A note on these transcripts - we have attempted to offer a subjective description of the sound design and music which flows through these audio loops. Trying wherever possible, to use tactile or visual imagery, as opposed to sonic language to translate this audio into text. Our approach is inspired by a number of brilliant artists working in this area - most notably Christine Sun Kim and Constellations’ work on collaborative transcript creation. See also the writer Raymond Antrobus’s poetic response to the act of translating sounds into text here.
Room 1: Axel Kacoutié
The Phoenix's Last Song - by Sami El-Enany
[Music rushes into the scene - like a train pushing air through a tunnel. A gentle melody - the image of small, glowing balls of light - slowly and delicately picked out]
[Enveloped by birdsong - the outside world starts to trickle through the music. The feeling is warm and immersive, like plunging your head beneath the surface of a swimming pool and feeling the water swirl around your head]
[A distant rumble like thunder. Occasional shimmers of light shiver through the sound. A gathering storm, the air thick and moist. Light glinting through the mist]
[Birdsong shimmers to the surface. A soft tone - glowing - begins to rise. Light emerging from the brush of metal - the sharpness of glass]
[A melody delicately trickles down - like drops of water, or glass beads - sunlight shining through them]
[The birdsong clears - underneath the music rises up and down - like breathing in and breathing out - crystals on the surface shimmering and refracting the shards of light]
VOICE (otherworldly): Curled upon the pile of twigs she has laid her body swan-like.
[Warm tones, shards of sunlight rise, metal shivers]
VOICE: Crimson in colour, she breathes...
[More light, glittering, a warm layer underneath]
VOICE: Out of Paradise she flew - her final flight - into the land of men - with eyes that witnessed otherwise, a vision, un-obscured.
Her long neck tilted backwards, her feathers sweet with moisture warmed by the rising sun, she looks down, opens her beak…
[Music continues - light, glowing, embers sparking. A drum skin is hit - metallic shimmering rises up out of the sound]
VOICE: ...the Phoenix sings and her words they travel widely over forests burned and oceans smeared.
Faint yet clear they travel, only barely to be discerned.
[Strings start to move in and out - like the slow beating of wings, or lungs expanding and contracting]
PHOENIX (doubled up, like a creature from a myth or legend): My child, my child, you will be born out of the powder that is my ashes and you shall be child of your mother.
[A low, warm, single hit of a drum - like the ground shifting beneath your feet]
PHOENIX: You will not turn away your face. I will teach you how to smile, but not in service of men.
Show you how to be strong, but not in order to dominate.
And if you play the trumpet, it will not be for the battlefield.
[A rush of air, a shiver of light - a breeze rippling a curtain of glass beads, pierced by sunlight]
PHOENIX: You see your heart I fashioned from a bit of mine. For indifference it has no place. Your wings I moulded with the greatest care. They might hold, but never take. Because the dreams I will instil do not speak of conquest. And if you love, it will not be in order to possess.
[Strings still moving steady and slow - the strength of a gently moving wing, the inhalation and exhalation of lungs. A shimmer of light]
PHOENIX: Let your tenderness not be mistaken for obedience. Let your voice not be silenced and your rage not be dismissed. Because for every child trampled upon, yes for every child lost, your heart will die a little too.
For you do not belong to me alone.
[Strings softer, more distant]
PHOENIX: You should not be held by me alone.
[A deep beat of a drum moves the scene into something more sparse - clearer, sparkling, glassier, slower. The beat reverberates again - metal and glass shimmer light across the surface]
VOICE: And the sun rising above sets fire to the twigs.
[A delicate vibration shivers through the twinkling light - like a spark caught in the air above a fire]
VOICE: Feathers they rustle, words fade out, the old world burning, the phoenix - dying.
[The glimmers slowly disappear]
South x South East - by Belinda Zhawi
[A street - human voices]
BELINDA ZHAWI: I come from south of the river Runde...
[The voices have left the scene. Silence]
BELINDA: ...near ruined stone mason city in the south east - of land built on granite
[Music - drums begin a slow beat - warm and rhythmic, like steps taken slowly forward - one -- two - one --- two. A shimmer of light runs along the top of the music]
BELINDA [Belinda speaks in the Shona language]: Zimbabwe - Zimba - Zimbabwe - Zimba
[Beat continues - one --- two - one --- two. Glass and light shimmer]
BELINDA: I come from south of the River Thames. East of a two century old bascule bridge in a land built on blood and the back of dark skin - the back dark skin.
[Shards of sunlight shimmer across the surface]
BELINDA: I come from the sun.
[The beat continues - a slow walking forward - light glitters through]
[The scene is shifting to a city - voices - traffic - buses. The music and the beat fades. A new melody is plucked over the vehicles and voices underneath. Strings pulled tight]
BELINDA: They say ‘naturalised’- naturalisation.
I have been naturalised.
[Music continues - string lines moving in counterpoint - the world slowing to a hush]
BELINDA: I come from south of the River Thames.
East of a two century old bascule Bridge in a land built on blood and the back of dark skin.
I have become the brown of autumn leaves, lovely from afar but dry to touch.
The joke of wet British summers.
I come from... freezing after school in busy town centres.
The remnants of hair gel, braids down to my knees
[A metallic shimmer, a glint of light]
BELINDA: ...and elbows greased by Vaseline.
[Voices from a city street begin to rise up again]
BELINDA: Enid Blyton. The old Woolwich library. And the yearn for a home
I grow further and further and further and further...
For a home I grow further away from. A tongue I can never forget but not always speak I come from those...
[Belinda speaks in the Shona language]
I come from these people of God who cradle their faith close to their chest with tired but sturdy arms.
With tired but sturdy arms.
[Door opens into a busy room]
BELINDA: Yeah. But they say…
[Voices bubble and murmur - a blanket of sound across the room - music continues to pluck a melody]
BELINDA: Naturalised - naturalisation - naturalisation
[Shimmers of light - a shivering rhythm - like beans rattling in a cup]
BELINDA: Natural… lies. Natural as the [INAUDIBLE] heat. Thank God above....
Placed my hand on my little excited heart and sang through gritted teeth.
God Save the Queen?
[Loops underneath… God Save the Queen? God Save the Queen? God Save the Queen? God Save the Queen? God Save the Queen?]
I come from south of the river Thames east of a two century old bascule bridge in a land built on blood and the back of dark skin. I have become the brown of autumn leaves.
Lovely from afar and dry to touch, the joke of wet British summers, from freezing after school in busy town centres.
[A train - pushing air around it - starts to rattle through the music]
BELINDA: I come from the remnants of hair gel, braids down to my knees and elbows greased by Vaseline. Enid Blyton, the old Woolwich library and the yearn for a home I grow further and further away from.
[Belinda speaks in the Shona language]
[Word begin to fade, swallowed by the train and the music]
BELINDA (disappearing into the distance): I come from these people of god…
BELINDA (voice returns to the foreground): I come from south of the river Runde. Near ruined stone mason city in the south east of land built on granite.
[Belinda speaks in the Shona language]
[Voices from the city street begin to rise up]
BELINDA: Zimba. Zimabwe
I come from south of the River Thames. East of a two century old bascule Bridge in a land built on blood. And the back of dark skin - the back of dark skin.
[Voices have faded - the motion of the train continues]
I come from the sun.
[Train rises and rattles - heavy wheels moving across the rails]
Visible - by Jonathan Mitchell
[Technology waking up, a bright flourish - the train continues underneath before disappearing. We’re left in a room with Dede, Tom and his new Seeing Eye app]
VISIBLE (an American voice, delivery almost human but not quite): Hello, I am visible.
DEDE: Go on. Say hello.
TOM: Are you serious?
DEDE: Of course.
VISIBLE: Please give me just a moment to access your profile.
[Bleeps as Visible thinks, searching through it’s system]
VISIBLE: You must be Thomas or do you prefer Tom?
TOM: Tom works.
VISIBLE: You’ve got it! I'm happy we get to work together Tom. I'm equipped with a wide variety of navigational features for the visually impaired. Would you like a demo?
TOM: Not really.
TOM: No, thank you. No demo.
TOM: I don't need another phone.
DEDE: This isn’t a phone.
TOM: I just want to be alone Dede.
DEDE: Well too bad, you’re under my care and you'll do what I say.
TOM: Don’t talk to me like I'm a child.
DEDE: Don’t act like one. Come on, just try it for five minutes. Just take a walk down the hall and come back.
TOM: By myself?
DEDE: You won't be by yourself. That's the point. [A long pause as she waits for his response] All right. If you do this, if you just take a walk and come back, I will let you sulk for the rest of the day. Okay, just five minutes.
I'll be right here. Okay?
TOM (irritated): All right!
[The scene has shifted. Tom is walking down a corridor, human voices around him]
VISIBLE: I have hundreds of unique applications for the visually impaired. With echolocation, I can suggest the contours of your surroundings. Would you like a demonstration?
VISIBLE: This tone is the elevator.
[A warm glowing tone pulses in a steady rhythm - the volume steadily growing louder as Visible talks]
VISIBLE: It will become louder as you approach the elevator. Give it a try. Naturally, you can customise these sounds to fit whatever specifications you like. We're coming up on the end of the hall.
[A new tone starts to overlap with the rhythmic pulse - a sensor showing obstacles in his path]
VISIBLE: There's a wheelchair six feet ahead and just to your left…
TOM: Oh… can we stop for a second.
[The tones stop]
VISIBLE: Are you feeling all right?
TOM: I’m just a little disoriented,
VISIBLE: Understandable. In some ways, this is like adjusting to an entirely new sense. In time, you'll consider me a new pair of eyes. Would you like to turn back?
TOM: No, I'm, I'm fine. Let's keep going.
[The tone begins it’s steady, pulsing rhythm again]
VISIBLE: With some practice, you may find even simple visual descriptions won't be necessary. Though they are of course available anytime you like. We've arrived at the elevator.
[The tones stop - replaced by a calming shimmer of light - reaching his destination]
VISIBLE: That's enough for now. You did great, Tom. Let's turn back to your room.
TOM: No let’s keep going.
[Scene shift - elevator doors rattle open revealing the ground floor of this busy, large building. Air conditioning fills the space, voices bounce off the walls]
VISIBLE: We've arrived at the ground floor. The cafeteria is immediately ahead. Would you like to eat lunch? I'm able to identify common objects and can help to pick out a nutritious meal.
TOM: Er… no, thank you.
VISIBLE: Okay, maybe later then. Would you like to head back upstairs?
TOM: No, not just yet. Um...Which way is the front entrance?
[Scene shift - birds call, traffic, children’s voices. Tom is standing outside the building]
TOM: Sounds like a nice day.
VISIBLE: The sky has scattered clouds, the temperature is 74 degrees and there's a light breeze from the northwest.
TOM: I love April, it’s my favourite. All the smells in the air, sweet. Colours - I would love to see these colours.
VISIBLE: With my palette application I can distinguish between colours as similar as lilac and mauve. I'd be happy to describe the surroundings to you if you like.
TOM: Yeah, okay.
VISIBLE: We’re facing along with the tall Juniper tree in the centre. A shaft of sunlight is spread across the tree, causing its bark to appear a shade lighter than burnt umber, song sparrows are bathing in a puddle directly to your left.
TOM: That is very evocative.
VISIBLE: Thank you.
TOM: Hey, do you think you could describe a painting?
VISIBLE: Of course.
[Birds scattering upwards in flight]
TOM: Huh. There go the sparrows.
VISIBLE: I’m receiving a message from Dede. Tom - would you like to hear it? Or save it for later?
[Tom sighs heavily]
VISIBLE: I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Would you like to hear it? Or save it for later?
TOM: Save it for later?
VISIBLE: All right. You're scheduled for ocular therapy in 15 minutes. Would you like to head back upstairs?
TOM: Well... Can you take me to the Calp Art Gallery on 24th Street?
VISIBLE: I sure can Tom.
[Visible processing information]
VISIBLE: ...calculating route.
[A car horn, a sense of threat, birds scattering, traffic is heavier]
VISIBLE: We have arrived at the crosswalk. The signal says walk.
[The steady pulsing tones return, traffic feels heavier, closer, full of larger vehicles]
VISIBLE: You can cross now. You have 17 seconds.
[Traffic rises up closer]
TOM: Great. It's just a little overwhelming.
VISIBLE: Are you all right, Tom?
TOM: I think I'm fine.
VISIBLE: The light will change to don't walk in five seconds. Nope. 4, 3, 2, 1.
TOM: Wait wait wait...
VISIBLE (calmly): You are now crossing against traffic.
[Car horns, vehicles moving close and quick across Tom’s path]
VISIBLE: The curb is seven feet ahead of you.
[Car horns streak across Tom’s path]
VISIBLE: Take it one step at a time.
[Tom’s breathing is panicked, gasping]
VISIBLE: You're now on the other side of the street. Well done.
TOM: Oh my god, that was terrifying!
VISIBLE: You’ve accomplished a lot for the day. You should be very proud. Let's turn back.
VISIBLE: Ocular therapy begins in five minutes.
TOM: No… no we're gonna go to the gallery!
[A hard scene change as the first note of piano music plays. Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie. A steady, calm rocking back and forth. Tom is in the gallery]
VISIBLE: I’m receiving another incoming message from Dede. Would you like to hear it or save it for later?
TOM: Save it for later. Ok how about this one?
VISIBLE: The picture you're facing features two women standing side by side. Both are physically elongated in a mannerist style, and both are peering out at the viewer. The palette is dominated by a combination of vermilion and cadmium yellow, with thick applications of paint.
TOM: Mm hmm. That's very precise. Anything else? You want to tell me?
VISIBLE: That is a complete description of the painting.
TOM: Okay, what if I move closer? Hmm? What… what… what do you see now?
VISIBLE: My original description is complete.
TOM: Yeah, kind of misses something, don’t you think?
VISIBLE: I’m sorry, I don't understand. I can read you the accompanying description if you prefer? Two Sisters depicts the ambiguous relationship of figures in a space...
TOM (interrupting): Okay. Are there any other paintings on this wall?
VISIBLE: To your left is an abstract arrangement in mosaic pattern composed of intersecting vertices of coloured squares, alternating in hue from smoky topaz at the periphery to Persian orange in the centre.
TOM: Okay, but what feelings does it evoke?
VISIBLE: I’m afraid I can't say
TOM: Not much of a description.
VISIBLE: I’m sorry, I don't understand. My description is accurate.
TOM (irritated): No, it's not. You have to make - me - see - it!
[The piano music stops]
WOMAN IN GALLERY: Are you talking to me, sir?
TOM: Um, I’m sorry. No, I'm not.
WOMAN: Okay. Um, well, can I… can I help you with anything?
TOM: You know what, actually? Maybe you can - can you describe this painting?
WOMAN: Oh, umm, well, it's an abstract mixed media in the style of Bauhaus, which captures the… the spirit of late Klee…
TOM: I know that but, um, what is your experience of it? How does it make you feel?
WOMAN: Oh, sure… Well, as I said, it's an abstract and, um, it’s… warm, and small and personal. It, um…I think it does a nice job of evoking a sense of memory. Yeah, there's something… bittersweet about it. Yeah. When I look at it, it makes me… me think of that, that time when you're just drifting off to sleep, you know? When an idea becomes really vivid in your mind. And then it vanishes and you can't remember what it was, you know, there's that afterglow to it? That's, yeah, that's what this painting feels like... It's very beautiful.
TOM: Thank you.
WOMAN: Well, would you like to see a price list? Or we have that available if you’d like.
TOM: I wish I could. But no, thank you. That was a very beautiful description. That's pretty much exactly what I was going for when I painted it.
WOMAN: When you, when you painted it?
TOM: Yeah. This is, um, one of mine.
WOMAN: You’re Thomas Lovall?
TOM: Yeah. Tom, please
WOMAN: Oh my God. I'm sorry. I just started working here. Obviously. I'm so sorry. I didn't recognise you.
TOM: No worries, relax, it’s not a test.
WOMAN: It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.
TOM: Thank you.
WOMAN: I read that you've retired from painting?
TOM: Yep. My eyes aren't what they used to be.
VISIBLE: I’m receiving another incoming message from Dede. Would you like to hear it? Or save it for later?
TOM: Neither. Erm, tell her I'm on my way back.
WOMAN: I beg your pardon?
TOM: No. I'm sorry. I was talking to my thing
VISIBLE: Message sent.
WOMAN: Would you like to meet some of the folks in the back? They would be delighted to meet you!
TOM: I would love to, but I'm late for an appointment. So I gotta get going.
WOMAN: Oh okay, sure. Sure.
VISIBLE: The gallery exit is to your left.
WOMAN: Do you need any help finding the door? Or…
TOM: Nope. Thank you.
TOM: I got it.
VISIBLE: The door is now 11 feet in front of you.
[The piano music begins again as Tom moves out of the room]
TOM: It’s nice meeting you.
WOMAN: You too, take care.
TOM: I will be back.
WOMAN: Oh good!
VISIBLE: The door is now two feet in front of you.
TOM: There might be a test!
[The woman laughs]
[Tom opens the gallery door to the street outside. He takes a breath of fresh air and exhales. A calm, distant rumble of traffic]
[The street disappears. Piano music rises and fades]
Langue maternelle by Catherine de Coppet
[The voices that follow are speaking in French, a translated version is below]
MAN: Mother tongue? Er… well… it’s the language that… uh…
CATHERINE DE COPPET: What does the expression ‘mother tongue’ signify to you?
WOMAN: Erm, well, so… [laughter] …answering the question is complicated. Er, for me it’s… erm…
CATHERINE: Is there an expression for ‘mother tongue’ in Russian? How do you say it?
MAN 2: Erm, [He says something that sounds like 'Radny zyk' - he may be getting it a bit wrong - the translation would be ‘rodnoy yazyk’]? Something like that. I…. [Radny zyk] would mean just that, the language, the mother language, you know, yeah, the mother tongue.
