Sounds Like Catastrophes: Eva Meyer-Keller, Sybille Müller in collaboration with Birmingham children; Celine Dass, Cait Elcock, Vita Aaron Pearl, and Niamh Elcock.
5th October 2013
Concert Hall Birmingham Town Hall
Review by Cathy Wade
The panels set around the edges of the Old Town Hall depict numerous catastrophes, ruinous acts of man and nature that eradicate and void. To engage children with these disasters feels unimaginable, yet they are the people who will develop solutions to resolve them when we cannot. Throughout workshops run in August and September a performance, script and set of scores were developed, tested and negotiated between the children and producers that explore the inevitability of calamity and the resilience they possess when confronted by it.
As the audience await the commencement of the work in the grandeur of this listed Birmingham landmark, a group of four children (aged between ten & twelve) dash frenetically into the room playing an extended game of tag with the producers. Racing between screens and the stage to cries of FIRE! WATER! until a jubilant winner emerges; an act that levels the hierarchical relationships between adults and children and roots a sense of equality into the work. As the children settle within the room one walks to the mixing desk puts on headphones and recalls:
‘I was three and watched my toys go up in the air. It did not hurt anyone, it took the roof off someone’s house. I think it was really bad but not that major. Remember the Tsunami that was on the news for days, this was on for an hour’
This passage grounds the personal sense of scale that we evolve in reaction to trauma. How seeing events as relative to their media coverage evolves this sensibility (the bigger the trauma the further away we wish to be from it). As the children successively take turns in developing their narrative, affirming our ability to rebuild our locality to establishing the lingering feeling that while you can re-build your neighborhood there is, elsewhere, a super-virus 3007 miles away waiting for it’s break to enter into our food chain.
From these narratives the first of two scores are played, Wildfire & 9/11 both seemingly a cacophonous mixture of cereal packets, paper plates, straws, pipes, bouncing footballs, rice shaken in jugs, humming and whistling. For the audience, this recital appears as a humorous attempt at rendition that elicits amusement. The third score Serious Illness, utilises a plate and a cup as a metronome and a tea towel is pulled and stretched silently, percussively, as light bathes through the windows.
As the scores finish a humming emerges, blinds dim the light. A hidden structure emerges as the recordings of the performances are played back to the audience revealing their deftness and subtlety. With its levels adjusted the sound becomes a physical force. Without the spectacle of children wielding cereal packets the audience is confronted with the reveal: the dropping of a football; the cracking of a building; the tugging of a towel; the beating of a heart; the crackling of cereal; the splintering of wood. The space between audience and catastrophes lessens as the noises become real and the intellect in the scores’ creation becomes fully apparent. The children continue their individual narration into visions of the future regaling us with dystopian visions of ‘Dream powered windmills’ and the sleeping man who has to dream all day to get them to function and; the fact that one day if your phone loses power you will be able to charge it by peeing on it.
Sounds Like Catastrophes joyfully affirms that crisis can be resolved by imagination and arbitration, and that the tools we use as adults to resolve these disastrous events were established in our childhoods through open negotiation and playfulness.