Sunday, July 31, 2005

sonic matryoshkii

UPDATE!! thanks to my sister barb for the grammatical correction. apparently, the plural of 'matryoshka,' which used to be the word in the title to this post, is actually 'matryoshkii.' what would we do without sisters?!!!

a few weeks ago while in nyc i had the good fortune to catch an audio installation/tour in central park - janet cardiff's her long black hair, which was originally produced and installed during the summer of 2004, but has luckily been brought back for a few months this year.

during the tour you carry around a small bag containing a cd player, headphones and five numbered photographs.
for 35 minutes you're instructed in every action by a narrator, including when to pull out each photograph, which direction to take when at a fork in the path, when to stop along the way, and you're even asked to perform a task from time to time. i don't want to give away too much about the content of her long black hair, instead i'll just encourage you to somehow find yourself in nyc before september 11 and treat yourself to the experience. but there's one idea maybe worth sharing...

after thinking a lot about the tour, i realized that participating was like being inside the very core of a set of nesting dolls, you know those blob-ishly shaped hollow wooden figures that come apart in the middle, (only to reveal a smaller, identical figure inside, with a smaller, identical figure inside, and so on...) traditionally depicting russian peasant women and girls, hand-painted with complex floral decoration (also known as 'matryoshkii').

here's how:
the smallest doll in this particular set tells my story, of being there that day, and the surrounding circumstance. the next largest doll explains cardiff's efforts in producing the audio tour (hear more about this), the next in line includes the story that begins with the first words of the tour, the next doll contains the sub-stories within the main story, and the largest doll points to the stories unfolding in real time, all over the park and in every direction (like the one about the homeless woman sleeping on one of the benches i was told to sit on) as you walk through so thoroughly ensconsed in the tale being told in your ears. but this set of matryoshkii has been completely assembled - all of the stories are happening simulatenously, layered into one dense episode, perhaps waiting to be taken apart and deciphered individually later.

the production of her long black hair is excellent. it's meticuolously recorded, narrated, timed and conceived. the story is...gradual, and obscure at times, and melancholy in a way that's hard to pin down. the amount of control possessed by the storyteller is phenomenal - her voice becomes your lifeline to progressing, moving, existing even for those 35 minutes that you're inside her voice, inside your own head.

it's not so often that giving yourself over to instruction and direction in this way is so deeply satisfying...
nor lastingly reflection-worthy. ironically, there was something ultimately liberating in such a precise and delineated experience. well anyway, that was my impression. if you've taken the tour, or are able to in the next couple months, i'd love to know yours...

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