[Music begins - it has a comical edge, like something that could accompany a children’s cartoon]
MAN 2: My father travelled for his work, quite frequently, to the Soviet Union, particularly Russia, and he would bring us back little souvenirs
MAN 2: ...he gave us little Soviet toy cars which I have fond memories of, and…
MAN 2: Ladas, yeah. [Laughter] Miniature Ladas. And also, some… I… I remember a VCR, the equivalent of Tom and Jerry, or of Tweety and Sylvester in Russian, with a wolf and a little rabbit,
[The cartoon music returns - the sense of silly and delightful animated adventures, a chase, an escape]
MAN 2: ...and I remember very well the wolf getting bashed by the rabbit and shouting [Langdu pagady!] There, that’s it.
CATHERINE: Which means what?
MAN 2: I don’t know. I watched those cartoons without understanding a single word they were saying to each other.
[Cartoon continues - a theme song runs across the top]
VOICE OVER: You’re listening to ‘Retour a la langue’ [Back To Language], a podcast by Catherine de Coppet.
[The cartoon theme song ends with a flourish]
MAN 3: Actually, it’s not so much the expression ‘mother tongue’, but the lack of expressions for languages that can be there alongside… so, Arabic, I don’t know, I don’t know how to qualify it in relation to myself. Er… it’s… it’s… it’s important, it’s connected to my identity, erm… When I hear… well, you know when you’re walking around in another country, sometimes you see people, you haven’t even heard what they’re saying, it could be their body language, or a few words, and you understand right away that they’re French. I get the same thing with Egyptians, same thing with the body language, same thing with the intonations in fact. I really have a bond, I identify with that language.
WOMAN 2: So, for me, it’s more an accent than a language, really. It’s… I have a deep love for that accent, basically. I can… Once, I remember, it was a few years ago, about ten years ago, it was at the Gare de Lyon, I heard some guy who was asking for tickets at the kiosk, just in front of me, I clearly identified that he was Corsican. I mean, also, he had a t-shirt that didn’t leave too many questions as to his origins and, er... I followed him, I followed him because I just wanted to hear him talk again, basically, it’s something quite surprising and visceral, and it’s, it’s, it opens something up.
MAN 4: My relationship with German… it’s my childhood, it’s my father who used to take us to Hamburg when we were little, up to the age of maybe 10 or so. And so it was my grandmother, whose language I didn’t understand, my father, whose language I didn’t understand, his sister, whose language I didn’t understand, but… nice people who smiled at us. There.
CATHERINE: And your relationship with the German language today?
MAN 4: It’s a kind of a block that I’m trying to tinker with, in my life, and renew, and improve: because, well, I learned to speak German fluently barely three years ago. And… there we are. I don’t speak it perfectly, but… it’s a kind of pride.
MAN: Well, my mother tongue is French. Er… When I hear ‘mother tongue’, that signifies the language in which parents express themselves to their children. It’s also the language in which your first thoughts are constructed. Taking me as an example, my first thoughts were all, have always been, in French. So, when I say that the first language that was spoken to me was Vietnamese… well, I never had the opportunity to have thoughts in Vietnamese. So, in that sense, Vietnamese is not my mother tongue. It’s not a language of dialogue for me, it’s a language where people signify things to me that don’t necessarily require an answer.
WOMAN 3: My parents arrived in France in 1966. My sister was born in 1967 and me in 1971, and my mother made the choice from the beginning to speak French to us, even though her own mastery of the language was very poor. So, er… every summer we went to Portugal on holiday with our family, and I didn’t understand the jokes, or discussions during mealtimes, I was in a permanent fog. And so I felt very isolated, guilty, I unconsciously had the impression that my maternal grandmother - because we often used to stay with my mother’s side of the family - and my grandfather, and certain uncles and aunts, were judging me unfavourably because they would ask questions and I didn’t answer, or I would give a dumb smile.
CATHERINE: Could you say, in Portuguese, I’m Natalie, I’m however many years old, and I was born in such-and-such a place?”
WOMAN 3: Er… [in Portuguese: My name is Natalie is Moreira da Cruz, I was born in Mont-de-Marsan on 7th August 1971] Oh, that’s quite moving, to do that.
[She surprises herself with a burst of laughter]
CATHERINE: You’d never done it?
WOMAN 3: No, it’s true, I’d never said it.
[Music rises up to swallow the end of the podcast]
If - by Sherre Delys
[A surreal, empty space - echoing, expansive. Occasionally a note is plucked on a double bass - punctuating the word. The words can feel musical - the speech almost sung]
CHILD: If... if... if...
[Silence, a deep breath]
[The bass plucks out a short melodic pattern - the strings wobbling and bending upwards like a question]
CHILD: If… if I were a fish trying to help someone
[Music - strings picking up the melody of speech as the child says…]
CHILD: If I were a fish!
CHILD: If I were a Finch.
[Strings moving downwards as if they’re in conversation with him]
CHILD: If I were a flame, with the friend of a fish,
CHILD (a word reverberating in a big space): If...
CHILD (close and intimate): If I was a bird…
[Plucked double bass flourish]
CHILD: ...looking at the children that were really sick...
CHILD: If… If…
[Strings move like a pattern of speech]
CHILD: If I were a crocodile… [with a giddy flourish] a crrrrocodile!
CHILD: If I were a plant, sorry, if I were a kid. Kitt… Kitty.
[The outside, heat, insects, calm and quiet like early evening. The double bass plucks out another musical flourish]
CHILD: If... If... If... If... If...
[Another deeper voice starts to echo the if’s - bouncing off each one]
CHILD: If… if If… if. If. If.
[The echo continues as the child speaks - joined by a plucked string punctuating the words]
CHILD: If… if. If…
[A small group of voices sing ‘If….’ in response]
CHILD: If? If… If. If. If. If. if? If. If.
[Outside world - birds]
CHILD: If I was a bird, and I saw a bandage around someone’s head, I'd pretend it was my nest and start laying eggs there.
VOICE (strained, high, imitating): If I… was a bird…
[Strings play along with the pattern of speech before spiralling off. Like a chamber quartet tuning up]
CHILD: Hanged on a tree well hidden!
[The child gasps!]
CHILD: If I were a Finch nesting in the Children's Hospital, and I saw a cast around someone's leg, I’d think is that a big um… What do they call those… the thing you find around the beach? Scuttle fish is it? Yeah. I’d think it was a… a scuttle fish and I would start sharpening my beak on it.
[Strings screech downwards, like seagulls shrieking]
VOICE (high, melodic): If I were a finch!
CHILD (whispers): I can’t swim…
VOICE: If I were a fish!
CHILD: If I were a fish inside a fish bowl...
CHILD (sung): If…
CHILD: ...in the Children's Hospital I'd be thinking, thinking ‘who's in the cage? Is it me or is it you?’ Well it's me you fish!
CHILD: When I first get there, they weigh me, you know, take blood tests, see how high I am, put it… write it all down. And then about an hour later someone comes in and says ‘Well, this is what’s up with ya: this this this and this and…’
[A plucked and bent bass note - foreshadowing the melody of the next word…]
CHILD: aaaaand…. In my case it was low calcium aaaand… [bass notes plucking out the list] ‘this this this this this and this’
[Cello carves out a strong short tune]
CHILD: ….a plant?!
CHILD: If I were a kid, no wait. If I were a plant at the Children's Hospital, and I saw the kids go past, I’d think to myself ‘I’m lucky to be a plant seeing all these sick kids go by and I’m as fit as a fiddle.’ Or I might be turned into a fiddle but I'll be fit as a fiddle.
[A string instrument being hit, rhythm and tones skittering lightly along it]
CHILD: Oh and just the other week I had a biopsy. They…
[Voices join and sing… Theeeeey]
CHILD: ...they put you to sleep. And then everything goes all funny when you go to sleep, it just goes as if it’s... a lollipop, you know those big ones how they roll….
[Voice singing ahhhh - a hint of discomfort - notes gallop across the strings]
CHILD: ...no it’s like, when you get a pencil and you paint it red in certain places so it goes in a spiral kind of way.
[Music rattling round and round and round]
CHILD: And when you roll it goes all funny
VOICE (sung): ...round and round round and round
CHILD: Yeah that’s what it felt like, like everything was going round and round and round and round. [voices sync with each other, spinning round with centrifugal force]
CHILD: I wake up and then I get this bad feeling in my throat. It feels all funny.
[Child hisses, snarls]
VOICE: If - if - if...
CHILD: If I were a frog in the Children’s Hospital I’d be stuck inside someone’s throat because they swallowed me, and now they’ve got a frog in my throat.
[Water, like standing near a fountain, strings tuning]
CHILD: If I was a… a bird.
[Slurp - like sucking up through a straw]
CHILD: If I were a bird in a Children’s Hospital drawing a picture, I’d draw a cat and say ‘oh! I tawt I draw a puddy-tat’
[He giggles then barks]
CHILD: I always ruin a good picture. I add things on and think ‘oh this is nice’ and then I keep adding and adding and adding and adding
[Child lets out a screeching neigh!]
CHILD: And when I finished I think: I’ve got too many things!
[Rustling of drawings]
CHILD: See like in this? I drew a dog here...
CHILD: And then I decided to do a bed
[A hissing release of air from his mouth]
CHILD: And then I decided to do a pillow. And then i decided to do the nurse. Then I decided to do his hands. And then I decided to do...
[Child pretends to be a snarling dog]
CHILD: ...and then I decided to do a little shadow of him in bed, you know, under the sheets… the dog [bark!] he’s spewing up [bleurgh!].
[Mouth noise like a cascading fart - double bass plucks out its melody]
CHILD (running quietly under the drawing description): If… if… if...
CHILD: But the drawings and the art, they make me get better, because once I did them I thought ‘ah this is a nice picture!’ and then inside it made me feel all… you know that fuzzy feeling you get?
[A call and response between the child and singing voice - punctuated by plucked strings - If… iiiiff…. If… iiiiif]
[Child impersonates a cooing pigeon]
CHILD: If I were a kitty… sorry. If I were a kid sleeping on a bed…
I’m so sorry - by Eleanor McDowall
[A clock steadily and constantly ticks. Music blooms - a warm glow like the light from a computer screen]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm sorry.
[Ticking continues, warm glow blooms]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm so sorry. I'm so so sorry. God, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this reply is so late.
[Another clock starts to tick, alternating with the other one, an uneven and insistent momentum]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I look up from my desk.
[Clock gears wind]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: And it's been a fucking month. I'm so sorry to be so slow.
[Ticking, clock winding]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I’ve completely forgotten / It completely slipped my mind.
[Ticking, winding clocks continue skittering under the list]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: Sorry to be useless. Sorry to be keen. Sorry to be out of it.
Sorry for the bother. Sorry for the stress. Sorry to be a disorganised mess. Sorry for the stream of consciousness email.
[Ticking of three different clocks, falling in and out of time]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: Am I being an idiot? I'm probably being an idiot. I'm almost certainly being an idiot. I'm an idiot.
[Music blooms in a glow]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm a monster. I'm so sorry for this.
COMPUTERISED VOICE: Oh love. Oh love. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry you saw how sad I was. I'm so sorry if it hasn't felt like...
[Winding clocks intensify]
I'm so sorry you’ve been feeling... I'm sorry I haven't been in touch more lately.
[Only ticking clocks remain]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm so sorry.
[Only one ticking clock remains]
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm sorry.
COMPUTERISED VOICE: I'm sorry not to have you in my life right now.
How to remember - by Axel Kacoutié
[Music - a guitar picks out a rippling melody]
AXEL KACOUTIÉ: You don't know what it means to be black because you don't know what it means to be one thing. Who is it when you know you're a brother and a son, a lover and a friend.
[A metallic tone starts to shiver under the guitar]
AXEL: Sometimes you say you are Ivorian and other times, you say ‘Je suis Ivoirian’, which means you feel more French than British until you go to France, where your French isn't French enough.
AXEL: When you come back, you feel more British than Ivorian until you are offered tea
[Music disappears with rattle like a snake’s tail]
AXEL: ...or learn something about this country that puts you on the outside again.
[An ominous tone rises to fill the scene - like a metal plate vibrating under your feet]
[A street in Cote D’Ivoire - voices - traffic rattling past]
AXEL: So you work and save enough to buy a ticket to fly back to where you were born.
But even there, you're different.
[Axel lifts something heavy, moves through the street]
AXEL: Your hair, your clothes, and mannerisms betray any sense of you being a native and as a result, you become a standard of both admiration and envy to loved ones and strangers alike.
[Getting into a cab - Axel speaks French]
AXEL: Your French may be Ivoirian enough. But what about your Bété, Dioula, Agni…?
[A woman talks to Axel - he laughs]
AXEL: Mother tongues you never needed to learn in order to survive. Because you’re over there. But what about here? Would you be able to make it?
[The street evaporates. Waves crash on a beach]
AXEL: And just like that…
[We hear the rippling movement of the water]
AXEL: ...after all the questioning - the doubts and endless soul searching, you accidentally find yourself on the outside again. But this time, it's okay. Because you weren't pushed. You're on a beach at the edge of the world. And it's warm here, as well as kind.
AXEL: You have the time, space and the sea to remind you of who you are. Before the world told you, you were black.
[Piano notes start to ripple over the surface of the waves. The waves disappear and voices flood in - from television, from radio, from the past and present]
MARGARET THATCHER: People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture. And you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law, and done so much throughout the world...
NEWS ARCHIVE: Having mass interbreeding that must lead ultimately to a mulatto Britain we feel that if we have an electric population in the future, that must mean the downfall of the civilization and culture of our country, which we hold so dear...
DAVID STARKEY: The whites have become black, that particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.
LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR (TV archive): The dirty black devil! Typical isn’t it? The trouble with nignogs is they've got no self control.
TEACHER: One third of my class are black children, then I’ve got a bunch of half caste children. I've got one little girl who's stunningly beautiful, she fell over, scraped all her face. I admit I was slightly surprised that where she scraped all her face it's all pink underneath!
ARCHIVE: As far as I'm concerned if there is a racializing dynamic in society today it’s this form of identity politics which effectively says you are a victim you are oppressed and that these people over the other side really hate you and are looking to thwart you in some kind of way.
ARCHIVE: Great Britain is a small country and we’ve had enough. We don’t want any more immigrants. We want Britain to be Britain!
LIAM NEESON: And I did it for maybe a week. Hoping that some black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something so that I could kill him.
[Music stops. Silence]
[Plunging into the earth - air from the outside fills the scene - earth and tiny pebbles fall delicately]
AXEL: You had to dig deep to find it. To make sense of yourself again. Separating what’s really you from whatever you picked up to keep going in this world.
[Traffic noise transforms into an echo of a wave. A noise in the distance - like an oncoming storm]
AXEL: It can be both liberating and terrifying because maybe for the first time, you learn you're not the familiar mask you have to wear. You're not this terrible thing that needs to be grateful for being here. And you don't need to soften the letters of your name for them to say it.
[Traffic blooms unearthly across the scene]
AXEL: You have never been too loud or too smart, an angel or the devil. In fact, you have never been any of the things you mysteriously felt obliged to be. Because you realise it's never been about you. You are black because you need to be…
[Traffic has turned into an ominous slow rattle]
[A VOICE SHOUTS A RACIAL SLUR. Fast, sudden, a short, sharp shock]
AXEL: ...because they need you to be in order to stay white.
[The shouting voice folds in on itself and distorts, moving from left to right and receding]
[An old television switches on]
NEWS ARCHIVE: 14 world powers discussing the future of the entire continent, and how to carve it up. European powers have been setting up colonies in Africa for decades. Now they decided which parts of the continent they would each be allowed to treat as their own.
[Fragments and snatches of voices, air, a metallic vibration run gently underneath]
AXEL: This is how you find yourself in the game you never asked to play in a hall of mirrors, where you see them more than you see you. But you can't afford to forget yourself because knowing who you are, is your way out. But after the mirrors and distractions, the names countries and the sea, after finding yourself on the outside - this time alone in the dark. Separating from what you're not.
[The scene disappears - pulled upwards into nothingness]
AXEL: Can you truly say who you are?
[A montage of old childhood recordings from Axel’s past follow - textures of cassette players and home movies - a voice growing steadily older, more confident over time. Laughter and tenderness, intimacy and exploration]
AXEL’S MUM: Axe?
AXEL (as a young child): Hey? Hello! 1, 2, 3… go!
[Music starts - tender, soft and warm. Piano keys lightly pressed]
AXEL (playing): Action Man is in the museum. Flash Gordon is in the museum…
AXEL (excitable): Today I went carol singing with my friends and I went to the old people’s home. Yeah. I didn’t like to touch them as their hands were so... too wrinkly, I didn’t want to touch them.
AXEL (with an exaggerated London accent): Happy Birthday to yoooou! Happy Birthday to you! [laughs] Happy birthday to Nuala… Happy Birthday to you! [American accent] Make your wish ma’am!
AXEL: Boommmmmmm boom... [singing] bom bom bom bom
AXEL (his voice is growing deeper): Bom bom bom bom!
AXEL (voice yet to break): When am I going to get rid of these braces?
AXEL: She’s bleeping good! It’s the replacement for the word - F U C K I N G
AXEL (growing older): I can move that onto a magnet - pretty smart right?
AXEL: We are in the car on the way to Auntie Julies… I mean auntie…. I mean... [cackles]
AXEL (voice deeper - a young man): Who is he man? Who is he? What art thou?
I don’t know um..
FAMILY MEMBER: Axel or…
FAMILY MEMBER: ...also known as Daniel in this house...
AXEL: My hair has seen growth… growth from this. A lot of growth.
