"The Anti-Child of
Recordist Performance and a Lighted Cavern"
"7a11d Festival of Performance Art", Symptom Hall, Toronto, Aug. 8, 1997
Title: The Anti-Child of Recordist Performance and a Lighted Cavern
Credits: created and performed by Songs of the New Erotics (W.A.Davison - solo)
Performance details: presented on Aug. 8, 1997 at the "Teratoid Cabaret" event (curated by Prognosis - Johanna Householder, Louise Liliefeldt, Derek Mohamed, Tracy Renée Stafford), Symptom Hall, Toronto as part of the "7a*11d Performance Art Festival"
Description: a 20-minute piece in three sections (5, 10, and 5 minutes each in that order) created for a small-scale theatrical setting (ie. performer on stage at front, audience in rowed seating, theatrical lighting, sound system, etc.).
In section 1 the perfomer (the "Anti-Child"), dressed as a 1950's schoolboy with giant papier-mache head, enters the space from a side room riding a child's tricycle. He manoeuvres the trike in a meandering, playful fashion toward a microphone at center front stage, all the time ringing an old-fashioned bike bell attached to the tricycle's handlebars. Upon reaching the microphone, he dismounts and stands facing the audience. The microphone is positioned at waist rather than head level. The performer produces a small, toy squeezebox, positions it in front of the microphone and begins to play. There are no buttons or controls on the toy and it only produces two tones - one when the bellows are inflated and another, similar to the first but at a slightly different pitch, when the air is squeezed out. The sound of the instrument is not unlike a harmonica if one were to "play" it by alternately blowing and sucking through as many holes as posible. Needless to say the effect is both humorous and irritating. The performer starts off tentatively and then begins to play the toy squeezebox more earnestly, attempting to derive as much variety from the sound as possible - playing it quickly, slowly, aggressively, quietly, etc. After two minutes the audience reaction has gone from laughter to uncomfortable silence. At two and a half minutes another sound begins to become noticeable. A backing tape is fading in, combining with the live playing. On the tape are more squeezebox sounds which have been slowed down or sped up and looped via digital sampling. The backing tape becomes both louder and more dense as more and more layers of squeezebox samples are added to the mix. The live playing as well becomes more frantic. At 5 minutes an intense wall of sound has been built up. Suddenly all activity stops and the sound quickly fades to silence. The performer drops the squeezebox, and mounts his tricycle to move to the next performance station.
In section 2 the Anti-Child trikes his way (occasionaly ringing his bell) toward a small table at rear stage left. He dismounts and stands behind the table. The table is cluttered with various objects, including a small audio mixer, a circa 1960's portable record player, a microphone on a boom stand, and a small heap of noisemakers and toys. An LP is already sitting on the record player and the performer sets it in motion and places the needle in the groove. It's a children's record with stories, songs, and activities but, played back at 16 rpm, the exaggeratedly cheery tone of the performers sounds vaguely menacing. "Hey Tommy, we're just choosing up sides for a game of Red Rover," the record says. In a slightly bored, obnoxious, and almost aggressive manner, the Anti-Child begins to improvise with the various toys on the table. A wind-up robot, a whirly tube, toy xylophone, toy ukelele, cap guns, shakers, ratchets, frying pan (banged with wooden spoon), balloon (popped with jack knife), electronic noisemakers, music boxes, all combine with the record player and the backing tape (interjecting occasional mysterious sounds) in a 10-minute sound collage. The collage ends with live vinyl "scratching" of the phrase "pop goes the weasel" from the children's record (the performer manually plays the phrase backwards and forwards, gradually isolating the word "pop" - which of course is the same in both directions).
As the performer is still manipulating the children's record, a low, rumbling, clunking sound begins to fade in on the backing tape. This dark cloud of sound - random notes played on the lowest keys of an acoustic piano - signals the beginning of section 3. The Anti-Child again mounts his tricycle, rings his bell, and makes his way toward the third performance station at rear stage right. He dismounts and sits on the floor cross-legged. In front of him is a small, wooden toy piano and on the floor next to it, a toy electronic keyboard. A microphone on a goose neck stand is positioned on the floor to amplify the two instruments. The performer begins to improvise on the toy piano. The playing, in combination with the low, rumbling notes on the backing tape, is quiet and contemplative. He picks up the electronic keyboard and plays a few notes. Its sound is somewhat more jarring. Piano chords occassionally interject from the backing tape. The Anti-Child's playing becomes more aggressive, pounding the keys of the tiny piano and then picking it up and shaking it violently which produces a strange, reverberating chord cluster. Then he puts it down and begins playing quietly again. He picks up the electronic keyboard and improvises a childlike melody. Then a new sound is heard on the backing tape - the sound of a backwards piano chord growing in volume. The performer rises to his feet and stands frozen. Within a few seconds the backwards piano chord reaches its peak and reverses direction as all stage lights are extinguished.
Photo by S. Higgins, copyright S. Higgins and S.O.T.N.E., 1997