normal mirror whilst the audience could also see me clearly through it. The symbolism of a mirror, the icon of narcissistic privacy, of self-reflection (both literally and metaphorically), was perverted by its one-way transparency. The audience not only saw me getting ready in my private sphere, but saw me seeing myself and adjusting my make-up and expressions according to my reflection. They saw the faces I made in preparation for facing them when I get on the stage. It took the naturalistic theatre notion of the audience looking through the fourth wall to satirically exposing level. Ironically, this was both the extreme of naturalistic theatre and at the same time the opposite of acting, because I literally put on my make-up, as I would before a show, there was nothing fake about it, other than the fact that it was happening on a stage. This again blurred the line between the performance of theatre and the performance in everyday life. Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray were two big influences on my understand of the performativity of gender. The layering of my face with make up, cover-up, power, colour, in order to disguise my blemishes was another aspect of the scene which explored the presentation of an image to the public. This process was of course exaggerated because I was getting ready for a show - but many women go through the putting on of make-up as daily process, just to walk out on the stage of the city and live up to cultural expectations. So yes, unfortunately, I believe people spend a lot of time on presenting an image of themselves to the outside world.

'Each of us is three different people: the person we really are, the person we believe we are, and the person other people see us as.' Primo Levi

6) Freedom

Interviewer: Might an artist be more themselves on stage than in real life?

Lail: Well that depends if you believe anybody can ever be 'themselves'. We must first accept and put aside Goffman's idea that we are performing constantly in everyday life - that is, the idea that there is perhaps no such thing as being 'yourself'. Or rather we must accept ourselves as inherently performing and manipulating beings. It is only then that we can compare the degree or devices of performance on stage and in real life. Having established this notion, we can no longer dismiss this question by answering 'well how can you be more yourself on stage if you can never be yourself?'. And so, with this understanding might an artist be more themselves on stage than in daily life? I think the answer is yes. Many performers admit feeling most comfortable on a stage, most at ease expressing themselves - many songs reveal truths and emotions which would probably be censored in normal conversation. More than this, the stage, an artistic framework, gives the performer the freedom to be themselves - there are less restrictions enforced by social etiquette and convention which constrain language, behaviour, movement - I would argue that this provides a platform for greater honesty and presentation of character. This character, however, might not be the one the public (even personal friends or family) expect - it is not the same type of performance the performer gives in everyday life (it may be more subtle, more extreme, more emotional, more confident), but who is to say it is not more true to their inner desires, feelings and beliefs. It is a different side of who the performer can call 'me'. This was one reason why I chose as the cover version to sing Aretha Franklin's 'Think', emphasising the Chorus - Freedom, Freedom, Freedom - by using it in the introduction and mixing in part of 'This is Freedom' by Jurassic Five. I think the artistic freedom granted to performers by the stage is something that should be taken full advantage of - in dictatorships, this is one of the first things to be censored.

7) The Mask

Interviewer: So then, when you are on stage, can you be so honest that you are not performing at all?

No. I think the problem here is in the question. A distinction has to made between honesty and performance - the two are not mutually exclusive or in a negative correlation to one another (as I naively maintained in the early stages of this project). Even in examining Joni Mitchell performing of 'A Case of You' (1971), a performance that I value as one of utmost honesty and exposure of inner self, there is no doubt in my mind that she is performing. This is not simply because I believe we are constantly performing, even to ourselves when we are alone - it is more than that. There is also something specific about being on a stage in front of an audience which implies, demands and produces a conscious performance.
In the final show, I opened the concert section with a reversed version of the song from the work in progress sharing, so that it started with the 'beautiful twin' persona. When I walked on to the stage the audience expected me to look as they had left me at the end of the dressing room scene, but as they were finding their seats in the new space I had put on a big colourful carnival mask - an extreme version of make-up, really. When the spot light hit my face and the show began, all the elements of a 'show' were utilised - not only the surprise factor of the spectacular mask covering my face, but the exaggerated lighting, the loud microphone, the raised platform where I sat with the piano - so this was the show, a big lie, full of effects. But the lyrics were increasingly open and exposing, mask came off during the song, the dramatic lights faded...all the performative elements were stripped away and by the end of the song I was singing in my plainest voice, with no tricks. I was no longer acting, I was myself, as far as is possible - but I don't think anyone who saw it would say that the new honesty meant I was no longer performing? Far from it - song is an intrinsically performative form which heightens, elevates and intensifies the emotion and experience of real life.

8) Voice

Interviewer: Lets talk about the voice itself. How can tone of voice and vocal training effect a performance?

Lail: The work in progress show opened with just voice, in darkness. But I was not singing, I was speaking. Now might be a good time to read you a small section from the text:
"Each human voice carries the history of the person to whom it belongs - everything they have ever said and sung and even what they have eaten and the air they have breathed - it is conditioned by their lifestyle, the country they live in, the people they have met, the accents they have been exposed to and have adopted - the voice holds the memory of every time it has shouted and each time it has cried... When a voice sings, this personal history can be heard - it is what makes each voice, and each note, unique, like a finger print."
So you see, I believe that the voice itself, even in its natural state, absolutely has an effect on a performance, even on a private listener in everyday conversation.
In terms of vocal training, this enters a new realm of possibilities. Apart from being important for the care and safety of the singer's voice, vocal training and technique, or even natural and instinctive control of the voice, allows the singer to use their voice in different ways and manipulate the listener through the decisions they make. The final show opened with me doing my vocal warm ups in the dressing room. I then sang a known gospel song, using it as an exercise, trying out lines in different ways, choosing which sensual and emotional effect works the best and suggesting that yes, tone of voice is very important to the meaning and experience of a performance. These exercises were also interesting in the context of honesty and performance. As warm-ups, sung only to myself, they explored further questions of whether a stage and an audience are needed to constitute a performance - and whether you can sing without performing - was i performing to myself? Obviously the huge irony of the discourse was that i was actually on stage right in front of the audience!!

Interviewer: Yes of course, I hadn't thought of that!

9) Dualities

Interviewer: So you've given us a picture of the dressing room and the concert room, could you talk a bit more about what these two spaces represented for you and how they functioned in relation to each other?

Lail: Well I think they functioned together different levels. One was that they showed opposite sides of a coin - offstage and onstage, acting and singing, private and public - and each space worked to enhance the other by contrast. First of all the audience were not aware of the second space until they were escorted there by the steward, so there was that surprise element. Then in the concert everything was about the show - the lights, the colours, the volume - and in contrast, in the dressing room the details were subtle, and naturalistic - the aesthetic of the two spaces were very different - and the audience were supposed to have completely contrasting experiences in each. So on first thoughts, the spaces complemented each other because they were so different.
The two rooms also worked together to advance the exploration of the show as a whole - the questions of honesty in the concert section was made more poignant because it was sandwhiched by the dressing room scenes. For example, in between the two songs, I spoke a little to the audience. Taken in isolation this was a very natural speech - I explained why my voice might sound croaky saying: "i was bad and went out last night" and told the audience in a seemingly genuine voice that: "it is so nice to see so many familiar faces". It was only in the context of the rest of the previous dressing room scene the audience was forced to question whether i am really dropping all guises and being honest, as was suggested through the symbolism of taking off of the mask. They remembered me explaining in a previous phone-call that my voice is still recovering from a cold, and is croaky despite the fact i haven't been out all week; they remembered me explaining how uncomfortable it is to perform to familiar faces...and so on. For whatever reason, I chose to twist the truth when on stage addressing the audience, even though the way I spoke and the smiles I gave implied that I was being honest. The 'honest' and natural performance of the second song was also consequently thrown into question. Or maybe I was being honest on stage - maybe it was in the phone-call that I was lying? The point is, that these discrepancies are highlighted and amplified by the on-stage/ off-stage framework, but occur all the time from day to day.
Finally, they two spaces also worked to demonstrate how much overlap there actually is between reality and performance. In the dressing room, little effects were supposed to introduce the idea that everyday life can so easily become performative. For example, when singing sustained notes i got very close to the mirror as though looking into my mouth. This steamed up the perspex and showed my breath fluctuating - i could almost draw shapes with the steam. Later i also brought a mug of boiling water over to the table as if to drink and again the steam made patterns on the mirror. When the kettle was boiling, too, a little light was directed on it from the floor which caught the steam rising and created beautiful shapes in the air. This showed how when noticed, when amplified, when placed on a stage, the most mundane things can constitute art and performance, and questioned how much difference there really was between the simulated 'reality' of the backstage and the proclaimed 'performance' of the concert.