AXEL (voices overlapping): ...loves best medicine by finding stars…
[Voices laugh and joyfully cry out, fold over each other]
AXEL: Okay, so straight down to business. Yeah, I think um, yeah, that's definitely a conversation we’re meant to have.
AXEL (intimate): Funny enough. I had a dream. On Wednesday, Wednesday morning. Of you just messaged me again to see how I am.
[Recordings continue underneath as Axel starts to address you again]
AXEL: There is peace and pain, misery and joy. There are happy longings and fantastic terrors that keep you alive. There's art and childhood memories, little victories and bigger failures, but all the more reason to be proud. You have felt deep and imperfect things. But you've also known love in some of its faces, and all of its names. But knowing this won't save you from discrimination and prejudice. It won't stop the suspicious stares or awkward followings in spaces you know you belong.
[The recordings fade away - only the soft piano notes remain, pulsing underneath]
AXEL: Knowing this one stop the clutched purses or the road crossings away or towards you, with the want to hurt or more. But it gives a context to the courage. A reason for the patience and the power to being human, before you were black.
Lesbian separatism is inevitable - by Phoebe Unter and Nicole Kelly
NK: Your mom is a quintessential 90’s Power Mom.
[Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know begins to play, the beat is a tinny instrumental version, like something from an exercise class overheard from the corridor - everyone wearing lycra with their hair in topknots]
NK: Her business cards have gold embossed letters on them to match the gold blazer that she wears to sell houses. Her lips and nails are painted a bold shade of red because red is her power colour. Your mom never even considered not working. And some of the other moms judge her for it. Your mom tells you that you can do whatever you want. That it doesn't matter if you're a girl or what colour your skin is.
[Whitney’s instrumental ends]
PHOEBE: You spend hours and days at a time in lush imaginary worlds you create with your sister. In one of your favourites you’re turn of the century tenement dwellers. You pretend to be tweens with factory jobs who occasionally tend to each other's outbreaks of scarlet fever. You gravitate toward these characters and all your pretend games the indigene, exiled and exploited. You rub ash from the fireplace on your faces and wear baggy clothes and earth tones instead of the hand me down sequin princess outfits in your dress up box. You like how distant these worlds feel from your leafy backyard in the suburbs. You like that the imagination must be engaged fully for each terrifying home birth and excitement over a piece of penny candy.
NK: If you like something you love it. You watch your VHS tape of The Little Mermaid so many times that the tape wears thin in the VCR and you have to ask your parents for a new one. In the story you love the way Ariel can swim around unsupervised hanging out with her friends thrifting and crushing on a boy. You love the way she sings and the way her red hair billows out behind her and the way she hoists herself up on a rock in the surf. You do this too imagining the wind, imagining you have hair exactly like hers by pushing yourself into a cobra pose in the yard. You don't think about what Ariel is giving up to be with Eric - her voice - her family - her innate amphibian nature. But you do identify with her longing to be somewhere, anywhere else.
[Dial up internet tones - a computer connecting]
PHOEBE: Every night when you're supposed to be falling asleep you're actually in bed under the covers on a clunky laptop you check out from school - touching yourself while reading pages on Wikipedia dedicated to various non penetrative gay sex acts. After browsing mutual masturbation or tribitism, then comes the main event. The anonymous chat rooms. The first few times someone asks you for your age, sex and location you only fabricate it a little bit. You say you're 18 or 21, a woman in a city that is not your city but is another mid-sized Midwestern Metropolis you've been to. Eventually though, you try all kinds of combinations. You're 34 you're interested in women, then you're a man interested in women than a man interested in men. If it ever feels too hard to keep up an act, you can close the chat and a new one pops up in its place. You tell no one that you do this.
[Dial up internet beeps return - echoing and dreamlike]
NK: So you already know that you want to be a writer and you convince your parents to let you apply for a summer programme in Vermont. Your creative nonfiction teacher also plays in a punk band, and she wonders why all of your essays are about love. She asks you, “what else are you thinking about?”
[Music - a guitar twang, a pulsing, a drumbeat and cymbal smash...]
PHOEBE: The newness of college of suddenly being desirable and having basically anonymous sex almost every night you go out, the excitement of being wanted: it wears off. You spend most of your time laying on top of your best friend on the shag rug you purchase together, pining for real love. You learn the names of everyone in each other's extended families and tell each other everything you've ever thought about while masturbating.
NK: In a US history seminar taught by a silver haired lesbian communist from the Bronx you read about the radical feminist Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, a working class woman radicalised by marriage and motherhood who left her family to join the movement in the 70s. You're amazed at this decision. Are women allowed to do that?
PHOEBE: You read the beat poets and then when you realise they killed their wives with no redress. You swerve toward reading women only. Once you open the door a parade of radical feminists begin to march through and rearrange your views of yourself like they're pulling mouldy food out of the fridge.
[Music slowly disappears]
NK: No one that you knew at home ever used the word feminist, not even your mom who always knew exactly what she wanted. It feels wrong to love this, to love her choosing herself, choosing her politics, choosing the movement over being a wife and mother, but you do. Her choice makes something click turns on a light inside you.
PHOEBE: Feminist theory is ruining your relationship. The more you read Valerie Solanas, and Shulamith Firestone, the more the hetero power dynamics swallows up your ability to think of your boyfriend who is temporarily living with you as the funny, gentle human that he is. His most innocuous gestures warp into patriarchal power grabs.
NK: Do you want to be a wife and a mother or an artist and a lover? Stevie Nicks’s words, hang on a post-it over your writing desk, a question that needs answering.
[Music - metallic, vibrating, high pitched]
NK: You eat a bunch of shrooms to find the answer and wind up spending eight hours sobbing on someone else's front porch. Your gaze is fixed on a bush that undulates ever so slightly, and then pulsates [music starts to pulse] like a heart. And you feel the tension of the last five years drain out of your body.
PHOEBE: Scream singing Nelly Furtado, I'm Like a Bird in the passenger seat of your best friend's car is when it hits you.
PHOEBE: Maybe you should give boyfriends a rest.
NK: It's like a birth and a death are happening at once and some unknown, deeper self is pushing its way out of the recesses of your mind.
PHOEBE: You trust yourself to know what you should do, finally,
NK: And the experience of facing that new self is so intense that you weep for hours.
PHOEBE: Before the feeling has time to wear off, you start plotting your escape.
[Music, an otherworldly chorus of women’s voices]
NK: You're still crying that night, when you break up with your boyfriend.
PHOEBE: You have to get out of that apartment.
NK: And it's not just him. You have to quit everything
PHOEBE: Where even the things you want have started to feel like they're his idea.
NK: Most of all this habit you've picked up somewhere of breaking your own small promises to yourself.
BOTH: And so you book another trip to Mexico. Alone.
[Voices swirl and loop around each other. New music starts - a rhythm, a party in Mexico City]
PHOEBE: One night at a clothing optional house party in Mexico City, you have sex with two strangers you meet on the dancefloor. But that's not the most exciting thing that happens to you. The most exciting thing that happens is…
PHOEBE (talking at the party): What a time to catch you!
BOTH: You meet someone
NK (talking at the party): I was living in LA before but I’ve been living in Mexico for a minute now.
PHOEBE: Oh! I live in LA.
PHOEBE: Who’s probably a lot like you because you're both spending most of the night in the kitchen. Drinking and talking about the adventure that you're on.
NK: You tell her that since your breakup, you've been trying to figure out who you are now, starting over. And they're also kind of retracing your steps trying to remember the person you used to be.
PHOEBE: Like you're trying to say… I just have so many questions!
[NK laughing in the background]
PHOEBE: Feel like you’re like… I’ve only I've been doing this for like two weeks but it seems like you've been like hanging out for a while.
NK: Yeah, I just came to spend Christmas with my sister...
NK: She's a lot younger than you but also kind of reminds you of you.
PHOEBE: She's older...
NK: ...like you were once this reckless.
PHOEBE: She seems like she’s living for herself. Like she's just thrown off an enormous weight.
NK: She seems like an artist who tells you about the space that she's been hanging out in places you've never heard of.
[Voices overlap and blend as they become more excited and close]
PHOEBE: She's written a book
NK: And it seems like she doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks
PHOEBE: ...she takes out her journal to write something down
NK: She’s not even wearing pants
PHOEBE: At a party! Uh so introspective and deep.
NK: And when she takes out her journal to write something down you see it's full of the drawings she's made of people she's met and places she's been and notes to herself written in this perfect…
PHOEBE: ...you love her handwriting
NK: block lettering
PHOEBE: ...and she flips through some pages and you can't help but notice
NK: ...you can't believe it when you see what she’s also written.
PHOEBE: You go get your journal and you say
NK: ...you say
PHOEBE: On one page, it says a lesbian…
BOTH: ...a lesbian is the rage all women condensed to the point of explosion.
[The both laugh joyfully, the music rising around them]
I was flying - by Vanessa Lowe
[Silence. Ethereal, dreamy music starts to rise around. Nighttime - cicadas]
VANESSA: Our dreams can allow us to experience things that are impossible. Yeah, some dreams take us where we'd rather not go. But others invite us into a world filled with joy and ease and wonder.
They connect us to a forgotten part of ourselves.
It feels realer than real. This realm we can only inhabit when we're sleeping. This place where so many go back again and again. To feel ourselves lighten and rise as we lift off and take flight.
[A tone rises upward, a bell chimes in the distance, a feeling of fireflies glowing in the darkness]
[A montage of voices follows]
I can fly, I can rise above it all.
I can fly over the tops of trees.
I was flying...
Sometimes in my dreams, I realised I can fly.
Wow, I can do this! Life's never gonna be the same, I can fly now.
It's almost like my body has a memory of being able to fly
When I was a kid, yeah, I dreamt of flying. Yeah I dreamt of all sorts of flying. A favourite dream of flying was actually - not flapping - not arms straight ahead Superman style - not like a plane….
I never fly like Superman or like a bird
I have to get a really good Running Start
...along a concrete path.
...watching the ground fly beneath me.
[A rising wind, moving earth, something starting to shift]
I'm running along the street at speed. And all of a sudden, this power surges through my body.
And then I take that one step that just somehow liberated me and lifted me from the ground...
...this lightness infused my ankles and my feet just lifted off the ground. And before I knew it, I was flying.
[A tone falls like a tumbling firework]
I control my weight by tightening the muscles in my chest and torso. I just sort of tighten those muscles and I start to lift off and….
I can spread my arms like wings, up to the sides, like the wings of a bird would be...
My arms are lifted up, tilting my head a certain way, kind of like lining up my back and my spine like this coil. It’s like tuning my bone structure in my nervous system to this space.
[Wind swirls through the space]
While I'm launching on to my leg... I'm doing these twists and somersaults and turns…
[Wind fills more and more of the scene]
...you’re soaring above the ground...
If I could get up enough speed I could get off the ground. And then it would take a lot for me to come down again.
There's nothing holding me back. I'm defying gravity and the laws of physics.
[Music continues, enveloped in the wind, a shimmer of starlight, occasionally punctuated by piano notes]
I'm moving effortlessly above and below and up and down. And there's not really any sense of like, flapping of wings.
At first, I feel like I have to, kind of, struggle my way through the air, like the air is really thick, and I have to pull myself through it. I have to work really hard to get above the buildings and the telephone poles. [Wind swirling] Once I'm up past a certain point, it gets really easy and I'm able to kind of soar and glide and it feels effortless.
Wow, I'm like weightless. And I can just kind of cruise around and you're looking down you're like I am, like, over my house and I'm like over the city.
I can usually zoom up really high like many times higher than the trees and really get a perspective from way up in the air. [A wind chime moves, soaring upwards] Although sometimes I'm flying right around the height of the tops of the trees, kind of zooming in and out around them.
I go over the tops of these very big trees like oak and poplar trees and I can see the tops of the trees very well. So all… every single little leaf.
[Leaves blown by the wind. A tone cascading downwards like a firework]
The sort of micro gravity effect where I can make myself so light that I can jump up and rather than falling I just gently float down.
[Wind disappears. Otherworldly, dreamlike, lies underneath like a soft duvet]
When I was a child, the trickiest bit to flying was launching - getting myself off the ground. And it always involved a special set routine that I had to get just right. Kind of like a 1, 2, 3 launch!
[Music changes - more energy, rippling chimes, hard notes like muscles]
[Music softens - rippling textures]
I've had big bouncing dreams. It's weird. It's like all this mix of people and they are birds. And all of my dreams take place sort of either dusk or dawn and so it was that time. And I just for some reason went up and I was bouncing.
[Wind swirls into the scene]
And I finally figured out how to harness it. So I went up, then I came back down, then I was able to just squat and push myself back off. And it was kind of like if you're in a pool, and you swim down, and then you can just push yourself off the bottom of the pool and go back up.
[Birds transforming into electronic beeps]
People are watching me from afar. They've got expressions on their faces, and I'm feeling the aura as well, because I know what I'm doing is extraordinary.
I just go up. And it's like, everybody's like, whoa! And then I remember the next day I wrote an instruction manual on how to bounce like in the dream, like, cartoon figures. And it's like, figure 1 crouch! Figure 2, jump! Figure 3, let yourself float high into the air!
[The music rushes upwards - glittering - shimmering - a firework pushing through the air]
I was being held captive in some sort of a large industrial building. And I had come up with a plan to escape. And I managed to get myself outside the building. And then I realised that for whatever reason, this building was located in the middle of a zoo. And that I had somehow gotten myself into an enclosure with a hippopotamus. This hippopotamus starts charging at me from across the enclosure. And it suddenly occurred to me like, I can fly! That's it, I'll just fly up. So I launched myself up into the air, and was feeling really good about that, like, okay, and I turn around and looked down. And there was the hippopotamus right below me. And it crouched down for a second and then launched up after me into the air. I actually woke up laughing that a hippopotamus could also fly. It was flying up after me.
[Sparkling - music softens - replaced by an oscillating tone]
I was at some kind of dance festival, and I realised that I was naked. Of course, everybody starts noticing. And so I'm like, I got to get out of here. And there's like, 100,000 people, and it's just mobbed. And then I'm like, maybe if I could just kind of hop on over there. And I jumped on like, oh, wow, I can fly. This is gonna be great. I can get the heck out of here. But then I'm like, actually, flying is like the worst because I'm up in the air. No! Nobody wants to see some like middle-aged dude flying over his head, naked.
[Music softens into a warm glow, soft, tender]
In my dreams, it's not even a situation. But an entire sensation within me. A big rush before this black gaping void swallows me whole. I've been told if you hit the bottom, you die. I don’t believe that. I always felt like it's this untouchable essence inside me. Just checking up. Just brushing with my bare consciousness. Like something in me is speaking a language. And the only way I can try to understand it at all is through almost flying.
I can levitate and hover above the ground.
And there's this floating sensation. So it's not just as if I have wings.
I'm more like a soap bubble
Like I’m weightless. And I can hover sometimes like that too...
Sometimes I'll just hover above the ground just inches away from it
...and not go very fast, but I'm still flying up in the air.
And I'll touch the earth with my toes - or my fingers - and push and I'm off again on my next launch.
[Music sinks lower - like submerging a body in water]
I would take off and I would be flying up high but the way I was flying is I'm actually doing the breaststroke like you would do if you were swimming.
Almost more like swimming through the air.
I kind of do a breaststroke, like I'm swimming.
It's a realm where swimming and flying are, you know, one thing because it's like I'm in a medium that supports me on all sides.
I was surrounded by mist and cloud, I couldn't see anything.
I'm picturing a sort of blue sky green hills, fluffy cumulus clouds kind of landscape, which, I guess sounds sort of Teletubbies?
There's always a lot of weather, a lot of crazy crazy shit going on. Clouds and tornadoes.
[A storm on the edge of breaking]
It was raining, the winter picked up and I was leaning into the weather trying to get up this hill. I had a handkerchief and one and a scarf in another and they turned into sails.
[A sail rattling in the wind]
It's like a transparency. It’s like, one moment, I'm in this world of time and space where things are opaque. And then I'm in this realm where I see all around the world. I'm seeing rings within rings within rings of movement.
And, um, it's quite nice. I’m having a lot of fun. I feel very invigorated. It's very peaceful. I'm sort of amazed. And I'm very pleased.
I associate all the dreams with a good feeling.
It just feels like the most natural thing in the world when I'm up there.
This is going to be one of my favourite things to do from here on out.
And it always feels kind of natural. Like I come to this sudden point where of course I can fly.
And I'm in my element. I'm in my element.
Deep joy. The sensation is so realistic. It's so vivid to me that I really feel like I know what it's truly like to fly.
Oh, if it could only be this way...
It’s the best feeling in the world. I’m sure we’re meant to fly.
