‘Literature is directed towards a receiver, from whom it demands completion … Only then does the text achieve a meaning’
Vilem Flusser – Does Writing Have a Future?
When it was published in 1855, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s monodrama Maud represented a shocking turn towards abstraction in Victorian verse. Its ‘lawless’ stanzaic forms and erratic rhythms embodied the dark moods and violent outbursts of emotion experienced by its protagonist as he descends ever deeper into madness.
It is gone, my pulses beat –
What was it? a lying trick of the brain?
Yet I thought I saw her stand,
A shadow there at my feet,
High over the shadowy land.
It is gone; and the heavens fall in a gentle rain,
When they should burst and drown with deluging
The feeble vassals of wine and anger and lust,
The little hearts that know not how to forgive:
Arise, my God, and strike, for we hold Thee Just,
Strike dead the whole weak race of venomous worms,
That sting each other here in the dust;
We are not worthy to live.
Linking text, sound and image by means of algorithmic translation, this performance seeks conceptual correlations and to find new channels for the transmission of the dead or dying via the performative act. As Maud retraces ‘the history of a morbid poetic soul, under the blighting influence of a recklessly speculative age’ so we look to reconnect text and technology for receivers in the digital age.
Our aim was to reanimate Maud’s ‘morbid meters’, to re-spin the ‘magical promise of myth’ inherent in this neglected text in a performance which brings apparently incompatible media from three different centuries into conversation. Delivered in the now archaic ‘bardic’, or accentual recitation style the oration is manipulated in real-time using spectral freezing techniques to move the text through different temporal domains leaving only a ghost of the original.
Freely improvising with the sounds of 20th Century abandonware we generate a haunted, denotative soundscape and the combined sound of text and sonic environment is then fed into a digital matrix. Using OpenGL the audio generates geometric forms to create a bleak, monochromatic and recursive visualisation of itself.