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Synchronicity: Ross Sutherland and the Poetry of the Crystal Maze

Posted 13 May 2013 by | Comments Off


Juggling two inputs – poet Ross Sutherland insists – is better than gawping unflinchingly at one. Taking as much inspiration from Oulipo techniques as he does from Bill Murray’s unenviable predicament in Groundhog Day, Ross has been using processes of synchronicity, and his Grandad’s old VHS tape, to create a new, quasi-hypnotic poetic form.

Sarah Lester spoke to him just before EVP’s opening night at The Sage Gateshead to find out more:


SL: How do the two pieces you’re currently working on – Stand by for the Tape Back up and That Name Rings a Bell - relate to each other?

RS: Stand by for the Tape Backup, my new one man show for Edinburgh, and my piece for the EVP project, That Name Rings a Bell, are based on the same processes – they both use this video tape that belonged to my Grandad and focus on tiny audio-visual loops from it.  The audience are faced with two inputs – me talking and the screen behind me. In some ways Stand by for the Tape Backup has become a kind of eulogy for my Grandad, but with my piece for EVP, it’s more like trying to open up a dialogue with him.

SL: So this is your own way of contacting the dead?

RS: Exactly. So a lot of what happens in the course of the piece, is me talking about the process of seances and why they don’t work. We can’t contact the spirit world. If my Grandad exists now, he’s a version that exists inside my head. But that’s not to say that the pattern-generating part of the brain can’t start to make connections through the power of synchronicity.

SL: But through being open with your methods you’re debunking the idea of voices from beyond?

One of the nice things about the clip I’m using for this piece [of The Crystal Maze] is that it’s footage of someone failing to do a task. A lady has a really simple puzzle to complete, all she has to do is to connect up a giant battery. But all her teammates are shouting out instructions and she screws it up. She doesn’t understand what she has to do.

Failure, messing things up, is really central to this piece. We’re not supposed to contact the dead but we try to anyway. I wanted to look at the shortcomings of the seance. In a classic seance you’d ask the spirit a question and a bell would ring in response. One of the final things I say in this piece is “whenever that bell fails to ring, it’s me”.

All of your work seems to have recursive elements. Why are you so drawn to the concept of the time loop?

It’s definitely something I’ve become more fascinated with. When I first started doing poetry onstage – it did feel like I was trapped in a sort of time loop, or a Groundhog Day.  There’s a false impression when you only see a show once and the performer has all the perfect responses to what’s going on. It’s like “how is the brain so fast that it can pick up on all those cues?” but you don’t get to see that insane level if repetition that goes into it.

So you thought you might as well embrace that repetition?

Using a circular time structure is a very addictive way to work. When you see the footage so many times and it’s something so well known you quickly forget the original message and it dissolves into this symbolic visual language.  The first time you watch it you’re not going to be familiar with it but then you see it again and you begin to notice some of the details in the background, and then you come to see it again and experience it on a more thematic level.

Once you’ve watched something repeatedly you have multiple interpretations of what everything means and I just find that a really interesting way to write. It’s ridiculously slow and you start to feel like a paranoiac. You see how easy it is to become obsessive. You start to tell a story over the top of this bit of footage, then you start to notice there are parallels where there weren’t any before.

Are you trying to turn the audience into paranoiacs too?

I’d like to leave the audience in a state where they are feeling hypersensitive.  I start the piece with the old experiment where you play the Wizard of Oz and synchronise it with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. When you play two artworks side by side you start to notice similarities between them, whether or not they’re intended.  The audience can decide for themselves where the symbolism fits.

I suppose the test comes down to the performance tonight. It’s a really important part of the creative process because you can only really finish the work once there’s an audience in front of it. There’s a degree of collaboration to get that balance right between signal and noise.


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