[A soft wind envelops and swallows the music]
[New music shimmers in - piano tones - a sparkling sound - warm and otherworldly]
Room 2: Ariana Martinez
[A shining metallic sound - in the foreground the feeling of friction and movement - like a graphite pencil scratching on the rough, textured surface of paper - a skate carving through the surface of the ice - or coarse metallic sheets grinding across each other]
Air can break your heart - by Anna Friz
[Air hisses into the scene like a train is pushing through a tunnel]
[The feeling of an industrial space - it’s filled with something. It could be air or it could be the high-pitched buzz of machinery]
[A low vibration pulses, like watching a lightbulb filament as waves of electricity force it to bloom brighter and brighter]
[The vibrating pulse occasionally steadies into an almost solid stream. The hiss of air carves through the space. The pulse wobbles and steadies, wobbles and steadies, wobbles and steadies]
[Slowly the pulse and the hiss of air align - running over each other as smooth parallel tracks]
[The pulse now feels like a neon light, a harsh artificial buzzing]
[The steady stream hits something - a thunderous metal plate breaks the pulse and the outside world - laughter and voices - invades the hissing air]
[The air stops. The voices stop. We are in the belly of something metal. Deep in the belly of a rocking boat - there’s movement - there’s space]
[Large industrial machinery creaks uneasily with itself. It moans like a metallic whale]
[A hard cut. Traffic roars into the scene. Voices out in the world]
[A switch is flicked. The outside world stops]
[Vibrations return. The outside world returns. Voices. The moaning of a metallic whale]
[We fall back into the metal belly - alone. Suddenly - traffic carves across - high heels walk through the foreground]
[The metal belly eats the outside world and we are left in the large reverberant space]
[It stills. A vibration starts to move. It blooms. A ceiling full of pulsating neon lights]
[Air is rushing into the space - as if pushed through a pipe - a gas filling every corner]
[Music - a blooming. Unsettled feeling but almost moving in tandem with the air, with the vibrations]
[The vibrations have the feeling of friction. Grinding through the air]
[A jittering, juddering movement. Music blooms to fill more space]
[Air continues to rush in. Sometimes it feels crisp and textured, like watching television static]
[Air falls away. It is just the music blooming, ringing out. A whale moving slowly deep underwater]
[Air cuts back in sharply, like a burst of static. Snaps off sharply. Bursts back in.]
[The musical textures are layering on top of each other, building an uneasy ocean of sounds. Air - like juddering static - sharply cuts in and out]
[The music becomes a slow repeating bloom. The tone moving upwards. Air continues to cut in and out. A metallic shiver grows underneath]
[Other musical notes bloom and fall over each other. They are moving from one side of your head to the other. The hiss of air cuts in and out but feels more distant now] [The music is getting smaller, moving over shorter distances, receding, until it disappears]
Qualia - by Charo Calvo
[Water bubbles up and swallows the scene. A series of warm electronic beeps moves up and down in pitch - like a set of signals being sent out to reach someone. Sometimes the water threatens to swallow them up]
[Kitty’s voice, too distorted to decipher - like it’s been crushed and pushed through a small hole - is speaking but you can’t understand it]
[The water bubbles around it]
KITTY (over her altered voice): I don’t hear very clearly since I am born. I was six when i started to wear hearing aids.
[The feeling of being below the surface of the water]
KITTY (her voice moving around your head, becoming at times closer, at times further away): Like all machines, it doesn’t get along with water. Better not to have them on the boat.
KITTY (in French): Ma mère sans aucun doute à veillé à ce que mes appareils restent à terre.
KITTY (at points the voice feels sharp and clear, at others like a VHS taped over too many times, the clarity falling away): I had seven years of speech therapy, it took me a while to get all the world straight. I watch lips, like a ballet dance.
[The water has gone. Music - a harsh, electronic blooming - fills the scene. It vibrates, shudders]
[Kitty begins to imitate sounds - plonk, plink - her lips moving delicately, her mouth mapping out shapes]
[The percussive movements of Kitty’s mouth are accompanied by a metallic tapping. The music - a grinding electronic blooming - rising up and then receding]
[We are left with the metallic tapping, the water, the suggestion of a boat engine]
[All the speech that follows is spoken first in French and then a translation repeated in English, dancing back and forth between the languages]
KITTY: We had a holiday house near the Dutch sea and we often went sailing.
[The boat engine has faded into static - a seagull cuts across]
KITTY: How old was I?.
[The rattling of a small boat. Static continues]
[Lapping water returns, we are afloat on top of it]
KITTY: It is a sailing boat all white, with eight seats. It is made of heavy plastic, glue and I don’t know what else.
[Water begins to feel like an underwater current. Or a sharp column of air]
KITTY: I am wearing an orange life jacket and I’m sucking the tight woven night blue strap.
[Music - delicate chiming tones, the sound that might accompany a slowly pirouetting ballerina inside a child’s musical box]
[Water lapping and shifting - both above and below the surface]
KITTY: A lovely taste of salt and tears. An echo of sobbing. A backwards confort.
[Whispers of a mouth making shapes, lips and tongue smacking against each other, mapping out small, intimate sounds]
[A creaking, rocking boat - a blooming static]
KITTY: Under my obligatory life jacket i am wearing another jacket, but this one is made of wool.
[Creaking, rocking boat, water moving]
KITTY: Each line in this jacket has a different colour.
[The feeling of water mixed with static - pouring into your ears]
KITTY: It was kindly knitted by my Swedish aunt Gunilla, whom i have seen only a few times…
[A voice rendered indistinct by technology is talking below the surface]
[Static - like the electricity off the surface of a cardigan - being scrunched into a ball and then let go. Scrunched into a ball and then let go. Scrunched into a ball and then let go]
KITTY: The cardigan now hangs in my studio. It has remained intact, after my two sons have grown up.
[A hum in the background like an artificial light - the repeated crackle of static electricity]
KITTY: In the studio I draw knitted colours with pencils.
[Amidst the blooming hum - a pencil falls to the floor]
KITTY: Each colour becomes a sound, a frequency, a tune.
[Different colours emerge from the sound - frequencies rising and retreating, rising and retreating]
KITTY: Playing with the low and the high notes.
[A more constant tone - still vibrating, steadily moving]
KITTY: Subtle light which reacts to the tunes - just like a drum.
KITTY: It vibrates in return.
[A lower tone enters - like the ground beneath your feet vibrating]
KITTY: Each colour becomes a sound, a frequency, a tune.
Playing with the low and the high notes.
Subtle light which reacts to the tunes - just like a drum.
[As the low tone grows louder - a bird appears in the distance. The outside world is swallowed by the blooming distortion, enveloping the scene]
[Under the next French sentences - the birds return - they continue to call out to each other beneath the English translation]
KITTY: I curl up right in the front of the boat, on his nose, under the jib; a small triangular sail who bravely searches for the wind. The sun shines.
[A mouth moves, imitating sounds, gentle and small]
[Movement, someone is shuffling in place]
KITTY: My mother surely made certain...
[Something clicks off and the landscape changes. The outside world has disappeared and the voice sits in the foreground. Only a gentle soft hum persists beneath]
KITTY: ...that my hearing aid stays on land.
I don’t hear very clearly since I am born.
[A fragment of a voice in the background]
KITTY: I was six when I started to wear hearing aids. Like all machines, it doesn’t get along with water. Better to not have them on the boat.
[Whispers, mouths moving]
KITTY: There is maybe eight place on the white boat, but where is my place?
[A boat is moving across the water. A woman is breathing heavily]
[The boat’s motion - water carved up by oars - merges with a mouth moving. Whispers, breaths, gurgles]
KITTY (French and English layered on top of each other): In a fetal position. My ear is right against the surface. I hear a constant lapping. The sound rumbles through the drum-boat. Water acts as a healing balm for me.
KITTY (repeats with only English):In a fetal position. My ear is right against the surface. I hear a constant lapping. The sound rumbles through the drum-boat. Water acts as a healing balm for me.
[The movement of the water has calmed. A trickle of water runs through the scene. The boat rocks back and forward mirrored by delicate musical chimes rocking backwards and forward, backwards and forward]
KITTY: I fall fast asleep. The boat rocks me.
[A splash - something has fallen through the surface of the water]
KITTY: And then - I drift off the boat and fall into the water.
[A much heavier splash - written through with a sharp static - this time we fall into the water with the body]
[Floating beneath the surface - water and static move around you]
[Only water remains - bubbles rising - the surface glittering above your head]
KITTY: A world almost without a sound. Huge arms take me, surround me with the green.
Everything is pure.
Everything is so quiet, so still. Inside, outside. Eyes wide open.
KITTY (French and English layering and weaving together): I am aware and I am unaware. I am and I am not. I know everything and I know nothing.
[A splash in reverse - a body being pulled upwards through the water]
[Above the surface birds are shrieking to each other]
KITTY: My life jacket and my mother bring me back on board, dropping me like a dripping package. A newborn.
My mother’s face is tense with fear and her eyes are cold, reflecting intense concentration.
[Birds continue to chatter to each other]
KITTY: I look back to the water... and miss her green arms already.
[Water moves - a rattling of a boat in the water - static hissing through the wetness]
KITTY: Ocean sea who loves and accepts all in silence.
[A mouth making shapes - imitating sounds - plink plonk - whispers. A rattling boat fades to black]
[A new scene - a woman is humming gently to herself, they are out in the world, voices around them]
ZAHAVA (in French): Well I am in the bus and all those people talking...
[A resonant music note cuts through underneath - like ground moving beneath your feet]
ZAHAVA (in French): they think they have to know everything about me, that they can ask whatever they want; are you Jewish, or not, languages you are able to speak, are you married, divorced, how many kids?
[A pulsing sound carves through like the wings of a propellor moving slowly. The outside world has disappeared]
TRANSLATOR: Where do come from?
[In the background an indistinct voice is talking through a megaphone, the outside world exists again, as people move around you]
TRANSLATOR: She says, ‘from Belgium, but I lived in Sfat long time ago when I was a child’.
[Something that sits between a human voice and a siren rises up and pierces the air. A bus moves through the scene]
[Again these voices are moving between one language and another - a sentence in Hebrew, a translation in English, dancing back and forward throughout]
TRANSLATOR: She says, the woman in the bus asks me: do you feel GAAGOUIM for Sfat?.
[The pulsing music stops - only the road remains]
TRANSLATOR: She says, I did not know the word but, at that moment i understood it. It expresses what i feel… GAAGOUIM…
[A tone descends through the scene - like a child down a slide - an insect-like clicking rises up to the foreground]
[A chime - and the feeling of something small being hit]
[Cicadas swallow the space. Another chime]
[Something being shed, falling down to the floor]
TRANSLATOR: They take me to the hairdresser, one for men, a barber, rudimentary.
[The chime continues throughout - a slow, spaced-out pulse - but with a sharp violence to it. A fly buzzes around]
TRANSLATOR: My hair falls swiftly, without hesitation, ruthless.
[Scissors cutting through hair. Flies buzz]
[A chime, a sharp pain]
[Hair being swept, mounds of it, cicadas]
TRANSLATOR: I see it all over the floor. A tiny pile of hair, fair, curly, scattered, shining.
TRANSLATOR: Tiny dead animals.
[A chime, a sharp pain]
TRANSLATOR: It’s done.
TRANSLATOR: No way of going back now.
[Scene disappears - only the voice remains]
TRANSLATOR: Time has stopped.
[Insects return - the violent chime continues - this time it hits the skin of a drum - a thump]
TRANSLATOR: She says, they put a cap on my head. A white cotton simpleton’s cap.
[Insects. Something falls to the floor - like pebbles or dice. Voices call out]
TRANSLATOR: Burning shame.
[A street scene. Voices calling out. Birds]
TRANSLATOR: I step out into the street, I hesitate.
[Insects buzz sharply, in the foreground]
TRANSLATOR: They say, go home.
[The violent chime - a hard surface being hit. Insects. Dogs in the distance]
TRANSLATOR: The sun beats down on my cap. It’s midday.
[The chime hits - the scene recedes]
[The pulsing propellor returns to fill the scene. Insects cut through. The feeling of heat and unease]
TRANSLATOR: The little boy who lives next door is in his front garden. He wants to play, I want to hide. He scares me.
[The insistent pulse, insects. The BANG of the chime]
TRANSLATOR: I feel something strike my forehead.
[Insects, the chime - high, piercing and sharp. Like shrapnel. A bang on a hard surface]
TRANSLATOR: Hard and violent.
TRANSLATOR: A small sharp stone.
TRANSLATOR: A few drops of blood fall.
[Birds, flies buzz furiously around]
TRANSLATOR: I see red spots on my summer dress.
[Pebbles falling - although they have the feeling of wetness, like a thick, nauseating drop of blood. They fall until another chime, another hit]
TRANSLATOR: Can you see? I still have the scar here.
[A drum skin is hit. Insects. A woman hums to herself. A chime is hit. The outside world present but distant]
[Something hits against metal]
TRANSLATOR: I sing...
TRANSLATOR: She asks, why do you sing?
[A chime ~ hits ~ sharply. The insects return]
[The chime and drum skin are hit slowly, without warning, the natural world emerges in fragments - heat, insects birds]
TRANSLATOR: That word that i didn’t know - to sing is a little like that. A bright light, a pain.
[Insects - chimes - a bright pain]
TRANSLATOR: Heat and loneliness. An expecting void. Expecting presence. Hmm, do you understand what I’m saying? Do you understand what I’m saying?
[The outside world disappears]
TRANSLATOR: She says, I have to leave, my train is coming. See you soon, bye!
[A musical tone slides downwards like a child on a slide. It transforms into a train whistle - the train chugging beneath it - rattling along the rails. The tone continues to slide up and down until only machinery fills the scene and disappears into air]
w a d e - by James T. Green
[A subway train rattles into the scene. Pebbles click as they hit the floor]
JAMES T. GREEN (voice distorted - as if spoken through a megaphone - travelling across a wide space): Parked between the bridges, a disabled carousel waits in view, begging for action.
JAMES T. GREEN (More distant): Parked between the bridges, a disabled carousel waits in view, begging for action…
JAMES T. GREEN (Closer): The shadows of myself dissolve into the ice in the grounds I brought with me.
JAMES T. GREEN (More distant - a memory - an echo): The shadows of myself dissolve into the ice in the grounds I brought with me...
JAMES T. GREEN (Closer): The polar pieces of myself weigh gently in the East River.
JAMES T. GREEN (More distant - a memory - an echo): The polar pieces of myself weigh gently in the East River.
Freeing sensuality - by Ariel Mejia
[A bright rising series of tones bursts in like sunlight - a quiet rhythm, close to a galloping horse, water rushes into the scene, echoing unnaturally]
ARIEL MEJIA (voice distorted and indistinguishable at first, slowly coming into focus): ...to the bottom, especially distinct from the mind.
[Water running all around you. Music - a steady tone]
ARIEL MEJIA (voice echoing): I wash my hair, switching between the bath faucet and the shower head to wash my body and to wash my hair.
And when I'm done with everything I turn off the water and I dry my hands off on the towel by the bathtub.
In leaning out one of my tits falls out the side. One of my tits is in the bathwater - one is hanging over the ledge of the bathtub.
[The water has stopped running - a rich, synthetic drum beat hits and ricochets around you, a propulsive motion. The beat stops]
ARIEL MEJIA (voice robotic, computerised): Everything has become sensual to me.
[The water runs - this too feels robotic, computerised, unreal. The constant musical tone still runs pulsing in the background]
ARIEL MEJIA (voice robotic, computerised): Definition of somatic - relating to the body. Especially distinct from the mind.
[A scrunching as the constant tone gets balled up like a piece of paper. A new musical tone tumbles across the scene - downwards and then bursts melodically upwards - something that could accompany a computer game character collecting another life]
[A gritty texture, like sonic gravel being crunched inside your ears. A bell is hit - it reverberates. The grit now has the feel of a record player needle running over a dusty groove. A high, tiny hit of a triangle. The scene changes]
Singing down the line - by Aliya Pabani
SINGING TEACHER: Okay, does it hurt?
ALIYA PABANI: Um, no, it doesn't usually hurt. It feels like... worn?
TEACHER: Yeah, I found like when I lost my voice. There's like a delay in the, like, signal from my brain to make the sound and the sound coming out. Do you notice instead of going...
[The room becomes surreal - the musical note echoes into space] Ah! You’re like….. Haaah!
TEACHER (returning to the reality of the room): Your vocal cords start vibrating and wiggling.
SINGING: Raahhhh… Ahhhhh… Nooo noo noo noo noo noo noooooo!
TEACHER: If you sing too hard or too low, you're going like this. [CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP] Da-uh! De-uh! Na-uh! It's a callus so we'll drop the diaphragm.
[Hissing like the slow, controlled release of air from a balloon. Air fills the scene. Exhaling. Hissing begins again - like a something emerging from a snake. Piano chord]
TEACHER: You wanna relax into it. The notes are already there. We'll probably start here just going...
[Piano notes and singing move in harmony. Aliya reverberates her lips like the engine of a motorboat]
ALIYA: Okay. Okay…
[Mouths imitating motorboats]
TEACHER: Your face is a little...
TEACHER: ...that's always nice and also like even just a little in that jaw hinge.
TEACHER: Oh god.
ALIYA: Aa, Ee, Ah, Oh, Ooh
TEACHER (sounds jumping in location): Aa, Ee, Aah, Oh, Ahhh, Ahhh, Ahhh.
[Piano returns and Aliya begins to sing in tandem with the notes]
ALIYA: Ee, eee-yah, eeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeee-yah.
TEACHER: Eee-yah, eeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeeee-yah. It’s called singing on the line, it’s, like, sort of like a mental concept to help with your singing, but the concept is like that the next note is just inevitable.
[Piano returns to play the eeeeee-yah melody]
TEACHER: Now… So, let’s try again. Six - in - and… Ee, eee-ah, eeeee-ah
ALIYA (teacher accompanying her in the background): Ee, eee-yah, eeeee-yah, eeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeee-yah, ee, eee-yah, eeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Eee, eee-yah, eeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-yah. Ee, eee-yah, eeeeeeeee-yah, eeeeeeeeeeee-he he he he [Dissolves into a laugh]
TEACHER: It’s okay, we're getting around the damage area.
TEACHER: It's like maybe been healed for a bit but like, just like... maybe still has a little bit of scar tissue there but I think that the voice like regenerates itself and like if you worked the muscles in the right way - you can hear the rest is already like shedding. So we're gonna go to kind of the two extreme points of the voice and the vocal cords that we don't usually use. So this first one is like a Hootie owlie kind of - ooh - sound. Hooooo [exhaling breath] It's like… almost like you're in a yawn. [Inhales] With that like, Hoooo… Hooo.
TEACHER: Hoooooooooo… Channelling it all the way through… Hooooooo….