10) The Stage

Interviewer: And finally Lail, could I pick up on something you touched on just now, which is the role of the stage, because you had two very different types of stages in the two spaces.

Lail: That's right, very different. The stage for the concert was turned at a right angle to the stage space in the dressing room again to separate the two experiences. I sang on a raised platform, typically associated with a stage and performance, and the seats were set up like in an auditorium. When I finished singing and left the stage, the audience assumed the show was over, and were surprised to find a concluding post-show section when they returned to the dressing room.
In the dressing room the audience stood, almost as though they were not invited and looking in illicitly. The only thing separating the audience from the stage space was a line of black tape on the floor, level with the back of the mirror, marking out where the fourth 'wall' of the room would be. There were no instructions to the audience not to cross this line, but the lighting and the etiquette of theatre I guess made them stay politely in 'their' space and watch me in mine.
At the very end of the show, I explained in a phone-call that I was going to face the audience and get feedback 'the truly scary part' I said. I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath before crossing the black line, as though about to go on stage - a final comment on how all the world is a stage and we are always keeping up appearances. Ironically of course actually about to really step off-stage and end the show. As my foot touched the ground on the audience's side of the line the dressing room stage lights went off and the house lights came on. And then something I had not prepared for happened. I hugged some of my friends and was about to go over to my parents who had come to see the show only to realise people were still watching me. "The show's over now!" I had to say! I guess after one false ending in the concert, this time, stepping from the dressing room after-show scene, to the real after-show situation, the audience were confronted with not quite knowing if the show was really over this time. I was quite happy with the confusion because it pointed clearly to the blurred distinctions between reality and performance. There was of course no real difference between the two 'spaces' - but that is the role of the stage. When i crossed the line, the experience was quite strange for all of us i think..

Interviewer: Lail Arad, thank you very much for talking to us.

Me: No, thank you very much for listening!<

Thursday, March 16

a quote:

'Each of us is three different people: the person we really are, the person we believe we are, and the person other people see us as.'

-Primo Levi

Friday, February 17

My Final Show

Wah...its all over!! For so long when i had some free time i automatically thought: ok what can i do for the show.. No more! Now maybe i should think: ok what are all the other things i have neglected this whole term?! Feels very strange that its behind me, that i can start talking about it retrospectively, that there is no fear of ruining the surprise factor anymore so i can write about it properly now... So for those of you who couldn't make it, here is a description and the script, with some analysis of the effect:

There was a curtain bisecting the room, so the audience came in to half the space as it were, unaware that there was another half. I was already on stage in my 'dressing room' which was marked out by the lighting, and by a 'mirror' (dressing room style with light bulbs around it) on a dressing table as though against a wall, so the audience could see the back of it with all the wires hanging out. But instead of mirror there was a sheet of perspects inside the frame - so the audience could see right through it almost as though there was nothing there, whereas I, because the light was on my side, could still see a very clear reflection of myself. Then there was a black line of tape continuing the wall suggested by the mirror along the floor to the sides of the space on the black floor. There was nothing stopping the audience crossing the line as such, but it was clear that that was the stage area, the lit area, and their space was the rest of the room which was darker.

In the room was 'sofa', some clothes draped on it, a dress hanging against the back wall ready to be warn, a kettle and mug, ipod and speakers, tissue and bottle of water all on the floor, and make up scattered on the table. The ipod was playing an old funk song called 'The Truth' over the music of which a man speaks quietly "ever since i was a youth, i've always been searching for the truth, but having been told so many lies, i know only good music never dies". I was wearing a dressing gown, my hair scruffy up and doing some stretching/breathing exercises as the audience entered. This moved on to checking my posture in the mirror, different physical warm up exercises and then vocal warm up exercises. When doing sustained notes i got very close to the mirror as though looking in my mouth and the steam on the perspects showed my breath fluctuating - i could almost draw shapes with the steam. Later i also brought a mug of boiling water over to the table as if to drink but the steam again made nice patterns on the mirror. When the kettle was boiling, too, a little light was shone on it from the floor which caught the steam coming up - these effects were just the beginning of how little things in everyday life can so easily become art, effects, performance, when noticed, when amplified, when placed on a stage.

After a short while of walking round the room doing singing exercises my mobile rang.

"Hello? Who's that?! Ohhhh! hi!... oh my god how unexpected! How are you? Where are you?? oh. I'm.. actually I'm about to do the final show for my practical option of my degree, its er.. it like as important as a dissertation or something. yeah. Oh- heard from who? Oh you're in touch? I didn't know. No, no, Warwick, at university. Ha.. no i'm not nervous, i just have to sing, its cool, you know me, im... more than ready. Its not quite the same, and anyway i think very differently about all that now. No its only a small audience, but, its.. its not just about the music, its.. its the ideas.. i.. man i cant explain now i need to get ready. This is like, over a year's worth of catching up to do.. [start looking at skin in the mirror] Ok sure. Later then. No i wont be at home tonight, i'm staying at my.. at a friend's. Yeah. right. Well, nice to hear from you - weird. Is everything ok? Ok. sure. ok, bye.."

Kind of shaken by the call from the ex-boyfriend, i start to put on my make up in front of the mirror. The audience watch the whole process of the face being adorned by powder and colour and glitter and black lines and gloss and blush which is such a familiar process to women, especially in dressing rooms, and which is quite slow, but nevertheless interesting to watch when called into attention. I tried to show the performativety of everyday routines, of things which are not usually done on a stage, but before a performance takes place. While i put the make up on i sang 'people get ready' the gospel song - but kind of as an exercise..trying lines out in different ways, not really concentrating on it. As i finished i made a call on my phone to a best friend from school. While i talk i change into my dress:

"Its me. Guess who called me? Yeah in like 10 minutes, but guess who just called me now? Yes! How did you know? How out of the fucking blue eh? Straight back to highschool...and he's still in touch with some of them you know.. eugh. It's completely thrown me. Wish I hadn't picked up. Yeah i know. Aright, details later. Whatever. I need to block it out. Shit man. Ok Ok Focus. No but actually I'm so nervous! My voice is still recovering from my cold, i went to to bed at like 8 last night to rest it and been singing all afternoon trying to warm up work through it, its like..stuck. nah dont worry its ok, im exaggerating i guess. it probably wont sound any different to other people its just psychological. But the adrenaline might give it its edge back. Um.. i feel ok about it.. I just feel like i'm exposing myself to a new degree with this. [as i say that i take off my dressing gown and check out my body in a bra and underwear in the mirror before putting on the dress] And its an audience full of people who know me. All those familiar faces staring at me doesnt help. And its in a strange framework where i'm being judged from a supposedly official view, not just one of taste. I'm just so scared they won't get it... that it won't really say what i want it to say... and i'm not sure about my song choices now. No i am doing that one in the end, i thought there should should be some continuity between the work in progress show and this and that song is a good link, but i'm doing it differently. I wish you could see it! oh well, you are kind of here, you helped me pick the dress....i know. And then im doing a cover just straight. well not straight, but how i would. - it would be so much easier if could introduce it by saying 'i chose this because by doing someone else's song the elements which define my performance as opposed to my song writing are more distinct.' ha.. no no i cant. Its a show not an essay. I cant! I cant sing um.. 'as a matter of fact, this is all an act' and then be like 'footnote 31: reference Erving Goffman, the presentation of self in everyday life, p.12)! But thats exactly it, i want to explain my thoughts - it isn't just a show, or rather, it a show - usually if someone doesn't like or understand me on stage that's their problem, but here its like I have to justify everything.. [Nicki who was working at the lighting desk then speaks over a microphone and interupts me, saying]: Ladies and Gentlemen the doors for tonight's performance will be opened in 3 minutes]. Ah I have to go, i should finish getting ready.. im sorry i've been doing all the talking.. how are you? how's your project? when are you leaving. Ok i should be home for a weekend soon but i'll talk to you before. Thank you so much.. cant believe he called me! yeah, i will.. bye."

