The Quiet Volume

ARTS, Books, Theatre & Performing Arts

img_quietvolumeAnt Hampton and Tim Etchells
New Zealand Festival
National Library of New Zealand | February 22-March 15

“…with rapid movement, what was in sight has disappeared behind the man’s clenched fists, as if he were still trying to retain inside his mind the final image captured, a round red light at the traffic lights. I am blind, I am blind, he repeated in despair…”

—Jose Saramago, ‘Blindness’

The Quiet Volume, by Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, is a finely tuned apparatus unraveling the subconscious habits involved in reading. With heightened awareness, the reader is lured down the rabbit hole with intimate whisperings, led through the dark corridors of their mind belonging to long forgotten days of their youth.

The Quiet Volume takes place in the National Library, a setting that commands silence, and yet in reality when one takes the time to really listen, it is a space humming with tiny inconsequential noises. Equipped with an iPod, headphones, and various books, The Quiet Volume is a kind of mute DIY theatre wherein the punter is the protagonist surrounded by unsuspecting characters, their partner beside them the only other performer playing the game, let in on the secret.

In a way it feels a bit naughty, but the innocent library-goers are oblivious to the subtly probing eyes of the reader/listener. There is a fine juxtaposition between the ‘silence’ of the library and the (occasionally nauseating) voices trickling through the headphones. The reader is toyed with, frequently being allowed to slump into the world of the novel and then being pulled back into reality with an enhanced awareness of their surroundings, actions and thoughts. Spheres of consciousness expand and detract depending on the instruction, and are sometimes led to crossover into the realm of the partner’s experience.

Sitting side by side, the readers begin by mirroring each other and there is a feeling of unity and understanding; they have entered this rabbit hole together. However, the further they stumble, they start to notice small differences in their own actions and those of the mirror, adding a curious element to the reading experience; one eye surreptitiously lingering on the partners hand, wondering what secrets they are getting told. Is this a purposeful distraction from the whispered voice of the master? One cannot help but obey, and yet there is a sense of trickery, as though the murmured words and the concrete ink on the page know what the reader is thinking before the thoughts actually accumulate. Words jump out of the page, exuding their own personality until the life is masticated out of them and they are no longer a word but dried black ink on a page, an image, a tool.

The Quiet Volume demands attention as it leads the reader across familiar terrain with a microscope in hand, and with such concentrated focus, one may relearn how to read.