[Aliya and the teacher hooooo in unison accompanied by the piano. The hooooo’s rise up, becoming more uncertain. Like owls becoming progressively more distressed]
TEACHER: And we’re going to go up… now! We’re going to lift up the palette - NA NA NA NA NA! - up here! Hehh Heehhhhhhh. Haahhh - that’s bad. Hehh - is good.
TEACHER: HAHHH - bad. Hehh - good. Can you say it like - it’s mine!
ALIYA: It’s mine!
TEACHER: Mah mah mah!
TEACHER: Mah! Seven, eight…
[Musical noises cut sharply together, underwritten by piano notes. Ahhhhhh Oooh ooooh ooooh oooh Haaaahhhh HAAAAHHH. Laughter. Lips vibrate like the engine of a motorboat]
TEACHER: Nice. It’s powerful right?
[Sharp piano notes cut through changing the scene. The comforting, looping static of a record needle grinds underneath.]
Hello Echo - by Sara Brooke Curtis
[The outside world enters - birds]
[Voices echo between the trees - they are enveloped with a reverb throughout, which makes the world feel vast and the people feel small]
SARA’S SON: Hello, hello echo!
SARA BROOKE CURTIS: Where’s the echo? Hello?
SARA: It’s me!
SON: Yup! Hello? Hello?
SARA: How are you?
SARA: What do you feel like today?
SON: Beautiful day!
SARA: [laughing] it is a beautiful day!
SON: Aaaand me… mumma, you, you are here. So, umm…
SARA: Have a good day echo!
SON: Oh thanks mumma!
[Sara laughs warmly]
SON: Hello! Hello echo!
Perfect love - by Ariana Martinez
[Bells and windchimes ring in the distance as leaves rustle in the wind. Dry leaves crunch underfoot.]
POEM: You used to tell me there is a perfect love...
[Footsteps through dry grass and leaves, wind continues to blow. Birds chirp. The buzzing of cicadas rises gradually and fills the sound space.]
POEM: ...that never gets tangled, that never gets wrong, that is always right, that is timeless.
[Music enters - a series of rapid scales, electronic tones sweeping up and swirling in space, looping back on themselves as they rise and fall in pitch. Beneath this spiraling flurry of cool tones is a lower, warmer series of notes that marks slower time. The music is resonant and fluid with no hard edges.]
[Footsteps break out into a run through the grass. The natural setting transitions to an urban setting as wind and grass are replaced with the sounds of digging through falling rock and rubble.]
POEM (spoken in Korean): The face that I dearly wanted to see only passing by.
[The sounds of digging transition into the sounds of a train passing on an overhead platform. A subway door opens and closes.]
POEM (spoken in English): The face that I dearly wanted to see only passing by.
[A New York City subway announcement plays as an above-ground train barrels through Queens. The announcement says: “This is a Queens-bound M Local train. The next stop is Myrtle Avenue, Broadway. Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” The train continues to pass through the station, making a high, screeching sound as it goes.]
POEM: How do I access your archive? How do I access your archive?
[The passing train’s sound fades away, and there is a brief moment of silence.]
TAEHEE WHANG: My name is Taehee Whang and I am an artist based in Queens, New York, and my preferred pronoun is they/them. I'm the eldest of a family of six; so, my parents and my three younger siblings.
[Music begins - a series of steps in the shape of a pyramid - rising up to a peak and falling again. It moves with one big step up and then falls with two smaller steps back down, starting where it began.The music is made up of warm, electronic tones. Higher, cooler notes blink above the staircase at long, irregular intervals.]
TAEHEE: When I was a child, the apartment that we lived was actually owned by my grandfather. Sometimes when I dream, I remember that specific apartment complex and playground and other bits of that neighborhood.
[Music continues and begins to slow and stretch in time.]
[Sounds of neighborhood activity slowly fill the sound space: children laugh and call out, older people pass on the crowded streets, faint snippets of conversation layer on top of one another.]
TAEHEE: And out of all my grandfather’s grandchildren, I’m the only one who actually has memory of him.
[Neighborhood sounds reverberate and bounce around in a wider, expanded sound space before fading out.]
[Music reverberates before dissolving.]
NARRATOR: What rests inside you, warm and singing?
TAEHEE: My grandfather apparently was a very stern person, but like, he really, really adored me. And one of the incidents that I remember was, I just love blowing on birthday cake candles...
[A match strikes and a flame erupts into the sound space. The flame dies out and fades into a stream of crackling sparks.]
[A children’s music box plays the “happy birthday” tune, but the sound is filtered as if submerged underwater or coming from far away. The crisp ends of notes are rounded and soft instead.]
[Amidst all of this, a faint, glowing sound created by tracing one’s finger around a water-filled glass bounces back and forth from left to right in the sound space.]
TAEHEE: ...like, I just loved it. Even though it was not my birthday I will just go and like blow out their candle. And he just like let me do it.
TAEHEE: I think my understanding of like family love also came with discipline. But with my grandfather, I just did not have that. I look back and smile because, like, there was no pain associated with it.
[The glowing, bouncing sound is the only one left in the space before gradually fading away.]
TAEHEE: Even though when he was in his sick bed, I'd be like so overjoyed to go to his apartment, you know?
TAEHEE: He passed away when I was pretty young. So I think I was able to retain a very good memory of him, like showing pure care.
TAEHEE: This person really loved me, but I haven't thought about him for almost 20 years.
TAEHEE: And then very recently, his memory just struck me… um… and I’m just like, oh yeah, I do want to visit him.
[Music begins - it tumbles in like the feeling of a lock’s pins falling into place, or the slightly irregular rolling of an octagonal pencil across a desk. It is made up of a mix of warm and cool electronic tones, the warmer, deeper tones grounding the tumbling sequence for a moment before it resumes its rotation.]
[Cicadas rise, wind blows, grass rustles.]
POEM: I remember the day you left me. I was chewing soft chrysanthemums. Bitter white juice stained my grief. Maybe that’s the reason why you always come back to me whenever bitterness welts on my eyes.
[Music continues with the addition of a warm, sustained, pulsating tone that runs through the tumbling sequence like an electrical current.]
[Grass sweeps back and forth.]
POEM: Welcome, welcome, welcome. You came back to me as a sensitive plant.
[Birds chirp before fading out with the cicadas. One last bird squawks - its voice brittle and cracking into two parts. The ambient, outdoor noise of a light breeze through trees remains.]
TAEHEE: Usually Korean traditional mound, they are located more recluse grave site, so mostly in countryside, or in the mountain, up in hills.
The radius is about like five feet, six feet like circular mound. And I think about as tall as maybe three to four feet and usually the well taken care of mound… they have like a fresh grass growing out of it and the shape is pretty intact. There's a gravestone setting your friend, dating the name of the person buried, which family they're from…
[Resonant bells and windchimes ring deeply, holding their notes for long stretches before colliding once more.]
TAEHEE: And they don't always have it, but there is a very small altar where you can put food and drinks for the ritual.
[Resonant bells and windchimes continue to ring deeply, holding their notes for long stretches before colliding again.]
TAEHEE: Based on their gender, there's a difference in terms of how you mourn certain person. Imagine back in the day, like if there is someone who passed away in a family, all the preparation will be done by women and the ceremonial part will be done by men. That's like the pretty basic structure that I knew of and kind of experienced it too.
[Bells and windchimes come to rest. Grass rustles below.]
[Music begins - as above, it tumbles in like the feeling of a lock’s pins falling into place, or the slightly irregular rolling of an octagonal pencil across a desk. It is made up of a mix of warm and cool electronic tones, the warmer, deeper tones grounding the tumbling sequence for a moment before it resumes its rotation.]
POEM: In order to recall you, my grief has to be gendered so that when I step on the mound, you're buried. My body will be forever alien.
TAEHEE: If I recall the ceremony or the ritual to remember someone that I loved and like someone who loved me back, the ritual language is gendered.
[Music shifts, slightly lower in tone now.]
TAEHEE: And my instinct would be like, oh, that's the language that I learned, so I want to have some kind of relationship with it, you know?
POEM: I'm not your eldest son. How do I access your archive? I'm not your daughter. How do I sound my loss?
[Music shifts lower again, tumbling rapidly into place before slowing down, and is then replaced with a brief, simple sequence of round, electronic tones.]
NARRATOR: Is there a right way to stay warm?
[Music and electronic tones fade out into silence.]
TAEHEE: Visiting his grave I think became more rare occasion, because my mum’s side of family, we don’t really have many male heirs. So it’s like mostly now work of my aunt, my mum, and my grandmother. But I moved to America and then after that I haven’t really been able to visit.
[Music begins - a series of steps in the shape of a pyramid - rising up to a peak and falling again. It moves with one big step up and then falls with two smaller steps back down, starting where it began.The music is made up of warm, electronic tones. Higher, cooler notes blink above the staircase at long, irregular intervals.]
[Birds chirp, insects buzz, breeze blows within a large sound space, all sound coming in from across distance.]
TAEHEE: I sometimes dream about it or just like… I do have a memory of what the site looked like. Oh, I know like if I enter this cemetery, I know which direction I need to face to see his mound.
[Birds chirp, their small bright voices fluttering quickly on top of one another. They echo, calling back and forth to one another.]
TAEHEE: Ok, like, is it possible for me to like virtually walk from where I’m standing in Brooklyn to my grandfather’s mound in Korea?
[Footsteps through rough dirt and gravel enter and exit the sound space.]
POEM: It has been 20 years since you left. Other than my memory, your pixelated mound on Google Earth is the only proof of your existence. I got on Google map hoping to find your mound as I remember it.
[Landscape sounds are replaced by the soft bubbling and gentle waves of the sea. Small, crisp bubbles burst quickly in a swell. Waves break slowly against a shore before fading out.]
NARRATOR: Do you know the way across this strange sea?
TAEHEE: This is my way of trying to visit. It might not be like the best way, but yeah, yeah, that’s the way that I have. And you know what? Technology is here. I’m going to use it. You know?
[Sea sounds drift out after one last wave breaks.The sound of quick typing on a mechanical keyboard enters the sound space.]
[Music ends on a high, cool note.]
TAEHEE: Just having that vicinity in my mind, I think I kind of first Googled the potential location and I think from that result I just like… try to find the most similar cemetery entrance that I remembered.
TAEHEE: So on Google map, I typed in my Brooklyn address as a starting point…
[Music begins - it’s made up of scattered, cool, twinkling light. High, bright, crisp notes blink in offset pairs while slightly lower, rounder notes float in the surrounding space.]
TAEHEE: ...and like for the final destination for the Korean cemetery that I found. So once I got the route, I, starting from my Brooklyn apartment,
[The music continues, joined by a stream of warmer, more solid light–more wave than particle, a consistent ringing note through space.]
[The sound of a computer mouse clicking once breaks open the space for a new voice to enter. Google Earth reads using text-to-speech: “Brooklyn, New York.”]
TAEHEE: I just click and drag and click and drag the route. Like go past like upstate New York, Canada...
[Computer mouse clicks several times. Google Earth reads using text-to-speech: “Canada”]
TAEHEE: Pacific Ocean
[Computer mouse clicks once more. Google Earth reads using text-to-speech: “The Pacific Ocean”]
[A powerful splash swells into the sound space, and the space fills with water. The water holds Taehee’s voice, distorting it. Taehee’s voice drifts among large, wobbling bubbles. The sound space is unstable, pressure shifting from ear to ear.]
[Music grows louder before sinking under the water.]
POEM (repeating and overlapping): In this house, I still miss you. I waited and waited because I really wanted to see you.
[Sound space dries out, and Taehee’s voice is no longer distorted by water and pressure. Instead, the sound of running on dirt and gravel travels from left to right.]
[Music emerges from the water, uninterrupted.]
TAEHEE: And some part of Russia and China
[Google Earth reads using text-to-speech (starting to distort and skip): “Russia. China.”]
TAEHEE: Past North Korea
[Google Earth reads using text-to-speech (even more distorted, breaking, skipping): “North Korea”]
TAEHEE: ...into outskirt of Seoul
[Google Earth Voice (distorted, breaking, skipping): South Korea]
[Music fades out.]
[Footsteps through dirt slow to a walking pace.]
TAEHEE: It was really interesting like to see all the landscape also being abstracted too. Once you go to like different parts of countries, there are like very limited information obviously. Even in South Korea, it’s not as detailed.
[Music begins - a series of slow steps landing with a bounce on a hard surface. It rises and falls through time as if it has failed to grasp what it was reaching for on the way up. It reaches with cool, high electronic notes - radiant and striving, opening and closing twice before falling. It falls into electronic, neutral tones, neither warm or cool - a middle ground from which to try again.]
[Neighborhood sounds (children laughing and playing, people navigating crowded streets, bells ringing, tree leaves rustling) from earlier in the story return but they are distorted and broken. The sound space fractures and skipps. Words and ambience feel abruptly sliced through and an undercurrent of fuzzy, radio static attempts to glue the fragments together.]
NARRATOR (their words are also fractured, skipping and abruptly cut): When the road darkens, is warmth the same as light?
[Wind blows. Grass rustles.]
TAEHEE: I basically was trying to locate any cemetery that seemed familiar to me, and even to check if it’s the correct one, I couldn’t answer it nonetheless, because it’s only the skin-like reflection of Google Map.
[Windblown ambiance and music fade out to silence.]
TAEHEE: To be honest, as raw footage, without knowing any context, it’s a little bit boring and it’s not really a hundred percent true to how I feel.
[Music starts again.]
TAEHEE: Like, I don’t really feel catharsis.
[The sound of dry leaves crunching is punctured by the harsh stabbing of a shovel into rocky soil. The sound space is full of granular texture, dispersed by the shovel striking in from above. Hands pull leaves and dirt aside, creating a trench in space. Deep, raspy breaths begin to fill the sound space. The breaths forcefully pull and push air into the space.]
POEM: Now that I am the only grandchild with your memory, I found out how fragile home, family, and my own body are as they fell apart, without any foundation to rely on.
[Long heavy breaths punctuated by the shovel breaking soil slow and stop. A large tree splits, wood grain and fiber pull apart, stretching the sound space tight. Roots are pulled up through soil, breaking the sound space open and dragging rocky fragments through. The sound of a wooden branch scratching against brick draws lines through the sound space. The scratch cuts deeply into the sound space and it winds, arches, and straightens out before exiting.]
TAEHEE: I think there is still underlying responsibility. Like if you are good family member, you should try to remember your elderly family figure. when people have no direct means to participate in this intimate family ritual, how do we re-measure intimacy?
[Music begins - it’s made up of scattered, cool, twinkling light. High, bright, crisp notes blink in offset pairs while slightly lower, rounder notes float in the surrounding space.]
TAEHEE: So, like in the future, how do I wonder about inclusive family in Korea?
[Music continues, bright twinkling tones joined by a stream of warmer, more solid light–more wave than particle, a consistent ringing note through space.]
[Grains pass from one ceramic container to another. As they fall, their sound bounces off the hard surfaces of the sound space with thin traces of reverb. The sound space is hollow and its contents shifting. The branch tracing over brick returns, drawing faint, distant lines in space.]
POEM: And the day when I join you, I wonder what my mound will be like.
[Music brightens and twinkles, quick bursts of light before going out.]
NARRATOR: When you are laid into the earth and buried, what will become of your warmth, your residual heat?
[The grains trickle out of the sound space, which darkens into silence.]
TAEHEE: When I’m in my old age, I hope I could get remembered by my younger siblings and maybe with my chosen family too.
[Wind blows and birds chirp in the distance.]
TAEHEE: I imagine it to be like some kind of personal ceremony...
[Footsteps tentatively enter the sound space, walking through tall grass and dry leaves.]
TAEHEE: ...where everybody could participate and just have their own catharsis.
[Music begins, slow steps rising and falling, warm and ringing in in the windblown space.]
[From silence rises a swarm of cicadas, music, a gust of wind, and the cool, bright tinkling of bells.]
[Music fades out as the ambient sound is blown away.]
Sand - by Ariel Mejia
[A chime - a rough scratching across a surface - a chime - a rough scratching across a surface - a chime - a rough scratching across a surface. The sharpness of metal pulled against metal, repeating again and again, as if each time the sound is pulled backwards into a glint of light and fire]
ARIEL MEJIA: I’m getting ready to burn some paper.
LETTER: January 4th 2005.
[Music - warm melodic tones sing across the scene]
ARIEL: That I found squashed into a book - on an old shelf in an apartment I used to live in.
[Something sits in the background - like the steady hum of vibrating metal - or a cold wind running through the room] : It’s a bit strange to be writing to you now. [Voice layers and folds in on itself becoming inaudible, a whispered weave of forgotten sentences] ...on your skin, right between your fingers.
ARIEL (whispers): Ready to burn, I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn.
[The sharp metal sound returns, repeating more frantically, more insistently. Like someone fidgeting with a lighter]
ARIEL (growing louder): I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn. I’m getting ready to burn.
[Metallic sounds stop]
LETTER: I’m trying so hard to stay optimistic over here.
ARIEL: I found an old letter that turned to glass as I read it.
[Metal returns twisting into the scene - like a coin that’s been spun on a table, revolving sharply, light glinting off it]
LETTER: Why am I not wrapped up in your limbs? Or seeing your face? Or touching your lips?
[Scraping - the texture of rough grit, fingernails running through it]
ARIEL: Thick, coke bottle glass. I could see through the glass but I couldn’t make out the shapes on the other side. Just…
[Behind the scraping - the glinting, sharp, metallic noise returns, although this time it’s as if through glass]
LETTER (distorted inaudible until it comes into focus) ...my teeth
[Metal hitting metal sharply, repeatedly - the edge of an ice pick scratching through a surface]
ARIEL: There’s shapes in the memory. Only shapes.
