Easy Listening

Mark Brown, Ryszard Dabek, Alex Gawronski, Camilla Hannan, Nigel Helyer, Lily Hibberd, Bronia Iwanczak, Philipa Veitch

curated by Philipa Veitch

West Space

June 20 – July 13  2013

View documentation of exhibition at www.easylistening13.net

The exhibition Easy Listening will explore the material and conceptual parameters of the literary and vocal artifact known as the audiobook, investigating the tensions that exist between the form of the written text and its sonorous adaptations. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises, as well as addressing speculations about the current and future state of the book, Easy Listening will take the form of an intuitive investigation into the ways in which technology is transforming what it means to listen, and what it means to read.

Traditionally produced to make literary works accessible to the blind, visually impaired and illiterate as well as to the young, the audiobook functions as a form of textual prosthetic that allows a modified, adapted and often sonically augmented form of the original written text to be made available to an otherwise marginalised audience. Residing in a ghostly third space that is at the same time both pre and post-literate, the audiobook recalls the foundational sources of narrative that existed in pre-modern and traditional societies, where storytelling and indeed culture itself took place within a highly aural and oral social dimension devoid of the many hypervisual forms that envelope us today.

At the same time, the audiobook can be considered as one of the earlier manifestations of the contemporary phenomena of the literary adaptation, where a literary work exists not so much in the form of a book as in an interface or version – as a translation, cover version (in the case of the lyric), digital book, film or television series, or an animated, interactive computer game. In this unstable surfeit of platforms, there is an ever increasing gap between the dimensions of meaning that reside in the original written form and in those of for example the blockbuster CGI or 3D version, whose final manifestation is generally determined by the executive producers of Hollywood production companies (consider the example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby being made into a 3D film by Warner Brothers). For contemporary audiences, the version will be in many cases the only form of the text they are likely to encounter, and it is only in a close comparison of the original and its adaptation that the ideological dimension of the adaptation can be fully comprehended.

Audiobooks resonate with the affects of various forms of absences, the absent or only partial sense function, the absent book and written word, and the absent other – the living, present reader who enunciates, interprets and brings to life the story or tale in an expressive correspondence with the young listener. Yet this absence is only partially so, for in the audiobook that absence is always and already occupied and inhabited by an unseen ‘third man’, the interlocutor who haunts the space between the writer and listener, and where the final determinations of what remains and what is added to the original text, the choice of reader, the sound effects and music have already been established. This ambiguous relation between the writer, reader and listener that is simultaneously bound by pre-determined ideological forces, yet still open to the free association and creative poetic reverie of the receptive listener forms the internal circuit through which the audiobooks’ meaning is produced, channeled and amplified. Easy Listening will explore this complex and unstable flow between listener, writer and reader and between writing and its sonic afterlives, activating a new awareness of the tensions between the narrative form’s past, present and future.

Philipa Veitch