Then I finished putting my boots on etc, took my hair down, finishing touches, and tried out some lines from the song i am about to do in the 'final show'. The lights then go on in the other half of the room and ben, who is filming the show (also a frist year student like nicki) opens the curtain enough to let people through to the other room. The other room is set up like an auditorium with rows of seats that curve round and a raised stage ready with the piano. When the audience was sat, Nicki made a phonecall to me (this time only her side of the conversation was heard, not mine):

"Hi Lail. The audience is in, its pretty full! You probably have about 2 minutes. Are you feeling ready? No all of the seats are taken! Oh what does he look like? ... Is he wearing a funny hat? Yeah he's there, sitting right in the middle! And the tutors are together at the front. Yeah the lights are ready, the mic is on, everything is set.. Ok I'll announce you in a minute.. good luck!"

Whilst everyone was settling down i secretly (hehe) put on a beautiful huge mask with coloured feathers. So thought they expected me to come on exactly as they had left me, cause they thought i had 'finished' getting ready, the surprise element of a 'show' was still there when, after being announced, i walked on a sat down in blackout and then a spotlight came on revealing the mask.

As I sang the first song coloured lights were added. The result of the lighting, the microphone (which was over-the-top loud so it picked up every breath), the raised stage, the costume - all the performative elements - was to emphasise the fact that this was now a 'show'. And the lyrics of the first song, which was a reworking and upside down version of the work-in-progress show song, directly addressed the issues of 'show' and 'truth/reality'. Here are the words:

[quietly, creepy, seductive]

I won't tell you how I feel
I have nothing to reveal
But I'd like to eat you up
Your my three course meal
I wont tell you how I feel
That's not part of the deal
There's no blush, and there's no mask
There's no flesh beneath peel

[loud, attitude]

I won't tell you how I feel
I have nothing to reveal
But I'd like to eat you up
Your my three course meal
I wont tell you how I feel
That's not part of the deal
There's foundation on my face
Nothing real for you to steal...

But as a matter of fact
This is all an act
You and I both know
That it's part of the show

I can tell that you're wise
You can see through my guise
This face that I pull
Isn't me it's all bull...
Shit!

[sing in quiet voice:]

If I tell you how I feel
Then all of me is revealed
And you can eat me up
And veto my appeal
If I tell you how I feel
Then nothing is concealed
The blush behind my mask
The flesh beneath the peel

I'll try to knock down
This fourth and final wall
So our eyes can touch
But its built up thick and tall

So I'll try and be honest with you
To take away the show
But its not easy
Can we take it slow?

I'll tell you how I feel
But then all of me is revealed
And you can eat me up
And veto my appeal
I'll tell you how I feel
But then nothing is concealed
The blush behind my mask
The flesh beneath the peel

[take off mask]

I feel so naked
Like you can see through my skin
With everything to lose
And no real way to win
The lies and the spin [vocal effects on this line]
Are wearing thin
I'm being betrayed
By my beautiful twin
Am I 'for real'?
Is this the real thing?
Who really cares...
Shut up and sing!

[blackout]


At the point where i took of the mask the lighting got brighter. Then at the end of the song the lights went off, and came back up with no colours, just natural and bright - no more effects. I addressed the audience as myself:

'Hi everyone, thank you so much for coming. Its really nice to see so many familiar faces. You'll have to bear with my voice, i was bad and went out last night so its a bit croaky today. I'm just going to do one other song for you. You should all recognise it. Thanks again for coming!'

All the contradictions between what i supposedly 'honestly' admitted here and the other 'truth' which was heard in the earlier phonecall were supposed to show how even at a point where no 'acting' is apparent, and the conversation seems at its least performative, the person can still be lying and acting and manipulating. The boudnaries between performance and honesty, show and reality are very blurred.

I then sang the other song, which was a cover of Aretha Franklin's 'Think', but mixed in with some of Jurassic 5's 'Freedom'. That song tried to bring in as many elements as possible which show my personal style of performing - how i would do it in a concert, not a play. As myself, not a character. When it was over I said thank you and walked off the stage and Nicki announced that the show is over. People were free to slowly make their way out of that space only to find it was a false ending and there was a third section back in the dressing room where i put on 'party time' on my ipod and am dancing around a bit to myself as i get into normal clothes. I make a final call, this time to my mother:

"Ima? Hi.. done it. Yup. Ok think.. i mean.. yeah, the performance itself went well. My voice held out. After all that, like 2 terms of work, I just got on the stage and felt like it was me up there. There wasn't any lies about what i was doing, and there wasn't any more time to prepare, so i just.. sang. I enjoyed it. The reception was quite good.. weird because the selection of people weren't there for the music exactly, so i don't know if they 'liked' it, but they were very well behaved. I mean..the focus was much higher than in a normal gig so that was fun to play with.. and the staging worked how i planned, except i was a bit blinded by the lights, but i could still see who was there. It was very intimate and very detached at the same time.. like, i was close, it was small, but all the lighting and the volume of the mic was over the top to emphasise that it was a show.. you'll see on the video. wah what a relief. Call me later i should go and see everyone.. get feedback.. the really scary part, haha. ok, neshikot, love you, bye."

Then, turning off the music and approaching the line of the dressing room 'wall', I took a deep breath as though about to go on stage, and step over the line. As my foot touched the ground on the audience's side the dressing rom stage lights went off and the house lights came on. I hugged some of my friends and was about to go over to my parents who had come to see the show only to realise people were still watching me. "The show's over now!" I had to say! After one false ending, this time, stepping from the 'reality' of the dressing room after-show scene, to the real reality of the after-show situation, the audience were confronted with not quite knowing if the show was really over this time. This again pointed to the blurred distinctions between reality and performance.

There is of course no real difference between the two 'spaces' - the audience was not 'told' to stay on their side of the line. But they did, and when i crossed to their side, the experience was quite strange for all of us i think.. The concert section was made more poignant because it was sandwhiched by the dressing room scenes - the whole process of before-show-after was shown to enhance each by contrast to the other. In the dressing room everyday life was put on stage and reality was made performative; In the concert the performance elements were stripped off through the first song and by the second song i was definataly 'acting' less than i was when i was in the 'back-stage' sections.

I dont know how much you can get from these descriptions but i think the show worked well in exploring some of the ideas which this project was grappling with. Mostly, i'm happy that the final show really was a performance (not a presentation), dealing with the issue of performance. And it was very fun to do create and perform..

Now I have to start thinking about the critical review. Thats 4000 words. We have a meeting coming up to discuss exactly what needs to be presented in this. But i'm sure that this blog will come in useful to remind me of the different stages the project has gone through!!

Tuesday, February 14

final show - TOMORROW!!

wow time flies when you're having fun! can't believe the culmination of almost two terms of work is tomorrow. oh well, there is always the critical review to keep me busy for a while longer when it feels like its all over...

i guess i am ready. everything is prepared, and i have most of the day in the studio with the helpful people who are helping me, which is more than enough time to work out the lighting and upt u the staging etc ...

main stumbling block is this awful cough and cold i've had the last week. its written into the script by chance!! serves me write. reality had to live up to the performance and so gave me a real cold to deal with to make me not have to act!!!! oh well, its almost gone, kind of.

im excited. my sister and parents and best friend are driving up to see it, which is so nice, and they've never seen the department before, and nobody has seen the show before, so...... at least everyone will enjoy it for the surprise element! its very different to the work in progress show.. its lost all the presentational aspect and its just theatre now. theatre and music. and definately not musical theatre haha.

i will write about it after the event. for now, wish me luck...