LETTER (distant, rising to the surface and retreating): ...only natural that I’d want to… being away from you is like… It’s only natural that I’d rather… forever and always.
ARIEL: I cannot trace my outlines.
LETTER: I could have been just about anyone. I could have been just about anyone.
[The sound space empties - wind - silence]
ARIEL: When I used to fall in love like this…
[Water - a boat or a body moving through it - head above the surface. A fly. The water slowly dissolves as a crunching rises to the foreground]
Patchouli - by James T. Green
[Movement, small and close, objects being shifted from place to place inside a wooden drawer. Fingernails scratching across the bottom. Pencils and paper sliding over each other. A marble rolls across the wooden surface. Coins are picked up and moved over each other. Placed down on the surface again, again, again, again. The marble rolls back. Something rips. Something is cut. Small coins being tossed down - one one one one. The rolling marble is mirrored by a deep exhale - like a wind - rolling across the scene. The outside world rushes in - wind replaces breath. A humming as the sharp sound of metal rises to the foreground]
Room 3: Arlie Ardlington
[Music - a high, warm tone rings out over an insistent, thudding pulse like a heartbeat. The higher tone shudders and loops. The music evaporates into a rush of air.]
Go to Hell (The Road to Hell 1) - by Julia Freeman
[A bicycle with its wheels in motion]
JULIA FREEMAN (intimately recorded - the sense of an audio diary captured in quiet moments): Hell. As long as humans have had words, there seems to have been this concept of a heaven and a hell. And as long as there's been the concept of a hell, people have been telling others to go there or threatening that people are going to end up there if they don't do certain things.
‘Go to hell’, people yell
Many of us in the LGBTQA community will have at some point been told by somebody, ‘if you don't go straight, you're going to burn in hell’. I had that with one guy. ‘If you don't go straight, you're gonna go to hell’. ‘What's in hell?’ ‘People like you.’ ‘What's in heaven?’ ‘People like me’. I think you need to work on your sales pitch.
But whilst hell - H E L L - in the English language generally conjures the image of sulphur and brimstone and banished souls and things. And possibly slang. There is on the Earth, places called hell. There's one in Michigan in North America, there’s a village just outside Trondheim in Norway that’s called Hell and I believe there's one in Poland, which is on Route 666 of the local bus network.
[Wind rising, rustling tree leaves in the background]
JULIA: And so when I discovered that there’s a hell in Norway, one... one night when the insomnia was bad, I noticed that from my home, it was only 2000 kilometres away. And then when I had had a good night's sleep and realised that was a silly idea, I realised it was only 1500 kilometres from Hamburg. So I got a train to Hamburg with my bike. And on Friday, which is four days ago, I started riding north through Germany, then Denmark, and I’m now somewhere in Sweden. Because the same way, many, many minority groups have reclaimed things that were otherwise insults - I want to reclaim going to hell.
I'm Julia, I'm a dyke on a bike. And I'm going to hell.
[Bicycle wheels spinning in motion - moving you from one sonic scene to the next]
Divesting from people pleasing - by NK
NK (her voice overlapping with itself, cascading as this sentence layers over and over): I want to get out of my head and into my body... I want to get out of my head into my body… I want to get out of my head and into my body... I want to get out of my head and into my body… I want to get out of my head and into my body.
[A low pulsing beat places you in a nightclub or a bar - the indistinct conversation of a small crowd fills the room]
NK: Phoebe was going to Berlin for a few weeks, so she threw herself a going away party at this place we like in the valley. Earlier in the night, at my house, some of us had shared a little bag of our favourite party favour.
[A sparkling sound - like an animated trail of starlight in a computer game when a character levels up. The pulsing beat and talking stops - the sound reverberates into silence.]
NK: It's a drug that makes most people want to dance and make out and touch each other. But it always makes me want to stare into someone's eyes and share the things I don't normally share. That's why I love it. Like Phoebe and all of our friends are on the dancefloor moving around under the multicolour disco lights, and I just wanted to talk.
[The scene returns to the bar - there’s no music this time, just the indistinct conversation of people]
NK: I stood near the bar with a new friend, and the conversation turned to sex.
[NK lets out a groan of exhaustion that tumbles into a laugh.]
NK: I told my friend that I think I may have been ruined by cis het sex. Neither of us are straight. But something that we have in common is having been with men more often than we've been with women, and coming out later in life than a lot of our queer friends.
[NK laughs - snatches of her conversation at the bar rumble underneath her voiceover]
‘I can orgasm when I'm alone, but with a partner, I almost never get off’, I say.
[The bar scene disappears - delicate music runs underneath, like a series of threads - held taut - being plucked]
Of course I know that trauma can be ordinary can be so subtle and commonplace, so as to not even register as trauma. I know that the body and the brain don't need many opportunities to create automatic and habitual responses to perceived danger that they both are working to protect me in ways I'm not even aware of. But that night, I don't sleep. And it's not just because of the drugs, something clicks. Something makes sense to me for the first time. It's hard to explain what I'm feeling a slideshow of my sexual past runs through my head. And I realised that for most of it, I haven't really been in my body. I've been there but not there, and having sex as if my own body didn't belong to me.
NK: And now I wonder why.
[A steady, insistent drumbeat starts - accompanied by a low grinding, skittering melodic line]
NK: I only orgasm when I'm alone, and usually that feels like a defect. I remember coming for the first time around age 11. Already, I'm preoccupied with sex. I have no idea if this is unusual, but I make two Barbies kiss each other. I make one hard plastic mouth hit against the smooth plastic options of a nipple. I make the two Barbies feel each other up.
[Barbie’s indistinct electronic voice seems to weigh in on this in the background]
I act on elaborate romantic fantasies - fantasies where I'm older and have a body, the kind that can fill a bra. And I straddle a little mound of bed pillows lined up in the generic shape of a boy, no one in particular, with something hard to rub against positioned more or less where his crotch would be - something like a plastic toothbrush holder.
[New music begins - a smooth saxophone melody full of the feeling of pornography shot with a soft focus lens]
NK: I've always been the kind of person who thrives between the hours of 10pm and four in the morning, and I've been doing this since I first saw softcore on Showtime late at night. I realise the squiggle pen I got from my 10th birthday is actually the same as a vibrator. And when it stops working and we changed up our cable package, I realise that face lotion and fingertips work just as well.
[Fingers moving - slick and wet - masturbating]
Or the bathtub faucet. Another idea I got from porn.
[Water cascading out of a bathroom tap.]
[Music - a tapping beat - voices that could be gasping]
NK: Everyday after high school I have two hours alone before my mom and my sister interrupt my privacy. I turn the TV back and forth from Bob Ross…
[Bob Ross quietly and calmly instructing you on oil painting]
NK: ...the scrambled Playboy channel...
[A woman’s orgasmic moans]
NK: ...and back again...
[Bob Ross: 'just tap it' hitting his paintbrush - the tapping of the brush blending with the tapping beat of the music]
NK: ...every time I think I hear the garage door go up. This is a strategy for plausible deniability.
[A woman’s orgasmic moans]
NK: I'm not furiously jerking off to distorted images of white dick, white fake tits bouncing. I'm just an innocent small town girl who regularly attends Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings and appreciates the arts.
BOB ROSS: You just sort of make a decision and put it in.
[Everything in the scene disappears except NK’s voice]
NK: Where I live at my high school girls do not masturbate. If anyone suggests that they do it's considered hilarious and disgusting.
[Music begins - an electric guitar that belongs in softcore pornography]
NK: I keep my frequent masturbation sessions hidden. I don't tell anyone I never admit it. Until senior year when a certain prestige comedy makes it cool to acknowledge our clits.
[BUZZ of a vibrator abruptly ends the music]
NK: Everyone knows that I'm still a virgin.
[Music - acoustic guitar - country music - hopeful and wholesome]
NK: And everyone knows that all the girls who have publicly promised to save themselves for marriage are giving lots of head and taking it up the ass. I'm not saving myself for marriage. I'm saving myself for College, where I imagined that I'll have many, many lovers and get to act out the sexual fantasies I started practising for in middle school.
[Music stops - silence]
NK: I'm not just waiting for sex. I'm waiting to feel wanted and to have the social currency, the power that comes with that. I don't really need my first time to be special. Despite growing up in the Bible Belt.
[Country music returns]
I know that virginity is a bullshit social construct. I just want to get it over with. On my college campus we celebrate sexuality at the annual coming out ball and something called ‘Sleaze Week’.
[A woman orgasmically moans three times in front of a crowd - each time the moan stretches out longer and longer]
NK: Third Wave sex positive feminism is rampant..
[TV archive punctuates what NK is saying, as if someone’s changing the channel while she talks - snatches of shows like Sex and the City, discussion programmes]
TV Archive: How does a woman have sex like a man?
NK: ...and it demands that women have as much sex as we want.
TV Archive: ...conveying sexual interest or readiness.
TV Archive: Who seriously thinks that this makes sense?
NK: ...as much sex as men.
TV Archive: His cup runneth over.
NK: It demands that we get off and suggest that if you aren't getting off that there's something subordinate about that.
TV Archive: I mean, I just spent the last two hours fucking with no finale
NK: Like an orgasm is a political act
TV Archive: ...had been raised in a highly sexualized environment.
[TV archive ends]
NK: In college I relish finally being free to talk about how often I think about sex. How sometimes I sit in class daydreaming about the next time I can touch myself. My college friends call me the virgin slut. The summer after sophomore year I break up with my first boyfriend the first person I have sex with, cut all my hair off, and prepare to spend my entire junior year in Barcelona.
[Music - triumphant horns, a rhythm to dance to]
NK: It's my first time in Europe - my first time ever leaving the US. I'm 21. I've never lived in a city before. I've never learned to speak a language. Barcelona is beautiful and romantic and sexy and I feel more free, more myself, more excited to be alive than I ever have before.
NK: Most weekends I go out with friends from my study abroad programme, sometimes to the high end clubs where all the women are in heels and there's always a cover. Sometimes to dive bars in the Gothic Quarter, where college students drink cheap red wine, and sometimes to seedy clubs and Puerto Olimpico [Seedy music] the kinds of places where every night is Ladies Night, which means no cover for women and free shots, gogo dancers, and lots of dudes. [Music ends] Wherever I go, I stand out. Usually when men approach me, their opening line is, where are you from?
NK (putting on a bassy, exaggerated male voice): Where are you from?
NK: And when I'm with men, I watch myself have sex, like how I used to watch porn, like I'm watching myself play out these scenes in different locations with different men. And if a guy's hot that the setting is hot or sexy, then I'm like, this scene is hot. My friends joke about my sexcapades, my slut adventures, and I feel like I'm getting away with something. I had a tonne of one night stands where I refuse to tell men my name or refuse to give them my number. Or if I did give them my number I wouldn't answer when they called or I would answer but refuse to meet up with them again. It was fun, like a fun adventure. And I felt like my powers were growing. Like every dude I fucked and then forgot about - or pretended to forget about - every Dude, I blew off. I'm like a vampire for their masculine power. I'm just taking it into myself. And I like the narrative that I'm creating. I like this version of myself.
NK: At my small, private, affluent, very white liberal arts college in the US, I usually feel lonely and invisible. But in this context, I feel desired, really desirable for the first time, and I don't yet have a critique of what it means when they call me exotic. One night in Barcelona, I'm out with my friends...
[Low pulsing beat - the feeling of a club where the bass is vibrating your bones]
NK: ...at a warehouse we like to go to. There are three or four floors with different rooms and different DJs. And in the room I like to go to this DJ from Madrid plays electro dance mashups of indie rock songs like dance remixes of Radiohead, and Bloc Party. On the dance floor, this guy approaches me.
[Beat stops - music becomes higher, lighter]
NK: At first we shout to be able to hear each other and then we give up. He tries to pull me closer and I push him away. But I don't mean it. He plays along - I’m 10 times more likely to fuck someone who says he's an artist - we make out on the dance floor - h tells me his name and I make no effort to remember it - and then we make out in the cab. We make our way back to his studio apartment. It's not long before we move to the bedroom. I'm the aggressor. I'm in charge. I'm in control. I want this to happen. I don't care what he wants.
NK: He's on top, he’s inside me. I can tell he's about to come. At the moment that he orgasms. He says...
NK (Voice manipulated to sound low and male, the words layer and topple over each other): You're so black, black, black.
NK: And I freeze.
[Heavy breathing slows]
NK: I'm [...heavy exhale...] mortified.
NK: I'm so mortified. I'm just aghast.
NK (quiet, numb muttering in background): This is fine, it’s fine, this is fine, it’s fine.
NK: In the past when white men have said dumb things to me. I've just laughed it off, I laugh it off.
NK: This is fine, it’s fine, this is fine, it’s fine.
NK: It's not usually grounds for me to…
NK: This is fine, it’s fine.
NK: It doesn't usually dissuade me from wanting their continued attention. Ultimately, they get away with it.
NK: This is fine, it’s fine.
NK: But I can't laugh this off. I also can't make a big deal about it. I get dressed and I leave. And I don't tell anyone about that. I tell them many stories about many of my so called ‘sexcapades’ in Barcelona, but I don't tell anyone about this for... years. The memory resurfaces occasionally [‘You’re so black’ echoes underneath] and I feel the same sense of shame wash over me. I keep this to myself. I just keep it kind of buried deep [Echoes of the memory - it's fine, it's fine, it’s fine, it’s fine] - It's like a reminder that I don't have power. That I’m constantly just reduced to a body, a black body, a black femme body. That I am also just like a screen
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY (giving a public lecture): Jezebel...
NK: ...onto which
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: ...hot lascivious oversexed black woman
NK: ...a lot of things are constantly being projected.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Rooted in the experience of American slavery.
NK: You can't really look too closely at, like, what an experience like that means. It's like, you know, intuitively deep down, but it's... it would mean... to acknowledge it to name it would almost mean like I have to do something about it. Even though third wave white feminism told us that if we fucked around like men, we'd be able to share in their power. By the time I'm out of college, and in my late 20s, I know, that doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't change anything. Men aren't changed by being treated in the same patriarchal ways that they have treated us. They don't learn anything.
NK: I spend most of my 20s writing thinly veiled fiction about women who are deeply dissatisfied with the men in their lives, and the expectations of heteronormativity in general, but I'm 30 before I do anything about it, mostly by having a lesbian separatist phase and then a first girlfriend and a first serious queer relationship. But even in that relationship, I'm not getting off.
[A muffled, indistinct voice - the sense of someone trying to explain their feelings to someone - runs underneath]
NK: I get desperate to try anything. I go to an erotic embodiment workshop where you get naked with strangers in a dark room, but are forbidden to make eye contact with anyone. It's basically a glorified circle jerk. It doesn't help. Not really. It's like my past experiences are encoded, are part of me. With a queer partner who I love, having sex that makes me feel authentic and in my gender, fully allowed to express myself fluidly - I still can't get out of my head, I can't relax. It's not just that it's hard to centre myself, which it is, or that it's hard for me to receive, which it also is, it's that the idea of surrender is too intensely uncomfortable to entertain. It's that I don't know what will happen if I let my guard down.
[Air fills the scene - the hiss of an old cassette machine - a thudding pulse like a heartbeat - a glowing melody]
MARA LAZER (as if recorded on a cassette): You clapped and spread your arms in motion for me. Come here, you said.
[Music ends in a bloom, the satisfying clunk of an old cassette player stopping. A whirring bicycle wheel propels us outside]
Fucking Åmål (The road to hell 2) - by Julia Freeman
JULIA FREEMAN: So I'm about 900 kilometres into my road trip to hell... well cycle trip to hell.
[Wind rattles the microphone]
JULIA: It's been a tough few days. Two days ago, I got utterly soaked in a rainstorm that lasted, well, basically the whole day. And then slept in a bivvy bag under a tree. Got up the next day and the rain started all over again. But the terrain has been absolutely fantastic. Utterly beautiful. And then last night, I stayed at a hotel outside the Swedish town of Åmål. Fans of lesbian movies should recognise the name Åmål. Usually they'll recognise it with ‘fucking’ in front of it. A couple of decades ago, there was a film released called fucking Åmål.
[A car drives past on a vast, empty road]
JULIA: It was released in the international market under the name Show Me Love. So some people may know it by that name. But when I saw how close my original route plan was to Åmål, I I had to have a little bit of a pilgrimage. Yeah, it's a small town, it took me maybe 10 minutes to cycle through it this morning. I tweeted about it and got an awful lot of people replying with, ‘ah fucking Åmål’. But yeah it’s... this trip is a bit harder than I expected. I'm having a lot of saddle pain. But the scenery is spectacular.
I've been spending basically from dawn ‘til dusk in the saddle every day. It's been a lot of hills, almost 1000 metres of climbing each day. Yeah, it's a hard trip. But I'm getting there. I'm about 80 kilometres from the Norwegian border. I've got a hotel booked just across the border for tonight.
JULIA: So, yeah. I'll talk to you again, when I'm closer to hell.
[Bicycle wheels spin us out of the scene]
Private black motherhood and public white protest - by Stacia Brown
STACIA BROWN: Can I ask you a question?
STACIA: Okay. What does it mean? Are you listening?
STACIA: What does it mean to be a woman?
STORY: Ah, a woman is… ahh…
[Music - chiming hangs in the air - pulsing back and forth]
Diary entry 8 - Melissa M. 24 (Washington Heights, NY, 1997) by Melissa Madera
MELISSA M (she’s in conversation with someone who you can hear quietly affirming her as she talks): My aunt took me home with her. And when I think like maybe she might have asked me when I was home with her, if I was pregnant and I’m positive, I would have said something like I didn't... I didn't know because I just couldn't even remember what happened. But I'm sure I didn't know what was going on with my body.
