Some Notes on the Production
When Andrew McLennan of ABC Radio Australia asked me to create a piece for his Listening room series,(1) I immediately thought of using the opportunity to began work on the performative aspect of a novel I'd been planning. This novel, Mendicant Erotics, is about a woman who becomes a beggar after studying the Esanashamiti, a book of rules for Jain wandering monks. Traveling from city to city, she follows these rules, which specifies six geometric patterns through which the mendicant can approach the houses in the village for begging. Disoriented by sensation, she finds a prosthetic architecture, buildings that take over the functions of her body or through which she can project her series and intense desires. A wandering mendicant, begging for erotic experience, her desires are met in the arms of the built environment. Hers is a geometry of the trajectories of traveling, memory, and architecture. Fantasy narratives evoked by city spaces are the alms she extracts from each place. These narratives form the novel, a sort of contemporary picaresque adventure which is also philosophical treatise on the relationships among bodies, buildings, city spaces, and spiritual endeavors.
I wanted to experiment with the method that would later give me material for the novel and also to make a piece specifically for Sydney--a site-specific radio piece. Since I could not wander the streets of Sydney in advance of my visit there, I developed a collaborative system for getting the raw material. Thus, the performative aspects of the piece reached across miles of land and ocean, traveling before me, as I would travel to the land down under. I wanted, first of all, an Australian voice, male, very much from that place, so I asked Andrew McLennan (a radio personality well-known to the Australian listening public) to help. I drew a square on the map of Sydney and faxed it to him with the following instructions:
1. Record about five minutes of ambient sound at each site.
2. Describe the site, especially any sensory information, details of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.
3. Describe especially the quality of light. Also, describe the architecture at the site and any architecture you can see from the site. What do the buildings look like and how do they interact with the light?
4. If you can enter a building, go inside. Record ambient sound inside. What is the difference between inside and outside?
Andrew trekked through the pouring rain of Winter in Sydney, always astonished at a break in the clouds. The resulting tapes were just what I needed to create the male character in the dialog. He is very Australian, knows Sydney well, sometimes sounds like a tour guide; is wildly enthusiastic, often like a mall boy who's see something lovely or tempting; sometimes rambles on, inarticulate, stumbling, but always eager to please. His language is, for the most part, demotic. Sydney is his place and he feels very much at home commenting on its sensations. In contrast, the female character seems to speak in a void; sometimes she so caught up in her fantasies that she seems in another place; sometimes she's right there with him, but critical or dejected. she's an American voice and not at home in Sydney. Her language is mostly hieratic and poetic. she's unmoored.
The ambient sounds in the piece are from the sites where the male and female characters meet. The interludes are little transitional sounds collages that indicate movement from one site the next. The piece begins and ends with the female voice, solo, in the nowhere void of traveling. (Right now, she's drawing on the map of Hong Kong.)
I was swimming in a liquor of black night. I was up and walking around and my body felt distant, almost alien. It was late at night, very late and I couldn't sleep. Again. And just like the other …