Thursday, January 26

Feedback Report

Here is the feedback report I got on my work in progress show from my tutor:


It was apparent from the end of term showing that this was unequivocally a work-in-progress, and all the better for being so. The presentation was assured but did not shirk from acknowledging that ideas were in flux and that many more questions were being asked than it would be possible to address.

I was intrigued to note how tightly the performance seemed to embody discussions and blog entries - both of which had been wide-ranging - and, as much through the way in which a performance invites the imposition of a structure, took on a greater degree of coherency. I came away feeling that yes, the area of investigation does touch on so many areas - presence, identity, honesty, conviction, performing - but that also what is most pertinent and appropriate is that which concerns the voice - its production and reception. This was alluded to at the opening of the presentation and, not having the tapes to reflect on the actual wording, I can nevertheless recall that it caused me to consider both how indivisibly linked the voice is to the air we need to sustain ourselves and yet, contrastingly, the degree of intention required in order to produce something recognised as song. More clearly than any other means of bodily expression (and forgive me if I'm paraphrasing the opening quotation), the voice bears witness to the rewards and abuses our bodies have been subject to, reveals our gender, perhaps our geographical roots (and, in certain intimate circumstances our dietary predilections and the thoroughness of our personal hygiene regime) and other traits, some or all of which can be manipulated by the performer and/or the intervening audio engineer. Without such manipulation and sometimes even in spite of it, the voice conveys much of who the singer is and I noted at the time I think that your choice of practitioners shown on video, at least in the instances of Mitchell and Holiday, was intriguing because their identity is filtered as much through the biographical information in circulation as it discernible in their voices.

Against this, the final performance of the song you wrote for the occasion was uncomfortable to watch because it refused to transport the audience outside of the immediacy of the situation, calling to mind Craig Owens' comments in relation to Robert Wilson:


Theatrical representation establishes itself in that rift which it alone creates between the tangible physical presence of the performer and that absence which is necessarily implicated in any concept of imitation or signification. The imitated action (the theatrical signified) is situated outside of the closed circuit established by the copresence of performer and spectator. Thus what is represented is always an "elsewhere". As a result, while the performer is in fact both a presence and a signifier (for an absence), we always regard him as the latter, as a representative for something else - the actor as perpetual stand-in.


[Owens, Craig "'Einstein on the Beach': The Primacy of Metaphor", October no.4 Fall 1977 p21] 

In the first half of the song it seemed as if you were forcing together the undeniable facts of our shared presence in the room (referring to this with your lyrics) with an equally undeniable heightened form of communication (singing). The performance became considerably less awkward to watch once you embraced an overtly performative style that I could equate with 'the singer' rather than the individual. 

Although the feedback session was more reflective than critical it raised a number of issues that it would be useful to discuss at the beginning of this term as you move toward the presentation in week seven.

Sunday, January 22

ideas/ tutorial

the final show plan is developing, i just need to sit down and write it now. its going to be all to do with on stage and off stage, comparing acting and singing, realiy and performance - i chose to concentrate on teh aspects that i feel are most relevant to the theatre studies course, though a lot of the directions i could have taken from the work in progress show interested me.. in particular about the voice itself and history it contains - but that will have to be for another project now!

Met with my tutor and discussed the rough structure and ideas. Got more ideas. We also picked up on some points from the feedback session - the concept of 'scenic truthfulness' which i did not quite understand - that is the idea that a contract, or set of coherent rules is set up between the performers and audience in everyshow and the performers tend to stay true to thier mise-enscene - so it can be a different world to the real world, but there is integrity within that stage-world - so in my work in progress show i was truthful to the terms of presentation, and even when i was singing the song at the end, i was in a way presenting it, rather than performing it (in the first half).

We also discussed a quote by Craig Owens about the work of Robert Wilson (while my tutor quoted in my work in progress report that i will post here soon) - it explores the idea that there is the actual stage space, and the absent space that the performer alludes to in his acting - so there is absence and presence simultaleously. Or something like that..!

I also learnt a new word:

Verisimilitude - ver·i·si·mil·i·tude  n.
1. The quality of appearing to be true or real. See Synonyms at truth.
2. Something that has the appearance of being true or real.

One World Week

I feel like I've been in a parallel life in the last 10 days.. still a very warwick life, but not centred around my course or anything in my usual routine.. its been great, but now its time to get back in the swing of work!

Even though my project has been somewhat sidetracked, i was doing lots of singing and performing which i think it will be relevant to write about:

The One World Concert was on friday. In the first half i performed a song alone, accompanying myself on the piano. It was a cover version of a song that mixed into another song, the names are irrelevant, but it worked well. What i found interesting in terms of performance is that i got extremely nervous before i went on stage. This does not happen to me! Its been years since i remember that feeling. And during the song i blanked out, more or less - i dont mean i forgot what i was doing and messed up, it went very well, but afterwards i could not really remember what i'd done. Just a few moments were vivid, making decisions about how to sing particular lines, focussing on some lyrics, but until i see a recording i wont really know how it was. Why? I think it was party because it was a challenge for me - i chose a song that wasnt easy to sing, that stretched my voice, that i knew relied a little on the adrenaline of the performance to hit those high notes. And playing the piano always scares me the most, even though i wasnt doing naything very complex, it was tricky for me. But mostly i guess the venue was daunting - it was in the Arts Centre Theatre, so a proper stage and seating. Holds about 500 people i think, which is probably the largest It was a big empty stage, a walk to the grand piano, far away from the audience and i couldnt really see them cause of the lights, but i knew it was sold out. Also it wasnt my event, i was just doing one song amongst many other people, so i couldn't use all the usual props, distractions, banter, pacing, staging that usually relax me i guess, it was more like 'here's your slot, here's you chance'. In a way i felt more distinct and defined in comparison the very diverse acts before and after me, in another way i felt i had to establish the identity that i wanted to present more forcefully, there was just one song, one impression. It wasn't long enough to develop a rapport with the crowd - that is also why i chose a familiar song. I found the experience quite different, and very interesting. Exciting actually.
Then for the finale of that concert we performed the One World Week song that i've written about before on this blog (that i wrote the lyrics from with sarah and then arranged the music with 6 singers from the gospel choir). That was far less scary, we just enjoyed it. We had done it the night before at the festival's launch party and i really did not enjoy that - it was a very formal and stiff event, kind of like when there is a corporate function and then a bit of music to entertain the sponsors or something - and i think our performance reflected that - especially as it is a capella, and cant rely on a band to pick it up. It was flawless musically, but didnt have enough energy. At the concert people were there for the music and we really performed. The curtain was dropped so we stood at the very front of the stage. Amazing how these decisions make such a difference. People seemed taken by it. We performed it one last time a few days later at the carnival, a very different scenario again - this time outside in the piazza in the dark, just after some fire-jugglers, with the crowd huddled round. No microphones which meant we could move much more freely, and no costumes, we kept our coats on. I felt like a carol singer! That was really lovely, just the joy of singing really, and i could see a few people mouthing the words too!
The played a live recording of the song before all the forum talks. Tha was weird, its not a very background music song, it sounded a bit like noise! But I also did a proper recording of some of the vocals for that song because marco my friend was doing a remix - and that sounds cool! Its quite bizarre - the song is quite a strange one anyway, and with beats underneath it ever stranger, but it kind of works! Remixes, like cover versions, are interesting to consider to examine how the music, in particular the drum patterns and arrangement change the meaning and mood of a song.
Comparing all the various rendidtions and performances of that song i would say it was at the concert that i was most myself in singing it. I had at that moment the least other worries on my mind. The singers were just at the point were they knew their parts enough to get everything right with me conducting them or keeping time so i for the first time concentrated on enjoying my part. Its weird how practical all these things sound, but in the end they are what form the circumstances for fresh performances.
The only last oww event that is relevant was on friday - i was on the judging panel for the one world eurovision song contest, haha.. that was hilarious! Some awful acts and some very impressive ones. The interesting things that struck me though was the overt relationship at that event between national pride and music - each country rooting for their entry or course, and maybe of the songs having patriotic lyrics or sung in the native language or being a tradition music style of that country. I think in some cases at least it gave a lot of emotion to the songs. Then what surprised me was that out of our panel of 6, we were all very in sync in our decisions, withouth conferring - even though the acts varied from an austrian boy with his guitar to an entire italian troop, the ranking was more or less consistent(bar the cypriot-greek bias in point-giving of course) - how did everyone have the same taste, or if really impartial, then isnt that amazing that everyone (not all were musicians at all) valued the same things in the performances?


