Creators: Elisabeth Gunawan and Jake Parris
Soundscaping and audio drama have been some of the biggest winners in the last few months and with restrictions on live performance, creatives have increasingly turned to alternative modes of interaction. The Almeida premiered a new climate change play by Ben Weatherill as part of the Shifting Tides Festival, this week the Donmar launch Blindness, their socially distanced sound installation, and now the Electric Dreams Online Festival adds Stampin’ in the Graveyard to its digital programme.
Elisabeth Gunawan and Jake Parris’ show is hard to quantify; it is part dreamscape, part looped journey through one woman’s memories, part guided meditation and part lyrical exploration of the effect of words and sounds. Accomplished by layering different audio files including sound effects, music, overheard conversational snippets and storytelling, coherence is not really the point; Stampin’ in the Graveyard is designed to exercise your imagination.
In preparation, participants will receive a note recommending they lie down comfortably to enjoy the show while also making their webcams available and having some paper nearby to doodle on at the appropriate point. In practice none of these things are obligatory with the paper required only at the end to contribute visual depictions of your experience to Octavia’s Instagram page after the show if you wish.
The technical side of this 40-minute show is perhaps more interesting than its content, particularly in the way that tones or chapters are created within the experience through the multifaceted soundscape. Two audio files have been created, the first lasting 27-minutes which combines a contextual composition underscored with varying sounds of wind and rain as a bass note, building to something stormier towards the end, with music created by Parris that transports the viewer to different emotional states.
Over this Gunawan narrates a fractured story about the fragility of memory, love and absence. There is a man referred to as “Mr Blue” whose name ties into the frequent oceanic metaphors in the language and sound effects; there is a slippage of time from an eternal summer to cruel spring and a meeting years later in Camden Town, where youth and age seem to collide in wistful memory.
Alongside this darker tones exist as the speaker observes domestic scenes through city windows with families she will never be part of, or the illness of her father situated in the sounds of male pain and female cries, and finally repeated references to the empty commercialism of modern life, our obsession with TV, making money and carrying other people’s pain as well as our own. It isn’t clear what it all means but Gunawan’s soft tones combined with Parris’ composition do create vivid images in your mind, here referred to as the ‘last theatre left open.’
While this is primarily an audio experience beginning on Zoom and then redirected to a website which should prompt you to use your webcam, technical issues do occur for several and it is unclear whether visual files should also appear at this point that utilise the webcam in some way. Later when the six-minute finale fails to load, other participants note a visual file has appeared on their screen without the audio feed while others are sent the audio file and never see anything on screen.
The takeaway seems to be that spending more time in your imagination will improve wellbeing and prompt your creativity, and as flights of fancy go this is a relaxing experience. Whether this ends up meaning anything to you may depend on how much you enjoy fluid and intangible experiences, but even without the possibly absent video files the technical combination of words, sound and music is impressive and evocative.
Runs until 8 August 2020
Electric Dreams Online Festival Website