Electronic Voice Phenomena       


Boursnell & Riviere: 5 actions / 5 texts / 5 songs

Posted 10 January 2013 by | Comments Off


Live artist John Boursnell documents the development of 5 actions / 5 texts / 5 songs – a work in collaboration with poet Sam Riviere. It used repeated actions, lo-fi sounds, ball-bearing dropping and Polaroid picture-taking to create patchworks of quiet sounds and ‘concrète songs’.



At the start of this. The voice was always present. Spoken sung called whispered looped. Looped indefinitely by little boxes. Which would never grow tired. Or run out of breath. Five simple repeated small actions. Onto which I hung simple words. From eighty-one sentences describing poems. Eighty-one poems by Sam Riviere.

This work performed in Battersea. I simply called Five actions. Five texts and five songs. The voice was always present. Though the sentences were chosen. By numbers – from the audience. Who could not see the. Corresponding lines of dry commentary. The piece remained tied down. Fixed by certainties of performance.

The little boxes looping endlessly. Made it easy to repeat myself. And the differing lengths of. Sam’s lines and line breaks. Became much harder to reveal.



To push the piece forwards. I wanted to have restrictions. Make it harder to perform. Harder to perform as before. So Sam wrote me more. One hundred and twenty-five lines. Each line with five words. A poem to draw from. Now when the sentences overlapped. There was much more certainty.

That the words I sang. Spoke looped were not random. Were deliberate and meaningful even. Though the audience always knew. They were not my words. The voice was always present. The strength of Sam’s words. His enthusiasm for the fragmented. Way I described the piece. Helped me to rely less.

On all my electronic tools. Gradually I used them less. As I performed the piece. In Norwich Colchester and Ipswich. It made the work better.



Sam’s texts focused the piece. Freed it from the fixity. Of loop pedal and effects processor. But the piece also became. ‘The Work’ – something I could repeat. Something that might become repertoire. Or feature in a book. So full circle from origins. As a simple instruction piece.

To live art festival production.

I want to open up. The work again and this. Starts with handing the instructions. And Sam’s lines over to. Charlotte Webb who works with. Internet searches random code and. Generative processes to turn text. Inside out and start again. I thought given that Sam’s. Own internet auto complete poem.

“I am bored with my life/ I’m tired of pretending” That this might be fruitful. The body becomes less present. The voice starts to dissolve.



“There are only bodies and. Languages” but there is also. The voice whether on lips. Or without a visible source. The voice – sound or unsound. Escaping from fixity or not. The voice is always present. Just as the five actions. Piece starts to break up. I was asked to perform.

A typewritten sound poem by. concrète poet Dom Sylvester Houédard. A series of repeated syllables. “Forty syllables for magnetic tape”. A fixed written graphic work. With no instructions for interpretation. Rather than try to repeat. Every syllable in perfect rhythm. Instead I imagined the sounds. As objects and as actions.

Potential and real and imagined. These simple actions recall syllables. Phonemes and mouth sounds as. Matches are struck stones dropped. Ball bearings bounced sand scrunched.



The voice is always present. But as halfway between sound. And imagined or remembered sound. The gap between the audience. The performer and the object. The voice is an object. That is imagined and felt. That is open not fixed. Not fixed by wax and shellac. But instead freed by it.

Removed from the body by. Both technology and the imagination. By the internet teasing apart. Fixed texts and old routines. By the spoken word being. As close and as distant. As words on tape or. The rattling of Victorian tableware. Spirit presences emerging from swirling. Chemicals onto silver papers and.

Disappearing in the bright sunlight. Because even photographs and even. Phonographs are not fixed points. The voice is present and. There’s work to be done.



John Boursnell is a live artist working with small sounds and texts. He has presented work as part of Eastern Pavilions, in Colchester, Norwich and London. He is a member of Norwich based live art collective Other/Other/Other.


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