so anyway, a very busy week (and that was just my little involvement in events! i also went to see 10 forum talks and went out 6 nights in a row..) useful and fun in many ways. but now its time to get back to business!

Response - Kwame

Just thought I'd take a moment to share some considerations regarding "truth."

To my understanding -- and, to judge from what I've been reading, you seem to recognize this in some manner as well -- truth is an absolute.  It exists as an aspect of everything we do, see or even imagine.  It's all true.  People spending themselves in efforts to determine whether or not a thing is true are in denial.  The real pursuit, if one wants to talk about truth, is to learn how to describe a thing truly.  The relevant standard is how well the description corresponds with the experience being described.

This approach to truth suggests that some descriptions can be more true, and some others less, depending on such things as how much information about the experience is conveyed (and how much is left out), how significant (or insignificant) the aspects are that are exposed by the description, how clearly the description is presented to its audience.  Yet to offer any statement as a sort of map to the experience it describes is to admit to some correspondence, however nebulous and vague.

To say that a description is "false" denotes only that it isn't recognized to correspond with the experience that is being described.  If it were a map, it would not aid in navigating the territory it refers to.  This could occur for one of two reasons (or both) -- either the map does not encode useful information about the territory or the language of the code is obscure (i.e., the map is unreadable).  Still, there is some information encoded (useless though it may be), and convoluted, inexact or otherwise unclear language can be deciphered; it just takes some extra work.

The point here is that we cannot avoid being truthful in our expositions, with the very useful corollary that, as a performer, I needn't concern myself with whether or not I'm presenting myself truthfully or honestly (taking "honestly" to mean "conscientiously truthful" or something to that effect).  I am free to focus on understanding exactly what truth I mean to convey and how best to convey it.

I feel like I've taken a long time and a lot of words to say hardly anything at all.  What I most want to convey is the feeling that the ubiquity of truth renders any search for it, not completely meaningless, but at least a bit absurd.  Rather than searching for what's true, we could simply understand that we embody the object of that search.

Lail, I really wanna see your show.  Make sure you send me a copy.  I will gladly pay for postage.

That said, HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Welcome to the future and all that.  The honesty you are developing in your expression on stage is...  Honestly?  It's breathtaking.  I read your blog tonight a thought at at time, taking breaths only in between.  (Though I must say it's quite unsettling to learn that you've been lying to us all these years.  Honestly!)

That theme of authenticity that you're dealing with is really at the heart of what makes greatness in an artist (in my never-so-humble opinion).  I know I can't really give any advice here (How could I advise you in being yourself?), but I would have you know that I'm quite taken with your willingness to acknowledge the validity of the "performer" as a true and meaningful aspect of your character.  Who doesn't want to be a little bigger, brasher, more stunning, "more perfect"?  Divas are people too.

Still, it's good to get a glimpse of the genuine article...  And don't let my compliments sully your shine!  Keep it true, and, yes, the red shoes do make us like you more.  I don't even see 'em yet, and I like you more.  How much more of your likability have you been keeping from us?  You got us off liking all sorts of other people when you might be enough to like all by your lonesome.  Show yourself, baby,

Kwame.

Wednesday, January 4

the human voice

this was the text that opened the work in progress show in the dark.

[each human voice carries the history of the person to whom it belongs - everything they have ever said and sung and even what they have eaten and the air they have breathed - it is conditioned by their lifestyle, the country they live in, the accents they have been exposed to and have adopted - the voice holds the memory of every time it has shouted and each time it has cried. Its remembers when it was too happy or sad to make a sound and when it was the first to break the silence. Tiny little vocal chords, the size of a five pence piece - it is not like psychological memory - it cannot block out or erase anything that has been said - it is a prime witness, has been through everything with you and does not forget. When a voice sings, this personal history can be heard - it is what makes each voice, and each note, unique, like a finger print]

Tuesday, December 27

term 2 approaching

so the christmas holidays are almost over and then there will be 6 weeks of work before the final show........ ah!

i have a little plan. but i need to get writing, and making, and thinking, and singing...

i will write soon about the focus that i think it will take, and maybe the formet too, although i have that same problem again of not really wanting to give it away cause i know some of you will come to the show..

anyway hasta pronto..

Feedback session - transcript

I was pretty exhausted after the feedback session I have to say... it felt more like a viva.. and there are a few reasons for this. It wasnt like the other work in progress shows which were beginnings of what would be the final show - where people could suggest which bits worked, which bits need changing etc. It demanded a different type of feedback.. and i guess I should take it as a compliment that it provoked so many questions! But it was quite intimidating being faces with all those questions and some of my answers, as i had to answer on the spot, seem a bit funny now. I quite wish i'd had a bit more feedback and audience opinons rather than just questions, but i did get some from individuals afterwards.. anyway, learning experience, and it was very useful.. here it is....

(This is very paraphrased to make it more clear:)


Q> In your show you use 'barbie girl' in amongst some very renouned songs, was that to set an opposition?

Lail> It was partly to undercut..but also i chose it because its about a barbie girl.. totally superficial and constructed..

Q> But how does music that has that popular aspect of entertainment fit within the notion of honesty?

Lail> I think barbie girl is actually a very honest song!....a to-the-point, social critique song. (I feel like im still on stage now! well i am..i guess..)

Q> Where do you plan to go with this because its still quite ambiguous as to what you believe? How do you plan to develop it?

Lail> I think I'm much clearer now than when i first started about my views on honesty in performance.. i think i was more naive to begin with. In terms of the final show, i dont think it will necessarily address the issues so directly. Here i wanted to reflect the thought process. In the final show if the ideas come across thats great, it means i've done my job properly, but it it wont give an answer or a conclusion to the questions posed here lets say.

Q> This isnt really a question. It just reminded me of a lot of new bands that are coming out now who are singing in their local dialects from across england.. I think thats very much about honesty.

Q> Where are you going with the feminist aspect of this?

Lail> Its not something that I consciously wanted to bring feminist theory into it, but it is something that keeps popping up, like a little parallel ... i guess that was gonna happen in looking at image and identity.

Q> Do you think you bring your identity as a female into it?

Lail> Well a lot of the singer-songwriters i was looking at and the stuff I played you - the stuff i listen to - is female singers, I guess that is somehow significant, but its not something I am really conscious of - me as a female singer, as opposed to just a singer..

Lail Q> What did people think of the song, did it explore the ideas?

Response> I dont know if I was the only one but there was something about that first part of the song that made me feel very uncomfortable, cause it wasnt something I could extrapolate out like.. a removed subject like a lost love, it was constantly undercutting that and trying to make me adress the fact that it was me listening to you. [the a capella section]. Once you got behind that piano and the lights came on and it was more theatrical I could take a more passive role..