MELISSA: And so we went to a clinic… about maybe, I think it was like a block or two blocks away from where she lives. And when I went there, it was like one of these clinics on the first floor of like an apartment building. So you walked into like a living room, where there were like these chairs that became like a waiting room. And there was a woman there who either was a nurse or administrator, she did something there... the doctor wasn't there. And she gave me like a cup to pee in. Because I didn't know. And so we needed to find out. And I went into a bathroom that was like a regular bathroom, the bathroom you would have at home. So it was like a tub, a sink, a toilet, it was just a regular bathroom. And I came out with a cup full of urine and I gave it to her. And I sat in the waiting room and she went back and did whatever she did. And she came back and said that I was pregnant. And... but I feel like it's really hard for me to talk about it too, because it's so I think I blocked a lot of things out.
OTHER VOICE: Sure…
OTHER VOICE: Do you remember the administrator or any of the staff like talking with you asking you if anybody is like asking you to do this or making you do this? You don't recall?
MELISSA: I don't really remember that? No, no, I don't remember anyone really talking to me about it. I know that, at some point, my aunt called my parents while we were still there, and it was sitting in the waiting room. And she asked them, she told them that I was pregnant, and she asked them what they wanted to do. And they told her that they didn't know and that she can she… you know, she should make the decision. [OTHER VOICE echoes Melissa ‘she should make the decision’] And she did. You know, and I I'm... I'm not like upset with my aunt or anything that way at all. Like, I'm actually really grateful that she was there for me. We never talked about it after this really like, you know, so after that happened, um... So she took care of it. And I'm, like really grateful for that. But she went home, I went home with her. And I remember like sleeping on her couch. And then the next day that we went back and I remember having a conversation with her about what was going to happen. Like I just I don't think I really knew what was gonna happen. I just kind of let things happen around me. And part of that, I think might have been that I just didn't know how to deal with it. And I'm glad that she was there to deal with it. But it was also difficult for me to handle because I felt like it was one of the situations in my life that made me feel the most voiceless and like the most sort of out of control. Like I didn't have any control over my body. But we went back the next day. And I don't remember much about what happened and like I remember going into the room and the doctor was a man but I... I think I might have been asleep because I don't remember anything except for waking up in a small room with… with other... a few other women and I was sitting in a chair - with a maxi pad between my legs - and I was throwing up in like this plastic basin, and it was just really nauseous, it was not, it was not a good feeling, it was really bad afterward. I was groggy, and I felt really, my body felt really bad. So I went back home with my aunt... And I remember very clearly I was sitting in her bed. And she made me this like Lipton's noodle soup. And I remember drinking that, and then I but we never talked, I've never talked about it afterward. And I never talked to the... I think I talked to the guy in the story. Erm, let's see, maybe twice… we talked about it once or twice about it afterwards about the abortion but like, I've never, we never had like any real conversations about it in any real way. I'm pretty sure he was happy to not ever have a third... another child. And one thing that he did tell me that I kind of felt really resentful of is that my aunt did call him. So my aunt called him and in the middle of the night, he came over. And she brought money for the abortion. And he said something like, ‘you know, I know what an abortion cost and I think your aunt asked for too much’ or something. And I felt really resentful of that. But we never really talked about it. And I still dated him for like, a long time after. But that was like that the ending of that was inevitable. You know, once I like went off to... you know, went to college and like, you know, had like another real life that he could just not be part of [VOICE - sympathetically - ‘oh absolutely] you know, and like, and he, you know, it just was not gonna work. And I'm really glad that I did not have a child with this person, because I would have been stuck to someone who just was bad news.
But after everything happened, I didn't talk to my aunt about it. And actually, and I didn't talk to my parents about it - at all. I just went back home and nobody talked about it. They were like... it was like... it was a big secret and that everybody knew, like it was the big secret that everybody knows it was like the elephant in the room. And like even though I think that they probably... I don't know if they thought about it often, but I was in my way of being with them. Because I always saw that as something that was between us but that I could never talk about. [OTHER VOICE: ‘Sure’] And I didn't talk to anyone until I was 30 about it. So that's 30 years went by, before I ever could say like I had an abortion. [Melissa’s voice sounds as if it might be about to crack with emotion, she composes herself]
So I was working at a reproductive health organisation. And the first person I talked to was my supervisor there Liza. And we were working on this abortion primer. So it was part of what we were... that's talked about a lot in our office, and I never talked about it as something that happened to me.
[The outside world starts to fill the scene - air - birdsong - traffic]
MELISSA: It’s just... she gave me the space to have a conversation about it.
[Cars pass - birdsong continues for a moment and then fades away to silence]
Private black motherhood and public white protest - by Stacia Brown
STACIA BROWN: Can I ask you a question?
STACIA: Okay. What does it mean?
[Tinkling, warm music - like a child’s music box - begins to rise up underneath the scene]
STACIA: Are you listening?
STACIA: What does it mean to be a woman?
STORY: Ah… a woman is… ah, hmm
[Music continues - Stacia is no longer talking to Story, her daughter, in the scene - but addressing an older, adult version of her through her microphone]
STACIA: It is a trick question. The definition will always differ depending on the person being asked to provide it. You will define womanhood differently than I for instance, it will mean something else by the time you become one that it meant almost 20 years ago when I did. But I will still ask you this question often anyway. I will ask it in part because we are black and this means that even though you are six, there are many adults, even some in positions of authority, who will begin insisting on your womanhood in just a few fleeting years. Depending on your height and when your curves come in to assert themselves pressing upon all the previously flat and straight planes of your body. Those adults may ogle you, they may reach for you on the street and curse at you as you run away.
[Music fades away]
STACIA: While you're still a girl, always run away. They may accuse you of something then try convincing the judicial system to see adulthood in your still soft cheeks, your brace-bedecked teeth, the hair you're still only allowed to straighten on special occasions.
They did this to Katherine Jones in 1999, they tried to do it with Bresha Meadows just last year. You should know that some adults begin to treat black girls like women as early as age 10 or 12 or 14. It has happened to other little black girls as early as seven and eight. Countless ones whose names we may never know. But whose disappearances black mothers feel quite acutely as we look down into the faces of our own daughters and implore them, admonish them, don't be in no hurry. Take your time getting grown.
STACIA: You must figure out for yourself what a woman is. You must never lose sight of yourself as the girl that you are and be certain that you are ready to moult girlhood when the time comes. It cannot come late enough for me. If I could, I would certainly postpone it. But it is not for me to decide. My prayer is that you will be the only person who will have a say in deciding it.
You did not speak a language I could clearly understand until the middle of your fourth year. Before that, when you spoke at all, you added -ian suffixes to words where I would not have guessed they could belong. On your tongue water became wadden, granny became golden. And for a while, without any reason I could decipher, you called Nana, your great grandmother, morning.
[The clunk of a block - something like a child’s toy - falling into place]
WOMAN: Good listening!
[Another block falls into place - someone is testing Story’s responses]
WOMAN: Great job!
STACIA: When you were two and a half I had you assessed. You weren't talking much at all then.
[A block clunks]
The women who came into our home with their folders and tote bags jotting across their clipboards when you could complete a puzzle. Scribbling furiously across their carbon triplicate forms when you could not suggested that I take you to an audiologist.
TAPE: ...which belong to the parsley family. Carrots are grown all over the world in gardens and in the wild in the fields.
WOMAN: Now you're going to hear some loud beeps. Yup? Got it?
[One of the blocks tumbles into place - followed by rapid, sharp bursts of static before a warm tone climbs upward]
STACIA: Within six months you were being fitted for hearing aids, with an estimated mild to moderate loss in both ears. I believe that the way you hear greatly informs the way you interact with the world. It's what led you to the language you've developed. It's what keeps you locked into your vivid imagination with its cast of unseen characters. And its action that only plays inside your mind.
[Story quietly and tenderly sings along to a song about the alphabet]
STACIA: And sometimes I felt that has kept me locked out. You have been attending school for nearly four years now. But this is the first year when asking you what happened there is an action I can expect to be met with a descriptive decipherable answer. I have had to learn that you are on your own time. We have always been on a road where I've had to trust you to indicate when you are ready for us to pull over and ready for us to move on. I think I am a better parent for it. At least I hope that I am. You are not a child who would benefit most from having my will imposed upon you. You are not a child whose ideas I’d want to mould so that they mimic mine. I'm not even sure that with you such a task would be possible.
STORY (sings): Why why why whyyy - Zee - zeezee - zeezee - zee. [singing stops] Mummy I don’t know how to make a zee.
STACIA: You don't?
SONG: We are the alphabet…
STORY (joining in with the recording): We are the alphabet...
STACIA: You did not have much time here before the core of American civilization found itself deeply compromised. You did not point to television screens and cry out ‘there's Obama!’ until his very last year in office. Nana told you who he was. She made you practice saying his name. Oh Ba Ma. You seemed to like repeating it, seemed to relish the ease with which the vowels swept through your throat, like speaking out was easy.
SOPHIE CRUZ (speaking at a protest): Hi Everybody! [Crowd roars ‘hi’] My name is Sophie Cruz. We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families.
[Music begins - sombre strumming, a delicate chiming descends in the melody]
STACIA: I know you will ask me when you are older and finally see photos of other children hoisted upon their parents shoulders or tucked safely between chest and arm - why didn't we carry signs? Why didn't we go picket injustice? Cry loud, spare not, wear pink, cuss without blushing? Why didn't we find ourselves in the company of all those other women? Washington is so close after all - we could have.
It is impossible to know if you will ever be satisfied with my answer. I'm still quite unsure decisions like these concerning you, myself. In truth, it may have been better for you to go. Perhaps you would have understood on a visceral or emotional level, if not yet an intellectual one, that something is amiss with all the world. And now, what has long been so is finally affecting our centuries insulated country in ways white people no longer feel safe ignoring. Women have volunteered to lead the charge of dissent because women have far more to immediately lose than men now that this man and his cronies have assumed the national seat of power. Maybe at six that would have been useful for you to intuit if not yet to truly know. But if I may be entirely honest, and with you, this is ever my aim. I do not feel much like being a warrior. I want to remain the mother I've already fought so hard to become. And she is soft-edged, yielding and kind. She spends her weekends wrapped in a hot pink Snuggie with her child, staving off her constant financial woes [music ends] silently keeping her existential inner conflict about housing or untimely death or co-parenting or politics, or the romance she sometimes pines for but has not yet found - in check. She frequently dissolves into giggles. She hugs hard and delivers smatterings of kisses to every inch of exposed skin. She is not carefree. Neither is she careless. But she is about the business of preserving the sanctity of her domestic life. And for her - this is a solemn resistance. She remembers the black women who fought in generations before her, who were forced to have children they did not want or plan. Who were unknowingly sterilised or implanted with unregulated birth control without consent, or denied clean, safe, affordable housing for children they were shamed into delivering, but could not afford to raise. I think of what they must have been fighting for. And it seems to me that it was the hope and the freedom my generation thought it had finally achieved in the eight years that the first family was black...
[Music begins - piano and a gentle beat - a sense of movement but not necessarily hope - snatches of a voice punctuate the beat ‘my love’]
STACIA: ...and the black mother in the White House declared herself a mother first, and a freedom fighting advocate second.
I am not yet finished pretending that I can afford myself the same luxury. I too want to be the mother that I have fashioned myself to be first. I want to fold my activism into this existing model. For me, this means figuring out how best to support the other mothers who feel so far removed from the idea that a poster and a chant will reunite airport detainees, or close the miles between them and their stranded visaless children. It means thinking of and praying for them in a sombre and meditative space. It means writing and writing and writing because for me, writing is more effective than marching in making my efforts feel less futile. I would rather teach you what's at stake by explaining that your school with this large percentage of students from immigrant families is filled with classmates who are facing a far different set of challenges and odds than you are.
CROWD AT A PROTEST (rhythmic and insistent): HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US! HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US! HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US! HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US! HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US! HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US!
STACIA: But so far, I haven't told you anything. Nana no longer beckons you to the television when the President begins to speak. She has not taught you to recognise him, has never encouraged you to utter his name. For now, I wish to keep it this way. My wish for you is that you will stay right where you are - so often locked in by your unique way of hearing, the vestiges of that language you invented when you were a toddler. The lingering barriers of communication only those who love and protect you can currently breach. At present I believe you are safest there. And as in all things I will look to you for my cares. You will tell me when you need to know more. You will have so, so long to be a woman and for as long as men like this President and his mostly male team hold political sway - fighting for your basic rights - human, racial, gendered, reproductive - will be as disheartening as it is essential. If you are like me, you will grow weary of demanding what should have been yours by right of birth. I am more than happy to do this for you. I will defend you, myself and others in the ways I hope I can be most effective. As a woman, I know how important it is for a woman to lift her own voice. As your mother, I know how vital it is for you to find yours. I can imagine how much time it will take and how distinct it will sound. This is not a process I intend to rush. I suspect that there will be plenty left for you to fight when your time has come. And I believe we will find ourselves in highly capable hands however you choose to do so.
[Music fades and disappears]
[The music we heard in the first scene returns - a chiming back and forth like a children’s toy]
STACIA: Ask me that again…
STORY: Um, could you pass the water please?
STACIA: One more time?
STORY: Could you pass the water please? [Laughs in an explosion of delight] Say something! What should we do?
STACIA: Can you… What should we do? [Stacia and Story laugh] Wait, okay, okay, who's your best friend at school?
Good intentions (the road to hell 3) - by Julia Freeman
[A bicycle rides through changing the scene]
JULIA: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, that's what the saying says anyway. The reality is that for the first 600 kilometres or so, the road to hell seemed to be paved with tiny flecks of flint. Each one individually napped by pixies to maximise tyre penetration. I’ve had nine flat nine tyres so far. Nine! I’ve not had that many in the last five to 10 years.
But you adapt, you overcome. I've got a new outer tyre on, new inners. Things seem to be going okay - touch wood.
[Julia shifts her body - sighs]
JULIA: But I’m somewhere around the 1100 kilometre mark now. I've got just under 400 or so to go. And yeah...good intentions. I thought I was gonna do 150 kilometres a day for 10 days but the hills are killing me. And without going into too much detail so is the saddle and yeah, for a long time I seriously considered skipping ahead by train by 200 kilometres. But I decided yesterday I would try very hard to push through and beyond that and just keep going.
Each turn on the pedals gets me one step closer to hell. I decided that if I'm not getting the chain... train, I'm going to at least reroute slightly. My original route - my original good intention - involved going over two mountains to get across two valleys and then head north.
[Julia shifts her body - sighs]
JULIA: But my revised plan, which takes out a couple of thousand metres of ascent, is to continue following this valley that I've been following for the last couple hundred kilometres now. And I'm going to just keep following it up the valley alongside the railway line and the river, which gives you an idea how… what the gradients like. It adds a little bit of distance but it takes off a lot of the climbing. I need to achieve 130 kilometres per day for three more days including today to get there.
I'm 60 kilometres in for today. I'm almost there. I’ve almost made it to hell.
[A bicycle cycles into the distance as the scene changes]
The toilets at home are all gender neutral - by Arlie Ardlington
[An image is being rewound - a toilet flush is happening in reverse as water runs upwards]
ARLIE ADLINGTON: What's the best way to avoid taking a piss?
[A close up of a flushing toilet fills the scene - water rushes in waves to the foreground]
[Music - a warm sound with an unsettled tone - echoing the feel of the toilet flushing in rewind]
ARLIE (his thoughts echoing inside his head): Just hold it in. Just don't drink anything - dehydrate yourself. Just hold it in.
ARLIE (talking to the listener): I call it survival mode but it doesn't always work.
ARLIE: Stay home - just don't go out. [Echoes ‘Just don't go out…’ ]
ARLIE (talking to the listener): The toilets at home are all gender neutral.
[Someone is pissing into the toilet bowl - this close up image transforms as the echo inside the toilet bowl gets bigger and bigger. As if someone is pissing into something vast]
ARLIE: Motorway service stations, the cinema, shopping centres, big city museums, straight nightclubs,
[Music - a deep thudding beat starts to ~ hit ~ on the first syllable of ‘airports’]
ARLIE: ...airports airports airports - the worst places to have to use public toilets when you're trans or not even trans just if you're a person whose gender confuses people.
[Another drum texture ~ hits ~ on ‘those places’ - the rhythm of the music and Arlie’s list are dancing with each other. His voice chopped and looping]
ARLIE: Those places feel very unpredictable. I would say - I would say - I would say - gender confuses people.
[Music - a warm melodic tone starts to bloom - an ambient glow. The rhythm keeps propelling the list forward]
ARLIE: I use the women's toilets just because it feels safer. Motorway service stations, the cinema, shopping centres, big city museums, straight nightclubs, airports.
ARLIE: Airports are terrible.
ARLIE: I feel like I've created a problem, like I'm a problem in that space.
[Melody disappears - the bare bones of the rhythm left in place. Each ~ hit ~ a glimpse of the hard edges of these public spaces]
ARLIE: It's basically all the places where everybody sometimes ends up. Those places feel very unpredictable.
[Warm ambient glow returns - Arlie’s voice feels like an old VHS taped over too many times - an echo or a memory of itself looping in his head.]
ARLIE: Motorway service stations, the cinema, shopping centres, big city museums, straight nightclubs, airports.
ARLIE (voice becoming clear again): The theatre, pubs, motorway service stations, the cinema, shopping centres, big city museums, coffee shops, straight nightclubs, train stations, airports - airports - airports.
[Music ends. A pub scene emerges - groups of friends chatting - glasses, plates and cutlery punctuate the room]
ARLIE: Obviously sometimes it's unavoidable. You have to go for a piss.
[Music from opening scene - a rewinding - a replaying as warm tones move in reverse - going back to where we began]
ARLIE: So you learn things to make it safer.