Lail> Thats interesting cause I felt like I was being much more manipulative in the second section.

Response> Yeah but in a way that I was sitting here say 'manipulate me'. [Laughs!]

Q> When you were singing the first part of the song were you being yourself?

Lail> I dont know.. I was performing, there's not doubt about that. All the way through the song though, I was in some ways closer to 'me' than most of you have ever seen, because I was dealing with the subjects that are me.. if you know what I mean.

Q> Did you feel comfortable singing the first part of the song?

Lail> I think that I probably tried to make myself look more unconfortable than I was to get the lyrics across...
The fact that you felt uncomfortable is probably because you thought I looked uncomfortable..

Q> Its just that you seemed more more comfortable as soon as you got behind the piano.

Lail> Oh no, I was more comfortable in the first section cause I didnt have to worry about playing the piano!!

Q> It seemed to me like you were building up to a point (the song) that said 'this is be being absolutely stripped to a state of truthfulness and honest'. But it does seem to me that there are two levels of truthfulness and honestly. And one is that presentation as in the first section of the song. But there is also that scenic truthfulness as well, which is actually within the context of presentation of all that other material as well. And its a complex sort of situation in performance where sometimes truthfulness within the scenic context is slightly different in the way you achieve it from that sort of personal/theatrical stripped down version of truthfulness where there is nothing else there, to as it were nuance the final sort of performance.

Lail> Silence. because i didnt understand that at all!! can anyone help me with this?!

Q> What do you consider untruth in performance?

Lail> Is a negative way?

Q> No.. no value attached... you gave us examples presumably of things you though were honest performances..

Lail> Not only... I dont think Bob Dylan was being honest in any of that.. I think there is untruth in every performance. As a negative thing I could say i think there is less truth maybe in certain types of pop music lets say...i can criticise the superficiality.. say that it doesnt effect me as much..when its just entertainment for its own sake.... but as a no-value-attached notion, i would say there is untruth even in the song i just sang. In everything.

Q> How do you think all of this affects the audience? And does that really matter in the end?

Lail> I have thought, if someone is a great actor and acts being truthful, and another singer is just being really truthful, but the audeince doesnt know them and cant tell the difference, then what does it matter... but... the thing that makes a song interesting for me is that I feel the singer is being truthful (either way) - so yes, as an effect on the audience i do think its very important.

Q> Why do you think big spectacle pop shows are the most popular these days?

Lail> Well cause it is 'entertainment'...its easier.

Q> Do you think integrity and truth are the same thing, is there something in performance about truth that integrity resists more?

Lail> Yeah, thats really good.. Integrity. Yeah.. interesting.

Q> I was thinking anout what would be truth in a singing context... Something that comes from deep inside the artist - the honest emotional or political agenda - and then moves us as the audience. Is this artistic truth or truth on stage only conveyed by stripping down to the bare essentials - the artist just standing there, house lights etc - or do we sometimes need to use the theatrical devices, the magic, to bring this truth across. Diderot said that to convey the true emotional state 'tears have to come from the brain' and then it looks authentic - if it comes form the heart and is authentic its over the top it looks fake- its called actually 'a paradox in theatre'. What are your thoughts on this?

Lail> I havent heard of it before..I dont know if I agree with it,,,, but its interesting... i think i would always want the emotion to be real... but i guess the real tears dont have to be there in the moment... maybe for acting i would agree more easily than for singing. But i dont know actually.. i really like the idea..


(This is very paraphrased to make it more clear:)


Q> In your show you use 'barbie girl' in amongst some very renouned songs, was that to set an opposition?

Lail> It was partly to undercut..but also i chose it because its about a barbie girl.. totally superficial and constructed..

Q> But how does music that has that popular aspect of entertainment fit within the notion of honesty?

Lail> I think barbie girl is actually a very honest song!....a to-the-point, social critique song. (I feel like im still on stage now! well i am..i guess..)

Q> Where do you plan to go with this because its still quite ambiguous as to what you believe? How do you plan to develop it?

Lail> I think I'm much clearer now than when i first started about my views on honesty in performance.. i think i was more naive to begin with. In terms of the final show, i dont think it will necessarily address the issues so directly. Here i wanted to reflect the thought process. In the final show if the ideas come across thats great, it means i've done my job properly, but it it wont give an answer or a conclusion to the questions posed here lets say.

Q> This isnt really a question. It just reminded me of a lot of new bands that are coming out now who are singing in their local dialects from across england.. I think thats very much about honesty.

Q> Where are you going with the feminist aspect of this?

Lail> Its not something that I consciously wanted to bring feminist theory into it, but it is something that keeps popping up, like a little parallel ... i guess that was gonna happen in looking at image and identity.

Q> Do you think you bring your identity as a female into it?

Lail> Well a lot of the singer-songwriters i was looking at and the stuff I played you - the stuff i listen to - is female singers, I guess that is somehow significant, but its not something I am really conscious of - me as a female singer, as opposed to just a singer..

Lail Q> What did people think of the song, did it explore the ideas?

Response> I dont know if I was the only one but there was something about that first part of the song that made me feel very uncomfortable, cause it wasnt something I could extrapolate out like.. a removed subject like a lost love, it was constantly undercutting that and trying to make me adress the fact that it was me listening to you. [the a capella section]. Once you got behind that piano and the lights came on and it was more theatrical I could take a more passive role..

Lail> Thats interesting cause I felt like I was being much more manipulative in the second section.

Response> Yeah but in a way that I was sitting here say 'manipulate me'. [Laughs!]

Q> When you were singing the first part of the song were you being yourself?

Lail> I dont know.. I was performing, there's not doubt about that. All the way through the song though, I was in some ways closer to 'me' than most of you have ever seen, because I was dealing with the subjects that are me.. if you know what I mean.

Q> Did you feel comfortable singing the first part of the song?

Lail> I think that I probably tried to make myself look more unconfortable than I was to get the lyrics across...
The fact that you felt uncomfortable is probably because you thought I looked uncomfortable..

Q> Its just that you seemed more more comfortable as soon as you got behind the piano.

Lail> Oh no, I was more comfortable in the first section cause I didnt have to worry about playing the piano!!

Q> It seemed to me like you were building up to a point (the song) that said 'this is be being absolutely stripped to a state of truthfulness and honest'. But it does seem to me that there are two levels of truthfulness and honestly. And one is that presentation as in the first section of the song. But there is also that scenic truthfulness as well, which is actually within the context of presentation of all that other material as well. And its a complex sort of situation in performance where sometimes truthfulness within the scenic context is slightly different in the way you achieve it from that sort of personal/theatrical stripped down version of truthfulness where there is nothing else there, to as it were nuance the final sort of performance.

Lail> Silence. because i didnt understand that at all!! can anyone help me with this?!

Q> What do you consider untruth in performance?

Lail> Is a negative way?

Q> No.. no value attached... you gave us examples presumably of things you though were honest performances..

Lail> Not only... I dont think Bob Dylan was being honest in any of that.. I think there is untruth in every performance. As a negative thing I could say i think there is less truth maybe in certain types of pop music lets say...i can criticise the superficiality.. say that it doesnt effect me as much..when its just entertainment for its own sake.... but as a no-value-attached notion, i would say there is untruth even in the song i just sang. In everything.

Q> How do you think all of this affects the audience? And does that really matter in the end?

Lail> I have thought, if someone is a great actor and acts being truthful, and another singer is just being really truthful, but the audeince doesnt know them and cant tell the difference, then what does it matter... but... the thing that makes a song interesting for me is that I feel the singer is being truthful (either way) - so yes, as an effect on the audience i do think its very important.

Q> Why do you think big spectacle pop shows are the most popular these days?

Lail> Well cause it is 'entertainment'...its easier.

Q> Do you think integrity and truth are the same thing, is there something in performance about truth that integrity resists more?

Lail> Yeah, thats really good.. Integrity. Yeah.. interesting.