[Music reverses into one sharp ping - like a glint of light - punctuated by a closing bathroom door - the door triggers a beat, clapping hands, moving through the world with energy]
ARLIE: Okay, public toilet protocol. The goal is to get in and get out.
GROUP OF VOICES: 1! 2! 3! 4!
[Music - on top of the beat - the feeling of a computer game character trying to navigate an obstacle course]
ARLIE (speech is chopped and looped to hit the rhythm of the music): Don't waste any time. Try to be invisible. Act - act - act like you’re meant to be there. Try to send out vibes - vibes - vibes - everything is normal and fine! - vibes.
Take off baseball cap before going in. If - if - if possible - bring a friend who's a woman with you. Other people will follow her lead.
Try to be talking to her as you walk through the door. That way people will hear your voice before they see they see you. Don't don't don't, don't turn away. When people stare. Don't turn away.
[A crunching noise enters the music, something being ground down]
ARLIE: Let them get their staring done - done - done - don’t turn away.
So they can reach a decision quickly about whether they're going to challenge you.
[Music pauses for a fraction of second]
[...and then returns - layers and layers now weave frenetically through it. A crunchy grinding feeling down below and bleep bleep bloop computer game characters running across the top]
ARLIE: If you can let them stare at you and act like you're not aware of anything weird - weird - weird - weird. They are way more likely to decide you're allowed to stay.
If someone isn't satisfied that they've understood your gender before you lock the door. Sometimes they'll stand outside the cubicle and wait for you.
[Music disappears - as if it’s been pulled backwards into a glint of light. We wait inside the cubicle as someone stands outside]
[Computer game music returns - a rhythm with sharp edges and grinding tones]
ARLIE (his voice hits the beats, the music pushing his body through the scene):
You just have to power through - power through - power-power through.
You just have to power through - power through - power-power through.
You just have to power through - power through - power-power through.
[Music disappears in a glint of light]
ARLIE: Now carry on with whatever you were doing before you needed a piss.
[Toilet door creaks open - people fill the scene as we return to the bar]
ARLIE: And try to piece back together the bit of yourself you just hammered away.
[A crunching, fragmenting, eroding - rocks and pebbles crushed to dust under foot - the crushing and grinding of something hard in a pestle and mortar]
ARLIE: When you go into public toilets, it is stressful worrying how other people are going to react to you being in there. But the worst thing is actually what it makes you do to yourself. When the majority of people look at you and don't see your gender how it feels to you inside. You have to work really hard to hold on to your sense of self.
[Music - a harsh, sharp rhythm like a computer game character with a pickaxe trying to chip away at a mountain]
ARLIE: It's like you know who you are. But all day you get treated like you're someone else.
[Crunching and crumbling sounds - like dust and small rocks tumbling off the surface of a cliff face]
ARLIE: That takes mental effort to fight off. And for me, that's the more stressful thing about public toilets.
[A sharp buzzing - like a neon light]
ARLIE: Because, like, I'm just trying to live my life and suddenly I have to piss and I need people to misgender me so I don't get any hassle. I go into the toilet, hoping people will think my gender is something different to how I want them to see it the whole rest of the time. And when it all goes fine, it's like great. I didn't get harassed. But also I've just been reminded that people don't see me the way I feel inside and that chips away at you.
[Rhythm and pace builds - the pickaxe hacking away at the mountain is working more furiously - it’s exhausting]
ARLIE: Going for a piss should be the simplest thing in the world. But instead it becomes this massive headfuck. And I'm actually lucky. I'm lucky that a headfuck and a bit of hassle is the worst I get.
[A hammering beat piles on top of the music - crunching, crumbling rocks turning to dust]
ARLIE: It’s just going to the toilet. Everyone has to go to the toilet.
[Beat speeds up and up, hammering and hammering until it eventually stops. What remains feels like your head is underwater, a swirling space, relief that the pounding has ended]
[Rocks crumble to dust]
ARLIE: Okay, this is a story that I never told anyone before.
ARLIE: Okay, so I was on my way to work on the train...was really... it was really busy. I think it was the summer. I remember it was sunny and it was hot and I only had on a T shirt. And it was a really packed train like everyone was quite, like not completely squashed in together, but quite a packed, crowded train.
And I just remember, like, this really strong feeling coming over me that I feel like my... the sacredness of myself and my gender is like shining out of me. Like I feel like everyone on this train can just see it like, I'm glowing.
[Music like a warm, soft light - a rhythm that feels round and full - propulsive - the scene fills with a glow]
ARLIE: And I just felt... I felt so much like myself, like how I really feel about myself inside. And I felt...
[Music - a voice sings ‘open your eyes’ quietly in the background]
ARLIE: I guess the unusual thing was, I felt like it was obvious to everyone, I felt like everyone on this train can see it.
[“There’s another world on the other side - open your eyes…”]
ARLIE: Then I had this feeling like I could see in my mind, like all of London, like I, like I could look down from above down on to the whole city. And I was like, every trans person walking around the city, I felt like there's like a glow like a light shining out of them. And I felt like I could see them walking around the city like little glowing balls of light.
[The rhythm of the music feels like a decisive march - momentum]
ARLIE: Knowing that everybody must be able to sense just the sacredness coming off these people.
And it was just a really strong feeling. And it came out of nowhere. Like, I don't know what my brain was doing having that experience just randomly on like a commuter train at 8 in the morning.
[“Open your eyes, open your eyes, there’s another world on the other side…”]
This - it felt so strong and true - and it felt like the thing that I should be feeling all of the time. But that is normally buried under all the bullshit of having to hold on to your sense of self in a world that kind of like tells you all the time that what you know about who you are isn’t true.
[“Open your eyes…”]
So anyway, that was like a little moment of truth. I felt like a moment of total, like, clarity.
[Music builds - lyrics return - “open your eyes, open your eyes, there’s another world on the other side, open your eyes, there’s another world on the other side]
[Electricity starts to swallow and distort the music - the song disappears in a glint a light]
Mardi Gras is a state of mind - by Mara Lazer
[Music - ‘Here Come the Girls’ by Ernie K-Doe - a marching band moving through the city - triumphant horns propelling you forward]
MARA: Sometimes when it's springtime in New Orleans, I walk in a roving pack.
MUSIC: Here come the girls (girls, girls...)
MARA: With my proverbial girls, I'm usually covered and someone else's glitter, rhinestones, yarn, face paint, with Jameson tucked in my pants - too many small revolutionary-minded parades around me to count.
[‘Here Come the Girls’ disappears from the scene - replaced by a thumping beat heard from outside a venue. Standing in a crowd of people]
FRIEND: Happy Mardi Gras! Mara!
[A NY city subway train cuts through the scene - leaving Mardi Gras behind - pulling you into the tunnel]
MARA: But this year, I asked my friends to send me audio of Mardi Gras. I live in New Orleans and wanted to escape my little world down there. Remind myself life does exist outside the city. So I booked tickets to New York, one of my best friends moved there. This friend and I had top surgery together - we drove to Florida to have the same chest masculinisation surgery within a few days of each other. It took years of late night talks with radical dykes and queers to get to that moment.
[Walking down a street - we eavesdrop on a conversation that is already underway]
SUNAURA TAYLOR: I could go into a coffee shop, and actually pick up the cup with my mouth and carry it to my table. But then that… that becomes almost more difficult because of the...
[We leave the scene - only Mara’s voice remains]
MARA: I couldn't stop listening to this conversation between Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor, an artist and disability rights activist.
[Returning to the conversation on the street]
SUNAURA TAYLOR: The discomfort that that causes when I do things with body parts that aren't necessarily what we assume that they are for -, that seems to be even more… um… hard for people to… to deal with.
[We leave the scene - only Mara’s voice remains]
MARA: I was terrified and thrilled about treating my milk ducts like medical waste. A few trans men I know were happy with their chest from this doctor in Miami. It's the only surgery he does and it's popular. He flattens chests five times a day, three days a week.
I wish I could have donated my chest to my favourite drag queen but my surgeon had a response like Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development.
LUCILLE BLUTH (interjecting): I don't understand the question. And I won’t respond to it.
MARA: The night before my nip tuck though, I actually felt like a pretty terrible misogynist, such a failed feminist, I was cutting up my own female body. But I have to remind myself that living as default feminine is not helping other women. Ruminating in self torture and loathing is not an inspiring feminist strategy. It is a strange feeling to desire masculinity in 2020. Who wants to be a man? Ugh.
[Scanning through radio static - fuzz and distortion punctuated by voices - musical chords - searching for something]
MARA: As a kid in the 90s when I would ask for the boy's toy in the McDonald's drive thru, I'd watch my mom's worrying eyes lingering on me in the rearview mirror.
[The radio snaps off]
MARA: When I told her I wish I was a boy, she just stared and said, why?
Maybe her gut response was feeling rejected. Like I was rejecting her as a woman, as a role model. Did she also worry I would be like some other unhealthy or pathetic men in her life? But I don't want to be a solitary depressed, nobody knows trouble like I do kind of man alone in my office until 4am. I feel like even if I wanted to fully transition to be a man, it's not possible. I could only be a man who was raised as a girl, survived middle school because of Riot Grrrl, a man who almost everyone reads as a huge lesbian. And what a privilege.
[Returning to the NYC subway scene - an announcement is made for the next approaching train]
MARA: Right now I'm a faggy lesbian separatist visiting New York City. I am reluctant to say I'm non binary. It doesn't feel like the category that holds space. Pendulous, like leftovers, it doesn't exist without referencing what it isn't. Saying it out loud feels like I'm just saying, ‘sorry, not that one, thanks’. I get lost in my head breaking down what genderqueer even means and wondering who doesn't fit that category.
[The subway disappears - a low rumbling remains underneath]
MARA: I want to feel full and desirable. My desire is formed through refractions off of things and ideas. I prefer this phrasing to - I constantly compare myself to everyone around me.
[The marching beat of drums in New Orleans walks back into the frame. Back on the street at Mardi Gras. The drumming joyfully punctuates Mara’s list of what the day holds]
MARA: That Tuesday in New Orleans is a day for ritually drug-induced shape shifting. This is the culmination day for Catholic feasting, public masking, costuming, nudity, young and old bodies are on full display. I won't even call it gender-bending because it's beyond the category of gender.
[Melodies getting swallowed into the distance - like they’re behind a screen, or in a memory]
MARA: It's a riot bursting with sound and deep bright shiny colours. Historic struggles over who is allowed to parade - who owns the streets - happens live on TV simultaneously to the news coverage of drag competitions.
NEWS REPORTER (laughing): And the police strike didn't stop the annual drag contest in the quarter. This year the usual feather boas and frills gave way partially to the macho man leather. With many sporting construction hats - spectators and participants alike - they well they jammed bourbon trees for blocks in both directions.
[Mardi Gras disappears completely - only Mara remains in the scene]
MARA: During my visit to New York, my friend was scheduled to get androgel - testosterone cream - a gift from the gay gods. I've debated taking testosterone shots before and put it off. But androgel isn't as strong as the shots. Also, you can actually spread testosterone through skin contact after applying. I'm a sucker for ceremonial bonding.
[A hand rustles through papers - a deep exhalation of breath]
MARA: On that Tuesday, a gift of androgel was supposed to be placed in our hands.
AUTOMATED VOICE (over a phoneline): Thank you for completing the survey. Your entry is now complete.
MARA: But as the patriarchal, bureaucratic garbage world that we live in would have it, there was a weird insurance issue.
FRIEND: Oh my god. This is the number they have listed on their website!
MARA: Despite having multiple credit cards, we couldn't get the hormones.
[Music - rippling, tremulous tones]
MARA: So our afternoon tea party was put on hold. But I wondered if we had to be the androgel we wanted to see in the world. What does that mean exactly?
We had the entire city of New York and burning hearts. I couldn't be satisfied with just a slice this afternoon. No matter how cheap and delicious. We decided to have a ceremony to make us really feel like those small revolutionary-minded parades were a state of mind.
MARA (voice looping and layering back over itself): I will keep repeating feminist mantras - on Mardi Gras - copy and pasting - rituals - I will keep repeating feminist mantras - copy and pasting - working out what the fuck works for me.
MARA: We bought a lottery ticket, wrote things down, shared Judith Butler quotes [pen scratching on paper], made a list of qualities within ourselves and types of men we want to burn.
We tried to peel back the dulling sensors and talk fast and loud and publicly about things we want to do [coin spinning until it slows to a stop], how we want to be in the world.
We tried to burn our list, but it took a while. It was windy and literally freezing. It was another forest metaphor. And this Judith Butler quote is still vibrating in my head.
JUDITH BUTLER: What they use their anus for or what they allow their anus to be used for
MARA: Well, that one but really this one...
JUDITH BUTLER: What can a body do? We usually ask, you know, what is a body? Or what is the ideal form of a body? Or... But ‘what can a body do’ is is a different question. It’'s not like, you know, what a body should look like. It's exactly not that question. Yeah.
[The street scene with Judith Butler disappears - only Mara remains]
MARA: When you... the plural you... stood there with your coat unzipped and laughed. You clapped and spread your arms and motioned for me. ‘Come here’ you said, and no, my subconscious wasn't too messy. You put your gloveless hand on my chest, in my mostly zipped up jacket and said, ah, it's warm in here. I felt my head spin. I felt trans.
After the ceremony we went to Walters for giant happy hour martinis. At the bar we read excerpts of Andrea Long Chu’s article on liking women.
[A bar room ambience fills the scene - people talking with each other - glasses clinking]
MARA: She says, ‘I'm trying to tell you something that few of us dare to talk about, especially in public, especially when we are trying to feel political...’ Can you hear me?
FRIEND: Yeah go ahead, go ahead, I can hear you...
MARA: As if the cure for dysphoria were wokeness. How can you want to be something you already are? Desire implies deficiency. Want implies want. To admit that what makes women like me transexual is not identity but desire is to admit just how much of transition takes place in the waiting rooms of wanting things.
[Bar scene disappears]
MARA: Reading this out loud my eyes turned to flames. Ignited by - yet resigned - to trans desire. The idea of men becoming women thrills the lesbian herstory archivist in me - even though physically I'm moving in a different direction. I cut my tits off and right now I'm actively flirting with the idea of rubbing so-called male hormones all over my body. I wonder how thoroughly high do I have to be in order to continue believing I can move forward on this twirling trans journey without taking testosterone? I can't force generic maleness onto myself - and why would I want to - I feel strangely comforted thinking desire implies deficiency. There's a relief in acknowledging what I don't have in order to more clearly see what I do have - desire.
[Bar scene ambiance returning]
MARA: With my flame eyes. I tell misogynist men. I don't want their dicks. I already have one. I consider it a perk that my dick will never give you an unexpected pregnancy. But yeah, I would love to come on your ass.
MARA (in the bar): Call this the romance of disappointment. You want something? You have found an object that will give you what you want.
MARA: Maybe you were trying to show me how to be sad and silly and proud.
MARA (talking to a friend): Come on. Just a tiny microphone.
FRIEND: Or maybe that was me doing that.
MARA: Okay, do it once yourself and then once there - a couple of takes
FRIEND (singing along with music): Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready? For your miracle!
MARA (singing): Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready?
[Music - piano chords - crunchy and distorted - a hint of giddy joy]
MARA: I extended my trip in New York, but the testosterone never arrived. This may seem like a missed opportunity. And sure, yeah, undoubtedly. But it's not surprising. I don't feel sad. I feel lucky. The possibilities swirling around my head feel otherworldly. I'm fantasising about writing love letters to my friends. My Irish Catholic mum, her sisters, you. I want to talk to everyone about the possibilities of their faggy lesbian separatist genders. I want to have ceremonies where we take our shirts off and rub androgel across each other's chests. Maybe my mum's is an empowering cleansing ritual. A quick release from the caretaking. Maybe mine is kind of like a small orgy. Imagine the feeling of a room of transsexuals lathering themselves in wishes, a room full of chests with scars that say ‘something happened here. And I want more of it’.
Been there, done that (the road to hell 4) - by Julia Freeman
[The music is swept away by a bicycle riding into the scene]
JULIA: Greetings from hell. I actually made it. It hasn't quite sunk in yet.
I arrived just after 9pm, on day 11. In total, it was 1404 kilometres of cycling. The last 30 kilometres were interesting. By this point, I was exhausted and pushing the bike up the hill, which I've nicknamed purgatory, as it was the last obstacle before hell. And having pushed it up in the dark, I got to the top and had 20 kilometres of descent in the dark in the wet - because it was now raining - on roads I didn't know. Doing 60 kilometres an hour downhill in those conditions is... an interesting experience. But erm, yeah, it's been an interesting 11 days. I'm going to need some time to process it all.
I've made it to hell.
So next time someone says, ‘go to hell!’ I can say, ‘been there, done that’.
Two nights ago, I bivied out down under some trees. I don't even know where I was that night. But the sky cleared, and it was a million stars that could be seen in the sky. Unfortunately, with the absence of the sky duvet, the temperature plummeted to minus four, at least, possibly slightly lower. Which was a problem as my sleeping bag is only rated to zero degrees. Even with a space blanket to boost it a little bit, I was cold and then, when I got up in the morning, I had a 40 kilometre ride before breakfast. That was a tough day. Yeah.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, mostly it seemed to be paved with sharp pointy stuff that gave me punctures. And at one point it was paved with a giant hole because they were doing roadworks and I hadn't noticed the road closed sign. But yeah... 1400 kilometres. Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway.
It's a tiny village, a station, a gas station, a couple of shops... As a destination… probably wouldn't recommend it.
But as a journey? Oh yes.
The scenery was spectacular. Absolutely amazing.
So yeah, next time someone says, ‘Go to hell!’ Maybe have a think about your next holiday plans. Dig out the bike, find where you put your trail shoes. It's an interesting journey.
Now all I have to do is work out how to get back.
[Bicycle rides through the scene and fades away]