Q> I was thinking anout what would be truth in a singing context... Something that comes from deep inside the artist - the honest emotional or political agenda - and then moves us as the audience. Is this artistic truth or truth on stage only conveyed by stripping down to the bare essentials - the artist just standing there, house lights etc - or do we sometimes need to use the theatrical devices, the magic, to bring this truth across. Diderot said that to convey the true emotional state 'tears have to come from the brain' and then it looks authentic - if it comes form the heart and is authentic its over the top it looks fake- its called actually 'a paradox in theatre'. What are your thoughts on this?

Lail> I havent heard of it before..I dont know if I agree with it,,,, but its interesting... i think i would always want the emotion to be real... but i guess the real tears dont have to be there in the moment... maybe for acting i would agree more easily than for singing. But i dont know actually.. i really like the idea..

Q> Do you think songs are more honest if the lyrics are written first or the tune?

Lail> I dont think there are rules. I tend to write the lyrics first but i dont think thats important.

Q> Is that notion of real or honesty something that is important more for yourself, or more that the audience believe your song is infested in it. With Dylan for example he was very evasive about answering questions on the songs.. Billie Holiday had the motional weight of the backstory before she even opened her mouth.. and With Joni Mitchell people were queueing up to say how torn and tortured she was when she was writing those songs. But is that really pertinent and relevant for the theatrical moment and is it pertinent for the listener?

Lail> I guess that I'm coming at it from a very selfish point of you as well, because I want to be a singer, thats why I chose this project, thats the view i see it from.... but... I do think its important for the audience as well... cause if it doesnt have that truthful core then..the singer cant give as much and the audience cant get as much? maybe thats a bit cryptic, but i think it goes two ways..


>OK.. Thank you very much

Lail> Thank You very much!

Monday, December 26

Response - Sarah Leyla Puello

I dont know if I have told you enough how much I liked your show. On top of all your responsabilities I have no idea how you managed to pull this off. And it was wonderful. I true delight and good mental exercise. Your thoughts are vey inquisite and complicated, I admire you for that.
And the song...the evil twn song, if pretty danm genius I have to say! I love it, I love your work, and I'm gonna be your number one fan ever! (if im not already! hehehye)...


The world is just perceptions, isnt it? I know this might not be relevant, but u might want to ponder on this Nietzsche said (I am so sorry I keep preaching about him recently, it is only the result of all this research, Peppe is quite tired of me putting him as an example all the time!):
"There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretations of phenomena..."


[Lail: check out Sarah's blog at.. blogs.warwick.ac.uk/slpuello !]

Tuesday, December 20

Finally... the work in progress show.. thoughts..

I know, I know, its been soooooooooo long since i've written. Since my show I have not posted, its awful. I think i just worked so hard towards it and then when it was over I had to catch up with everything else! But yesterday my grandfather told me 'Lail the world is waiting!', so thought i better write something!


The work in progress show went well. It all came together, and there was a really nice turn out of people, and an interesting feedback session afterwards [which im going to write about separately but I want to watch it again on the video first to remember exactly, cause there was a lot said].

The show didnt turn out at 'messy' as i wanted..my organised mind revolted against me and the show ended up being quite structured - but i hope that the collage/episodic structure still did make people see the scattered way in which the research and thoughts came together, and also made the audience make their own connections.

I showed quite a lot of video footage and played quite a lot of songs, and it was nice for me to be able to share snippets of what I had so far only written about, so people could see first hand the performances of Billie Holiday, hear he voice of lauren hill - cause at the end of the day, its never really enough to verbalise and describe a voice or a show - you have to hear it, to be there.

The stage was quite simple, with the tv on one side, a desk with my piano on the other, and the piano in the middle. When I was at the desk that represented my room, nighttime, writing this blog - i spoke through a microphone - for me that was the thoughts in my head - and music played, as though that was what I was listening to. The literary research I presented from the ground on the floor under a spotlight. When the videos showed it was dark in thr room, as though i was watching. well - i was watching. I had one speech early on which tried to address the tricky issue of whether or not i was being myself during the show:

'Hi. Im Lail. well i know most of you.. except i dont think i've met you before.. hi, nice to meet you (shake hands).. and this is nicki, she's a first year theatre student and she's been helping me today, she's going to doing some lighting and sound changes. and this is tim, most of you know him, he's my tutor for this project. he's also assessing me right now which is a little alkward. The other day he was watching the video of a concert i did and suggested that by sitting on a chair while i sang i was diminishing the difference and distance between me and the audience. And its true, it did seem to break the barriers, increase the intimacy. And if standing up on a stage can in contrast give some sort of power trip, then for now i'll be sitting here on the floor. [sit] I am being myself right now. I have thought very carefully about how to present myself most honestly and accurately. I am wearing these jeans because they are neutral. dont you think? and this top because it tight fitting, so you can see my true figure and my true self, nothing to hide - and i also look rather good in it, dont you think? And these shoes accurately represent the quirkiness of my character. because they are red. do they make you like me?
[get up and walk towards computer]
And my mac over here? does it make you think im a little pretentious? posing like carrie from sex and the city? one new email!'

There were some other random bits - it opened with just my voice speaking through a microphone about the human voice, in darkness. Then after the sort of journey through the ideas (a filtered, edited and developed version of what is on this blog!) I sang the song that I had written for the show.. I sang the first part of it a capella right in the centre in front of the audience with the bright lights on. Very exposed. And then when the lyrics [printed below] led me there, I went to the piano, strange red lighting came on, I started singing through a microphone, first in a very affected (is that the right word?) husky voice, and then in a very 'attitude' loud funked up version.. all the performance elements, to contrast the honest (?) first half. Though the discussion which followed was very interesting and people evidently interpretted the transition in very different ways..

The Song:

verse 1:
Trying to be honest with you
To take a away the show
Its not easy, excuse me
If I take it slow

verse 2:
Trying to knock down
That fourth and final wall
So our eyes can meet
But its built up thick and tall

chorus:
If I tell you how I feel
Then all of me's revealled
And you can eat me up
Veto my appeal
If I tell you how I feel
Then nothing is concealed
The blush behind the mask
The flesh beneath the peel..

verse 3:
And even this..
Is this an act?
To make you think I'm being
Matter of fact

All the tricks that I pull
To get rid of the bull..
Shit maybe thats the show
I deny that I know

chorus:
If I tell you how I feel
Then all of me's revealled
And you can eat me up
Veto my appeal
If I tell you how I feel
Then nothing is concealed
The blush behind the mask
The flesh beneath the peel..

bridge:
And I feel so naked
Like you can see through my skin
With everything to lose
And no way to win
Is she for real?
Wish I was harder to pin
I present to you instead
My beautiful twin:

[walk to piano, lights, mic]
[slowly]
She won't tell you how she feels
She has nothing to reveal
But she's like to eat you up
You're her three course meal
She won't tell you how she feels
That's not part of her deal
There's no blush and there's no mask
There's no flesh beneath the peel
[fast]
She won't tell you how she feels
She has nothing to reveal
But she's like to eat you up
You're her three course meal
She won't tell you how she feels
That's not part of her deal
There's foundation on her skin
Nothing real for you to steal..


I don't know how much you can get from just the lyrics. Sometimes I think it can read like a love song. But in the context it was very deliberately about the performance and addressed to the audience.

That song was what put in practice some of the ideas explored. So i guess its the only indication of what might be in the final show. But......... i have no idea what im going to do in the final show. ok ideas, maybe... but wah,,, im scared.
This is the even funner part though - the research will continue, inevitably, as things keep arising, people send me to look in new directions all the time, there is still so much i want to check out - but I am aware that I need to focus now, to narrow things down... its been a discovery process up til now, and now its time to apply the theoretical into the practical and begin a more actively creative process. exciting.

Dancers

I went to see my friend's contemporary dance choreography show - she's a performing arts student at a London university.

I was struck by the way the dancer's behaved on stage. Their training is obvisouly very strict, very technical. When they moved beautifully, it was a pleasure to watch them. Their concentration was immense. But they seemed to have no...identity..no real ego, and not a very demanding presence.. it was as though they were just the tools to demonstrate the work. Maybe this was particularly so because it was the choreographer's who were being assessed rather than the dancers - they were, in a way, the tools - but literally, they just walked off stage when it was over, no bow, no eye contact, didnt demand any recognition.. i found it most bizarre. They were not really performing.. or not acting, at least. Just.. dancing.

Cuttings 40 - Harold Pinter

I thought this speech was so amazing in general. And the opening was so relevant. So ehre it is..


Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 7/12/2005:

In 1958 I wrote the following: ‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’ I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false? Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

Response to 'Self Portrait' - Grisha Arad

Hi Lail, it seems that your blog awakes in me some extrovert graphomania.As you may know, I am in love with the portraitgallery and reading about the exhibition of selfportraits,I looked at Esthers(painted in 1958!),now in my livingroom,I tried to apply some criteria I aquired,reading your blog. Esthers world was a caleidoscop of colors,she had a t remendous sense for composition and she could'nt resist to prolong her face a bit (a la El Greco) just to make the composition perfect.She put herself into a world she loved.That was her truth and nothing but the truth.The act of putting these colors on the canvas,was an interpretation of her innermost feelings,,, Love Saba

Tuesday, November 29

Dictionary Definitions

truth:
 
1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
5. a. Reality; actuality.
b. often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.
 
honesty:

1. The quality or condition of being honest; integrity.
2. Truthfulness; sincerity: in all honesty.
3. Archaic. Chastity.


I suddenly thought to look those words up... in my mind, the definitions are different..

truth = subjective fact
honesty = revealing the truth

also, truth is linked to the songs themselves, the lyrics, the music, the content, and honesty to performance, the delivery - i know this is not really accurate or sensible, its just how i've come to see the terms.

Saturday, November 26

Cuttings 39 - Self Portrait

The leaflet accompanying the Self Portrait (Renaissance to Contemporary) exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery disucsses some wonderfully relevant ideas:

'This is an exhibition about how artists have chosen to depict themselves...'

'The exhibition draws attention to the figure of the painter as a distinctive member of society, worthy of representation and considered to somehow be present in the works that he or she makes.

'Self-portraits seem to offer...not only peculiarly direct access to the great artists of the past, but also an opportunity to reflect on creativity and the idea of the self.'

Role Play:

'Every self-portrait is a performance of a kind. The artist chooses a particular costume and pose, and adopts a persona for his or her audience.'

'A mask can show the face or character of someone else, and is often assumed to conceal the 'real self' that lies beneath. It appeals in [some] self-portraits...as a symbol of painting or imitation. However, the mask's capacity to dramatise or conceal character actually depends upon a connection between this conventional face and the 'true'
person within.'

'There is also a performative element in the production of each self-portrait in oils. The painting is a fiction, where the final work may suppress or dramatise the processes involved in its creation, while still producing a certain record of the artist at work.'

(thanks A.E.)

Cuttings 38 - Elephant Eyelash

Here is an exctract from a guardian article about a new album by a rapper called Yoni Wolf:

'Despite his conversion to the art of melody, Elephant Eyelash is not pop music as anyone would know it. To a background of early 1990s "Daisy Age" hip-hop, jazzy vocal rhythms and non-linear spacerock, the witty, brutally honest lyrics form a series of journal entries.
"I feel that the more stright-up you are about the way you live, and the secrets you have, the more you realise that everyone's the same, and has the same hang-ups, and the less likely you're going to go to war with people," says Wolf. "It's political to me that I'm being so honest, and saying shit to people that's very personal to me; saying, 'This is me, I jack off in the back of aeroplanes and so do you'."

Friday, November 25

touching base

not a lot of writing for a little while....... because im working so hard on the work in progress show which is now in less than a week! Its going well, coming together, but there is still so much to do...
After the show i will describe what i did, maybe even post the script, and write up all the feedback.
For now.. please excuse the silence!

Response - David Waterman

Hi Lail   
it was very exciting to see what fascinating work you are doing,
and a wonderful idea to share the discovery process with all of us. You must
have ideas and suggestions  falling out  of your ears  - I haven't been able
to read more than a sample of what's on the site. But anyway, I thought I'd
like to suggest yet another avenue you could go down which I think could be
really fruitful and enriching. And that is to consider and have a good look
at the greatest of the classical music songwriters. They address themselves
to all these issues  of how to set words to music; how to render the most
subtle and complex---or equally the most simple and intense primary colour
emotions-in music; how each detail of rhythm, harmony, texture, form,
instrumentation, and melody contributes in a vital, integrated and natural
way to the expressive meaning of the music.  The interpretation of these
songs by the performers also involves all those questions about how to be
true to the soul of the music, how to communicate, what is the  role of the
performer's personality , performer self-consciousness etc , how to avoid
manipulating the emotions of the audience etc
My suggestion is that you get to know just 2 song-cycles -groups of linked
songs about 1/2 hour each cycle. Schubert "Die Winterreisse" and Schumann
"Dichterliebe"
Read the translations of the songs and take a look at how the composer
brings the words to life. Like most songs today they are about love, loss,
death, beauty etc .
And I Would recommend one book to steer you a bit thru this   Charles Rosen
"THE Romantic Generation "    --which you may want to dip into and
particularly the bits where he examines these cycles in great detail. It may
be good to get the score of the music so you can follow it while you listen
and you can try bits on the piano and figure out how they work. You may also
want to listen to different performances to see how different they can be
and try to understand why some are far more convincing than others, despite
the singers all trying to stay "true to the text".  I would suggest Dietrich
Fischer Dieskau    and Peter Pears as 2 very contrasting musicians, but
anybody will be interesting.     I know you probably don't have time for any
of this but for a very modern (in spirit) and incredibly expressive handling
of speech and drama you could try one more piece - long, I'm afraid - Katya
Kabanova by Janacek   an opera which you need to see with subtitles.. there
will be DVD's I should think.
I think there will be very rich pickings for you here-it's a different
dimension, but it's still music and performance and these are pieces that
have thrilled and bowled over people for generations ....    Enjoy it
and  good luck with it                  love to you David

Cuttings 37 - poetry class

I was in a seminar in one of the english rooms and there must have been a poetry writing class going on in there earlier because the walls were covered in wonderful quotes and guidance, very relevant to songwriting - i noted some down -

-The best writing is honest
-The best writing conveys truth, although it may not be the truth
-There are no 'rules'
-A writer lise to improve on the turth, or upon their truth
-Inspiration does not exist; calculation is the adventure
-Writing must appear inevitable 'as easily as leaves to a tree', even if those leaves took years to grow to make, even if they are flayed-on to the tree
-So, art conceals art
-"Writing what you know" is a naive but necessary step
-"Writing what you don't know" might later hold more potential than "writing what you know"
-"Finding your voice" might be only one stage on the way to finding your voices or finding your style
-The real rewards of writing lie within the process of writing, not in publishing
-Clarity is hard-won, and of first importance
-Economy is all
-Energy, in language, is eternal delight
-Form is a useful tool insofar as is can teach you how to break with it, or bend it, once you have mastered it, but you must master it first
-Cliches, archaisms and inversions must must earn their place or be burned off the page
-Whom you know, can help you
-Audiences do not wait; you must create them
-Writing is one of the most joyful and rewarding activities for the human mind and body. It is physical
-Writing is one of the most arduous and self-exacting activities for the human mind and body. It is physical
-You will learn a lot about writing is you give yourself the permission to write badly
-Striking phrases contaminate with their beauty; you should excise them
-Adjectives and adverbs are the first to feel the spotlight of redrafting

Isn't this a wonderful list?